Archive for June, 2014


Coaxing Great Service Behavior from your Employees

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker. 

Coaxing great customer service behavior out of your employees is one of the most important elements of providing a great customer experience. Let’s take a look at what’s involved and how you get this done.

The waiter with no peripheral vision

I could give you examples from any high-tech, low-tech, or moderate-tech industry.  But since everyone goes out to eat, let’s look at two contrasting waiters.  These guys will be familiar to anyone who has ever eaten out.

Waiter #1: A skilled waiter [could be a waitress] never drops a tray, never reaches across you, brings out all the food accurately to his section. 

However, he’s also immensely skilled at ignoring any and all gestures and glances from anyone trying to get his attention who is outside his section or even who is within his assigned section but interfering with the order in which he was planning to go about his waiterly tasks.

Waiter #2: Equally skilled, but this one’s a master of using his peripheral vision, and even his peripheral hearing, to jump to the assistance of any guest, anywhere in the dining room — in or outside his own section — who needs his attention, who has dropped a fork, who has a question…

What makes the difference?  Stay tuned…

Purpose vs. Function

Let's assume your hiring process ensured that both waiters come to you with equal natural levels of empathy. The difference in their performances is due to one simple factor:  One waiter knows and understands his purpose in your organization, and the other one doesn’t.

Every employee has a job function, and a purpose in (and of) the organization. The function is what’s written, in detail, on the employee’s job description.   Or, to put it another way, it’s the technical side of the job.  Take orders.  Deliver food.  Process credit cards. 

An employee’s purpose is something different.  The purpose is the reason you’re doing all those technical things, and sometimes stepping out of your technical role to do whatever it takes.  A purpose for a waiter, and for everyone else working in foodservice or hospitality? Something along the lines of “you’re here to provide a pleasant, safe, and memorable experience for our guests.”  

Ritz-Carlton do not disturb sleepy image-copyright micah solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) Micah Solomon

Get this purpose across right away, starting with orientation, and you’ll have to deal with fewer cases of employees who have mysteriously lost their peripheral vision.  You’ll have people competing to go the extra mile. Because they’ll understand, that this is what they’re paid for. The great Horst Schulze, who founded what we think of as the modern-day Ritz-Carlton, made sure to be at the opening of every hotel, personally doing the orientation.  He didn’t talk about the technical aspects of the job:  ensuring there are no water spots on the glasses, and so forth.  He talked about something else:  every employee’s purpose at the hotel.  He would introduce himself, letting them know “I’m President of the hotel.  I’m a very important person.”  Then he’d say “and you’re an important person too”— you control the impression the guests have of the hotel more than he, as president, ever could!

He’d go on to spell out their purpose, starting with: “the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.”

The Mayo Clinic, one of the most extraordinary hospital groups in the world, functions in a very technical, regulated, exacting fields: healthcare.  Yet what do the new employees here, from day one, over and over and over?  The incredibly untechnical, incredibly straightforward, seven word purpose they are assigned:  “The needs of the patient come first.”  They are given to understand, from the very beginning of their orientation, that they are to put the needs of the patient above anything they may think they’re “supposed to” be doing at that moment—if the two are in conflict.

Of course, its not quite that easy.

There’s certainly more to coaxing the most out of your employees than saying a mantra over and over.  But it’s a very good place to start.

What else helps?

  • Reinforcement.  Daily if possible, weekly if not. Hold a brief (5-10 minute) meeting where you reinforce your company purpose and discuss ways to achieve it.
  • Positive Peer Pressure.  We think of peer pressure as something negative, by and large.  Kids don’t decide to light a stick of tobacco on their own; they see other kids do it first.   But peer pressure can be a powerful force for good as well.  It’s the reason Disney parks are so famously spotless:  You see your peers picking up stray trash, so you do it as well. 

For our hypothetical waiter, he’ll see his co-workers rushing to replace a dropped fork, continually scanning the rooms for eye contact from guests outside as well as inside their station, finding additional ways to be helpful before being asked.   And he’ll figure out that he’s expected to do the same.

