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Achtung: Baby Businesses

U2 should read this even if you are an established business

I may be slightly biased here as I am a big fan of Germany and I have always enjoyed visiting and spending time with my German friends.  I have recently returned from a trip to Berlin, my first visit to Germany in years and importantly my first as a business owner. I was as I always am when I am in Germany in awe of how wonderfully efficient everything is run.  I also was indulged with superb customer service and found myself surrounded by a happy and seemingly upbeat nation. Not bad traits for a young business to adopt I thought to myself.

In the current marketplace young businesses  have to work harder and act smarter than ever before to succeed. There is little margin for error if one wants to survive the next 18 months.  However, I am still amazed at the poor level of customer service I still receive in Ireland and how defeatist many business people are. I firmly intend to be around, ready and waiting for the upturn and I look at being more German as a tactic to do this:

  • Being German in business – Okay I am going to play around with some stereotypes here, German’s are often referred to as being very direct and to the point. What a great trait to have as a business! Have a clear message and communicate clearly and concisely to your target market.
  • Go the Extra Mile for your customers – Everywhere I went in Germany, nothing was too much trouble.  A staff member at the hotel I was staying at drove us to a restaurant (we wanted to go to) as he said it was not too easy to get to on the train and then offered to collect us if we wanted. That is an experience so positive – I have told countless friends and will definitely return to that hotel the next time I am in Berlin.
  • Excellent customer service – Every shop, train station, restaurant I went to had people willing to assist me and thank me for my business. This had an amazing effect on how I felt- happy, wanted and satisfied. Not only was the customer service great, the people came across as genuine and sincere. Outstanding customer service is something every business should strive for and never compromise on.
  • Smile – I must confess I wouldn’t think of Germany as being a very “Smiley” nation, but I was amazed at how many smiling faces that looked back at me in Berlin. Never under estimate the power of a warm smile.  It can definitely be a deal maker!
  • Handshake – Ohhhh how off putting a weak, limp handshake can be. Nothing is more reassuring than a warm firm (not Arnold Schwarzenegger) handshake.
  • Serious, consistent and organised – Again being in business is serious business! I love the fact that most of the companies I have dealt with in Germany are always consistent and highly reliable. Portraying these traits to your customers will make them feel comfortable about you and your product or service. I missed several trains in Berlin and took great comfort from the fact that there would be another one soon and that it would arrive at the precise time it was supposed to.
  • Upbeat – I was completely amazed how upbeat and positive the German people were about the economic climate. They were aware of the challenges ahead of them, but were extremely positive about their future.  This is very much a message that I want to convey to my customers.
  • Dress to impress – There is no excuse for not looking your best when dealing with your customers. The business professionals I encountered were immaculately turned out. If I am looking for new business or even trying to keep my existing customers I cannot afford not to look the part.
  • Socialise – Many of my German friends spend their spare time outdoors socialising with friends. They tend not to spend the same amount of time staring at a television screen. Not only is the outdoors great for fresh air and exercise, but can also lead to some great networking opportunities too.

Maybe this article is a true reflection of how German business can help me succeed or maybe I was there on a good day?

On the week of St. Patrick’s Day it seems strange to be talking about making my business more German. However I really want to succeed and hope that I can make my competitors Green with envy in the future!

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Greg is a Social Media trainer and workshop facilitator with the Digital Marketing Institute. He has also delivered lectures and short courses for leading organisations including SureSkills, and The Michael Smurfit Business School. Greg also works with the Ahain Group as a Social Business Consultant. He believes that in order to make social media work for your business you must have a clear business goal, a clearly defined strategy and make sure that everything you do is measureable. Specialities include: Social Media Training | Personal Branding |Social Business Consultancy | Social Strategy Workshops | Interview Techniques | Psychometric Profiling | LinkedIn Training | Facebook Training | Twitter Training | Blogging | Online Video and You Tube Training | Emerging Social Media (Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, Google+ etc.) More information at: and

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  • What a cool post post Greg, really enjoyed it. I love to travel and this kind of comparisons are of great interest.
    I know the feeling, every time you see this kind of things, the question is “why not me?” or “why not where I leave?” I guess we have to feel luck for being able to pinpoint this area of opportunity, that will certainly make you different from your competitors without too much work…

  • Hi Greg. Nope – you weren’t there on a good day, what you saw and experienced is exactly how the Germans are all of the time. Any time I dealt with a German customer in business, they were pragmatic, disciplined but friendly i.e. everyone knew where they stood all of the time. No bad thing in my view!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment Fred.

  • Anonymous

    Touche! As the French would say. No a bad thing at all.

