We’ve been visiting the same dentist since forever. A private dentist, mind, so goodness knows how many pounds have been extracted from our purse in the name of whiter teeth over the years.

 

The Onswitch dental routine features regular teeth whitening, using a product that we have always bought from the dental surgery, as it requires a prescription.

So recently, when our tube was running a little low, we called the practice to advise that we’d be dropping by in the not-too-distant future to pick up another tube. No problem, the receptionist assured us brightly.

 

So, we were a little frustrated to find that having made a special trip the next day to collect the said tube, there was no stock. Nor was our regular dentist in, and then to top it all off, we were told in no uncertain terms that only he could issue the required prescription. The surgery seemed to raising barriers at every turn – all we wanted to do was buy a simple tube of whitening bleach, but we left empty-handed and more than a little riled.

 

Obviously we did the only logical thing for a busy Onswitcher in search of essential items to do next, we went online.

Typing in the name of the elusive item revealed that, contrary to what we’d been told by our dentist for years, we could actually buy an identically formulated product online, without a prescription, and at a quarter of the price. Which left us fuming – all those years of loyalty were undermined in a second by the realisation that we’d been had. Because that’s how it feels – we’ve unknowingly paid over the odds for years for a product that we were led to believe was unavailable via any other route.

 

And it got us thinking about all those dog chews and leads on sale at almost every practice across the land. Almost always at a premium price. When owners visit the vets, it’s for care and expertise that they simply can’t get elsewhere, it’s not to buy Fido a new collar. And we all know that the same item is available online or at a pet store near you for a better price.

 

Maybe it’s time to ‘come clean’, to ‘brush off’ the misapprehension that we’re helping our clients out by selling them over-priced pet neckwear (No more dental puns, honest!)

Maybe the time has come just to concentrate on doing what we do best – providing excellent care to clients and pets alike.

 

Because when customers have other options, other places where they can fulfil their retail needs more conveniently and less expensively, most of us will do exactly that. Just as when we know that our vet, or our dentist, is making money out of us on one small thing, we’ll start to wonder how much they’re making on the big stuff.

Because ultimately, if we don’t respect our clients, they won’t be our clients for long.

 

Recently, for five hours, we had no money at all.

This was just a little scary, especially given that the Onswitch wage run was about to start rolling.

 

Somehow we had managed to fluff the access procedure for our corporate online banking account, confusing the system so much that it locked down our account (we’re never ones to do things by halves!)

 

So we dutifully pick up the phone and ring the bank’s UnHelpdesk. Mercifully they did not tell us to turn our computer off and on again; otherwise there would have been some ‘losing it’ of serious proportions.

Especially as the voice at the other end of the line was job’s worth-ness personified.

 

Quite understandably, we had to be taken through security before our problem could be sorted. But there was no mother’s maiden name or favourite football team here – the security questions were very specifically related to recent transactions in the company account.

Now we’re guessing it’s not just us that doesn’t know EXACTLY what the last credit that went into our business account was? Or, to the penny, what the last payment to leave the account was? It’s a business account – money goes out of it all the time. Sometimes, if we’ve been very good, some even goes in.

 

So we failed the security process too. Which required us to point out that if we had been able to name all the precise details of recent transactions, then we would be either:

  1. a) Rain man, or
  2. b) LOOKING AT THE BLOODY ACCOUNT SUMMARY ON SCREEN ANYWAY.

And in neither case would we have required the ‘help’ of this unlucky young man.

 

The only thing for it, we were told, was to go into a branch with our passport.

This is not only a major irritation in an already packed working day, it is practically impossible. We bank with the Royal Bank of Scotland. The office is in Grantham.

Aaaaaargh.

 

Sometimes, even in matters of financial security, we all need to be able to by-pass ‘the system’. There are any number of other security questions that could have been asked, but the bank’s computer just happened to generate the only ones we couldn’t answer without access to our account. There was simply no option to bring up new security questions, no common-sense override, and no sense filter.

Just computer says no.

Which is just no good.

The last few weeks have been pretty manic at Onswitch HQ, in every sense. It’s quite common for mealtimes to get missed in a normal working day, never mind when we’re all extra-busy and juggling the responsibilities of our many roles colliding – as parents, children, employers, project managers and all-round miracle workers.