  • Standards.  Everything that is done on a regular basis in a company is worth developing standards for:  answering the phone, replying by email, running a credit card charge, opening a service ticket, whatever it is.  But you need to design these standards in a way that explains the reason for the standard and makes clear when it may make sense to deviate from it. Otherwise you’ll have standards complied with in a robotic way by embittered and ultimately sabotaging employees.
  • Employee empowerment. This goes hand in hand with standards. Employees need to be empowered to do what’s right for their guests.  Period. They can’t be nickeled and dimed (or houred and minuted) to death for what they didn’t get done because they were tied up doing what’s right.  They’re late coming back from their lunch break because they were jump-starting a guest’s car in the parking lot?  This is something to celebrate, not something to be disciplined for. 

© 2014, Micah Solomon


3 Ways to Prepare for a Trade Show

DS2_8820-maWhen we plan events as part of our marketing strategy, there typically 2 primary goals: lead generation and brand awareness, with leads being the most important. There are, of course other reasons to exhibit and sponsor events, such as partner relationship development, meeting with multiple current customers in one location, and even hiring new employees. However, these are generally secondary objectives.

It's no secret that events are quite costly. In fact, they can quickly command 20-30% of your marketing budget with just a few events each year. So, it pays to do it right.

Here are a few tips that can make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.

1. Start early. With planning, promoting and logistics – it is never too soon to start the process. From ordering onsite services to designing your theme, message as well as promotional and educational materials – event dates are hard deadlines. The show must go on, as they say, so it’s better to be prepared and have all of your information ready with a consistent look and feel, and of course, content.

​Here’s why:

  • Discounts are often available if you order onsite services early.
  • Shipping costs less if you can send ground and use the event transportation company.
  • Avoid rush charges on graphic production and material printing.

2. Prospect pre-event. Tell your customers, prospects, previous event leads and potential partners which events you will be participating in and what you’ll be doing at each one. Share your role in the event; let them know if you are exhibiting, speaking, sponsoring or hosting a custom event. Spread the message across multiple channels and sources so you can attract as many targeted attendees as possible.

Here’s why:

  • The audience is already spending the time and money to get there.
  • Meeting with so many people in the same place reduces your travel budget.
  • Filter through the primary prospects from the “just kicking the tires” so you can focus your follow-up activities on your best opportunities.

3. Create a fun, engaging experience at the event. Background banners and a literature stand with hand sanitizer as your give-away (granted, a much needed item at events, but not the reason people attend) in a 10×10 booth are common place. Be different. Do something fun! Make people want to seek out your booth, event, activity, etc. You are spending a lot of money to produce an event (even with a 10×10 booth) so create a memorable experience that people talk about well after the event ends.

Here’s why:

  • An extra dollar or two (yes, that’s all it takes) on your give-away can stand out as something people remember – and use.
  • Your fun theme will stick with people and help them remember your brand as one they associate with smart and creative people.
  • The last thing you want is to throw money away. And that’s what happens when your give-away is cheap or not memorable.

Nextiva Customer Success Story: Fanology Social

The vibrant team at Fanology Social spends their days helping their clients form one-to-one relationships with fans across social media platforms. The award-winning digital content agency works with celebrities and big brands across the country including Toyota, Mini Cooper, Ashley Tisdale, Waka Flocka Flame, and Shay Mitchell.

We met with Richard Janes, CEO of Fanology Social in Los Angeles, to learn about how his company uses their phone system on a day-to-day basis.

“We’re in social media, so the biggest thing for us is talking to people and having those conversations,” explained Richard. “So if your phones don’t work and they’re crackly…we’re in trouble.”

Once a small team of only 3 employees, their only work phones were their mobile devices. Now at 16 employees and growing, they knew they had to transition to a more reliable communications solution.

When searching for new VoIP service, Richard’s first priority was to find a provider who could provide great customer service. After reading reviews and narrowing down his choices with a few phone calls, he chose Nextiva.

When asking Richard why he picked Nextiva out of all the VoIP providers available, he explained: “They took an interest in our business and about how we could best utilize their toolset. And obviously there were some things that we’re applicable to us, but there were some things that I hadn’t thought about that immediately made total sense when it was explained, because they had the expertise.”

