Elizabeth Toogood

Go Forth and Multiply

We all know the feeling. We have a problem; put some spin on it and call it a challenge if you like, but ultimately, it’s a problem. There are of course, umpteen ways in which it can be solved. Some solutions rule themselves out immediately because they will take too long, cost too much money or wreak too much havoc. Other solutions buzz around our heads like tenacious mosquitoes never settling long enough for us to make a decision. The problem continues to worry us; it fills our mind and saps our energy; it nags away at us. It prevents us from moving forward and growing to reach our potential. But here is the bottom line; find yourself at a roundabout and you can only drive around it so many times until you really do have to select an exit. tenacious mosquito


So what to do, how to choose where to go?


The obvious answer is to take the conundrum to someone else, to share, seek advice and hopefully solve this pesky problem for once and for all.

This is, however, more easily said than done, and guess what – contrary to popular belief – a problem shared brings another problem with it!

Namely, who do we turn to, who should we ask for help? Family members or personal friends are obviously good people who we trust but they may not have the experience or skills to comment on say, business development (though that may not stop them….).  They cannot be objective and will often judge (how dare they?!).  Even if they do have the technical skills, they might not have the interpersonal skills needed to focus on “getting it”, to listen, evaluate, craft a solution and then review action; building confidence and motivation at the same time.

In my experience, people make the effort to seek out a sounding board because they want a secure place in which to think, in a completely uncluttered zone.  They want someone to challenge their thinking and tease out a solution that will deliver their objectives; they want stretching and support; they want someone to whom they can be accountable and they don’t want to feel embarrassed or judged.

People who run businesses live in a lonely world. They come up with good ideas and often overcome tough mental and physical challenges in order to turn those ideas into reality. They build up a customer base, acquire allies and employ people.  Confidence and a sense of purpose are of paramount importance, indecision and fear can be fatally counterproductive.

Once their business is established and developing according to plan, they need to examine the options for the next phase.  Deciding which step will deliver the desired objectives within the available budget requires a safe space to think out loud and  the courage to discuss, discard and develop.

I am a critical friend. Not just a business mentor, but a critical friend. I recognise the fears that the roundabout exit decision can create. I believe in you unconditionally and with a sense of objective.  I know you are influenced by timescale and budget but I also know you wrestle with your internal doubts. I have a wealth of invaluable life and business experience to share. Some of us are good talkers but not so good at making things happen. Others are good listeners and good at making things happen.  Working together we can make things happen.

A client wrote recently “I feel that the fortnightly session with you is an integral part of my month.   I can talk to you about anything, and there isn’t anyone else in my life I feel that about. The fact that you are also a highly skilled professional with a whole heap of knowledge and experience is a blessing and a bonus”. This is great for my ego but much more importantly he is getting the results he wants. He is making the progress towards his targets that he was not making before we met.  That is the power of a critical friend, and that is why I love my job.

If you want to take the plunge and try this type of relationship there are eight pieces of advice I would give you:

  1. Recognise your own value; realise you are your business’s greatest asset and make the time to invest in your own self-development.
  2. Be clear what you want from the mentor you seek – write a list of your requirements
  3. Meet a range of people who appear to have the suite of business experience, knowledge, personal skills and attitude you need.   Use personal recommendations to find these people.
  4. Have a selection of questions to ask. Reject anyone who cares more about their own ego than your progress.
  5. Ask yourself whether these people have been successful in life and business and what their motivation is to do this type of work.
  6. Still unsure? Why not talk with me about this type of relationship; what it can yield; what to think about.
  7. Make sure the chemistry between you works; it will become a very close relationship in which some intimate things will be said. Making a commitment to someone else who believes in you unconditionally and then going back to review progress really moves the project forward.
  8. Review your progress after three months and you should be surprised and pleased by how far you have moved and the results you have achieved.

Good Luck, go forth and multiply!



01234 273644 or 07968 822275


Email: elizabeth@toogoodcriticalfriend.co.uk

Twitter: @liztoogood




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On building your Team Me and realising your dreams

I love my friend, Jennie Bayliss for three reasons. The first is because Jennie cuts through flimflam; she sees things analytically and applies good short phrases to describe them, no verbiage.  A spade is most definitely a spade.