    Thanks for your comment Barney.

  • I haven’t spent a lot of time in Germany, but lived in Vienna for a while – all of the above bar the smiles…

    I think we can learn a lot from other nations in business. Ireland is a great place to live and work, however we killed customer service during the last ten years – I try to remember this when relating to my own clients.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Leslie and I think you hit the nail on the head re Customer Service.

  • When I was younger I backpacked all across Europe, I just loved Germany, everyone was so very helpful and I would have to agree with everything Greg said. A wonderful post, well done.

  • Greg,

    You articulated some great points of what can make doing business so pleasant and uncomplicated. Getting out of one’s own backyard can illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of one’s country.

    What struck me most about your post is how easy most of your tips are to implement. They are but I guess there’s a realisation here. Simply put, every country has a history and this plays out in attitudes and norms. There’s been a great conversation regarding this on Bloggertone comparing American, British,and Irish business practices. I’ve certainly noticed the fatalism in my frequent visits to Ireland and it worries me. You can’t move forward from an attitude of “it’ll never be better so why should I invest myself in changing my mindset?”

    And yet, I’m struck by the phrase that greets most visitors to Ireland, “Cead mile failte” and how this can encourage rethinking ourselves beond business owners and leaders. We are hosts to our customers. Our marketing is an invitation to come in and participate with what we offer. Offering a smile and a smooth experience is simply being a good host.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your kind words Catherine.

  • I haven’t had the chance to be in German yet. It’s nice to know more about the nation and their practices apart from the traveling tips. I’m pretty sure it’s about the good day and wonderful hospitality you’ve experienced. Another big ‘yes’ to customer service and friendliness.

    Now when’s the best season to go to German? 🙂

    Social/Blogging Tracker

  • Anonymous

    Winter is magical with Christmas markets, snow and Gluhwein! Might be nice for you to enjoy some cold weather. Thanks for your comment:)

  • I had several of my team from Germany and I enjoyed working with them so much more than the French (I live in France). At my last job we were told to be open and honest, for the Germans and me, that was easy. People can live with a polite ‘no’. Here in France we have to work a negative into the conversation while telling a person how wonderful they are.
    Of course in France, we have better food!

  • Betsy

    I’ve been in Germany several times and have to agree with you on the German efficiency, friendliness and grace in doing business. However please remove the photo of the goose-stepping guy. It undercuts the story with the most ugly of stereotypes that present-day Germans should no longer be buried under.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment. You cannot beat the French food and the wine is another plus.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comment Betsy. The picture is designed to highlight the stereotypes we have and how wrong they are. (by the way beautifully put “goose-stepping guy”.)

  • enjoyed the article Greg,

    I was recently in Hong Kong and witnessed some great service such as that described by you above in Germany. Staff couldn’t do enough and the place was so clean ( maybe I was just there on a good week too) There is a possibility that I will be relocating to Germany in the next six months so it’s great to hear of your experience. ( I might bend your ear for more info at some stage if that’s ok).

    In relation to the quality of service available in Ireland I fear the Celtic Tiger may have eroded a lot of the “Céad Míle Fáilte”. I might also add to the arguement put forward that us as consumer have unfortunatley let it happen by not demanding good service, accepting bad service or even worse still, rewarding bad service by return purchase. I also have a little theory that many people may have ended up in the wrong jobs during the “Tiger Years” which may have made them stressed and unhappy etc, which in turn results in bad customer service. Well that’s just a little theory I have anyway but I’m sure being a career coach you know more about this sort of thing than me.

    In realtion to the defeatest attidute I was at an event in Wales a few months back where “solution building” rather than “problem solving” was advocated. Just thought it was a nice way of getting rid of the negativity from the sentence and said i’d share.

    Once again, nice article

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for you comments Brian.

    Would be happy to talk to you re Germany anytime. You make a super point – That many of us have put up with poor customer service during the boom period. I am definitely someone who did this.

    PS. I like the “Solution Building” phrase over the “Problem Solving” phrase.

  • When I first moved to Ontario from BC many, many years ago, I was surprised by the general lack of customer service in retail stores. Fast forward a couple of decades and a recession or two, and for the most part that has all changed. Retail in Ontario now has to work to earn it’s keep, and the customer service has changed to keep up. Some of the larger chains have fallen off, as they reduce staffing levels to compensate for lower sales. It will be interesting to see if those chains survive in the long run.

  • Anonymous

    So there is hope for us here in Ireland! Great to hear.

  • Anonymous


    It can be very enlightening (and occasionally, discouraging) to travel to another country and see how their approach. What I love most about your examples is how you will adapt them to your business. Some of your tips are rather simple to put into place.

