Archive for August, 2014


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

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.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

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Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


Understanding When It’s Time to Develop a Board for Your Small Business

?????????????????????????????????????As your business grows, you may seek additional input and support from others outside of your company. If you’ve reached that point, it might be beneficial for you to consider starting a Board. Whether it’s an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors, having the experience and insight of a well-rounded group of individuals can help you take your small business to heights you couldn’t have realized on your own.

The Difference Between the Two

There are two kinds of Boards you can consider developing: an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors. An Advisory Board includes a panel of people that have experience that can help guide you to making decisions for your company. A Board of Directors takes that one step further and has the power to vote on those decisions. If you incorporate your business, you’re required to have a Board of Directors, though you may not hold more than the required number of meetings. If you have shareholders you’ll also need a Board of Directors, as they’re the body that act in the interest of the shareholders.

How to Cultivate a Fabulous Board

Whichever type of Board you want to develop, here are a few ground rules to get started.

Start by determining what you hope to achieve with your Board. We’ve already covered the situations where you’re required to set up a Board of Directors, but if you want an Advisory Board (and you can certainly have both), you need a purpose and direction. Maybe you want to take your private company public, and want the right people on your team to guide you to success. Or maybe you want to enter a new industry that you know little about. Having experts in that field on your Board can help you navigate that transition.

Next, get the right people on board. (Pun. Get it?) Aim to find people with experience different than the rest of your Advisory Board or Board of Directors so you have a balanced panel. For example, you might invite one accountant to help with the financial side, one industry expert, a marketer, and a strategist. If you can find a well-known industry leader willing to participate, that’ll be great PR for your company.

You want to set expectations early so that potential members know what’s expected of them. How often will you meet? Will they be required to participate in email or phone call conversations between in-person meetings?

Then, set compensation. Board members are often shareholders, so they get compensated partially or completely in stock. For Advisory Board members, you might only pay for meals in meetings, or you might offer a stipend for their time. Remember: they are giving you some of their valuable time, so consider a fair and appealing compensation plan.

Developing Relationships Over Time

You may only meet with your Board once a quarter or once a year, so make sure to maintain communications throughout the year so they feel in touch with your business. Send a monthly newsletter updating them on what’s happening at your company. Check in with a phone call or coffee date occasionally. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. It’s important to make this a reciprocal relationship so they want to stay on your Board for years to come.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Get a Grip on Social Media

As an avid user of social media for business, I know how crucial social media is to marketing for today’s small businesses. Unfortunately, I also know how much of a time-suck it can be. How do you strike the right balance between spending half your day on social media and abandoning it for days on end? Try these tips to get a grip:

  1. Find your focus. Your business doesn’t need to be on every single social media channel out there. The main criteria for choosing a social network should be, “Where are my customers spending their time?” This can vary depending on your audience and your industry. For instance, if you sell B2B services to corporations, you’ll likely find your customers on LinkedIn. If you run a clothing boutique for women, chances are Pinterest or Facebook is where your prospects hang out. One or two social networks can be plenty as long as they’re getting results.
  2. Set a schedule. The worst thing you can do on social media is “go dark” for weeks at a time. When I visit a company’s Facebook page and it hasn’t posted in a month, I start wondering if they’re out of business or how responsive they are to their customers. Set a schedule and stick to it. It’s better to post less often, but regularly, than to post sporadically.
  3. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A picture is worth 1,000 words. Images get more engagement than text-only posts on most social networks. Instead of struggling to craft the perfect words, save time by sharing product shots, behind-the-scenes photos or short video clips.
  4. Get someone else to do the work. Encouraging customers to share their own photos or videos, to comment on questions you post or to put suggestions on your social media accounts is a great way to generate more content without having to create it yourself. Sharing others’ content, such as links to interesting news, videos or statistics, also saves time and promotes your business as a source of information.
  5. Use time-saving tools. You don’t want to get too automated, but using social media management tools can save you steps without making your account feel mechanical. Hootsuite, Buffer and NutshellMail are a few popular options to try. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Vaccinate Your Job Applicants

I’ll start this article with a nod to Dan and Chip Heath, whose book, Decisive, has had an enormous impact on the way I handle making important decisions.  I’ve learned over the years that while sometimes all you can do is trust your gut instinct, there’s a lot to be said for making decisions as deliberately as possible.  The vaccination technique in the hiring process plays the very important role of eliminating a number of the poor options, leaving you with the applicants who are best suited for your position.