Jennie Bayliss - part of my Team me

Jennie Bayliss – part of my Team me

The second reason I love Jennie is because she runs an outfit called Office Wings who do two things: operate as a virtual PA doing things like filing and mailshots; and providing concierge services like waiting in for the plumber, or organising (and even writing) the Christmas cards.  Absolutely invaluable.

And the third reason, and the focus of this blog post is because she has come up with the typically succinct term Team Me. Team Me is a brilliant way to describe the gathering of people around you who can help you juggle all the things you need to do, and give you the time and energy to focus on the things you really want to do.

Jennie Bayliss is a supreme juggler who makes things happen – I feel very thankful to say that she is most definitely a part of my Team Me!

It's all about teamwork

We all need people like Jennie around us to stimulate and challenge our thinking, to sympathise with life’s vicissitudes and to help us put the broken pieces back together as and when required. Everyone needs a support network, everyone needs a Team Me.

Let’s take the example of a working mum with two teenage children who is in the first three years of running her own business; has a husband with his own demanding job; and whose parents, in-laws and siblings are scattered round the country rather than helpfully located down the road. On her Team Me she might have:

At home

  • Schools with reliable after school clubs and good child care for school holidays
  • A trustworthy, experienced and conscientious cleaner who also does the ironing
  • A gardener who can work without supervision
  • Decorator/handyman/plumber/electrician/locksmith who will come out when she has regular work but more importantly in an emergency
  • A friendly neighbour to take in parcels and let the various workmen in
  • A motivational personal trainer

At work

  • An efficient book keeper and accountant for the business and to do her personal tax
  • A good PA who keeps on top of everything
  • Good professional advisers & associates – marketing; social media; legal and so on
  • A network of likeminded business professionals

Does that sound good? Of course it does. But there is something missing.

The most important recruit to Team Me is the one who is objective; who believes in the ‘me’ unconditionally but can separate that from looking at the facts; who tells the truth; who challenges our thinking to refine it and improve it; who holds us to account so we stay on course and get things done; and very importantly who gives us the type of support we need when we need it. I call this person a Critical Friend.  A person who is not emotionally involved;  whose job is to help you move along the road at your own pace, without taking the wrong turn or getting distracted by the scenery!

Let someone else do the ironing

Let someone else do the ironing

One of my mantras is “Do what you are good at and delegate the rest to someone good at it who likes doing it”.  If you hate ironing, the ironing basket just gets fuller and fuller – when you do eventually tackle the pile it takes you twice as long as it should. Delegate it; you do what only you can do, and let someone else do the ironing.

Our spouses, family and friends all want to help us but may not have the time; might not be objective (their lives might be affected if we take what they might see as risks); or might not have the skills we need. They love us unconditionally and do not want to see us hurt, stressed, or working like a demon. They are clearly important to Team Me but not necessarily part of it. Team Me is more about the support you need in order to create time to spend with your loved ones.

You need a Team Me if you know what you want out of life – if you have dreams.  Turning them into a strategy and crafting plans to realise them is not easy. Things get in the way – we don’t know how to do it; we have not got the confidence to try; we get distracted; we fall down and can’t get up by ourselves; we believe our critics; we don’t believe our fans……….

Building a Team Me will enable you to focus specifically on your dreams and goals by giving you the precious gift of time.  Time to help you become all you can be and stay focused on your objectives instead of dashing from crisis to crisis, always busy but never really making any real progress.

If you are serious about living your life to the full and being the very best you can be, if you are committed to following your dreams and realising your goals, if you know what you are good at and can leave the rest to everyone else – then it is imperative that you surround yourself with Team Me.

Your Critical Friend

Your Critical Friend

And might I be so bold as to suggest you add that Critical Friend to your Team Me, a professional like myself who specialises in challenge and support and is unfailingly and reassuringly, always on your side, always a part of your very own Team Me.



