Archive for April, 2014


Work Your Biz Wednesday: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Are you prepared to start your own business? Here are 5 questions any would-be entrepreneur should ask themself, from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Using Twitter for Customer Service

shutterstock_81656434In order to provide the best possible customer service, smart small business owners learn from the big companies’ best practices. One tactic more and more big corporations are using is providing customer service on Twitter.

Doing customer service on Twitter makes sense, since so many consumers are turning to Twitter to share information and, sometimes, complaints about companies that provide poor service. If your small business is using Twitter for customer service—or considering doing so—a study by SimplyMeasured polled the top 100 global brands to find out what tactics they use. Here’s some of what they found:

Consumer expectations have changed. From being pleasantly surprised if your company replies to their tweet about your service, they have now come to expect and even demand a response. Ignoring negative comments on Twitter can lead to a PR nightmare for your business.

Create a dedicated customer service Twitter handle, such as @customerserviceyourbiz. This enables you to quickly spot and flag customer-service oriented tweets. Just 32 percent of the companies in the study did this; however, consumers’ use of these dedicated handles increased 44 percent in the last year.

Be aware that creating a dedicated handle will also raise expectations for a quick response from your business. The average response time of companies in the study was about 4 hours. However, a response time of less than 24 hours is generally acceptable; 90 percent of companies were able to respond to dedicated customer service tweets within that time.

How are companies keeping pace with the increasing flow of customer service tweets? First, they’re staffing up their customer service teams. Second, they’re making their existing teams more efficient by using Twitter as the first step of the customer service process. One common tactic is to direct users to a Web page, such as a FAQ or self-help page. Another is to have the user contact the company directly by mail, phone or direct message. This has the added benefit of taking the problem resolution out of the public eye on Twitter. Finally, using “canned responses” to common problems, complaints or questions speeds response time greatly and can handle most situations.

Finally, it’s important to pay attention to when most of your customer service tweets come in. Not surprisingly, most companies saw the heaviest traffic from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. during business days, and customers were most likely to get quick responses at this time. But if you find that half of your tweets are coming in, say, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., you may need to add to your customer service staff to handle this. Outsourcing to someone in another time zone can be a good way to handle this issue. 


Mondays with Mike: Words To Strive For – Stellar Customer Service

Most of the entrepreneurs who read my articles and my blog aren’t necessarily famous in their fields.  Most of us aren’t considered industry experts, and we don’t have the Wall Street Journal calling us for our opinions on current business events.  If there’s one way in which we can excel, though, and I mean really stand out from our peers, it’s in our customer service.  You may not be able to service all the customers, but you can service the happiest customers. 

All of my employees who have customer contact are armed with the following four phrases that encapsulate our attitude as a company committed to delivering stellar customer service … every time.

  1. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????“I don’t know, but here’s what I’ll do.”  It’s unrealistic to expect every member of your company to have the answer to every possible question or the solution to every problem.  What is reasonable is to require that they commit to finding that answer and following up with the customer.  Train your staff to clearly communicate their plan: “I’m going to get that answer for you and call you back by 2pm,” or “I will do some research and let you know before noon tomorrow.”  When customers understand that your staff takes their needs seriously, and that your staff will follow up on time, every time, you’re setting yourself up as a leader in customer service.
  2. “I am very sorry.”  When a customer’s unhappy because your company has failed to meet their reasonable expectations, they want you to own up to your mistakes.   Acknowledging that customers are right (when they really are) helps to defuse potentially angry clients and gets your staff started in the direction of resolving the complaint.  One caveat:  save the apologies for when you’ve genuinely made a mistake.  We’ve all dealt with clients who are impossible to please, and apologies for not having met wildly unrealistic expectations don’t accomplish anything productive.
  3. “Yes.”  “Yes” is the magic word that consumers want to hear more than any other, and your customer service reps should strive to say it as often as they reasonably can.  Now you’re going to have to empower your reps with a little discretionary power, but imagine how this scenario plays out.  A customer comes in displeased with their carryout food order from the night before.  Your cashier offers them a free sandwich to replace the one they didn’t care for, and they walk out impressed with your company’s handling of their complaint.  If your cashier has to fetch a manager, the customer seethes, perhaps causes a scene, and still walks out with a free sandwich that it cost you two employees to handle in addition to the potential fallout from an unhappy customer in your restaurant.  If you can reasonably accommodate a customer’s wishes, then do it right away!
  4. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  Whether you’re wrapping up on the phone or in person, using this phrase accomplishes two goals:  it lets you ensure that your customer is satisfied, and it also lets the customer have the pleasure of having the last word.  Whether they leave after telling you that they’re completely satisfied or they give you one more opportunity to meet their needs, you’ve won with this phrase.