 

And so it came to pass that one day last week, at almost 3 o’clock, we realised that we’d missed lunch. Fortunately there is a rather fabulous deli very close to Onswitch HQ, so we popped round for a couple of soups.

 

“Hello, can I have two soups please?”

“We stop serving soup at 3pm.”

“But it’s only just 3, and I can see the soup just there. Please can I have a couple of portions?”

“No.”

 

At this point we may have lost the plot just a little bit.

Politely, but firmly, a plot-losing occurred.

As a customer, it’s frustrating to be able to see and smell the lovely soup sitting just inches away, requiring no extra work to serve, when indeed selling us two portions would have saved these from being thrown away now that soup time was so categorically over.

Somebody very wise once said that feedback is a gift, and it was duly given.

 

Clearly a common sense slip.

Computer says no.

Probably a new member of staff who could not see the bigger picture.

 

But a customer doesn’t know when someone is new, and it shouldn’t matter.

This kind of thing happens all the time, and it got us thinking – where is the ‘soup moment’ in your business? Where do you follow the rules, but to the detriment of your customer experience? Not booking appointments after 4pm so that staff can catch up at the end of the day and go home on time? Keeping spare car park spaces free for staff when clients have to park elsewhere?

 

Sometimes it’s all too easy to do the wrong thing, by doing what the system says is the right thing. We all need a common sense filter in place, we should all be allowed to override the ‘system’ and make executive decisions where the customer clearly benefits. Because how much more would we have loved that soup if we’d been told that yes, of course we could have two portions, even though we don’t normally serve it after 3. Then it has become special soup, and we are the chosen ones, anointed with the blessings of spicy parsnip.

Which is ironic, considering the poor waitress was within a couple of seconds of that too….

We’re not necessarily a fan of accepted truths here at Onswitch (everything’s up to be challenged!). But our recent experiences at two very different hotels have re-confirmed one for sure – the criticality of the first impression, and the fact that you don’t get a second chance to make one.

 

Being a little frazzled by too much travelling and too many hours on the laptop, Onswitch booked a day at a luxury spa with some friendly clients, for a ‘meeting’. After all, according to their website, they are “a 5 star hotel .. which is like no other in the home counties.” This can only be good news for all the other hotels.

 

We arrive with high expectations; after all, it’s a top end place that promises luxury and relaxation. In fact, the “1,000 acres of glorious parkland” that surround the hotel are so glorious that it takes us ages to find the hotel in the dark. There are no signs.

When we do manage to locate the main building, we have to hunt for reception, which is eventually located in a small room hidden away behind a closed door.

We feel welcomed and relaxed already.

 

A formidable lady wearing a rather unfortunate facial expression greets us, along with a one-worded, and one-sided conversation, during which the only words she utters are:

‘Yes?’

‘Name?’

‘And?’

‘You speak to the spa about that.’

 

What a lovely welcome! What an ‘interesting’ day it turned out to be, in fact.

Here are our highlights:

  • We are promised free robes and slippers, there are no slippers to be had
  • We can’t use the lockers at the pool as they need £1, and nobody told us so we don’t have coins
  • There are screaming children in the infinity pool.
  • And in the jacuzzi. The staff just watch, even though the signs say no under 16’s and the website promised us that the spa “has been designed to create a calming and relaxed atmosphere where you can totally unwind. We always try to make sure that each one of our guests leaves feeling totally relaxed and rejuvenated, not just from head to toe but in mind and spirit as well.” Pah!
  • We are told we can’t go into the dining room in our robes (unlike at every other day spa in the whole universe!)
  • We are served stale bread at lunch
  • Our orders are not taken at dinner because we did not tell them we were there!!
  • After our food is rushed through the kitchen late, and we retire to the bar, we ask for another bottle of wine. ‘Another glass?’ ‘No, another bottle please’ (there are three of us after all.) The last words we hear as the bar shutters are slammed down are “For F*ck’s Sake!’

 

Now compare and contrast:

 

At a second hotel, travelling for business, we arrived with low expectations – after all we had found it by searching for ‘cheap B&B’ on LateRooms.

