Friday, 9 June 2017

Feng Shui for the Mind

I attended a meeting yesterday, at which my colleague suggested we should clear out all of the piles of dated paperwork and other detritus adorning our staff room. I wondered why she was suggesting this as I could not see the problem.

Yes I do have piles of old no-longer needed handouts left over from months of teaching, and which I have honestly meant to throw out, but basically the area around my desk is fairly tidy. However, as an ex-banker and therefore a thoroughly human and generous person (!) I thought I must give her the benefit of the doubt and I had a look at the area where I work.

I’m ashamed to admit that she was absolutely right! I suddenly saw in a new light the towers of ancient wisdom - which is a nicer way of describing old handouts - piling up on my desk and on my shelves, doing absolutely no good other than to gather dust, and producing an environment which is not exactly calm. So now my colleague has been deservedly given the nickname ‘The Feng Shui Fairy’, or as I prefer to call her, ‘Feng’.

I shall now make a cutting remark! I've been acting like a train travelling through a railway cutting, sure of my forward direction, but not seeing what was around me. I've become so used to the disorganised stationary in my vicinity that it began to be like wallpaper, and disappeared from my list of priorities. What my colleague managed to achieve was to make me look afresh at the situation, such that I could determine for myself that action was necessary.

Such a process is also common to many students, especially those of more mature years and experience. Something happens in their life which results in them re-evaluating themselves and their life progress, and realising that they need to progress their lives through education. This means that even though last year they were not considering further study, this year they are. They are enrolling and commencing on a fresh approach to life.

It is a healthy task to clear out one’s physical environment, but we must never forget the cerebral environment where so much of our life is lived and so many of our dreams are turned in to plans. Yes, this environment needs decluttering and freshening up. I call it ‘Feng Shui for the Mind’.

And the process works! I know this because each year at our ECBM graduation ceremony I see how happy and energized our students are, having completed their study, and now being in a position to take on new challenges and new directions. Education can have such a cleansing effect on the mind, helping us to see things in a fresh light. It can take away the clutter of the past, and replace it with clarity and new horizons. 

Graham Harman-Baker

Friday, 2 June 2017

Never forget the basics of customer service

Scotsman Robert Burns wrote his famous ‘To a Mouse’ poem in 1786. These words – translated from the original scots dialect - are often quoted: “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nought but grief and pain for promised joy”. Avoiding any discussion as to whether I am a man or a mouse, I can tell you that things certainly went awry for me this weekend.

What nicer thing to do on a warm summer's day in the beautiful county of Kent than to go into a typically English pub for a pint of beer and a sandwich. I enquired at the bar if sandwiches were available and was told that yes they could provide some, but then on taking my table the waitress said this was wrong and all she could offer me was some courgettes soup.

Oh well, this was not the end of the world, and I do love soup, but unfortunately it seemed that this bowl had not been within a metre of a courgette at any point. What I did taste, in large unappealing quantity, was pepper. The waitress asked if I enjoyed it, I told her no, and she shrugged her shoulders and walked off. I will not be returning.

Later I went to a hotel for an overnight stay with my family, before going to visit my aunt in a care home. On arrival everything was perfect and we drifted off into a peaceful sleep… and then it was at around 3 am when we were awakened by a group of young people out in the corridor who were not aware of their surroundings or the time of day. On check out we reported this to the front desk and there was an apology, and a small refund. I think the refund should have been larger, but at least the gesture was made.  

To complete the trilogy that I'm presenting to you, we then attended a friend’s funeral only to find that our flowers had not been delivered. On telephoning the florist she was horrified that they had made a mistake, and she immediately said, “What can I do to rectify this”? She went on to fully refund our money, and to send a beautiful bunch of flowers to my friend's daughter, and even photographed the flowers and sent the picture to us. This was genuine and exemplary service, the emphasis being on the word ‘genuine’.

We teach marketing and customer service, and cover a whole range of technical aspects. Those aspects are important, yet we must never forget the basics, to remember that the customer will often forgive you your mistakes, and that you will typically retain their business, if you react with a genuine and honest response. That’s our preferred way here at ECBM.

It doesn't have to cost you money, or at least not much, but attending to the basics will save your reputation, and avoid negative word of mouth advertising. “Don’t we all know this already?” I here you say. Well yes we do, but in our busy lives we sometimes forget, or perhaps it is only ‘other people’ who get it wrong?

It is a commercial tragedy if companies pay out thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns, and then forget the basic elements of customer care. It’s all about building relationships and establishing trust with your customer. Likewise in education, relationships and trust are primary determinants of effective learning and growth.

Graham Harman-Baker