I’m a chocolatier and my hubby, Jo is a blacksmith. We offer experiences with molten metal and chocolate, but not at the same time!
It’s our 20th wedding anniversary this year and it’s been a roller-coaster of a ride at times, but this is how we came to offer blacksmith experience days and chocolate-making workshops respectively to our customers in Hertfordshire and beyond.
Jo has been a blacksmith since leaving school, and until about three of years ago, purely concentrated on supplying ornamental and architectural metalwork to commission. Inspired by my chocolate workshops, he decided to start offering half and one day courses for the ‘budding blacksmith’ from his forge in Letchworth Garden City.
“I love teaching people to work with metal. To me it’s so important to ‘make things’. To have something tangible that you have designed and created is very satisfying way of earning a living – many people’s jobs do not have that element anymore – and people love coming to make something of their own. Everyone goes home with at least one piece they have made themselves. There is no experience necessary, anyone can have a go.’
At 47 Jo was diagnosed with testicular cancer – with three children aged 11, nine and five at the time, it was a very tough time for us all. Jo was fit, healthy and working hard on his business and it rocked our world for him to be given a cancer diagnosis.
“After surgery, I had intensive chemotherapy treatment, which involved staying in hospital for five days at a time, as well as regular day visits between hospital stays. Friends and family rallied round to help with the childcare and Dawn was a fantastic support, sitting by my hospital bed for hours at a time, just keeping me company and being there for me.’
“Although the whole experience was extremely scary and tough, it really made me focus on what was important in my life. I already loved my job so I was doing what I wanted at work. I’m very lucky to have a loving and supportive family and realised how important it was to spend quality time with them whenever possible. It was definitely a tough time for my business, inevitably I had to turn down jobs, as I was unable to work for some months. As I came back to the fold, the recession really started to take hold, and it was touch and go at times as to whether it was viable to keep the business running. I’m thankful to have some very loyal customers.’
“Now things are looking much more positive, with more confidence in the economy, more jobs are coming in and the blacksmith courses are a great added bonus to my business and really starting to take off.’
“Life can be very short, and you just don’t know what’s in store for you so I strongly believe it’s so important to do what you love, and love what you do. Luckily I’ve now survived over five years since treatment and the prognosis is very good.”
I set up my chocolate workshop business from scratch in 2009 from the summerhouse at the end of our garden in Hitchin.
Like many mums, I’d taken lots of part-time roles to fit around the needs of my family, often under-selling my skills to get the flexible element of reduced hours. As many mums will know – however part-time the role, it’s still a constant juggle, especially when the children are poorly. I didn’t even factor into the equation that my husband might be the one who was seriously poorly and for so long. Just a few months prior to Jo’s health scare, my Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At times I was trying to fit in hospital visits and appointments for both of them. Having my Dad and husband undergoing treatment at the same time, and trying to be there for the children was a huge emotional and physical challenge. It really made me think long and hard about what I wanted for me and my family going forward.
I had a dream to be my own boss and run some form of workshop business from our summerhouse. I didn’t want to run off to an office anymore, I wanted to do something I totally loved and that would give me flexibility for family life. I racked my brains and in the end I just decided that as I love chocolate and people, I would put the two together. I sat down and wrote a business plan of my dream business – The Melting Pot, offering chocolate workshops for children, adults and teams!
I thought it might remain a dream until I was made redundant in the June of 2009 and I said to myself ‘it’s now or never’ despite it being the height of the recession I went for it! Jo and I worked really hard that summer to have the summerhouse revamped and up and running, I completed my training and launched in September of that year.
Almost six years later, I’m still here and going strong – there have been some trials and tribulations along the way, not least of which was finding a malignant melanoma on my back in the summer of 2012. I have very fair skin and have been very careful in the sun for many years; I’m always the palest person at the end of the summer. I did however get burnt on a regular basis when I was very young, as there wasn’t the knowledge we have today about being careful. I drive my children mad about putting on enough sun lotion and not getting burnt, and here I was the person who always sits under the tree with a diagnosis of skin cancer – it seemed rather unjust after how careful I’d been.
We lost a friend to skin cancer only a couple of years previously. I was extremely worried and frightened – I knew how serious it was.
I had the mole removed and a wide excision (they take a wider area of skin around where the mole originally was). It was a small procedure, carried out on me as an outpatient, and I just had a very short time off of work while it healed. No further treatment was prescribed, so thankfully I didn’t have to suffer the same arduous journey as Jo with any chemo or radiotherapy treatment. I’m under surveillance and have check ups every three months at present. I was extremely lucky that the melanoma was incredibly thin and my prognosis is also very positive and encouraging.
Like Jo, I had time to reflect and work out what was most important to me too. Life-threatening illnesses really make you take stock of everything. I was grateful to know that I was pretty much where I wanted to be.
