Archive for May, 2013


4 Ways to Engage Your Employees

Jet-BlueHistorically speaking, airlines haven’t exactly been known for stellar customer service. That is, until JetBlue entered the market in the late '90s. The airline's founders wanted to change public perception, so they built a company squarely focused on service and employee engagement. The concept was a huge hit and the airline’s success has sustained throughout the years; it was even featured at the top of the 2013 North American Airline Satisfaction Study by J.D. Power & Associates.

Ann Rhoades can be credited with a good portion of JetBlue’s success. She is one of the company’s co-founders and famously known for her dedication to service and engagement. In 2010, she came out with the book Built on Values: Creating an Enviable Culture that Outperforms the Competition.

Here, she shares a few of her top engagement tips.

Perform group recognition

Employees appreciate recognition, especially public recognition. Rhoades encourages business owners to call out employees’ customer service-based achievements in all-employee meetings. One big tip: be specific with recognition. Explain exactly what the employee did to deserve a call-out.

“It makes them feel great to be recognized in front of their peers,” she says. “It also encourages other people to emulate their behaviors.”

Handwrite thank you letters

Mentally flash back to the days of your childhood when your parents would require you to write thank you notes to family and friends after holiday celebrations. Now apply that to your employees. Everyone likes to receive personal notes—after all, they are quite rare these days—so take the time, when someone goes the extra mile, to sit down and thank them, in writing.

“Don’t overdo it because it will lose its value,” Rhoades advises. “But remember that thank you notes have a tremendous impact. When I was at JetBlue, we would give them out to maintenance guys and they would carry them around for years and bring them home to show their families. They were really proud of those notes and these were big, macho guys.”

Involve employees in important decisions

Everyone wants to feel like they are part of something, so make your employees feel valued by involving them in big decisions. While at JetBlue, Rhoades would encourage employees to name individual aircrafts.

“We would also ask them to design graphics for plane tails; they loved being involved,” she remembers.

On a smaller scale, retail shop owners can get employees involved by asking them to help with window displays. Even small decisions can increase employee engagement.

Schedule face-to-face interaction

Small business owners are busy people and it can be difficult to find the time to recognize employees. Rhoades recommends CEOs schedule employee interaction into their calendars.

“Make it part of your day to go around and say hello to your employees,” she suggests. “Make the rounds in the morning, at noon and in the evening. If you do that, I promise that you will see employee engagement and customer service levels increase.”

 


Don’t Let a Natural Disaster Cripple Your Business

SandyOver the past few years, thousands of lives have been changed due to extreme natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the High Park Wildfire in Colorado, and last month’s tornado in Oklahoma. In addition to the tragedy of lost homes and lives that Mother Nature has brought, many small business owners have found their companies crippled from the sudden lack of resources and communication outlets.

Last month, we visited with Nextiva customer, John Lepore, of Rockaway Park, New York. The building that houses John’s insurance agency was demolished last October when Hurricane Sandy tore her way up the East Coast.

Thankfully, John had recently set up cloud-based phone service with Nextiva so that he could keep his business up and running in disaster scenarios. As soon as his employees connected their phones to the Internet at their alternate office location, their Nextiva phone systems connected them to dozens of customers who were in need of assistance. The ability to field urgent calls from customers immediately after the storm turned out to be crucial for John’s insurance business.

Watch the video below to meet John and hear his story firsthand:

Hurricane season is right around the corner and the American Red Cross is expecting numerous storms this year. We encourage you to take the proper precautions to secure your business from any natural hazards that may come your way. 


Tuesday Tip: Listen to Your Customers on Social Media

Social MediaOf course your business is active on social media—you’ve got Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest accounts, and you’re posting, pinning and tweeting all day. But is your social media activity one-sided? Like a big-mouth at a party, are you only posting, pinning and tweeting about yourself, while never stopping to listen to what others have to say?

If so, you’re wasting a huge opportunity. Social media offers you unprecedented ability to listen to your customers’ wants, needs and desires without having to conduct expensive surveys or time-consuming cold-call campaigns. Instead, you can simply watch your social media accounts to see what customers are saying about you.

