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When I was 11 years old, my brother and I went for a hearing test at school. We got the results a few weeks later: my brother had failed the test.

He was asked to go back and take it again. But when he had his hearing checked the second time, he passed with no problems. It was only a long time later that I realised what must have happened. My brother is only a year younger than me, and our results had been mixed up; it was I who had failed that hearing test. Looking back, it’s not surprising that I always struggled in school. I found it really hard to concentrate in classes, and was always fiddling with my pen or distracted. I couldn’t hear what the teachers were saying but even I didn’t realise there was a problem. I just thought that it was normal to go into a sort of trance during lessons. Teachers were frustrated with me. They thought I couldn’t be bothered to try. At home, no one realised I was losing my hearing. My parents were often away and I was brought up by my grandparents. The one clue was that I used to listen to my music really loud. I had two massive speakers above my head, and another two on the sideboard, blaring out Michael Jackson or 10cc, or Earth, Wind & Fire. The noise used to drive my mum wild but it’s hardly unusual for a teenager to like loud music. It was only when I got married that I realised there was an issue. My wife saw that I was mishearing words or completely blanking out whole conversations. That’s when I finally went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. I found out that I had lost 70% of my hearing, and would need to wear hearing aids. In some ways, it was a relief to know that I was hearing impaired because suddenly so many things began to make sense. I never felt sorry for myself – there are people much worse off than me. On the contrary, it made me even more determined to succeed. People are like cars – some can run forever, without breaking down once. Others need servicing all the time, and that’s me. I started working out ways to cope. In the workplace, it was always hard for me to focus. I found meetings especially hard. My wife advised me to start carrying a notebook and pen, and that revolutionised my work life. It forced me to keep my attention on what was being said – and to check if I hadn’t heard or understood anything. Even now, in this age of smartphone, you won’t catch me in a meeting without my trusty pad and pen. And I always take someone I trust in to meetings with me – usually Andrew, my managing director, who is a very good listener. It’s helpful to have another pair of ears in the room to catch anything I miss. I wear hearing aids., which comes with a unique set of challenges. There is a slight delay between words being spoken and reaching my ears. I also speak much more softly, because my own voice sounds loudest in my head. Travel is a nightmare because I can’t hear announcements. These challenges are frustrating but I have learned to deal with them. I don’t make a big point of telling people that I am hearing impaired. I just get on with it. If I miss something or someone is speaking quietly, I will say that I have a hearing problem and wear hearing aids. It means that if I need to ask them to repeat something, they know why. Most people start speaking a bit louder too, which is great. Except that the extra volume usually lasts for about two minutes and then they forget. Over time, my hearing has worsened but I’ve been very lucky – technology has come on leaps and bounds. I have 80pc hearing loss now but I wear Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids that are connected to a microphone hidden behind my tie. It means I can hear myself when I talk. It also means I can take phone calls direct to my hearing aid. People stop and stare when I do it, because they can’t see who I am talking to and think I’ve gone mad, which I rather enjoy… In business – and in life – I’ve always been very solution-orientated. If there’s a problem, I want to find a way to solve it. I tackled my hearing in the same way. My hearing problem has also made me very aware and accepting of other disabilities. We need to do more for people who are struggling with something they cannot control, whether it is a physical or learning disability. This is a cause that is close to my heart – I hope to talk more about this in a later post. For now, I’ll just say that any disability opens your mind to the world in ways that most people don’t see. As an entrepreneur there are many mountains to climb. My hearing loss was just another mountain, so I climbed it. My next mountain? Learning to lip-read.

Wish me luck.

All the best Martin

Martin Port Signature
Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Bob Champion MBE is an English former jump jockey who won the 1981 Grand National on Aldaniti.

His triumph was made into a film Champions, with John Hurt portraying Champion. The film is based on Champion’s book Champions Story, which he wrote with close friend and racing journalist and broadcaster Jonathan Powell. Champion was born in

Guisborough in the North Riding of Yorkshire. At the height of his career as a jockey, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in July 1979. He was treated with an orchidectomy and with the chemotherapeutic drugs bleomycin, vinblastine and cisplatin, and also had an exploratory operation to identify cancer in his lymph nodes. His victory on Aldaniti was viewed by many as a great triumph, following his previous adversity. Their victory earned them that year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Team Award and was chosen as one of the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments by Channel 4 viewers in 2002. Other major races that Champion won during his career include the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and the Whitbread Trial Chase. He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 1982 Queen’s Birthday Honours.