Each running our own businesses has meant we were able to share childcare between us, and take off for long family holidays during the summer (with our trusty tent)! Quality family time was one of the main reasons for choosing to run my own business. We’ve managed some three and four week adventures around Europe, and as many short-breaks as we can fit in. The added bonus has been how much fun it has been, doing something I love and stamping my own personality on everything I do. My own personal journey with the business has been beyond anything I could have imagined.
As well as running the workshops, I now speak regularly to businesses on creating ‘sticky customers’ – how if we are fantastic at creating the best possible customer experiences, our customers will stick around (although of course I cover my customers in a little chocolate to make them genuinely sticky). I’m in the process of writing my first book “12 Steps to Getting Sticky Customers”. I’ve been featured in The Sun, and The Independent, spoken on BBC local radio and appeared on TV. I could not have imagined such rewarding times from sitting down and thinking about my dream business.
I’m really excited about the next phase for The Melting Pot, as I launch my first ever chocolate business opportunity! I’ve created a ‘business in a chocolate box’ so others can build their own fun and exciting chocolate workshop businesses around the Country. I love encouraging others to live their dream lives too – so by packaging up all I have learned in running my business, providing training and ongoing support – I hope to enable others to enjoy their work as much as I do. I’ve written a free e-book about the amazing opportunities that working with chocolate can bring!
I proud I can now say that I am an ‘award-winning business’, having picked up Customer Service and Entrepreneur of the Year awards for the work I’ve done on creating memorable experiences at my workshops and devising a supportive and accessible chocolate business opportunity.
Having the support of each other through these ‘ordeals’ has been fantastic and I’d say has strengthened our relationship no end. We both now completely understand the fears and irrational thoughts that being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness can bring and we totally appreciate the precarious nature of life. We found it really helped to understand what was most important for us, and to try and live as close to that ideal as we can.
Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about CREATING yourself – George Bernard Shaw
Here’s to the next chapter……
My passion for providing the best customer experience started with chocolate……
The Melting Pot – a vat of delicious molten chocolate and an eclectic mix of people!
The concept for my first business providing chocolate-making workshops, was born from the desire to find an activity that would involve working with food and people in some capacity from my then called ‘shed’ at the bottom of the garden. Inspired by other locals providing flower-arranging and sewing classes – I racked my brains to come up with something exciting. Suddenly it came to me – chocolate – it had to be chocolate workshops too, I am not the sort of person to spend days on my own producing chocolates to sell – I wanted to spend time with people enjoying chocolate together!
At the time I was working part-time in people development for a property recruitment company. The market crashed and I lost my job at the end of June 2009. What an opportunity – I spent the next two months working furiously with my husband on the refurbishment of ‘the summerhouse’ and launched the new business in September 09.
I had many sleepless nights and lived with a level of fear for the first few months. I kept saying the well-known mantra ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ and as uncomfortable as it was, I just kept going.
Some of the things I love about running my own business is the way I can stamp my personality on all that I do, everything can reflect my values and my desire to create the right atmosphere. Being a huge fan of customer service excellence I have to ensure that all my clients enjoy far more than a real chocolate treat.
I find it amazing the therapeutic effect that a workshop has – it’s been a great privilege to share so many stories over the tank and to make people feel valued and special is something that I take a huge amount of pleasure from. We have lots of fun and laughs too, and I have discovered that it is so good for people to take a couple of hours out of their ‘real lives’ and do something creative and rewarding. For someone to really care that they have a good time, that they deserve just that and more…..(well they do get to take home all their lovely chocolate creations too of course) is what makes a workshop experience so much more than chocolate. I really love what I do, I so enjoy meeting all the different people that come to the summerhouse and I can’t express enough the importance of providing the best possible experience that you can for each and every person that is involved with your business.
Find your passion – add a little chocolate perhaps and the rest should be easy…..
Chocolate-making workshops for adults, children and corporate team building www.makechocolates.co.uk
I’ve recently hosted two corporate events at different venues around the UK The first was at a very high-end luxury hotel and the second a 4-star dedicated conference venue. So what do we expect in terms of service from each establishment, and how have the staff been trained to deal with their guests?
The luxury hotel had a luxury price tag and obviously attracts a certain discerning clientele – I wondered how their service would match up to their price? Interestingly staff were very young – I thought that inexperience might be an issue. However they were extremely friendly, charming and helpful (and yes, the odd little flash of immaturity did show itself, but somehow added to the charm). What was interesting to note, was that the plush surroundings relaxed and reassured residents. Staff were attentive and nothing was too much trouble. They were totally used to helping their guests and each request was met with a ‘can-do’ attitude – they had been empowered and encouraged to meet needs! The management had really anticipated needs too, wellies, bikes, toiletries and other bathroom necessities were all on hand to make their guests feel more than welcome and very comfortable.
