Monthly Archives: December 2014

First Directory Goes Back to University

First Directory has a long tradition of supporting local charities and this year has been no different. Our chosen charity this year was the Buckingham & District branch of the University of the Third Age.

The first University of the Third Age (U3A) was founded in Toulouse, France in 1972 as a summer school catering exclusively for retired people. The movement grew as an academic organisation associated with French universities. When the idea moved across to the United Kingdom ten years later, it established itself as a self-help organization open to anybody over 50 years of age as both a social and life-long learning facility.

Buckingham & District University of the Third AgeIn the UK there are over 900 local groups and U3A Buckingham has been very successful with over 700 members, it is twice the size of the average group.  This success left their ancient website struggling with meeting the members’ needs and as part of our philosophy of giving back to the community we decided to help U3A Buckingham with a complete update of their website and email management system.   Simplicity was a key element as the site will be managed by a member of the group and we wanted to avoid the need for any specialist programming skills.

Their members regularly attend over 60 different group activities and the website is a key factor in keeping everybody up to date with group news, forthcoming events and providing feedback on past events.  In addition the majority of members now use email as an everyday communication tool and they wanted a solution that protected members’ privacy whilst not impeding contact.

The idea was to give ownership to the whole membership so Individual Group co-ordinators can update their group information whilst individual members can comment on any activity, ensuring that views (both good and bad) are shared.  In addition every Group Co-ordinator and committee members now have a ‘public’ email so they can be easily contacted.

The new website can be seen at:

The new site has been very well received and since its launch they now have members in America and Australia who have joined online to share their knowledge with their special interest group.

The Industrial Internet

A particularly interesting talk we saw recently was Benedict Evans talking at the GE Minds + Machines conference on what he calls the ‘the industrial internet’ and how in the future every piece of machinery will have multiple sensors and network connections to allow software to do more than it ever has before.

ONS Production Figures Reveal Both Good and Bad News

The recent release of data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown an increase in total production output of 1.1%. This production increase was measured over a one year time period, beginning in October 2013 and culminating in October 2014. Furthermore, the largest aspect of production which is manufacturing saw a promising growth of 1.7%. The Index of Production (IOP) figures also show that eight of the 13 manufacturing subsectors have seen an increase over the twelve month period. The products which have contributed most to this increase include tobacco, food products and beverages.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news from the ONS. They found that total production has actually fallen by 0.1%, in between September and October 2014. Manufacturing was the only main component to take a fall, decreasing by 0.7%. The IOP data has revealed that the components which are most to blame in this decline are electrical, optical, pharmaceutical and chemical products.

This monthly decline may not be as bad as it seems. Experts have cited this particular sub industry as especially volatile and prone to unpredictable highs and lows. Furthermore, some of the products in questions e.g. electrical components, differ from other sub-industries in they are often ‘project driven’ and are therefore subject to large and irregular payments.

Overall, business leaders seem quite content with these figures and are proposing further strategies in order to continue this trend into 2015. These include forging new export markets, investment into new machinery and R&D and of course tackling the skills shortage that the country is facing.

How Does Your Customer Service Add Up?

Many large companies are now implementing customer service score cards to benchmark how they are performing in this important area and how their customers view the service they are receiving.  In this day and age where competition is rife, it’s vital that people interacting with your company leave with as positive an impression as possible for that all important repeat custom and referrals.

It’s easy to forget that in today’s online society customers are no longer just judging you on your customer service team and the correspondence they have with them.  It’s far more complex than that.  How your customer navigates, perceives and responds to your website is paramount to the success of your business and these are areas often forgotten, leaving customers to silently move on.  Customer service scorecards provide a great way for businesses to identify and assess the multitude of areas, condense and categorise them into a workable set of metrics and score each one on its own merits.

But how can smaller companies use a customer service score card to ensure they are delivering the best service they can and continue to do so? Here we outline some tips to get you on your way.

Where to start – There are several templates online to get you started but it is imperative you create a scorecard with a set of metrics that is unique to your company and that relates to your specific KPIs and business objectives.  You will find some useful links at the end of this article, but as no two businesses are the same don’t try and shoehorn yourself into a template that makes no sense to your business.  Use them to get you started, give you ideas and to steer you in the right direction. When identifying your metrics it’s easy to make assumptions about your customers so use this opportunity to conduct some research into your customer base and establish who they are, their buying preferences and the way the wish to be engaged with.

Consider your industry – the elements you choose to constitute your metrics should be reflective of the environment in which you operate.  Are you online?  Do you have a field-based or office-based sales team? Do you operate a retail store?  Web-based metrics will be formed of areas such as visibility of contact information, availability of dispatch information and postal charges and order tracking, whereas a business utilising a call centre facility may look at hold times and customer service hours.  Whatever your industry, keep your list of metrics manageable.  It’s easy to get carried away but stay focused on the areas that are imperative.

Don’t forget your ultimate goal when determining values – When you have your list of metrics you then need to start ranking them with a points value as Linda Bustos outlines in her GetElastic article.  Consider which elements carry the highest importance and are business critical and rank them accordingly.  Remember that yes it’s nice to go above and beyond your customer’s expectations, but at the end of the day your scorecard should highly rate the areas that will positively impact your bottom line.  Don’t fall into the trap of trying to offer your customers too many ‘nice to have’ extras that will eat away at profits and contribute little financially.

Take action – once you have a scorecard in place and have analysed your organisation’s current status, make sure you use the data to make positive changes.  If you have fallen short of where you had hoped to be, then the scorecard will help to highlight important areas that need attention.  Obviously, the higher the value of the particular metric involved, the quicker it should be addressed.  Ensure all relevant staff, such as customer service teams, sales reps and marketing departments, are aware of which metrics hold the highest importance so as to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals.

A forever tool – the scorecard isn’t designed to be a one off exercise.  Diarise regular updates so you can monitor how you are tracking against your historical results.  Over time, if appropriate action is being taken to rectify problem areas, you should see your score increasing.  Regular evaluation in this way will help to highlight problem areas before they become a major issue.   Don’t forget to use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate your metrics and see if there are any additions or adjustments that need to be made in line with any business strategy changes.


Useful links