To get the best results from listening on social media, try these 3 tips:

  • See what gets attention. What products, services or aspects of your business are customers most interested in? Do more people respond when you offer special deals or discounts, or do they get more excited about events (such as a special tasting menu at your restaurant) or limited-edition products? Once you start paying attention, it’s simple to do more of what gets results, and less of what doesn’t.
  • Focus on responding. Instead of worrying about what to say about your business, focus on responding to what your customers are saying. That could mean replying to or commenting on their posts or retweeting relevant content. It could mean dealing with customer complaints on social media or probing deeper into customers’ interests.
  • Ask questions. Tweeting or posting quick questions, informal polls or surveys is a great way to find out customers’ likes and dislikes. By asking their opinions, you’ll not only show them that you care and make them feel engaged with your business, but you’ll also gain valuable information that can guide your future business decisions. 

Mondays with Mike: See Through your Customers’ Eyes


How Respond to Negative Online Reviews

thumbs-downNegative reviews can be scary for any company and cause business owners to feel personally attacked and defensive. These feelings were on display last week when Samy and Amy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy’s Baking Company Boutique & Bistro in Scottsdale, Arizona, were dropped from a popular restaurant show and subsequently received a barrage of negative comments on their social media pages.

The media widely reported the couple responding negatively to their customers on social media, many of their comments spiraling out of control. This situation is an example of how not to respond to negative online reviews.

Micah Solomon, customer service expert, consultant, speaker and author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service, offers a few helpful tips on better ways to respond to unhappy customers.

Take a breath

While it is important to respond quickly to online reviews (“A 24-hour response time on the internet is way too long,” says Solomon), make sure you are calm when communicating. Depending on the severity of the negative review, achieving a state of calm can take time. Solomon recommends business owners take a short break to clear their heads before logging back into their computers.

Own up to it

“As soon as you are calm, sit down and craft a response that thanks the writer for his/her comment and apologizes for their bad service or product,” Solomon says. “Then, write that you will contact them privately to resolve the matter in a timely fashion. From there, send them a private message.”

But what if the reviewer continues to write negative reviews for the whole world to see, even after you’ve tried to be professional?

In this case, Solomon recommends continuing to respond in a kind and sympathetic tone. Know that they will eventually stop and that other customers will soon question the credibility of the original commenter.

Keep in touch

Former company naysayers can turn into loyal customers after experiencing superior customer service. Don’t stop the conversation once you’ve resolved an issue. Instead, keep in touch with that person and go the extra mile to deliver the best customer experience. Chances are good that they will write a positive review on your social media channels in no time.


How to Inspire Customers to Write Online Reviews

Online reviews have a tremendous amount of power these days. A good one can bring in droves of customers and a negative one can drive away potential clients. As a small business owner, how do you inspire your customers (especially the happy ones) to write online reviews of your business?

“I was at my tailor the other day and he straight up asked me, ‘Micah, when are you going to write me a review?’” says Micah Solomon, customer service expert, consultant, speaker and author of High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. “I’d been going to him for years and it had never dawned on me to write something about him online. I went home that night and was pleased to write him reviews.”

Just ask

Online-Reviews-5-stars

Solomon’s experience can be applied to any business. As he now recommends, business owners are smart to come out and ask their customers to write reviews. It is best to do this in person, he says, but it can also be done over the phone or even email.

“Look at your client list and identify the people who spend sizable amounts of money with you every year,” he says. “We aren’t talking about a shop owner contacting someone who came in one time and spent $10. Asking them probably isn’t the best idea because it will come off as a random solicitation call and may annoy them.

“Instead, focus on your repeat customers, call them up and simply ask them to help you out.”

Solomon adds that it is important for business owners to explain the importance of such reviews to customers. Tell them that it can make a world of difference for your business and your personal life and try to make a unique connection when contacting them.

“When calling, talking to or emailing someone, make reference to the last thing they purchased and thank them for their business,” recommends Solomon. “Explain how much it means to you and how much it would mean to you for them to write a review online.”

