Getting the boot – finally

November 12, 2019 § Leave a comment

 

Shopping for shoes is serious shopping, as any woman will tell you.

Take that a step higher – shopping for winter boots – and you’re no longer talking about a buying activity but an investment. You’ve got proper important stuff on your hands. Well, feet.

I undertook said winter boots search in my home town of Windsor, Berkshire, the other day and was astounded by the huge variation in customer service which varied from the sublime to the insulting. Let me explain.

First of all, you need to know that I set out with the idea of buying (investing in) long, black boots which had to be leather. Get the right pair and you’ve got friends for life (or, realistically, about three years, until you’re fed up of them).

I started at a little independent store which specialises in leather goods. This didn’t go well. I walked into the shop first, my husband following and the guy behind the till completely ignored me and said “Good morning, sir.” He wasn’t to know I was the primary customer and still doesn’t because I walked straight back out again.

Next was an upmarket womenswear chain which is my ‘go-to’ store for special pieces. I’m not sure that the young woman had worked there long – or in fact had worked anywhere in the retail industry, long. I asked for a size 6, which she found on the shelves. They were too big. She found a size 4 (on the shelves) which I knew would be too small. She found a size 7 (on the shelves) which brought us back to the original problem. I actually voiced the issue to help direct her “We have a size 4, 6 and 7 but they aren’t working for me. What next?” She stood there waiting, as if I was going to provide the answer too. I left.

A concession in the local department store didn’t have the size I needed in a pair of boots I liked. The sales assistant offered to order in the right size. The problem was I’d have to pay upfront and, if they didn’t feel or look right I’d have to go through the faff of getting a refund. That didn’t seem fair and I moved on.

I won’t drag you through the rest of the tiring, very tiring but ultimately worth it, shopping trip except to pay tribute to the outstanding customer service we found in Whistles. It was so good, friendly and unpushy that I’ve already told friends about the exceptional treatment and regret that the boots that I eventually bought weren’t from that store. The young sales assistants were chatty and efficient, offered tea or coffee while we had a think about the boots I was trying on, gave opinions when they were asked but didn’t hover or pressure sell. Thank you, Whistles – you didn’t have the right boots but I’ll be back.

(Oh, I finally found the boots at the department store I’ve already mentioned, at a different concession within it. And they’re black, leather – but not full-length.)

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t drink alcohol – don’t judge me

July 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

wine-1761613__340.jpg

I used to drink alcohol but I can’t anymore. I don’t know why that suddenly happened, but it did. I’m ok with it – other people aren’t.

If I drink alcohol I get the mother of all hangovers. Not a bad head or a dodgy stomach the next morning but, for three days at least, a searing, horrible, sickening pain in my head and a tummy that repeatedly wants to get rid of anything I put in it, including the water which I think might help the head pain. Alcohol just isn’t worth that torture.

When I’m with a group in a pub or at a party I dread people asking what I want to drink. I have two strategies:

  1. To ask for a glass of wine and make it last all night. People seem more comfortable if I’m holding a glass of wine when the next round comes and I say “I’m alright for the minute”.
  2. If I’m actually thirsty, to feel ‘brave’ enough to ask for a soft drink and chance that people won’t judge me for not drinking alcohol.

I don’t drive (which I know is also odd to the majority but is somehow more acceptable) so I can’t use that as an ‘excuse’.

The reaction to my not drinking alcohol falls into two camps:

  1. That I’m not enjoying myself (which I am).
  2. That I’m trying to lose weight (which I’m not).

And I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of times people have asked ‘Don’t you want a real drink?’

The other day my husband and I went out for a drink and the pub was selling a rhubarb and ginger tonic. I was excited. Not only was the drink tasty it sounded ‘grown up’ – particularly when my options usually fall into the lemonade division. I could feel good about ordering rhubarb and ginger tonic.

Just now, when I started writing this blog I couldn’t remember the name of the brand so I put ‘rhubarb and ginger tonic’ into the search engine. Pages and pages of rhubarb and ginger gin came up – even though I’d specified ‘tonic’.

And when I finally found the drink, rhubarb and ginger tonic from Twelve Below was only a mention on a site titled Craft Gins. I’ve dug a bit deeper and found the Twelve Below site. It’s using the USP of having less sugar than most tonics, hence its name, (12 calories per serving with natural sweeteners) – and not that it’s a cool adult drink. I think it’s missing out there. But it must know its main audience and has branded itself accordingly.

Anyway, my point is this:  I don’t want to drink alcohol because it doesn’t do me any favours. I’m not going to judge those that drink. Sometimes I’d like to join in because it would make my life easier – but please don’t judge me if I don’t.

When retail gets it wrong …

July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

paying-1438142__340.jpgNo you can’t help me!

When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.

Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.

Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.

There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.

Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.

 

retail-703589_960_720.jpgI was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.

When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.

(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)

I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.

Don’t let your mate proofread for you!

July 9, 2019 § Leave a comment

This is the true story of a guy who thought he could save a bit of money having his friend proofread a marketing newsletter for him – and is now counting the cost.

The guy’s an accountant who works on his own and wanted someone other than himself to look at the copy before he sent it out. (I agree it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy because the author tends to read what they think they’ve written and not what’s actually there.)

images.jpeg

One of his mates (who really liked English at school….) offered to do a thorough job for him and the problems started as soon as the accountant shared the copy. The duo had ‘creative differences’ – also known as an argument  – about the way the copy should be written.

The end of the story is that I did the job – proofreading only -because Rob was adamant that his words (unless they were a complete pile of nonsense) stayed the same.

He explained the friend story to illustrate how important it was to him to have the spelling/typos/grammar checked but not to receive chunks of rewritten text because he was confident about that side of the newsletter.

He also hinted – and I have no problem with it – that because he was paying me for the service he expected the work delivered to his deadline and redone if he wasn’t happy with it. If your mate’s helping you out, how good to you feel taking him to task if he takes a week when he promised to take a day?

So by commissioning a professional proofreader he didn’t damage a friendship. He’s still wrestling with an explanation for not accepting the many changes to the copy that his friend suggested. He feels he’s nearly out of a pickle – but not quite.

 

 

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

Unknown-5.jpeg

When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

Unknown-1.jpeg

  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.