Our expectations are given a swift yank skywards when we are greeted by a team of four smiling, friendly staff.

‘Good Evening Mrs L, we’ve been expecting you.’

‘All of our rooms are themed, and you are in Treetops.’

 

And boy, were we! The decor was perfectly suited to a luxury Kenyan safari lodge, without being twee.

And this time there were slippers to match the fluffy robe.

And our own proper coffee machine.

And probably one of the world’s greatest fish restaurants downstairs!

We went to sleep feeling very happy and smug.

 

Until 6am. The alarm call we’d booked for 7am came an hour early. So there may have been just a little bit of swearing at the apologetic receptionist! Still, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to avail ourselves of an hour in the enormous limestone bath. Except the plug did not fit.

 

Now these are fairly major misdemeanours for a hotel – waking clients up early and having impressive, but ultimately useless facilities. But we forgave them as we could not forgive the first hotel. Because their first impression had been so genuinely great. Our emotional bank account was full to overflowing when we went to sleep, so even though diminished, was still healthily in the black after ‘alarm gate’. Our first destination had invested only pennies, and thus by the end of our stay, our emotional account was reaching overdraft proportions verging on those of a fifth year vet student.

 

And so we realised the reason it is so important to make a good first impression, to stock up on some client goodwill, is that you never know when you’ll need it.

Things will inevitably go wrong at some point. They may be small things, but even if it’s not your fault, your clients will blame your practice. If their emotional bank account is full of love for you and your staff, they’ll forgive these transgressions for what they are – human error. If the default setting of your customer care is brusque and slow, they’ll ask themselves why they are surprised you’ve got it wrong, and go elsewhere.

 

So it’s time to start making regular investments in your practice / client emotional bank account, and keep saving for the unknown.

Car tyres – not the most exciting things to spend a couple of hundred pounds on, but quite important as routine expenditure goes. Even more important than haircuts apparently.

 

So when the Onswitch car passed its recent MOT with an urgent advisory comment to replace the two front tyres very soon (“are you going on any long journeys? Ah.”), we couldn’t really ignore the necessity of imminent spend. As usual, the car went for its MOT at our favourite garage. Not our nearest garage by the way, but the best – thanks to the friendly service, free advice and regular help in reducing bills by offering alternatives that are cheaper, but just as good. And they don’t look at us like idiots when we don’t know what engine coils are or what they do. Which is nice.

 

Now they really should have called whilst the car was in, so the tyres could have been fitted there and then. Because we would have said yes, of course fit two new tyres if you say that it needs them. *winces slightly at unexpected extra cost*. Instead, when the car was picked up, we said we’d book it in for new tyres after the very long journey we had to do the next day. Ah.

 

Now, we thought it might just be easier and cheaper to go to a High Street tyre emporium, after all ‘they’re the boys to trust’. Not knowing much about tyres, we typed our registration number into the chain’s website, and booked an appointment for two days hence for the tyres to be fitted in the city. But when the site crashed repeatedly on inputting payment details, a phone call was required.

 

The rather bored-sounding young lady advised me that the booking had not in fact been made, but because the system had locked out that slot for 20 minutes, she could not do anything. The best thing to do would be to ring back in 20 minutes and book over the phone. The best thing for who? So, rather begrudgingly, we did ring back. This time a different (and slightly more switched on) girl made the booking, and then uttered the immortal words “oh, hang on.” Seemingly our local centre can’t actually get hold of two of the most commonly fitted tyres for three days – the day after we want to go. So we huff a bit and cancel the whole thing.

 

Feeling rather sheepish, we ring our friendly garage. No problem, they say. We’re fully booked but if you can drop the car in tomorrow we’ll fit you in in and amongst. Courtesy car at short notice? Yes of course. Total price? 10% less than the High Street ‘specialist’. Oh and by the way, the tyres the ‘specialist’s’ website said you needed were the wrong ones, but we realised straight away and ordered the right ones in.

New tyres fitted, and lesson well and truly learned.

 

(And when the car spectacularly loses power pulling out of a junction and has to be towed away a couple of weeks later, guess where we insist the tow truck takes us? And they fix it the same day for £95! Love those guys!)