Find out why telephones are not something that Richard has to worry about anymore:


7 Technologies to Ignore in 2014

New technologies are released every day. For those small business owners that have shiny object syndromes (SOS), they can be hard to resist. Many are pushed to thinking that in order to have a competitive edge, they need to offer their customers the latest technology. However, for the good of their company, here are seven that need to be ignored in the next 12 months:

  1. Smartphone Watch. Wearable technology is a hot topic, but unless your product is related to getting data directly from consumer movements, pass on this technology now. Let’s be realistic; do you really need to look at a watch for an incoming message or call instead of pulling out your smartphone? It’s uber cool (in a Dick Tracy kind of way), but the productivity factor so far is missing.
  2. 3-D Printers. Need one for the office? Probably not unless there is a physical part you sell that can be created from it, instead of ordering from a supplier. For $500 to $2,000 (supplies not included), you can probably fulfill the need some way else.
  3. QR Codes. This is a technology that had a lot of promise, but has never been really accepted by the consumer. Most will not go to their scanning app to retrieve the web site location referred by the QR Code. Sit this one out and use a web or social media address on your products.
  4. Big Data. Analyzing your company with data is a good thing, but small businesses need to forget about going big. The reason is that most owners don’t look at even the simplest information. Do the analysis of your financial statements and your customers’ buying habits before you even think big data.
  5. Snapchat-LogoTemporary Social Media. This has been a big hit in many teen circles where pictures and messages self-destruct after a period of time. Small business owners should run their companies as if every message sent or posted will last forever. This is the best way to measure company values and actions.
  6. Google Glass. While this technology has many exciting possibilities, it does not fit into the critical path for servicing your customer. Until Google brings down the price to $500, it will remain only for the leading edge techie and curiosity seeker.
  7. Bitcoin. Ever since Mt. Gox default disaster, this virtual currency has been derailed. Your customers won’t be paying in bitcoins anytime soon. Easy mobile and online payments should be your only focus

Someday, these technologies may be useful to a every small business, but not today. What technologies are you putting off implementing?


How to Make Great Hires in Your Small Business

Stocksy_txp9a65d8f63x6000_Small_34724As your small business grows, you begin to consider hiring help to take some of the workload and stress off of you. After all, if you can delegate some of the work that isn’t required to be done by you, you free yourself up to work on tasks that generate revenue. These tasks include things such as developing your company’s overall strategy, scheduling pitch meetings or being the face people see when they walk in your door.

That being said, moving into the land of becoming an employer is far from easy. Turnover in industries like restaurants can be shockingly high, at around 60%, and every time you hire an employee that will leave after a few short months, you’ve got to invest more time and money in finding a replacement.

These tips will alleviate some of these headaches and help you make great hires in your small business.

1. Know What You’re Looking For

The more specific you are in your hiring needs, the better you will be able to find it. Start by determining whether you even need a full-time employee. Possibly you only need a little help, which can be fixed by hiring a part-timer or a freelancer or agency who can take on project work like writing or design.

Then, decide what skills and experience you need. This will help you write a concise job description that will only attract the people that are qualified for the role you’re seeking to hire. Consider:

  • Any special skills that will make the job easier
  • Experience you want in a given industry
  • Job history working in similar positions

Obviously, if you’re hiring an ice cream scooper for the summer, the requirements will be lower than if you are hiring a marketing manager, but it’s still important to determine the qualities the person should have. Ideally, you want people who are hard workers and are committed to your company, who are looking for a job they can grow from over a long period of time.

2. Look in the Right Places

Job boards are the easy (and rather lazy) choice for employers to find employees, but fewer employees are finding value in the masses of unqualified resumes they get as a result. Many call job boards a “cattle call.”

Did you realize 92% of companies use social media for recruiting? Social media may be the right place to begin your search if you’re looking for professionals specializing in marketing or business services.

And don’t overlook your own local network. You may know people who can refer the perfect candidate to you, and since referrals tend to retain employees longer (46% after one year compared to only 22% from job boards), your golfing buddy might be your ticket to finding an employee who will stick with you.

You can also work with a recruiter, especially if you’re seeking to hire a professional with highly-specific skills. While a recruiter will take a bite out of your budget, it may take him less time to find the best talent for the job than it would you.

3. Make Your Company Enticing

Remember: job candidates will be interviewing you just as much as you them. And with unemployment less of a threat than it was a few years ago, they can often afford to be picky about where they work. Make sure your company is positioned to appeal to them.

You can’t expect someone accepting an entry-level position to want to stay in that role for years, so ensure that you have a clear path to growth so that when they’re ready to move up the ladder, they don’t have to leave your company to do so.

Also look at your employee benefits offerings. Are you competitive against what other local businesses provide their staff? Health insurance, vacation time, and other perks should be included in your hiring budget and plan, and should be appealing enough to make anyone clamor to work for you.

