Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Consumer Rights Directive – What you need to know

The Consumer Rights Directive (CRD) is an EU wide piece of legislation which passed back in 2011. The CRD was created in the hopes of increasing consumer rights across the entire European Union with a special emphasis on remote buying such as online shopping. Although you may have already noticed some changes in accordance with this directive, it is only in 2014 that we will see its implementation across all EU member states. Whilst many retailers may not welcome or be prepared for these changes, the CRD could provide a wealth of benefits for many consumers across the EU.

How will this affect the consumer?

The CRD has been created with modern commerce in mind. More and more people are choosing to shop online, whether it be for lower prices or convenience. Distance selling also include various other types of consumerism including catalogue shopping and buying over the phone. A consequence of distance selling is that customers cannot handle and ‘try’ the item before buying it and this is taken into account with the new rules. The CRD states that customers should be given a 14 day cooling off period, from the time in which they received their goods. Within this timeframe, customers can decide to return their purchases for whatever reason and the seller is obliged to refund them in full. Once the goods have been shipped back to the seller, the customer must be refunded within 14 days and this includes delivery fees.

Another issue which is being tackled by the CRD is the ordering process itself. In an effort to safeguard consumers, the new directive is making the overall buying process much more transparent. This is being achieved with small but significant changes, for example ensuring that website buttons make it clear that the customer is opting into a contractual agreement. Another change that is being made will prohibit automatically ticked boxes at checkouts. More specifically, boxes which when ticked signify that the customer would like to purchase an optional extra along with their goods, for example mobile phone insurance.

Customer support has also been recognised as point of concern and is mentioned within the CRD. If a customer uses a support helpline provided by a seller, they can only be charged the standard rate and no more. This also applies to credit card fees as sellers are no longer allowed to charge above and beyond the actual amount required.

How will this affect the business owner?

Whilst consumers will no doubt benefit from the CRD, most companies will be forced to make some drastic changes in order to comply. Websites and catalogues will have to be re-designed in order to reflect the changes in transparency and button labels. Sellers will also have to highlight the new ‘cooling off’ period and returns policy, this will include changing their terms and conditions. Specialist sellers should also be aware of how this policy will affect them, for example digital content distributors are now obliged to inform customers of the hardware and software compatibility issues which could affect their products.

Apart from the hassle of making these changes, many sellers, especially small and medium business owners are worried about how the directive could affect them. The fluctuations in revenue which will be caused due to this longer refund period is much more likely to affect smaller companies than the larger organisations. There is also a fear that some customers may abuse these new rights and buy a product, use it and then send it back for a full refund.

Will it be a success?

It seems likely that many companies will struggle at first with the CRD, whether due to the sheer volume of changes required or the ramifications of these new rules. This being said, the new directive has been put in place because of the many underhanded tactics used by some companies in order to boost sales. Applying this directive to the entire EU puts everyone in the same boat and safeguards a large portion of the consumer climate for all. It is also worth noting that many consumers are unaware of all of the rights they are entitled to and the CRD streamlines this entire issue and simplifies the distance selling refund process. There may be teething pains at first but any legislation that tries to boost consumer rights in a fair and just way can only be a good thing.

How Cloud Computing Will Affect You in the Future

Getting to know the new kid on the block

Cloud computing is undoubtedly the new kid on the block and we are going to get to know him much better in the next short while.  A survey done recently in the US indicates that the percentage of small business in the States who use cloud computing is expected to increase from 37% to 78% by 2020, and this trend is reflected in the UK and Europe.  But right now cloud computing is still a kid we don’t all know very well and at first he can seem difficult to understand.  Put very simply, cloud computing is a technology enabling you to use a network of remote servers, which are hosted on the Internet, to store and process your data, as well as to manage data and applications.  A key benefit to this is that you don’t need to invest considerable amounts of money and other resources in all the trappings of IT, such as servers, software and licensing.  Your resources are freed up to allow you to concentrate on your core business and expansion.