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My Seven Pillars of Stunning Customer Service by Liz Toogood

Delivering stunning customer service 24/7 is a stretch for any organisation. However, your customer service must be stunning in order to differentiate you from your competitors.

Ultimately your service is what binds customers and clients to you; good is simply not good enough. Printing your commitment to customer service on a bumper sticker or carrier bag is not sufficient – plastic bag platitudes are all very well but have no value unless acted upon.

In this blog I’m going back to basics;  “Why bother with customer service?”

No product or service is unique, people buy from us because they choose us and once we are on the ‘sacred’ list of preferred suppliers, we need to stay there even though there might be a better deal elsewhere.

In order to be successful we need to build strong, interesting relationships between our customers (people) and ourselves (also people and not faceless organisations with no personality at the end of complicated telephone systems with automated computerised voices that cut off at the final hurdle………). I don’t mean sending out newsletters to our customer base telling them how wonderful we are, and what we’ve achieved that month, I mean creating a personal relationship that gives individuals far more than they seek when they trade with us. I mean developing friendships.

We also have to be aware of what people are saying about us both good and bad. Unsolicited but important reviews of our performance and products are readily available in cyberspace. OK, we know some might not be entirely accurate but people read them and bona fide or not, bad news travels particularly fast. Be vigilant, be responsive, be stunning.

So what are my Seven Pillars of Stunning Customer Service?

1. Know what stunning customer service looks like

Think about it. What is stunning customer service? It’s not the regular service we enjoy from most of our network. It’s the stand out from the crowd service; it’s the people who go the extra mile for us; the ones that surprise us; the ones who delight us; the ones we want to shout from the rooftop about.

This is not rocket science – think who impresses you; who impresses your family and friends (ask them); who impresses your employees (ask them too). It might not be in your own business sector, it probably won’t be. So go and visit these people in their organisations. Talk to them. Take some of your employees with you. People love to hear how good they are and they will be pleased to let you observe what they do and how they do it. Analyse what makes them special; watch and learn. Now how can you have the same effect in your business? Model perfect customer service so that everyone in the organisation knows how to behave; and if things are going pear-shaped make sure your team has the tools available to them in order to recover the position.

2. Be human and be true

Make sure your customer speaks to a real person at the beginning of their customer service journey. Ensure that person is the person your customer is seeking. Put your own baggage on the shelf, play the part; you are here to give great service.

Tell the customer your name, slowly and clearly, don’t gabble. Smile – however you might feel – and focus on the customer. Remember smiling is even more important on the phone and they will know if you are distracted.  Listen hard to the clues they give you. Use their name if they give it to you, and make friends.

What is the customer seeking from this interaction? Focus on their needs and why they are talking to you; is it a simple query or a complex complaint? Put yourself in their shoes and give them the answers they are looking for. Are you giving them an answer that would satisfy you?

Always be truthful and always be true to yourself and your values. Use your initiative to ensure your customer goes away happy, and more importantly, tells everyone else how happy they are.

3. Keep your promises

We are taught “to under promise and over deliver” mainly to flag up that “over promising and under delivering” is unacceptable. However I am not sure about this. If ABC Co. Ltd. tells me they will be there on Wednesday then I plan for that; if they suddenly show up on Tuesday that could present as many problems for me as would their not showing up til Thursday. I say keep your promises. If you can’t, for reasons outside your control, LET ME KNOW. Ring me immediately, speak to me, leave me a message, send me a text, drop me an email, send me a tweet – apologise then explain what will happen next to get things back on track.

4. Know your products/service

Know your products. It sounds simple but often isn’t. Know what you sell; how it works; where it works well; where it would not be appropriate; how long it takes; how much it costs.

Be prepared for every question. Make sure you know the answers. If you don’t – admit it. Never waffle, never lie. Make a commitment to the customer to find out the answer then go away, get the answer and get back to the customer as soon as you can.

5. Communicate

Don’t you just hate phoning and being put “on hold” because “we are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment but your call is important to us….”? Or being invited to go to the website when you know perfectly well that the FAQs on the website won’t help you; or worse still calling your broadband provider to find out why it is down and being referred to the website! None of this is proper two-way communication.