In 1983 he formed the Bob Champion Cancer Trust, which has raised millions of pounds for cancer research. He retired from training horses in 1999. He was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1981 when he was surprised, on his wedding day, by Eamonn Andrews. On 22 December 2011, Bob Champion received the Helen Rollason award as part of the 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year competition.

Martin Port Signature
Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Pollock Scotrans has introduced the latest cloud and mobile technology from BigChange to improve its transport and logistics operations.

The 160-strong fleet operation is being managed with the BigChange 5-in-1 cloud-based platform that live connects in-cab mobile tablets to back office management software and real-time vehicle tracking.

Drivers use BigChange tablets for recording their timesheets and expenses, as well as for vehicle check reports and capturing timed-stamped photographs. Clipped into dashboard mounts, the tablets provide messaging, navigation and traffic reports on the move. Vehicles are also live tracked for monitoring journeys to ensure efficient routes are used and vehicles are on time, backed up with reports on fuel consumption and driver performance.

Fraser Pollock, Managing Director of Pollock Scotrans commented:

“Pollock Scotrans has embraced BigChange in all areas of the business from Driver, Vehicle and Job Management, we have seen tangible benefits and can honestly say the system is helping us streamline our 80 year old business”.

Pollock continued:

“Our ultimate aim is to go completely paperless and BigChange will be playing a big part in that transformation. The move to electronic reporting with a one-system-does-all solution will allow us to deploy a seamless end-to-end digital process that will have far reaching benefits to the business. With real time operational visibility there are big management and customer service benefits and BigChange is already boosting efficiency and productivity.”

Driver performance is important for improving safety and reducing fuel consumption and BigChange has proved very useful according to Mark Jackson, Operations Director at Pollock Scotrans, who also sees the driver check app providing big benefits.

Mark comments:

“The driver check app has eliminated paperwork and ensured drivers complete inspections properly. Real-time reporting of defects including photographs means we can immediately alert the workshop about crucial defects allowing immediate scheduling for repairs”.

Pollock Scotrans’ customers are benefiting directly from BigChange and already live tracking information is being sent directly to clients to monitor transport of their goods.

Pollock commented:

“Integration with our customer systems will provide a significant saving in time both in creating jobs and in providing post job information, whilst also improving customer service with speed and quality of information if a query arises”.

Mobile workforce management technology company BigChange is relocating to Thorpe Park Leeds, which it says will enable it to increase its workforce from 70 to 150 staff over the next five years.

The company has agreed a five year lease on the entire 9,500 sq ft ground floor of building 3150 at the park in a deal with Scarborough International Properties.

Martin Port, founder and CEO at BigChange, said:

“We are delighted to announce our move to Thorpe Park Leeds. These new offices will almost treble our workspace to allow us to expand our operations and also provide a great environment for our team to work from and customers to visit.”

Martin continued:

“BigChange has grown significantly over the last five years from a £300,000 annual turnover to £7m.”

Paul Holcroft, head of commercial leasing at Scarborough International Properties, said:

“We are pleased to agree this significant deal with BigChange on the back of our recent deal with Duchy Homes. Thorpe Park Leeds will offer an ideal base for this forward thinking, innovative Deloitte Technology Fast 50 business and its growth in years to come.”

Paul continued:

“As well as prime office space with fantastic accessibility, we offer comprehensive travel, health and wellbeing facilities for staff through our unique ParkLife platform and this is proving invaluable as we progress further deals to let our newest building, Paradigm.”

The deal with BigChange will see Scarborough International Properties vacate the ground floor of 3150 and relocate into 4,000 sq ft in building 3125.

Cushman & Wakefield, JLL and BNP Paribas Real Estate are office agents on Thorpe Park Leeds.

Following a £162 million investment deal with Legal & General Capital, Scarborough International Properties is progressing a transformational 1.35m sq ft mixed-use expansion.

Phase two of the development is now well underway with a new 350,000 sq ft retail and leisure park due for completion this autumn. Occupiers will include Next, M&S Simply Food, Boots, Odeon and Pure Gym. The plan also includes a further 940,000 sq ft of Grade A office accommodation, 300 new residential homes by Redrow and a 113-acre public park with sports facilities.

The first new 31,650 sq ft ‘headquarters’ office building, currently the only major out of town scheme available in Leeds, is now completed and ready for immediate occupation.

I’ve spent my entire life starting companies and building brands. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the moment you get complacent, you’re in trouble.

It’s easy – especially when you find a bit of success – to stop thinking like an entrepreneur, and to rest on your laurels. But you have to fight complacency at every turn if you want to build something of true value.