Cloud computing is suitable for both large and small businesses.  Without cloud computing, a business needs to provide software and licenses for any number of employees, as well as provide IT support to keep them all up and running smoothly.  In a cloud computing system, this is all taken care of by another company, using remote machines to run anything and everything from e-mail to word processing and even complex data analysis programmes.

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

As you will appreciate, cloud computing offers significant benefits to businesses large and small.  Here are some of the main changes you will see if you move to cloud computing:

  • The burden of maintaining servers and apps falls to another source – your cloud computing provider.  This will result in major cost-saving implications.  Firstly, you only pay for the computing power you use.  The cloud pricing format is similar to that of utility pricing, whereby you are charged only for the power, or water, or whatever utility you use.  Plus you will no longer have to pay out regularly to update and maintain many IT items.  Instead, you will have a predictable operating expense, based on the computing power you actually use.
  • Wherever you are, as long as there is an Internet connection, you will be able to access your data and systems.  This opens the door to a much greater mobility and flexibility, including the possibility of home and/or remote working.
  • The cloud is scalable, which is to say that sudden increased demand during heavy periods can be accommodated immediately.
  • Without the need to maintain your IT infrastructure, you will be able to aim your capital and human resources towards the effective running and expansion of your core business.

What’s the down side?

It is not all blue sky in the cloud.  There are concerns to be considered:

  • Security is the number one issue.  Companies dealing with sensitive or confidential material can fear their data might not be sufficiently protected.  This has led to the emergence of public and private clouds.  Within a public cloud, you use servers that are shared with other customers; whilst with a private cloud, only you have access to dedicated servers.  Which leads us to a third form of cloud.  A hybrid cloud system involves running some applications via a public cloud service, whilst keeping others, such as confidential data storage, on servers owned by your business.  This is a popular compromise, which seems likely to continue into the future.  Meanwhile cloud companies are devoting a great deal of effort to protect the data they handle and many are gaining security approval from regulatory and industry bodies.
  • A further concern is the possibility of loss of service (and valuable data!) if the provider experiences down-time or, worse, if your cloud provider goes out of business.

Weighing up the pros and cons

Many people consider the advantages far outweigh the concerns, with the number of cloud company users growing at an exponential rate.  There are not many computer users who will not be affected by the new kid on the block in the very near future.  In fact, many of us are already interacting with cloud computing  – if you have ever used web based email, or have an account with Google, you are already in the cloud.

Any business – from one person entrepreneurs to large corporations will do well to get to know the new kid on the block.  Do your research, find the right reliable cloud computing provider for your requirements and weigh up the pros and cons.  A great many who do this over the next few short years will decide to make the new kid part of their gang.

Delivering World-Class Customer Service

Good, conscientious and effective customer service can make a huge difference to any business.  From fledgling start-ups to well-established businesses, effective customer service will result in increased sales and profitability.  In the case of a start-up or small business, your customer service team may well be just you, whilst in a larger business you may have a customer service team.  In any case, there’s an important equation to take into account – effective customer service = satisfied customers = repeat business and referrals = more sales and more profit.  It’s as simple as that.

But, of course, in reality it’s not that simple because of one key word in that equation – “effective”.  Customer service is a vital element throughout the sales process.  It includes how well you showcase your wares or services; liaising with clients and customers; offering knowledgeable and useful advice and ensuring goods are delivered to timescale and in good condition.  There is also after-sales care, which can involve dealing with queries and/or complaints; replacing faulty goods and advising with regard to product use.  In all these areas we always come back to the key word – “effective”.

It is a fact that some businesses pay lip service to customer service.  We’ve probably all experienced this at one time or another and know that unhelpful, cursory customer care does not encourage us to do repeat business with a company whose customer service is ineffective.

So – how to make sure your customer service is effective?