The key to superior customer service is authentically caring about your clients’ satisfaction.  Training yourself and your staff to use these phrases creates a climate in which serving customers is the highest priority.


How Can Voicemail-to-Email Make Your Life Easier?

Paul Kida has been a member of the Nextiva Support Team since 2010 and now serves as the Onboarding Team Manager.

Voicemail is a very common way for a customer or client to provide you with detailed information about questions, concerns or projects. With so many different things going on in the work place day-to-day, it is expected that at least a few calls might end up in your voicemail box. 

When listening to a voicemail from the phone, it is often easy to miss a phone number or not clearly understand an important part of the message. And starting the entire message over just isn’t an efficient way to work. When using the voicemail-to-email feature, incoming messages are sent to your email where you can open the audio file and listen to it on your computer – a feature that saves time and increases your ability to work remotely.

When listening to a voicemail on a deskphone, you may be required to listen the entire message over again just to catch every important detail.  If there are account numbers, phone numbers, addresses, or other detailed information being left in the voicemail, you may need to listen to the entire voicemail multiple times in order to catch everything. Listening to your voicemails on your computer gives you a time saving advantage, because you can easily rewind to certain parts of the message in case you missed a detail. 

Voicemail-to-email can also help you organize how you will address the voicemail you just received. Certain email programs will let you set up flags and reminders that will ensure you don’t let certain high priority messages fall through the cracks. 

And, you have the ability to control the archived messages on your computer so you won't have to worry about a new message pushing an old message out. This way you don’t have to worry about accidentally deleting important information.

Check out the voicemail-to-email feature with any of the Nextiva Office plans. This feature can be set up within minutes on your phone system.

 


Creative Ways to Get Cash to Run Your Business

There is very little that you can count on in business.  But one thing is universally true — banks and investors are the most interested in giving capital to the businesses that need it the least. Given this universal truth, how can small businesses get the capital that they need to operate and grow?  It may be time to open your mind to creative cash flow methods that can infuse your business with the money that you need when you need it.

Leverage Your Customers

One way to achieve financial fitness is by practicing what I call “cash flow yoga.”  Simply put, you need to find ways to take cash in quickly, while letting it out slowly.  Rather than making your products or deliveries up-front and then chasing down payment, why not flip that traditional formula on its head?  Move to a system where you pre-sell and then, fulfill product orders.  Or, if you sell services, ask your customers to reserve your time with an upfront deposit.

Pre-selling definitely improves your cash flow, helps you save time chasing down payments and helps to filter out deadbeats.  Moreover, it also teaches you a great deal about the popularity of your products, so that you know what and how much to produce — and what products to abandon.

If you think that customers will not welcome this approach, the right marketing can transform this strategy into a selling point. For example, I advised a woman selling organic cosmetics that using a “made to order” messaging would keep her from having to retain inventory and allow her to take payments, make the products and then, deliver them. 

Just be sure to know the laws about deposits in your jurisdictions, so that you know how long you have to deliver while being compliant.