So next to the 4-star dedicated conference venue, part of a large chain and a much larger, conference style event to host. The venue was in beautiful grounds, but the hotel itself sadly slightly resembled an over-decorated prison! There were lots of requests for change and deviation on the conference agenda, and these were more difficult for staff to handle. There was a very strict rule book that everyone had been taught to work from – change and ‘different’ requests were more awkward for them, they often had to check if it was OK. The willingness and helpfulness of the staff was just as good as the luxury outfit, but the mode of operation that had been taught was completely different. The venue was set up more like a conference machine, and lacked the flexibility and personality of the luxury outfit. People were not feeling so relaxed and charmed by the environment and staff were not given enough responsibility to make sensible decisions in their own right to keep the customer happy. It felt as if the large chain had set very firm rules to maximise profits from each event, cutting corners whenever possible, and looking quite cheap on occasion, without the foresight that fantastic customer service and more emphasis on quality might lead to repeat business!
“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
It’s much harder to build rapport when you are not face to face with a client – and the client phoning doesn’t know or care what sort of workload you are trying to get through, the time pressures you might be under or the fact that you had too many beers last night at the footie and have a bit of headache! So once you hear the phone ringing, take a deep breath and prepare for the caller……
1. Say ‘hello’ with a smile (you can tell in someone’s voice whether they are smiling or not!)
2. Give your name
3. Be yourself, but a friendly and upbeat version of yourself
4. Ask for their name, write it down and use it in the conversation
5. Don’t pass them around the system – deal with the issue yourself until the caller is satisfied with the outcome
6. Write down the caller’s number and repeat it back to them if you need to phone them back (wrong numbers are bad news)
7. Let angry people let off steam, it’s not about you, it’s about the service or issue they have had difficulties with (obviously never let anyone abuse you personally, that is totally unacceptable)
8. Empathise, listen carefully, make notes, make the right noises in order to build rapport and trust
9. Be interested and professional (never promise anything you know you are unable to deliver, or be derogatory about the organisation you work for)
10. Explain what you can do to help, when you will be able to do it, and follow through
I was chatting recently with a fellow advocate of customer service excellence – the lovely Paul Warner of When I Was a Kid (a great traditional and wooden toy company) about what makes people fantastic at providing customer service, and why so many sadly fail. Paul is perfectly qualified to have such an opinion – his toy shop has won awards for customer service and recently Paul appeared as subject matter in an article in the Guardian about providing random acts for kindness for customers! He really does always go the extra mile for customers (and people in general, they don’t even need to be customers to be on the receiving end of kind act from Paul or a member of his team!).
I’m always talking to my clients about putting yourself in the customers shoes – trying to see what your customers are experiencing from their view point – it can be a bit tricky and we can only guess, as of course we are all hard-wired with our own personalities and life experiences. However only if we try to see from another’s prospective can we have the chance to make the experience the best it can be for them (and not us!).
Paul, myself and many of you who like and get ‘people’ will find that this sort of thing comes very easily – it’s a natural way for you to behave – an inherent part of your personality. In fact, Paul and I went on to define customer service as pure common sense. It is so obvious to you what the other person wants, needs or would like, that you just know what to do or say to make them feel that they are special and you really care! Well maybe the ‘common sense’ tag comes from being a natural at this sort of thing – as thinking more deeply about this subject, it is definitely common sense, but also about being incredibly emotionally intelligent too.
The article in the Guardian went on to expand about the importance of customer service in today’s business arena – it really is so vital as business owners that you get fantastic at providing excellent service for your customers or they will go elsewhere. You must create a relationship with them and a reason to stay with you. Getting customers to buy on price alone will just put you out of business in the end – it’s a fact.
So are you a business owner with oodles of common sense and deeply emotionally intelligent? Time to look in the mirror and be really honest here. If not, find someone in your organisation who is, and put them in charge of relationships with your customers and watch how they fly (and do wonders for your business too)!
If you need any help identifying your customer service stars, please get in contact – I can help you spot and develop the right person to make customer experience a huge success for your organisation. You know it makes sense!
Grabbing some positive attention is a great deal for any business and in these social media savvy times, you have more chance than ever before to grab your moment in the spotlight. You will gain real business benefit – driving valuable traffic to your website or helping you to build a bigger community, whatever the reason it’s definitely a good thing!
It can take quite a lot of ‘noise’ to gain any form of momentum for something you wish everyone to know about – but you do need to make some noise for it to gain attention in the first place!