First and foremost, good communication is the key to effective customer service.  Customers need to know their individual requirements have been fully understood.  So, the first step is attention; making it easy for your clients to communicate with you – be it in person, by email, fax, phone or post.  If much of your business is generated on-line, you need to make it easy for your clients to contact you.  In in-store situations, store clerks should be alert to customers looking for help and advice.  In larger outlets, make sure your customer service desk is always manned and accessible.  You clients need to feel that they have your attention.  The next step is reception – customer service staff have to be able to receive your clients’ communications.  So, an email address that generates an automated reply and no or delayed personal response, or an unmanned customer service desk or no clerks available on the shop floor is less than optimum. Customer service staff must be able to fully comprehend each customer’s needs – which process can be referred to as duplication of communication.  Staff must be knowledgeable and ready to ask relevant questions to ascertain each client’s precise needs.  This leads to understanding.  Once your customer’s needs are fully understood, it is a much simpler task to offer appropriate advice or rectify any problems.

What are the other factors needed for effective customer service?  Obviously, businesses vary greatly depending on the goods or services offered, but the following remain constant.

It may seem economical to put untrained, lower-paid staff on customer service duties.  It really isn’t!  It is of vital importance that those involved in all aspects of customer service have a good understanding of your business, services and products, as well as effective (that word again!) people skills.  Investing in training customer service staff is a wise and profitable move.  Often these staff are the face of your company – and you want your company to be seen to know what it is talking about!  You can put together induction training to give a good overview of all aspects of your business.  There are many good short courses available to help with communication and other essential people skills, and these can be an invaluable investment.  Additionally, it is vital to treat your staff fairly and well, so that they feel valuable and can therefore be valuable to your clients.

Which leads us to dealing with customer complaints.  A key factor is always to maintain a positive attitude.  Customer service staff need to focus on what can be done to rectify difficulties, not what cannot be done.  For example, your customer will not be pleased to hear, “That widget you want is not available until next month.  Sorry.”  But if they hear the positive take on the situation – “We are getting that widget in stock next month.  I can place your order right now and make sure it is sent to you as soon as it becomes available.”  Can do – never can’t do.  You and your customer service team must always aim to never leave a customer feeling their issue is unresolved.  Help your staff by providing guidelines (not scripts) for a variety of likely scenarios.  You can offer coaching and practise in positive flexibility.  Staff should feel happy and confident in making experienced judgement calls when backed by management.

The importance of adopting a personal approach cannot be over-stated.  No one wants their queries, requests for advice or issues with after-sales care dealt with by automated messages or scripted responses.  Clients want to communicate with a real live human being who wants to understand each individual’s requirements, give help as needed and never leave an issue unresolved.  This may sound a lot to ask, but is actually very achievable using the vital communication rules and by providing training, support and consideration to your customer service professionals.  Offer your staff your fullest backing and encouragement, thereby giving them the certainty that they are not only representing management, but that management is behind them and ready to help when bigger guns are needed.

Don’t forget the importance of feedback.  If you want to know what your customers think – ask them!  Feedback from short, friendly Q & A and comments cards can prove invaluable in improving customer service.

Remember that the customer is always right.  Always.  If a customer gets the wrong end of the stick, it’s still his stick!  Knowledgeable and effective customer service staff will help him to understand the situation fully and get hold of the right end of the stick.  Your staff can use effective communication technology to keep the customer right, whilst resolving any difficult situations.  And make sure that management is on hand to help as necessary.

There are many tips – all valuable – that can be put to use to deliver world-class customer service, but these are the vital basics:

  • Effective communication is the key.
  • Care for your staff with training, management back-up and validation of their skills and successes.
  • Stick to the personal approach.
  • The customer is always right.  Use the personal approach and positive communication to turn that to your advantage.
  • Get customer feedback and act on it.

Above all, remember the equation – effective customer service = satisfied customers = return business and referrals = increased sales and profit.  Win, Win, Win.