Nor is communication a questionnaire or a survey. How often do you ignore them when one of these falls into your Inbox? If you want to know what a customer thought then why not ring them to ask them? (But not at a mealtime or when “Coronation Street” is on TV). And ask if they have a few minutes to spare you. They might say “No” but they might say “Yes” especially if you tell them that you are the business owner and you want to improve your service and you’ve also got some luxury hampers/vouchers/freebies to give away.

Always keep the lines of communication open. Tell me what is going on, especially if nothing is going on. Keep in touch with me. A text telling me that you are on your way is always appreciated – especially if I have put things on hold to wait for you.

6. Closure

Having helped your customer, then complete the interaction and close the conversation. What is wrong with “I am pleased we have managed to sort out your query today” or “Thank you so much for calling and letting us know about this”? Don’t switch into autopilot and ruin all the hard work you have put in. By this I mean don’t use plastic bag platitudes, or clichés – don’t say “Is there anything else I can help you with today” – if they wanted something else they would have said. Close with “Have a nice day” and you’re committing customer service suicide in my book.

7. Treat every complaint as an opportunity

When things go wrong – and they will go wrong – your customers will tell their families, their friends, their colleagues, their associates and anyone else who will listen. So throw everything at it! This stops being an operational matter and starts being damage limitation otherwise known as reputation protection. Nothing is more important in this digital age. You do not want to go viral, unless it is in a good way.

It may be that the whole issue is clear cut, the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding and easy to resolve; whatever the situation, be stunning in your response, don’t argue the toss but do something amazing to acknowledge that you were in the wrong. Start by saying you are sorry – and meaning it; being sorry is often the thing that really matters.

If you need time to investigate what happened then devise an acceptable holding position whilst you do whatever you have to do to check out the facts. If you act quickly and politely then your customer will tell their networks about how brilliant your response has been rather than dwelling on the original problems.

So I have said anything you didn’t know?

I doubt it.

Watch your people too and make sure they are consistently doing the right things. Customer service is for life, not just for Christmas, and if they are letting the side down – deal with it!

Ultimately it is simple. We are all customers and we all know what we want; deliver gold standard to your customers and clients every time and you will fly.

Good luck.

Liz Toogood
December 2014


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On the day job, and butterflies

‘So someone asked me yesterday what exactly is a Critical Friend?  What do you actually do?  So I thought it was time enlighten you….’

Some people are driven to develop all their talents and abilities; being acceptable isn’t good enough.

Others hate getting decisions wrong and want to weigh the options carefully.

Some know what they want to do but cannot plot the course to make it happen or work out how to engage the people they need to help.

And then there are the people who spend their lives developing others and have no time for themselves.

Believe it or not, all of these people need a critical friend.

These are people who are good at what they do and often know so much they are overwhelmed by their options. They are often at the top of their tree but have no-one to turn to for support or advice. They need a sounding-board.

These are people who get very little “me” time or focus.

These are people who I encourage to step outside the protective walls of their lives and look back in from the outside.

And then I help them. I create an atmosphere in which they know that they are totally accepted; they have nothing to prove and nothing to be embarrassed about. They can revert to being the little boy who needs some appreciation or the teenage girl who is frightened of making a fool of herself. They can unpick the happenings that have caused them concern; they can craft ways of dealing with upcoming events. They can rehearse their arguments and evaluate the consequences.

I ask questions; lots of them. I encourage people to pause and look at events or decisions objectively and from every angle. There is no rush – the important thing is to get it right. Sometimes we go back to something many times until the person knows they have got the right solution for them (not for me and not for anyone else, the decision must be right for them).

I draw on my experience and knowledge, my years as a top executive.  I become the friend who will tell the truth; who asks the questions but does not judge you by the answers; who is interested in the problem and respects you for wanting to develop your thinking. I am the friend who will celebrate the great things that you do and enjoy them with you.

In the critical cocoon of my friendship, many a clumsy hungry caterpillar has turned into a beautiful breathtaking butterfly….. sounds appealing?  Perhaps we should talk? 001234 273644 or 07968 822275 – your first consultation is a gift from me.


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