This week, I’d like to share with you one of the ways that I make sure I never stop innovating, and keep moving the company – and myself – forwards. It’s a little strategy that I call my ‘shop floor days’.

As often as I can, I take myself out of the office and spend the day with one of my customers or prospective clients. No, I don’t mean I have a fancy lunch with the chief executive. I get up at 5am and go to a customer depot to spend the first half of the day riding around with their engineers, contractors or delivery drivers. Then around 2pm, I go and work in their offices, sitting with the people answering calls and making bookings.

The shop floor idea isn’t all mine. It was inspired by the time I spent working with GE, the American conglomerate, back when it was run by the visionary leader Jack Welch. Back then, GE leaders spent a lot of time analysing the way things were done. They were always looking for a way to make small but consistent improvements. The strategy is known as “six sigma” – you can find more about six sigma here: https://www.ge.com/sixsigma/sixsigstrategy.html

These shop floor days have had a profound effect on the businesses I have built, and have informed so much of the new products and features that I have created. This is how I find customer pain points, and learn how to solve huge technical challenges.

I build a rapport with the people I meet, and they share their experience of their job, and I take notes. It’s that simple.

You’d be surprised how easy it is to get customers to agree to a shop floor day. I’m treated like an extension of the company. The people I meet are always open and genuine – they don’t think I’m there to catch them out. They know I want to help, and that anything they say will be treated with absolute sensitivity.

One heating and plumbing customer had no racking units in their vans, so thousands of pounds worth of stock was just piled up in the back. Another bakery chain was sending drivers to stores at 2am to deliver fresh bread, but when I came along for the ride, I saw that drivers were being mobbed by homeless people who wanted yesterday’s leftovers. These kinds of issues are often unknown – or, worse, ignored by middle management. It took me speaking up about it to bring them to the attention of the top brass.

Over the last 15 years, I’ve done over 100 of these shop floor days, and they are among the most interesting and inspirational ways that I can spend my time. I have even branched out, and now spend the odd shop floor day with my own employees too, sitting with the team or out on the road with a member of our sales team or installation engineer.

Of course, my shop days help me to sell BigChange. I can explain how our technology would allow the driver / engineer to do away with all the paperwork lumped in the passenger seat, or how stock could be tagged so everyone knows where every part is at any time. For the bakery driver, who battles the homeless every morning, he is able to check into the system and reassure the company there have been no issues.

But my feedback also saves these companies money: we’ve helped remove unnecessary driving time, making workers much more efficient. Our booking service also helps them offer a much better customer service. People know exactly when someone is coming to deliver their washing machine, which means they’re not waiting in all day. These things add up, and have contributed to BigChange’s success.

Every business owner should take the time to get out of their office bubble and spend time with the people who use their product or service. No business is ever fully optimised; there is always room for improvement. See you next week, and good luck fighting complacency. It’s a battle we all must wage.

All the best

Martin Port Signature
Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Garic, the specialist welfare and site set up products provider to construction and other sites, has revolutionised its service operations with a mobile solution from BigChange Apps.

Garic has improved and streamlined their hire and service operations replacing 400 paper worksheets with an all-in-one tablet app that also provides job scheduling, asset management, live tracking and reporting.

A large part of Garic’s work involves servicing plant and welfare facilities – for example emptying waste, replenishing water and fuel. Garic recently launched a new remote equipment monitoring system called i-SITE that monitors fluids to alert service operations. Service drivers, who respond to automated service requests and scheduled jobs, are equipped with rugged Samsung tablets and are amongst the primary users of the 90 BigChange-connected devices currently in use.

With service operations previously managed at three regional depots, the company has been able to centralise the management of service operations with the BigChange mobile solution integrated with the inspHire hire management system. With their headquarters near Bury, Garic has depots in Bedford, Dudley and Bathgate, with plans for a fifth site in Thurrock this year.

Lee Williams, Programme Manager at Garic commented:

“BigChange has been central to a drive to paper-free working through an initiative called the Digital Hire Cycle”

Lee Continued:

“It’s remarkable to think that we are replacing 400 paper worksheets with a simple tablet to manage over 100 job types. And not only is BigChange saving many hours a day by eliminating form filling and data entry, but with the improved accuracy of data we are significantly reducing invoice-related disputes.”

“However, it doesn’t stop there. With real-time electronic information now available we get valuable management information from customer sites. For a hire business, quick turnaround is crucial and with BigChange we have much better visibility of our assets. For example, we now know the condition of plant before it arrives back at the depot so we can immediately schedule for re-hire or the workshop.”