Onswitch spend a fair amount of time on the road, and so we’re very accustomed to hearing the dulcet tones of the radio Traffic Information teams. So when, in the last week, we were twice advised about major hold-ups on the motorway ahead, we let off a couple of resigned expletives and prepared to catch up on the phone calls whilst we waited. And waited.

 

Accidents happen, and at least we were fortunate enough not be involved in the causes of the enormous jams that quickly began snaking back for miles. But what’s REALLY frustrating is when the authorities don’t appear to take any action to stop traffic from joining the affected road further back. In both cases we were on a motorway, so why weren’t the warning boards deployed with useful information to encourage those who could to turn off? And why, when one of the accidents was still being cleared up on our journey home late at night, hadn’t a diversion been set up to avoid us getting caught all over again?

We were quite annoyed. Can you tell?

 

And yet the same bottlenecks build up every week in most of the practices up and down the country. We know that more customers are going to try and call on Mondays after much reduced availability over the weekend (and if you are open over the weekend, well done you, the obvious avoidance of Manic Monday is slowly gaining momentum. Very slowly!).

Twice as many calls are made to practices on Mondays than on Wednesdays, yet the number of staff on duty and available phone lines remains the same throughout the week. If you’ve got call reporting software, then for goodness’ sake take a look at how many calls are lost on Mondays. It doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that the problem is much intensified after a Bank Holiday but again, the vast majority of practices staff up just the same as any other Tuesday.

 

We know there’s a bottleneck ahead – one that will cause frustration to staff and clients alike. So why don’t we do something about it? There are two solutions – extend your opening hours across the weekend so that pet owners can see their vet at a time convenient to them, and/or make more staff and phone lines available on Mondays.

 

Don’t let your customers’ journey end in a bottleneck. There are more than enough of them around already.

Dental surgeries – nobody’s favourite place. Except maybe dentists’ accountants.

Still, a necessary visit twice a year for teenage son and the purse-holder.

 

So we turn up for our six-monthly check up and are relieved and maybe even just a little bit smug to be told that our teeth are the very picture of health. But there’s a tiny niggle in teenager’s head – one of his teeth is slightly misaligned. Nobody notices it, it doesn’t cause him any problems, but should it be sorted out now rather than risk regretting it in ten years’ time? We ask the dentist for his advice.

 

And the dentist gave us his personal recommendation – that we sort it out now with an invisible brace. He’s seen lots of people come to regret not acting when the teeth and jaw are still growing, when it’s quicker and easier to rectify. There’s no pressure at all, no blustering, just an honest opinion, which is exactly what we asked for. We say (with a straight face) that we’ll chew it over.

 

The next day at home, a letter arrives, addressed to teenage son. It is from the dental surgery, setting out exactly what the dentist recommends, and detailing costs. £3000 worth of costs, so we sit down and think about it.

We quite quickly agree that for lots of reasons, teenage son does not need to be dealing with a brace right now (phew!). So we decide to leave well alone. After all, he doesn’t mind his slightly wonky tooth at all and it’s not causing any problems.

 

But then the surgery ring, a wonderfully polite and understanding receptionist asks whether we got the letter and what we are thinking of doing. Again, no pressure, just a genuine desire to help provide the best care to their clients. We discuss the reasons why we’ve decided not to go ahead.

“That’s fine, we understand. I’ll put a note on his file and we can have a chat again at his next visit in six months.”

 

And that’s it. Brilliantly simple, caring customer service.

How many vets follow up recommendations in writing, with estimated costs?

How many vets give a clear recommendation come to think of it, but that’s another blog altogether!

 

We think it’s a great idea, and as clients we valued the clarity of advice just as much as we felt that they understood our emotional reasons for not going ahead.

So guess what, we’re recommending our lovely dentist to everyone we talk to.

 

 

 

Buckinghamshire today, and a stop in the most fabulous teashop in and amongst the work stuff. Well, what’s a girl to do?

Unfamiliar surroundings, but no desire for a corporate coffee today. Strolling along the High Street we spot the usual suspects proffering caffeine and fancy sandwiches, but the choice is clear once we spot Mrs Dolly’s.