Here’s how the vaccination technique works:  Let’s say that you’re hiring for a customer service position.  Before you write your job ad, think back to the problems you’ve had with previous employees in that position and make a list of the parts of the job that presented the biggest challenges.  Now, include those parts of the job description in the ad.  If it feels like you’re warning people off the job, then you’re doing it right!  Your goal should be to accurately describe the job, warts and all.

Why would you want to focus on the difficult aspects?

Stocksy_txpbfc73dd2sR8000_Small_175628You’re inoculating your applicants.  You’re giving the candidates who don’t want to deal with irate customers’ complaints a reason not to apply.  You’re telling the folks who don’t ever want to work weekends that they’re not going to be happy in the position.  You’re essentially screening out unsuitable folks so you don’t have to waste time interviewing, hiring, training, and ultimately firing them. 

My favorite way to write an ad is as a challenge to just the right candidate.  Emphasize that it’s a very special person you’re looking for, with just the right unique skill set.  People who read your ad and say “That’s me!” are the ones you’re looking for.  They’re dedicated and prepared to face the challenges of being your customer service rep.

In addition to screening out candidates who aren’t a good fit for your job, vaccination also ensures that your applicants know what they’re getting onto.  They won’t legitimately be able to complain that they didn’t know they’d have to work evenings and holidays if you included those details in the ad.  Think about the alternative – you gush about what a great company you’ve built, how wonderful the staff is, and how rewarding the work is – some employees may feel like they’ve been misled when they encounter their first real challenge.  Oversell the difficulties and let them discover for themselves how wonderful your company is.

When you’ve weeded out the unsuitable candidates, what you’re left with is a short list of much better options, and that means that you’ll be able to make a better decision since you’ve taken the time to deliberately sift out the cream of the crop before you even schedule the first interview.  Good decision making is a habit, and eliminating unwise choices is one of the surest ways to improve your long term outcomes and bring on staff who’s in it for the long haul.  


What Is the Ice Bucket Challenge for Small Business Owners?

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)Have you taken the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? It challenges friends to put a bucket of ice over their head or donate $100 to the ALS Association. The rules state that within 24 hours of being challenged, participants need to video record themselves by accepting the challenge followed by pouring a bucket of ice over their head. The participant then challenges others on that video. As a result of this viral phenomenon, the ALS Association has received $31.5 million in donations during the past month. 

What would the small business version of the Ice Bucket Challenge? Consider these for yourself:

“The Cash Flow” Challenge: You only have $1000 in the bank on Monday to keep running your business until Friday. Help to beat this challenge: Learn how to read a cash flow statement every month so there are no surprises.  If cash is low, isolate the expenses that need to absolutely be paid or it will drive you out of business. Be direct to vendors and employees about when they can expect to be paid.

“The Customer Satisfaction” Challenge: Your top customer is dissatisfied and is threatening to leave your business. Help to beat this challenge: Listen fully to what the customer has to say. Ask them what the best solution to the problem is. Follow through to a resolution and report back to them on the results.

“The Key Employee Left” Challenge: A key employee just quit and now you have to replace them in 24 hours. Where do you look to replace them? Help to beat this challenge: Always ensure that your employees are cross trained so if one leaves, another can do that job for at least a short time.

“The New Version of Your Product Doesn’t Work” Challenge: You announced a new product, but the latest test show it does not work. You have thousands on backorder. Help to beat this challenge: Isolate what is wrong with the product and what can it be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. Take any other functionality out and notify backorder customers when a product can be shipped.

“The 16 Hours of Work Needs to Get Done in 24 Hours” Challenge: You have a huge pile of work to get done today that will take a lot longer than you have. Help to beat this challenge: First decide what not to do. How will it really affect the business if the work was done tomorrow instead of today? What two things must get done today that are critical to the company?

What would your small business challenge be?