Embrace Gift Cards

??????????????????????????????????One major gift card vendor reports that consumers spend over $100 billion in gift cards each year.  And 72 percent of gift card holders spend more than the value on their cards.  But you do not have to be in the retail industry to benefit in this way.  Many businesses can boost their up-front cash by issuing gift cards or certificates.

Gift cards and certificates provide a win-win for you and your customers.  If you run a time-sensitive business like a tax accounting firm, pre-paid clients know that they lock in the knowledgeable support that they need during the busy tax season — and  if you combine the pre-pay strategy with a discount, even save money by paying upfront.  Not only does it provide a cash infusion into your business, you can better anticipate your future workload, so that you can plan resources effectively.

Before you start making these offers, however, you need to keep two important caveats in mind.  First, you need to review state and local laws to make sure that your strategy works for your business.  Additionally, pre-payments require different bookkeeping practices.  When you sell gift cards, they represent liabilities to your business.  Once you deliver the products or services, they become revenues.

“Kick Start” Some Cash

You may not know the term, “crowdfunding,” but you probably recognize the name Kickstarter, which is one of the most popular sites used by people looking for financial “backers” for their new projects and products.  Although there have been recent legislation changes around crowdfunding equity, there are many crowdsourcing platforms that allow you to seek contributions in exchange for providing perks and benefits to your sponsors.  For example, a $100 sponsor for your flying widget might receive a widget once they are produced.  $250 sponsors might also see their names on the packaging.

If you need additional cash to bring a product to market, crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be the right solution.  But, unless you get enough pledges, you will not obtain the funding you need, so you need to actively promote your listing.  Too many entrepreneurs think that if they build it or list it, that sponsors will just line up.  This isn’t the case- you need to take an active role to make sure that your project is fully funded. Get your friends and family involved in your project, and then make liberal use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to let the world know where to go to learn more and sponsor your project.

Also, the more excitement you create, the more involved your sponsors become.  Consider fun and informative videos, creative perks and fun descriptions that create engagement.  If you do it right, you may get more than money- sponsors may even make suggestions on how to improve on your original concept or share new product benefits that will improve your marketing.  The advantage is that small business owners can gain financial and collaborative benefits from their sponsors without giving up ownership in their companies.

Banks aren’t always waiting in the wings to help fund small businesses, but that’s no reason to throw in the towel.  Your entrepreneurial spirit and some out-of-the-box thinking can go a long way to help supplement your cash.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: How to Run a Successful TweetChat

Learn how to run a successful TweetChat for your business with these tips from the host of the longest running TweetChat that has ever been on Twitter, Melinda Emerson.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who They Gonna Call (and How You Gonna Answer)?

Stocksy_txpba8ad81dGw4000_Small_178379Is your small business paying enough attention to incoming calls? Today, with so much focus on social media, email and online marketing, it’s easy to believe that providing customer service through live chat is all you need to do, or that customers are content to contact you by email and wait to hear back from you.

In reality, human behavior hasn’t changed—just the technology has. When customers are frustrated about something, have questions about your product or service, or are ready to buy, their first instinct is often to pick up the phone and call your business. In other words, customers who take the trouble to call you are primed—to buy, to vent, to ask questions. What’s more, if your business is involved in any kind of inbound marketing program—whether using SEO, click-to-call buttons on your website or in your ads—you’re spending good money to generate those calls from interested customers.

How callers are treated can make all the difference in whether they move to the next stage in the purchasing process, get over their anger, actually make a purchase…or get turned off of your company forever.