 

A passionate baker as we soon discover, Mrs Dolly can’t wait to tell us all about her menu – suggesting specials and recommending little treats, smiling all the while. Who knew bread was so interesting!

We only wanted a cup of tea and a sandwich, but once she mentioned the hedgehog rolls* we were hooked. Now we know our way around a bap, a barm cake and a teacake, but a hedgehog roll? We can now confirm that it is a particularly delicious yeasty cob, adorned with little pointy golden crusty peaks. (Or is that peaky crusts?) Either way, it was marvellous!

So marvellous that when Mrs Dolly recommended a cake, we knew it was going to be equally good. So we had one. And another cup of tea.

 

Having spent twice as much as we’d originally intended (but boy was it worth it!) we headed off to pick up a cat toy in the independent pet store a couple of doors down.

 

No Mrs Dolly here, just Mr Smelly.

Far be it from us to comment on another’s personal grooming choices, a distinct waft greeted us as we walked in. And no smiles here, just smells.

Every available flat surface was stacked with stuff, including the floor, which kind of ruled out browsing. A ladder leaning precariously against a ‘display’ of pet food acted as additional storage space for bales of straw.

 

“What do you want?” barked Mr Smelly.

“A cat toy”.

“Try the box on the left”.

 

Guess what, we didn’t. We left. Without spending anything.

The whole experience was genuinely unpleasant (we’re leaving out some of the more salacious details for fear of upsetting those with delicate constitutions.)

Sadly it would put most pet owners off using their independent pet store and send them scurrying for the bright lights and wide aisles of the nearest big green pet store.

 

It’s so easy to get it right and build a loyal customer base who are happy to spend regularly with you, and tell their friends. Mrs Dolly’s doing it without even trying.

“Smile and the world smiles with you” boasts the chalkboard at Mrs Dolly’s.

Smell and the world stays away from you, we say.

* No hedgehogs were harmed in the writing of this blog.

Another day, another county.

Us Onswitch-ers spend a fair bit of time on the road, which brings us into regular contact with the complimentary toiletries and buffet breakfasts of Europe. Last week we decided to shun our reliable favourite, Premier Inn, in favour of a 4 Star De Vere hotel. Sad to say, we won’t be rushing back.

 

Sweeping down the tree-lined avenue towards the imposing red brick hall, we quickly began to lose the stresses of the working day, and began to look forward to a lovely meal and a spot of pampering.

After all, the website (bursting with superlatives) promises “From our stunning drive that splits the 7th hole’s fabulous fairway to the warmth of your welcome and the serenity of your time spent in the Spa, you’ll have a real sense of belonging from the moment you arrive.”

Unfortunately, we were rudely jolted back to reality by the rather large potholes covering the ‘stunning’ drive. First impressions of affordable luxury dented somewhat.

Not to worry, still the serenity of the Spa to come.

 

Now we know a bit about a nice spa. [*cough* The Grange Spa, Pointon]

This was not a nice spa.

The room allocated for our massage was so small there was only space for a sliding door – the ease with which an unexpected visitor could have slid in was not exactly conducive to relaxation. Nor was the fact that there was nowhere to put our clothes. No chair, no hanger, no hook, just a corner of the floor.

 

Still, at least there’d be a good night’s sleep. Or not.

Possibly the noisiest place to be at 3 am in Norfolk was the corridor outside our room. So when asked brightly by the receptionist the next morning “How did you sleep?” she soon found exactly how well we had not slept. Without missing a beat, she replied, “Here is your bill”. If we hadn’t just been served an egg Benedict for breakfast (and that it not a typo, there was just the one sad and lonely egg marooned on our plate) and if we had not just ordered a cappuccino only to be charged £2.25 for a black coffee with an explanatory “the coffee machine has been broken for a week, you can imagine how much we’ve lost not being able to sell lattes and cappuccinos” we might have been more inclined to let it go.

 

“Whatever your reason for coming, expect to be treated like royalty from the very moment you arrive” the hotel website crows. Maybe they meant Anne Boleyn.

There’s certainly a big disconnect between what they say, and what they do.

What the brand promises, and how the customer experience feels.

 

Where were the care, the love, and the sense of belonging?

Where we’ll be next time – at Premier Inn, that’s where.