Take this Test before Quitting Your Day Job

Unlike popular business myths, not everyone should start their own company. In fact, it is not the path to happiness and wealth for most people. Every month, over a half million people will quit their day jobs to start a company. Many people have that big dream of betting it all to take a huge risk. Others have a business on the side or as Pamela Slim says, a "side hustle" going while they work a full time job. Unfortunately, most of these people that make the jump to quit their day job are making one of the biggest mistakes of their lives.

Please take this test before quitting. Answer yes or no to each question below:

  1. Do you have paying customers for your product or service? (This does not include relatives!) 
  2. Have you placed a strict limit on the amount of money you will invest? This means is there someone else that has to approve more funds besides you?
  3. Can your family survive if you lose all the money that you are about to invest in your business?
  4. Does your spouse have a job? (Living with your parents counts.)
  5. Is your spouse “enthusiastic” about your move to quit your job and start a company?
  6. Do you have other smart people and mentors that you will listen to even if you think they are wrong?
  7. Have you started a business before?
  8. Do you have good alternative for health care insurance that you currently get through your job?
  9. Is this really the very best timing for quitting your job (or starting a business)?
  10. Can you afford to not make any money from your business for the next six to twelve months?

Scoring the test: Give one point for every “yes” answer and zero points for every “no” answer.

Results: Unless you scored seven points, don't quit your day job yet. There are still too many risk factors for there to be high odds of success.

If I could be happy working for another person I would. If you are like me and can't, pass this test and welcome to world of entrepreneurship. 

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Everything That’s Wrong With Your Company’s Plan (and How to Fix It)

Stocksy_txp9b06d560GD8000_Small_276711Wondering why your business revenue is going in the wrong direction? It all goes back to that foundation you first created for your company — or sometimes didn’t create — and how solid it was front the start. Everything since then should be built on top of that foundation, that plan. Without a strong and clear strategic plan, your business may flounder, and you may make a lot of costly mistakes along the way.

The following are some of the most common problems I’ve seen business owners have with regards to their business plan.

1. It’s Nonexistent

Maybe you never slowed down enough to actually write a business plan for the strategic growth of your company in its early days.  Perhaps that’s because you didn’t think you needed one, were overwhelmed at the idea of writing one, or didn’t know where to begin.

How to Fix It: Better late than never. Start today with a fresh business plan or strategic plan on where your company is and where you want to take it. Start with free software such as www.enloop.com

2. It’s Ginormous (and Therefore Useless)

Back in business school, you were taught that business plans had to be thick tomes, 40 pages plus. They needed to be all-inclusive and leave no stone unturned. Fortunately, that rarely applies to small businesses (unless perhaps you are seeking funding from investors), and what you’ve got is overkill. It’s so overwhelming, you never actually take it out to review it. So what’s the point of having it if you don’t use it?

How to Fix It: Try a simpler plan. You may be the only person who ever reads your strategic plan, and that’s okay. But you want it to be readable and comprehensible, and that starts with simplicity. Stick to the basics, and don’t strive for length. Just get to the point.

3. You Never Look at It

Maybe you developed a fantastic business plan…5 years ago. Likely a few things have changed since then. A plan should be a living, working document that you regularly review (try for 2-4 times a year) and modify as needed.

How to Fix It: Blow the dust off that thing and take a look at what you’ve got. Probably the structure can stay the same, but if you’ve pivoted in your product offerings or otherwise changed company goals, those need to be reflected in the business plan.

4. It’s Not Actionable

Maybe you stuffed your plan with $10 words and filled it with fluff. You read it and don’t have a clue about what to do next.

How to Fix It: Amend that plan with action items. If you established a goal of becoming a $1 million company, set up steps for how you can make that a reality. These need to be achievable and measurable steps so that the next time you review your strategic plan you can actually see how far (or not) you’ve come toward achieving those goals.

Having a manageable and updated business plan or strategic plan is what keeps your business on track toward achieving those goals you’ve set for yourself. So keep it simple, keep it updated, and keep it nearby so you can refer to it regularly.


