Putting the lens onto contact

I was given the opportunity today to talk at a conference that brought people together to talk about transforming contact centres. It was great to hear about work going on around the country and how organisations are developing how they provide services. This is a complicated area of work with many challenges, but it is incredibly important.

People rightly expect to be able to get the same level of service from the public sector as they do from private business. They want to be able to contact in the ways that suit them and at the times that suit them. Above all they want to be treated as individuals and this is a huge problem for public services that need to save money. Providing a customised service is expensive and means having many communication channels open for people to access.

But I think we can do much more to provide a range of channels without costing a fortune. They key for me lies in the principles detailed in Gov.uk which talks about doing the hard work so that it is easy for people to do business. It also puts the user at the heart of the developments. There are other important messages and I would recommend checking them out. So, there was one voice that appeared to be missing from the conference today and it was the most important one – the service user.

We also need to think differently about contact centres and public contact. It is often dealt with in isolation and lacks a connection to other parts of the organisation. Perhaps it is time to start looking holistically at what we do. Communication has a huge part to play in public contact and it starts with the work to build trust and confidence from people. We are already having conversations with service users through social media and this is the foundation of all public contact work.

I enjoyed the discussion today which has given me some fresh thinking and ideas for the future to really make contact work for the people who matter, those needing services.

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On time or late?

There is one thing that is sure to make me incredibly stressed and that is missing a deadline. When I was at school, college and university I would burn the midnight oil to make sure I handed the essay or piece of work in on time. I hated to miss a deadline or fail to achieve what I set out to do that day.

As I moved into my chosen career as a journalist my obsession with deadlines just increased. There is no excuse for failing to meet a deadline when you are working in the media. If you don’t meet the deadline then there will be a gap in the newspaper or an empty slot on the TV or radio bulletin. It is something that focuses the mind when you know your job depends on getting it done on time.

I always work better when I have a deadline to meet. It means I can prioritise my time more productively and it prevents me becoming distracted by things. But it also means I will keep working until I ensure I have met the deadline and I can become incredibly frustrated when my workload means there are too many urgent tasks than I can realistically complete.

The key for me, and many people, is to find ways to cope with the increasing workload without feeling swamped, and without stress levels rising. All too often these are skills that we don’t have and don’t get prioritised in training plans. Resilience is a quality that I have written about many times in blogs and the reason is because I believe it is hugely important for modern working life.

My resilience means I have to accept that some deadlines I impose on myself I won’t be able to meet. Deadlines will remain incredibly important to me no matter what. Some days I wish that other people shared my obsession with meeting deadlines.

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Plain and simple

I was listening to the news this morning and specifically a discussion about why people don’t change banks and what needs to be done to increase choice for consumers. On the face of it this is a world away from my daily work but there was a very clear link. The interview started to focus on the problems of not having clear and simple to understand communication material.

In a nutshell the issue was that if you want to change bank accounts you have to wade through a huge amount of information that is not easy to navigate. What people need is factual material put into accessible formats. So how is this relevant to what I do at work?

It is simple. Public sector organisations have for years been working to ensure information is easily understood, is in plain English and is accessible. There are no excuses if material is over-complicated. If the information isn’t pilloried by the media then it will be attacked by the public and service users. An element of public sector communication is focused on providing clear and simple details of services, processes and how to access them. Don’t get me wrong I know that we don’t always get it right and there is always more work to do in being transparent and accessible but this is many steps in front of the banking sector.

Businesses that have something to sell have a requirement to skew data and information to encourage purchase of the product or service. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations has a code of conduct for all members which requires them to demonstrate the highest professional standards as well as dealing honestly and fairly. This should ensure that clarity is one of the most critical things for all communication. I will be continuing to prioritise communication that provides clear details of what people can expect from the public service, how things work and what to do when there is a problem. I will be watching the developments in the banking sector communication with interest.

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Five tips on public speaking

I was listening to one of the men who created TED talks on the radio today. They really are a phenomenon and have become well-known for bringing people in touch with thoughts, ideas and developments. The discussion I heard was about the key points to effective public speaking, something many of us want to know.

Few people can stand up and talk without getting nervous. We want to be accepted and if we are going to put ourselves in such a stressful situation then we want to know people will listen in a positive way. So, I was interested to hear about the new book on public speaking and some key points that were in it. If you want to read more about that I would suggest buying the book but I did reflect on my top five tips for low-stress public speaking.