Make it easy

Not all customers are savvy on the web. If you really want a client to review your business online, try making it easier for them to find your Yelp, Facebook and/or TripAdvisor page by emailing them a link.

Suggests Solomon, “If you are in person, print up a few cards with the web addresses of your review pages and give these cards to your customers at checkout.”

 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Reward Your Employees the Right Way

Employee-RewardAre you rewarding your employees for good work? That’s great—but are you sure you’re rewarding them in the most effective way? One of my friends still remembers the time she got a gift certificate for $250 worth of premium steaks from her boss. Pretty generous, right? Well, yes—except my friend was a vegetarian. Not only did the gift certificate fail to serve its purpose as a reward, it actually made my friend feel worse by reminding her that her boss didn’t know anything about her—and didn’t bother to take the time to find out.

So how can you avoid this kind of gaffe? Here are some tips for effective employee rewards.

Get personal. A reward tailored to the employee’s hobbies or interests makes him or her feel special. For example, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, tickets to a game for a sports fan’s favorite local team, or an Amazon.com gift card for the avid reader are all good rewards that don’t have to cost a lot. If you don’t know what the person likes, have someone in your office scope it out. (However, stay away from anything so personal that it could be misinterpreted, such as cigars, lingerie or liquor.)

Be unexpected. Reinforcing behavior at unexpected times—that is, random rewards—can be more effective than rewards at expected times like holiday bonus season. Employees are likely to remember the unexpected reward (and talk about it) far longer. Look for opportunities to reward employees on the spur of the moment (you could keep something everyone likes, such as Starbucks gift cards, on hand for such occasions).

Make it public. Rewarding someone in front of the rest of the team makes the reward more valuable because it includes a dose of public praise. It also shows the rest of the team that there are rewards for good work, spurring them to earn their own rewards. Don’t reward your employees quietly in their cubes; get everyone’s attention, and make it a big deal.

Spread it around. Yes, some employees deserve more rewards than others do. However, if a few employees start to feel like they never get rewarded, resentment will ensue (and spread). Look for the positive in everyone’s behavior and find ways to give small rewards to all employees, while still making them feel “earned.” That way, you’ll keep everyone feeling motivated. 


Mondays with Mike: Ask Bigger Questions to Get Bigger Results

 


How to “Create Customers Who Will Create Customers”

Take a minute to think about your three favorite stores. Chances are, you’ve been shopping at the same spots for years. You might even know the owners by name and have referred friends who’ve turned into long-term customers themselves. If this sounds familiar, you are, as Steve Curtain describes, “a customer who creates customers.”

But as a business owner yourself, how do you find these people? The answer lies in the attitudes of your customer service employees, says Curtain, author of the upcoming book (out in June) Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary.

Identifying job essence

In researching his book, Curtain sat down with several customer service employees to ask them the question, “What does your job entail?” Most responses sounded like they were read off of an online job description: to answer calls, transfer calls, retrieve account information, etc.

“Rarely did employees refer to actions and behaviors pertaining to job essence, which is creating promoters to your company—people who will spread positive word of mouth,” he says. “They can do this by seeing service as a verb, as something they have to work on and cultivate every day.”

Service as a verb

customerEmployees who focus exclusively on the transactional part of their jobs (how many calls executed in an hour, sales leads brought in per quarter or month) can make customers feel devalued. In order to change this dynamic, Curtain recommends business owners train customer service employees to emotionally cultivate each customer. This can be accomplished by expressing genuine interest in the customer (knowing/learning their name), sharing unique knowledge that cannot be found on a company’s website or inside a brochure, and conveying authentic enthusiasm or energy in their voice.

“Think of service as a verb, just like love is a verb in a committed relationship,” Curtain says. “Being in a relationship with someone requires you to be interested, to care and to do things that make the other person feel appreciated. It is the same with customer service. Instead of looking at a customer service role as just practical, empower your employees to think of what they do as a journey and something to cultivate every day.

“Companies that do this tend to attract more business opportunities and create customers who go out and create more customers.” 




 
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