BigChange offers a cloud-based solution that requires no onsite software and is fully supported, eliminating the need for specialist IT support. Easy to use and configure, BigChange is unique as it is a truly multi-functional solution that handles tasks that are traditionally spread across a number of different systems. At Garic, BigChange is used for everything from worksheets, routing and job scheduling, to vehicle safety checks and driver performance assessment.

Lee added:

“BigChange has been very accommodating to our needs and they have delivered a very simple solution to what is a very complex environment.”

There’s a lot of advice out there for entrepreneurs. Every day there’s a new ‘21 ways to supercharge growth’ or ‘Four ways to be a better leader’.

I enjoy reading all the weird and wonderful tips but, in my experience, being successful just requires one thing: great customer service.

If your customers love you and value your business, every door opens. They buy more of your products or services. They reward you with long-term loyalty. You get more referrals – and word of mouth is the best customer acquisition tool because it’s meaningful (and free). Your reputation soars, which helps you recruit better employees, and attract investment. I could go on.

I’ve run all kinds of businesses over the years, and there have been three lessons that have ultimately helped me to be successful each and every time. It didn’t matter if I was creating a bakery, selling white goods, or building a bold new technology venture – I’ve always stuck to these three simple rules. I’d like to share those with you today.

Be the landlord

With any business, the founder should feel personally responsible for its success. Like a pub landlord who puts their name up above the door, you must take pride in your venture and never hide behind the organisation, even as it grows.

I see myself as personally responsible for everything that goes on at BigChange. My phone number is on the internet, and I take calls direct from customers at all times of the day or night all week, except the sabbath. If my customers experience any pain using our service, then I feel that pain too. I get copied in on all emails and I make sure that I’m involved until the issue is resolved.

Customer service goes beyond the customer; it’s about how you treat your own people. If I get an email in the night, and I don’t see that someone else has handled it, I’ll phone the driver or engineer back. Doesn’t matter if it’s 2am or 3am, I’ll phone and ask what I can do to help.

Some of the business leaders that I admire most have a similar strategy. It was a great shame when Dido Harding stepped down from TalkTalk, the telecoms business, following its cyber security issues. I remember when my mother had a problem with her TalkTalk internet service and I emailed Dido. She was genuinely interested in my mum, a woman in her seventies, and personally fixed the problem – even though TalkTalk had millions of customers at the time. Whatever she decides to do with her career, I’ll remember that interaction – that’s the power of great customer service.

Spend more than you think you should on customer service

From day one, in all of my businesses, I have invested in customer service. People have always called me mad: spending money on a department that wasn’t directly related to sales. But it’s always paid off for me.

At BigChange, we have at least one customer service representative for every 50 customers. We are creating a brand-new piece of technology, so we have always offered free webinar training and free support. We don’t even charge people to call us – we take on that cost.

Great entrepreneurs make it easy for their customers to get in touch. That means offering online, phone, and offline options. If one of our customers is really struggling with something, we will send a person over to their offices to help them resolve it face-to-face. I think it’s safe to say that’s a pretty unusual strategy for a software company.

When you spend on customer service, the return on investment is massive. We have really low customer churn – only 3% ever leave us. And some of those were due to company liquidations rather than cancellations.

Love your difficult customers

When you are building a business, you will come across difficult customers from time to time. They are never satisfied, and are always demanding more from you and your team. I’ve learned that a customer who is difficult at the outset of the relationship will often be difficult for the duration of the contract – that’s just the way it is. I should know: I’m a difficult customer myself and it takes one to know one. But the great thing about these people is that they help you to learn, and they drive your team to perform at a much higher standard.

If every customer was passive and no one gave you a hard time, how would your business improve? It’s better to be challenged: a customer service team learns a lot as a result of dealing with difficult customers – they often speak a lot of sense. Many of our customers have been with us for years, whereas some employees might be brand new, and could learn a lot from the customer’s insights.

It’s important to train your team to love tough customers. I take the time to explain that our customers come in all shapes and sizes. I like to use the analogy of the NHS. When a nurse is on the ward, some patients will complain that they haven’t been seen fast enough, others will apologise for taking up a bed. The ward is full of all sorts of people but the nurse has to make them all better, and make sure each patient leaves feeling they have received a good service.

I hope these customer service lessons will be as valuable to you as they have been to me. If you’ve got any great tips to add to the mix, please leave a comment. If you enjoy these posts, don’t forget to follow me to receive updates. See you soon for the next instalment…

All the best

Martin Port Signature
Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Mobile : +44 7973 671779
Landline: +44 113 4571000 Ext 333

BigChange

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