Now comes the tricky part; in creating the noise you needed to shout about your thing, a ‘look at me’ or ‘look at what I’ve got’ type of approach, you got the reaction you hoped for and some momentum is built around your message/product etc, but if you just keep on shouting, people will stop listening; go on too much and they might never listen to you again!
Recognise that moment, stop pushing out your message and become part of the conversation, get involved in the discussion, encourage and engage with your audience – be humble, grateful and thankful – this is your chance to build valuable relationships. Get this right and next time you start to make a noise, you have a ready-built community that is happy and willing to help start that momentum all over again……
I’ve produced a FREE document for those that wish to WOW their customers – 100 Ways to WOW
Some obvious stuff like SMILE – and the biggest miss of all time LISTEN – but lots of fun and innovative ideas to help you boost loyalty and build great relationships with the people that matter most to your business!
To get hold of your copy all you have to do is send me an email:
Put your first name, surname and your own email address and I will forward you a copy – SIMPLES!
I would love to hear what are your favourites on the list and most importantly – what your customers loved the best!
This simple post on my facebook page this week got the most likes:
“Creating WOW is not always doing something snazzy or delivering free gifts – the simple things really matter like listening, smiling and caring – solving a problem for someone makes a big difference and shows you heard them and you cared enough to help.”
Many people agreed with this sentiment – and actually what you are often giving people in this scenario is the most precious gift of all – your time! It’s so important for you to understand the problems your customers and clients are facing – as once you understand this, you can make efforts to help. It doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to be expert in everything, you might be able to recommend an article, a website, an expert or a friend who can help. Sometimes it’s just simply listening that helps – so that the other person can share, air and hopefully feel better or start to find a solution themselves.
While everyone will appreciate the WOW gesture – the bottle of fizz or the lovely bunch of flowers – the gesture that truly helps fix some problems or issues is the one that will be remembered for far longer. And just to prove my point, I was once talking to someone at the Entrepreneur’s Circle about how I had too much to get done, and a couple of days later a copy of Dan Kennedy’s No BS Time Management for Entrepreneurs fell through my letterbox. It was a great read, it sits on my bedside table to remind me all that I learnt from reading it and of course where it came from 🙂
I’ve been watching the new show on the BBC – The Voice. If you haven’t seen it or can’t face another ‘talent’ show – the concept is simple; people who have a great singing voice get to sing live in front of four celebrity judges – each of the judges have their backs to the stage – they cannot see who is singing, they are purely judging the act on their voice alone – if they like what they hear, they turn their chair around.
What has been rather fascinating to observe are the entrants – because they are not being judged on appearance at all – it has meant that people who are conscious of being overweight, being ‘too old’, looking ‘different’, having no hair for instance have the confidence to take part and try their luck on the merits of their great voice. Interestingly some very glamorous people, who more than fit the stereotype of ‘star looks’ have not been picked (the general singing standard is very good). The reactions from the judges has been plain to see in such cases – there seems to be a genuine disappointment at missing out on the package of great looks and a good voice! Proving that what we see in front of us definitely clouds our judgement – the short dumpy person with an amazing voice versus the tall slim person with a good voice usually would win out hands down (although Susan Boyle would seem to buck this assumption!).
In business we are often very much reliant on our ‘voice’ alone – through our websites, emails, letters, newsletters and social media we are relying on creating a personality without being there in person – a great opportunity to create a ‘star quality’ to everything you do and say and really make an impact with your customers and potential customers out there!
I recently celebrated a colleague’s birthday and headed off to a new, smart French restaurant (part of a small chain) called Aubaine in the West End of London. We were a party of nine, it was lunchtime and we were all heading back to the office straight afterwards. We collectively agreed on main courses and desserts only (lightweights I know!).
There was a lovely ambiance in the restaurant, a lively buzz and wonderful decor. A delicious menu was presented as well as some lovely artisan breads to munch on whilst we made our choices. All great stuff!
We each chose our main course and the charming waitress politely mentioned that as we were a party of nine, our mains would take a little time to prepare – perhaps we would like to share some starters instead? Of course we did, we ordered three between the nine of us! (Smoothly executed up-sell – and done so charmingly one ‘hardly’ noticed – great staff training in action here!)
Our mains duly arrived and it was totally delicious – yum!
Now this next bit I felt was rather inspired – a modern take on the old-fashioned dessert trolley! We were not presented with a menu for desserts, but each dessert on offer was presented on a fancy slate platter – it was bought to you personally so you could see, drool over and actually point at what you wanted. Now at this stage in a meal, some are really feeling that they would rather not have a pud – and on reading a just a menu it’s much easier to say “no thank you” – but seeing the finished article looking all inviting and luscious right in front of your eyes – now that is hard to resist!
Well done Aubaine on creating a great customer experience alongside some great up-selling techniques!