  1. Know your subject. There is nothing worse than feeling you have to speak about something that is not your subject. It means you won’t feel comfortable as there will be gaps in your knowledge. The possibility that someone will ask you a complex question or will expose your weakness is always present.
  2. Be yourself. People will appreciate that you are nervous when you stand up to speak. The best talks come from people who speak really naturally about the subject and can demonstrate a passion for the ideas they share.
  3. Practise. This doesn’t mean you will need to know your talk word for word. But it does help for you to run through what you are going to say with a small group of family or friends. You need to use people who are going to be honest about how engaging the talk is but also if it is easy to understand.
  4. Talk from experience. Don’t just focus on theory and abstract concepts. Make sure that you bring your ideas to life using anecdotes that can explain things. The little stories are what can make the difference to people engaging with what you say, in short value storytelling within your talk.
  5. Relax. If you can keep your body as relaxed as possible then it can help to relax your mind. There are techniques that you can use to relax and help to de-stress yourself. Tension can have a negative impact on the body and mind

Public speaking is a great way to share knowledge, ideas and experience with others and it has an important place in society. When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone to stand up and talk?




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Say it today

There was a wonderful documentary shown tonight that paid tribute to Victoria Wood and her comic genius. It was great to see some of the best bits from the past years and to realise what she had given to people. Throughout the years people had grown up laughing at the amazing characters she created but also crying at some very poignant performances. She truly was a very clever and talented person.

While the programme was a great watch it was a tweet that I read about it shortly afterwards that really stuck with me. I wish I could remember who had posted it but it flew by me and I now can’t trace it. What they were saying was important for all of us. They said it was lovely to hear such heartfelt and emotional tributes but don’t wait until someone is not around tell them today.

It is so true that too often we are caught up in the daily businesses of life that we don’t stop to recognise those who are doing amazing things around us. We all have many people in our lives that we admire, look up to or have to be grateful to for what they have done. How many of us have actually told someone all the positive points we have to say about them? Very few.

I did an online course – or MOOC – recently where one of the tasks was to write a letter to someone you admire. That bit was easy. You then had to read it out to them so they could hear all the fantastic heartfelt sentiments. I did this and it was a really emotional experience but I was so glad that I did it.

We need to appreciate those around us now, when we can and we have the opportunity to let them know what we think. I am going to make sure I can say thank you and appreciate people today not tomorrow.

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Hitting the right note

Tonight is the annual assault on the ears that is the Eurovision song contest. I can’t say it is something I look forward to, it isn’t. If it didn’t happen it wouldn’t mean anything to me and I definitely don’t want to sit down and watch it either on my own or with friends.

A few years ago I thought it was going to disappear as it had become side-lined and increasingly irrelevant to peoples’ lives. However, since the growth of social media it has definitely seen a turn around. I have had to avoid Twitter this evening as my timeline is full of discussion about it. Everybody I follow it seems has been sucked into watching it and then chatting to others about the contest. Young and old it appears there are no boundaries to those who are watching the event.

I wonder whether we would still be viewing the contest if there wasn’t the chance to launch, cry and share with other people. There are some things that have had a huge boost with the advent of social media, and watching television is one of those. People come together sharing their views and discussing winners and losers. Often there is more creativity in the social media posts than there is on the Eurovision stage.

It is easy to get dragged into the discussion around it as human nature is that we want to be part of the group. But we should not succumb to the pressure of conforming. It is important to be true to ourselves as I have blogged before. So, I will let people watch Eurovision and discuss it, and I hope they enjoy themselves. I will do something else instead.


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One step at a time

It has been a long week and at the end of it I suddenly went into a panic realising the huge amount of things I need to do before Monday. There is an increasing list of both work and home chores that I have to tackle before this week ends. It feels overwhelming and I am struggling with the situation. Like many people, this can drag me down and affect my mental wellbeing. So what do you do?

After giving myself a severe talking to I realised that I had to do something to sort the situation out. There is nothing to be achieved by wasting time worrying. It was time to take control. I think control is one of the most critical things that we need to have when facing a challenge. It means we are starting to get a grip of things.

Tasks we face can feel huge and where to start is not easy. That is the time when we have to take things in bite-sized chunks. One step at a time means we can move from where we are to where we want to be. The key is something that can be really tedious for some and that is planning. Before we rush into a task we need to assess it and break it down into sections that are achievable.

So that is what I am planning to do this weekend. I will be investing some time in working through the steps I need to take to get where I need to be early next week. Over the course of the weekend I can then do those small steps and with some grit and determination I will get there.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by some work or a task that needs to be achieved then try my three steps:

  1. Take a deep breath and tell yourself you can get where you need to be
  2. Realise that you can take control
  3. Plan, plan, plan and break the task down into sections

Above all keep positive and know that you can complete the task if you stop worrying and start doing.

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