The Secrets of Customer Service Recovery

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.

sign:

(c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Glitches–service breakdowns–are unavoidable when you provide service to customers. A computer system goes down. A key person walks out on you with no notice—on the only day you couldn’t possibly arrange coverage. A waiter drops a tray in a customer’s lap.  (I’ve done that one myself–a tray with six open bottles of beer on it.)

Service breakdowns are uncomfortable, and they require training to resolve. But you’ll find an opportunity hidden inside your company’s worst moments: the opportunity to bring a customer closer to you. Indeed, you can learn to handle service breakdowns so masterfully that these moments actually help you to create loyal customers.

The Four-Step Sequence for Great Service Recoveries

To recover masterfully when something goes wrong for a customer, respond to the service failure with a specific stepwise sequence.  (I with these would form a memorable acronym, but the best I’ve come up with is ARFFD. Not sure that’s very attractive as a memory aid.)

  1. Apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  2. Review the complaint with your customer.
  3. Fix the problem and then follow up: Either fix the issue in the next twenty minutes or follow up within twenty minutes to check on the customer and explain the progress you have made. Follow up after fixing things as well, to show continuing concern and appreciation.
  4. Document the problem in detail to allow you to permanently fix the defect by identifying trends.

Let me run through these steps in detail.

Step 1: Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness. What’s needed is a sincere, personal, non-mechanical apology.

What does a customer want out of an apology? He wants to be listened to, closely. He wants to know you’re genuinely sorry. He wants to know you think he’s right, at least in some sense. He wants to know you are taking his input seriously. Overall, he wants to feel important to you. This means that the key to an effective apology, to getting back on the right foot with your customer, is to convey at the outset that you are going to take his side and share his viewpoint.

Step 2: Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer. In Step 1, you’ve begun an alliance with your customer; in Step 2, those collaborative feelings will let you explore:

  • What actually went wrong, from the customers perspective
  • What the customer needs for a good outcome

These aren’t good places to jump to conclusions. They’re issues you want to take time to explore in some detail with the customer.

Step 3: Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up. So you’ve decided to replace a substandard service or product. That’s a step in the right direction—but it’s only a first step. Remember that the customer has been stressed, inconvenienced, and slowed down by your failings. Merely giving her back what she expected to receive is unlikely to restore satisfaction.

A key principle in fixing a problem is to work to alleviate the customer’s sense of injustice—of having been wronged or let down. You do this through the attitude you convey, certainly, but you also do it by providing something extra. You can find a way to restore the smile to almost any customer’s face, whether it’s a free upgrade or a more creative offering, like one on-one consultation time with an expert on your staff. 

Ideally, the ‘‘something extra’’ you come up with will change the nature of the event for her: your special and creative efforts on her behalf will come to the foreground in the picture of the event she paints for herself and others, online or off, and the initial problem will move to the background.

Follow Up If you’ve handled the problem yourself, check in promptly with the customer after the intended resolution. This underscores your concern. and also lets you catch lingering unresolved issues.

Immediate follow-up is also important when you have reassigned (handed off) the customer’s problem to somebody else: Did the customer end up being (and feeling) taken care of by the technician to whom you assigned her issue? Youll only find out if you check back in with the customer. Besides, customers want you, their original ally, to follow up with them on such questions, not just somebody over in, say,  IT, not even if you know for a fact that the IT person is best equipped to help.

Step 4: Document the Problem in Detail. It’s natural to want to give yourself a breather after solving a customer’s problem. Still, it’s important to record, every single time, the details of what went wrong—promptly, before the memory can fade or become distorted. I call this “the deposition.” Be scrupulous: The only way to prevent serious problems from recurring is to document the problem for careful analysis later.

Your goal in using this documentation is to identify trends or patterns that hint at underlying causes. For example:

  • You might notice that a problem tends to happen around 3:30 p.m. on Wednesdays when Billy is on the job. This could lead you to consider whether Billy may have missed a particular training module.

or

  • It happens only between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., which leads you to notice that a freight elevator is always under maintenance at that time, creating unacceptably slow service.

or

  • The complaints are always about rear wiper blades you sell, but only in your Eastern and Midwest franchises, leading you to discover an interaction between salted roads and the particular rear blades you stock.  



 
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