Happy New Year everyone! Not sure when it’s etiquette to stop saying that but as this is the first breakfast of 2020, I’m saying it anyway. I hope you had a fabulous Christmas and are surviving the return to work period. It’s back to business today too as I kick off the New Year by having breakfast with the inspirational Customer Service Consultant and Trainer Helen Pettifer.
Helen owns and runs Helen Pettifer Training, a Customer Service Consultancy and Training company. When she relocated from Kent to Aylesbury just over three years ago, Helen decided that she didn’t want to work for anyone else again. She spent a few weeks thinking about what she was good at, what she enjoyed doing and what she was passionate about and the idea of delivering Customer Service training was born. I very much share this passion and am very excited about the possibility of working with Helen this year.
I asked Helen to tell me more about her focus on supporting and raising awareness of vulnerable customers. ‘In February 2018 a seed was planted in my mind about training businesses on supporting vulnerable customers. I didn’t know at the time how big a business topic this was and how regulatory bodies were putting more emphasis on consumer vulnerability guidance. Since then, I have completed training with charities and organisations on vulnerable circumstances, read countless white papers, regulatory guidelines, spoken with vulnerable individuals and researched both good and bad business practice.’ Helen’s eldest son has special needs and she says that ‘There have been times when businesses haven’t always been helpful or accommodating to us and what we were looking to achieve.’ This does not surprise me in the slightest. Some companies are unhelpful at the best of times regardless of who they are dealing with.
Helen’s first ever job was ‘Working in a chemist on a Saturday when I was 14. I was paid £14 for 8 hours work. That’s only £1.75 per hour – but I was thrilled with it at the time!!’ Mine was in a hairdressing salon and not sure I earned much more but was equally as pleased every week with my little pay packet.
As for the worst job, Helen says that she’s not really had any bad jobs, “I have always liked elements of them all.” However, the most unusual job she had was ‘Cleaning plastic plants as a teenager. This was in leisure centres and offices. Sounds a bizarre job but they get quite dirty and people poke odd things and rubbish into them! It paid good money too – more than £1.75 per hour!’
When I asked Helen about the best part of what she does today, she was quick to comment that she loves her job and working for herself. ‘In fact, I wish I’d done it sooner.’ She says the best part is ‘The training as I get to inspire and motivate the delegates on whatever topic we are covering. I love seeing the change in them from the beginning of the course when they look unengaged, to the end when they are motivated and full of energy.’ Helen and I are like two customer service peas in a pod. She is ‘Incredibly passionate about Customer Service and communication’ and loves it when ‘Some of this passion rubs off on them (the delegates) and they understand how they can make a difference to their customers.” Agreed, it’s nice to be nice and to see the effect that has on the customer experience.
What I found really interesting in our chat is Helen’s firm belief that ‘We all have a superpower.
Our superpower is – we have the ability to change the state of mind of another person, by the way we interact with them. This can be positively or negatively. When working with customers, we have the opportunity to make a positive difference to their day, whether that’s with a smile, a kind word, listening or helping them. This skill ensures that everyone feels valued and has their voice heard. It is our social responsibility to look after one another and advance society in a positive way. ‘ Well said Helen, this is the crux of why excellent Customer Service is so important.
Helen’s company vision sums this up beautifully:
“To instil a desire in individuals to treat others fairly, respectfully and kindly, without exception, to create a world in which everyone feels valued and heard.”
In Helen’s opinion, ‘The benefit for businesses is that customers love the experience and return for a repeat performance!’ Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more.
Helen and I chatted about companies, which offer poor Customer Service. Helen’s take on this was that ‘The tide is turning on large, well-known brands and retailers, and at the moment the small, family-run, independent businesses are winning on delivering excellent Customer Service.’ The reason for this being that ‘These smaller businesses never forget who is paying the bills and helping the company stay in business. Every decision they make is centred around the customer and how they can ensure those customers feel appreciated and still get value for money.’
As I do, Helen frequently hears stories of ‘How the bigger names, who once oozed customer charisma, are failing to meet the ever increasing customer expectations. Unfortunately, some of these have now gone out of business, and I fear there will be more to come over the next few years. Larger companies are failing to train their staff on the simple things such as effective communication, emotional intelligence and just basic common manners.’ Yes once again, I couldn’t agree more. Bigger organisations have just lost touch with what really matters and this is no doubt going to be quite a costly error in the long run.
When it comes to Customer Service gripes Helen made me giggle when she exclaimed, ‘Oh dear, I have so many…….!!’
Apparently these are in no particular order.
‘As mentioned it costs nothing to smile, make eye contact, greet someone in a friendly manner, and ensure they feel valued. So many employees fail at the first hurdle to building rapport.
There are exceptions to the rule and I always make a point of acknowledging staff who have made me feel visible.’
‘Not calling someone back when you said you would, is another one that happens often, which probably goes alongside keeping your promises.’
‘Telephone target times is a real bug bear of mine. Staff cannot fully support a customer if they are continuously watching the clock and conscious of a penalty for going over time. I understand organisations need KPI’s but surely quality is a better measure than quantity!’
Helen firmly believes that the ‘Organisation’s culture is a key player to how staff interact with customers. You can tell when a business doesn’t put the customer at the heart of the organisation. This is evident in several factors – how they market themselves, the products/services they offer, their communication and their employees. They fail to see how important the customer is to their success. ‘
For almost 2 years, Helen has been researching and training in consumer vulnerability, which is something she feels ‘Very strongly about and believe is what I am here to do. In the next 5 years, she wants ‘To build a reputation for being an expert in the vulnerability field, working with individuals, organisations, regulatory bodies and the government in raising awareness and providing guidance on treating everyone fairly, without exception.’ Helen’s ultimate aim is to be a ‘Global mouthpiece as a challenger of good; transforming attitudes, lives and the way we do business.’
My word for last year was inspired hence the creation of this interview series. Helen names her two sons as her inspiration to keep going and get better and says that she has ‘Always wanted to be a good role model to them, to show them that if you work hard and treat people with respect and kindness you can make a difference and be successful.’
Breakfast wise, Helen’s usual weekday breakfast is ‘Banana and natural yoghurt with ginger and cinnamon sprinkled on top,’ but she says that ‘At the weekend I treat myself to toast with marmalade.’ With regards to a breakfast companion, Helen says this ‘Is a tricky one as again there are so many…. and obviously would include you Jane! I generally wake up wide-awake and ready to start the day so it will need to be someone fun and positive. Oprah Winfrey would be my first choice!’ Oprah is Helen’s role model. ‘She has a passion to make a difference and give a voice to the vulnerable and underprivileged, helping them feel valued and heard.’ That’s such a lovely sentiment! I might need to bring a few tissues to future breakfasts.
In the absence of Oprah or my good self, Helen says that ‘David Jason is another favourite of mine as he reminds me of my dad, and he must have some great stories to tell. Oh and I would love to hear his story of the famous bar scene in Only Fools and Horses! Still makes me laugh now!’ Me too Helen, me too.
Thanks to Helen for chatting to me today. It has been an absolute pleasure to have breakfast with her and I am beyond chuffed that our paths have crossed thanks to Mr. Customer Service Resolver himself, Martyn James. See what I did there Martyn, clever? #notjustaprettyface
Until next time everyone!
Lady Janey x