Part of finding and keeping good employees is doing your best to clearly identify what you’re looking for in a hire. The rest comes from solid management and providing that employee every reason to want to continue working for you.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Selling to Millennials? You Need a Loyalty Program

Stocksy_txp65da3129op6000_Small_134151If your small business doesn’t have a loyalty program—but does have Millennial customers as part of your target market—you may want to reconsider and add some type of rewards program to your marketing mix. The 2014 Loyalty Report from Bond Brand Loyalty reports that U.S. Millennials (defined as aged 20 to 34) are more likely than other age groups to participate in loyalty programs. What’s more, they’re more likely than other age groups to change their shopping behaviors based on a loyalty program, the study says.

A whopping 60 percent of Millennials would switch brands and two-thirds would change where they buy in order to get more loyalty rewards. In addition, 67 percent contend they wouldn’t be loyal to a company without a good loyalty program.

Consumers overall are enrolled in an average of 10.4 loyalty programs, and are active in about seven of those. While loyalty programs are widespread, consumers are getting slightly more unwilling to share personal information with them. Some 32 percent say they worry about divulging personal information, compared to 29 percent last year.

What works to get customers to spill their data? Offering discounts based on prior purchasing behavior, inviting customers to special events, customizing offers for them and inviting them to online communities for loyalty program members are all effective ways to get users to share their personal data. In addition, users say that when a company’s loyalty program makes them feel valued and important, they’re more likely to share personal information with that business.

However, there are some important differences in what works for Millennials as opposed to other age groups. Millennials are more likely to want to interact with your business on a mobile device. They’re also more likely to care about non-monetary rewards, such as getting recognized by their peers or being able to share their experiences with others.

Craft your loyalty rewards program to appeal to your desired customer base, whether that’s seniors who want plain old punch cards or mobile-loving Millennials who want to track everything on their smartphones. Your efforts will pay off in greater loyalty and higher sales. 


Mondays with Mike: Entrepreneur As Warrior – Business Advice From Military Leaders

????????????Whether we realize it or not, business and war have a lot in common.  The same strategies that win battles, create success in business as well.  In addition to reading brilliant books by authors like yours truly, you can also learn from the sage advice of military leaders as well.  Some of my favorites quotes:

  1. “No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”  George S. Patton, Jr.   One of the greatest generals in American history gives us this reminder that we must get out from behind our desks.  The most successful business owners command respect because they understand every aspect of their company.  They can…and have…and will perform every task that’s necessary.  Get in the trenches!
  2. The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.” Sun Tzu.   We must be willing to disengage from our egos if we want to be successful leaders.  Setting the example of making decisions in the company’s best interest inspires selflessness and a devotion to the greater good in our employees as well.
  3. “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”  Geronimo.   Thought leaders explore beyond the boundaries of where other people live and work.  They push into unexplored, uncharted territory, and the result is creativity and innovation that inspires the people around them.  Growth and inspiration come from the willingness to free yourself from conventions.
  4. The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr   You started your business because you had a dream, a vision.  You should run that business by living in accordance with your code, your values, and your vision.  Be consistent, and learn to trust your instincts.
  5. “Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter.” Winston Churchill.    I see it everyday:  entrepreneurs working themselves into an early grave, pouring their raw energy into their business, as if that energy were limitless.  Working toward efficiency – strategic deployment of resources for maximum long-term gain should be your goal.
  6. My observation is that whenever one person is found adequate to the discharge of a duty… it is worse executed by two persons, and scarcely done at all if three or more are employed therein. “  George Washington.   Finger-pointing, inefficiency, blame shifting … all signs that there’s an accountability issue.  Even though much of business requires collaboration, it’s essential that you assign a single person to be the responsible, accountable party for ensuring that a job gets done.
  7. “I am concerned for the security of our great Nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within.”  Douglas MacArthurWhile it’s important to know what your competition is up to, you must also keep an eye on what’s going on inside your own company.  Lousy morale is contagious and can kill a company from within, much quicker than you’d expect.  

Wars aren’t just won by violent encounters.  They’re won by preparation, vigilance, and the willingness to do what must be done, even if it’s unpleasant.  Taking a lesson from these military leaders helps you prepare yourself to win the battle for your company’s success.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: NDN

The team at News Distribution Network brings content to life for over 146 million viewers worldwide by providing publishers with over 100,000 real-time stories each month. Their mission is to revolutionize the digital marketplace for their publishing partners and brands through profitable, next-generation media solutions.