    Your observation about the defeatist attitude by Irish business owners may be an outgrowth of another attitude. How do you get past the idea that “it has always been this way and it always will be so why bother?” Maybe the Celtic Tiger was an illusion. However, I wonder if it gave people a glimpse that things could be different. Reminds me of that quote from Gloria Steinme, “If what’s in your dreams wasn’t already real inside you, you couldn’t even dream it.”

  • Anonymous

    Love the quote Elli. As an eternal optimist, I believe that people are beginning to realise that they have had their blinkers on during the Celtic tiger years and there is only so much pessimistic thoughts they can swallow. Thanks so much for your comment:)

  • I really enjoyed reading the article. Kudos Greg!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the lovely comment Tara.

  • Anonymous

    Wider Implications >>nnIt’s not just going to be Google who will be affected. Every session controlled by a cookie will too. That includes Ryanair, Aer Lingus etc. All you have to do is browse through the cookie list on your own PC.nnSomebody recently discovered that each time they went back to check the price of an online flight, the price kept going up. Then they deleted and cleared their cache and price dropped. This is 2nd hand information and I can’t say I’ve tested it.nnReal Answer >>nSession Tracking without Cookies isn’t new and we had built our own tracking system in 2004 that didn’t require cookies. This makes a lot of sense as you only need a cookie for when the user’s session breaks and tbh – Analytics has many faults in calculating Bounce Rates, actual “Unique” visits anyway!nn

  • Hi David,nnI think the wording of the directive means that first party cookies will not be affected so sites like Ryanair and Aer Lingus should be fine if the cookie is set by them and not a third party. Also as the directive is conerned with privacy then a tracking system that did not use cookies might also be affected as it is the tracking of the person that the EU seems to have aproblem with. The wording is so vague that I’m sure there are ways around it and we don’t even know yet how different countries in the EU will apply the directive into law.nWould be interested to hear more details on the faults of Analytics, I think many people would be interested to know more about this as the information given by Analytics is so valuable to people.

  • This may be an issue with European Region but not with other Regions. However i find GA an extremely useful analytics service which is offered free for all

  • This new directive, (and other changes to EU privacy laws further down the line that amend this and expand it to cover non-cookie user session tracking) will probably require a test case to clarify it’s scope.n nPlacing a simple form visible above the fold that allows visitors to “Turn off cookies” will ensure compliance. I’ll be recommending that my clients also add a “What’s this about?” link that pops up an explanation of the advantages of keeping the cookie enabled – tracking user behavior allows businesses to tailor the website to the visitors needs, rather than what they perceive as being the visitors needs. Improving the businesses return on investment, via feedback from website analytics to streamline the sales process, will enable the business to invest more in the quality of its products and services and/or to offer more competitive prices. Either way the customer wins by having cookies turned on. nnThis is an opportunity for businesses to educate their customers, by being transparent about their use of analytics. Some will just be scared off using analytics and remove them (most businesses seem to ignore the analytics data anyway). But those who make the effort to inform their prospective customers while providing an easy “opt out” will win in the end – by having analytics data, and educated consumers. Even though the analytics data will not be complete because fo the missing data from those with cookies disabled, it will still be useable – after all it never is complete anyway.

  • Hi Beatrice,nnI just finished the Google Analytics Conversion University (I even passed the IQ exam…yea!) and it says so several times at the Conversion University courses … i also found it on page 23 of Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics where he says in a pull quote box: “Google Analytics uses first party anonymous cookies only.”nnEager to hear why some would consider this a third party cookie.nncheers.nnp.s. nice blog

  • Torihawthorne

    So True Pawel,Thanks for your comment,
    But, I also know salaried Sales Teams who have worked exceptionally hard to ensure they keep their jobs and receive no bonus, no commission and not even a yearly pay rise.. It comes back to ensuring we have the right sales people for the right sales job.I really truly believe the middle ground is ensuring we train our sales teams from the start. We have to train them in effective sales and customer service techniques.

    Business in general can be nervous of sales people, and with the snaky slimy portrayal of sales people on TV etc I can see why. But with the right direction, training and appreciation our sales teams can be the best investment to any business.

    Thanks again Pawel

  • Torihawthorne

    Hi there Daryl,
    Thanks so much for commenting. It’s an interesting insight, thank you. I would not suggest it as a long term or permanent option for a company’s sales team (unless the business suited that model as some can). And I am not advocating that any commission only sales agent should finance the activities they undertake. I was looking at the planning, training & support aspects.

    I will take on board your points, its great to see sales from another persons perspective. Thanks again, much appreciated.


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