So how are customers and prospects treated when they call your business? Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  1. Do they get through right away? Set standards for employees to answer the phone on the second ring (third ring at the absolute latest). Make sure all employees—not just the receptionist or office manager—know it’s their responsibility to answer the phone if necessary.
  2. Are they greeted pleasantly? Do the employees who answer your phone sound excited to talk to customers—or like it’s an interruption in their busy day? Remember, customers are the ones who pay your bills, and they have plenty of options to go elsewhere.
  3. Do employees have the tools they need to help customers? Internal FAQ lists can help employees quickly find answers to questions customers may have. Make sure all employees know how to transfer calls to the proper person.
  4. When customers are on hold, can they tell? There’s nothing worse than being put on hold and hearing dead silence, so you don’t know if you’ve been cut off or should continue to wait. Use on-hold messages or music so customers know what’s going on.
  5. Are calls returned within a reasonable time? The faster you can respond to a customer’s inquiry, the more likely you are to make a sale. If you can’t answer all calls, strive to return all calls within 30 minutes—yes, 30 minutes—for best results. Outgoing voice mail messages should state how quickly customers can expect their calls to be returned.

By paying as much attention to incoming calls as you do to your social media outreach, you’ll rapidly see results—and increased sales.


The Nextiva App Has Arrived!

The Nextiva App is here! Available for Nextiva Office ProPlus and Enterprise users on NextOS, it's a free application that simultaneously syncs your business communications between multiple devices. Find out more here:

Download the Nextiva App to your desktop and smartphone today!


Mondays with Mike: Sure-Fire Techniques For Cutting Costs

Every entrepreneur knows that minimizing expenses is essential to maximizing profit, but we don’t always know how to go about cutting costs – especially for big ticket items.  The longer I’m in business, the more I realize that paying full price for something is rarely necessary.  Here’s my list of tactics to avoid spending more than you have to:

  1. Buy generic.  Whether you’re talking about antibiotics or office equipment, insisting on a brand name will nearly always cost you more.  Shopping based on reviews, rather than name recognition will get you better quality for a better price.
  2. Borrow.  Look around your office, and I guarantee you’ll find a piece of equipment that you don’t use very often.  Whether it’s a box truck that you use twice a year, or whether it’s a fancy printer/scanner/copier that you only use to do your quarterly newsletters, examine your purchases and find someone to lend you the big-ticket items that you only need infrequently.
  3. Lease.  For seriously big-ticket expenses, especially those that you only plan to keep for a short while, or will incur significant maintenance charges, you should consider whether a lease is a good option.  If you must have a late model car, but you don’t need to put lots of miles on it, then a lease may be ideal.  Large office equipment can be cheaper to lease than purchase as well.
  4. ??????????????????????????????????????????Be patient.  We often don’t realize it, but a lot of purchases are made because of emotional, rather than practical reasons.  If you force yourself to sleep on a decision, you’re taking emotions out of the equation, and you’ll find that you frequently choose not to buy after all.  Make yourself wait, and you’ll inevitably save money.
  5. Barter.  Trading your unique skill set for talents you don’t possess is one of the best ways to save money – and strengthen community ties as well.  Trading your pizza shop’s delicious fare for business card printing services can benefit everyone involved with very little outlay of cash.  While you used to be limited to your immediate community to make bartering practical, there are now websites like TradeAway and BarterOnly that facilitate trading using sitewide credits so that you don’t have to find someone who needs exactly what you have to offer in order to get what you’re looking for.
  6. Buy used.  Products start depreciating as soon as you purchase them, and finding lightly used alternatives can save you a boatload.  If you’re savvy, you can often even find products that are still under warranty, and you may even find ones that are sold with an extended warranty that protects your investment. 
  7. Share.  Whether it’s infrequently used equipment or facilities like break rooms in your office space, if you look hard enough, you’ll find that you and other businesses are spending far more than you should on things you don’t use very often.  Working with folks in close proximity and finding the ways in which you’ve duplicated purchases can clue you in to options for making more efficient use of items you can share.  Think about negotiating a lease at a lower rate for shared restrooms on your floor, rather than several individual ones, or sharing a microwave or refrigerator with your neighbors in the office building.

I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who find innovative ways to spend less, and I constantly strive to be a better penny pincher when I can.  I don’t advocate cutting corners or sacrificing quality where it matters, but I do suggest taking a look at your business and identifying areas where you’re spending more than you have to.




 
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