Every day, NDN employees across the country work 24/7 to provide short-form video content to online publishers and content creators. Founded in 2007, the NDN team now has over 100 employees with locations along both the east and west coasts.

A reliable phone system has proven critical to NDN, as they use it on a daily basis to:

  • Receive information on breaking news stories to get them on their partners’ websites as quickly as possible
  • Have immediate access to contacting their media distributing partners 24/7 in case there is a problem
  • Let employees easily travel between nationwide offices without having to reconfigure a phone each time

We met with Joe Bunker, Senior Director of Network Operations at NDN’s headquarters in Atlanta, to learn about his company’s transition to Nextiva’s phone service in 2009. We’d love to share his story with you:


Best Business Book to Read This Summer

I get business books in the mail every day. I sift through hundreds of them each year in an effort to  search for the best ones for small business owners to read. Here is my list every business owner should read this summer:

Duct Tape Selling - John Jantsch
Most small business owners stink at sales and marketing. From the author of the popular book, Duct Tape Marketing, comes a new book that shows how the job of the sales person has changed. Instead of ABC meaning “always be closing”, John’s ABC’s are “always be connecting”. Information on the Internet has shifted the very foundation of the sales process. Sales people no longer have to just close, but need to teach, serve and develop trust. They have to create their own expert platform, stay connected before and after the sale by curating value content for their clients.

Profit First – Mike Michalowicz
Making a profit is a huge problem for many small business owners. They don’t know how to use financial statements and pay themselves last. Mike shares a money management system that is more intuitive and beneficial than traditional GAAP accounting. Instead of focusing on sales and revenue, he focuses on profit. A must read for every entrepreneur who wants to make money.

Do/Lead-  Les McKeown
Alpha leaders are dead. There are no longer bosses and employees. In a small business, each person has the ability (and obligation) to step up and lead. Les tackles four myths that have paralyzed modern leadership and provides the tools needed to be an impactful leader including the mindset, the techniques, and how to get started.

The Etiquette Advantage in Business – Peter Post et al.
The business world is becoming too casual. Manners still have an important place. Peter and his family provide timeless “Emily Post” type advice for any business situation from dinner with the boss to the first meeting with a new client. He shows how to write persuasive emails to choosing the appropriate dress for the office.

When The Buyer Says No - Tom Hopkins and Benn Katt
Sales legend Tom Hopkins focuses on the biggest problem for most small businesses; what to do when the customer says no. In this book of strategy, the reader learns a new approach to selling called the Circle of Persuasion. Tom and Benn simplify the tricky sales process by providing a step-by-step guide with real-world examples to ultimately show how a “no” can turn into a “heck yes”.

Haunted Empire - Yukari Iwatani Kane
Want to know what Apple is like after Steve Jobs? Former Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, asks “Can a great company stay great without its visionary leader?” She examines Apple in the two years since the death of Steve Jobs and provides insight into the future of this iconic company. A very fascinating read which will change your view of Apple.

Pitch Perfect – Bill McGowan
Words still matter. The right ones can make the difference between sealing the deal or losing the customer. Media professional Bill McGowan shares how to use the perfect tone to convey the right message. In the world of media, there is only one shot and Bill shows the reader how to get it right!

Start Me Up!- Ebong Eka
I have made a lot of mistakes. I wish I read this book years ago. Start Me Up! shows how many causes of new businesses failure are 100% preventable by providing strategies to avoid the four major pitfalls that they experience.

Hacking H(app)iness - John Havens
With Pharrell Williams hit, “Happy” sweeping the globe, it seems like that is the new goal of every small business professional. Hacking H(app)iness describes how to leverage personal data that is being produced by tracking activities on smart phones and computers as a way to understand what brings people happiness. He shows how the Information Age can improve our personal lives as well as our companies

Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth – Chris Brogan
Growing up, I always felt different. In his latest book, Chris makes all of us freaks feel at home. He targets those who believe they may be too different or “not the business type” and shows them how to turn it into a revolutionary business. After you read this book, sign up for his daily newsletter.

Execution IS the Strategy: How Leaders Achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time - Laura Stack
Laura emphasizes the importance of having an organization that is fast on its feet; one that can easily adjust its strategy to changing realities. Her L-E-A-D formula outlines the four keys to execution to give companies the agility they need to succeed.

And you may want to pick up my new book….

How to Get Unstuck

 




 
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