Archive for September, 2014


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

As a veteran of more late nights than I can count, I’d give anything if there were just a few more hours in each day to get work done. But short of adding time to the clock, there are some ways small business owners can accomplish more in less time. Here are five ideas to try.

  1. Come in late or leave early. Many small business owners get more done working at home, where they aren’t juggling meetings, clients and pop-in employees all day. It’s perfectly legit to come in late or leave early to get some work done at home before or after normal work hours. Just make sure once you’re in the office, you focus on helping your team with what they need.
  2. Minimize email. Lessen your email burdens by sending fewer emails in the first place, and keeping those you do send super-short. Forward less-important emails to an assistant (real or virtual) to handle. (Even better, have the assistant sort through your emails in the first place and only send you the important ones.) Create shortcuts or templates with your most-common replies instead of typing the same thing dozens of times a day. When you see “reply all” email chains getting out of hand, nip it in the bud.
  3. Delegate. Many small business owners work long hours because they can’t let go. Employees welcome the chance to learn and take tasks off your plate—that’s what they’re there for. Start small with simple tasks and build up to the big things.
  4. Automate. Use technology to do what it does best: save you time. Store documents and data in the cloud to eliminate endless hunts for files. Synch your desktop, laptop and mobile devices so you always have access to the same information no matter where you are. Cut back on tedious tasks like scanning, faxing and sorting receipts by using smartphone apps to speed these chores.
  5. Take breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking frequent, short breaks makes the time you do spend working more productive so you can get more done in less time. A recent study said those who work intensely for 52 minutes and then take 17 minutes breaks are more productive than those trying to muscle through without taking breaks. Use that break time to walk around the office checking in on your staff. Don’t spend that brain-break on your computer—that won’t refresh your mind the same way physical movement and real-world interaction will. ‚Äč

Clock hanging in modern railway station


Mondays with Mike: What The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Can Teach You About Marketing

Your mother, your brother, your best friend, and a loooong list of celebrities, and me too: everyone jumped on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, posting videos of themselves, donating money, and challenging their friends and family to do the same.  Those who participated got their fifteen minutes of fame, and those who wimped out were ridiculed as being no fun.

Aside from the fact that the Challenge raised millions of dollars and promoted awareness about ALS, a terrible, degenerative disease, the Ice Bucket Challenge is a remarkable example of the tremendous power of social media, and it illustrates what can happen when you invite your customers to share pics, videos, and messages that promote your brand.  There are several important principles that the Ice Bucket Challenge teaches us about developing a winning social media marketing strategy. 

  1. Be the EST.  While Challenge videos that simply featured calls out to a couple of friends followed by a typical soaking didn’t circulate terribly far, videos of particularly creative approaches were shared thousands and thousands of times.  FunniEST, coldEST, wettEST … extreme examples got the most views.  Whether it was Ben Affleck calling out his celebrity pals and then pushing his wife into their swimming pool, or whether it was a group of middle aged moms rapping their challenge, standing out from the crowd is what gets the most mileage.  Invite the participants in your social media campaign to interact in creative ways.  Ask them to give you their EST.
  2. Find something ubiquitous.  Everyone could participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge, because all that’s required is water, ice, and some sort of container.  If the components had been caviar, platinum, and moon rocks, then that would have left most of us out.  Invite your fans to tweet, photograph, and share pics of themselves in your place of business, or wearing your logo.  Make it simple, repeatable, and leave room for creativity.
  3. Recognize the emotional power of social media.  There was some criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge from folks who thought it trivialized the disease.  Some of the most powerful videos posted and shared were those made by people who suffer from ALS and from their friends and families.  Authenticity shines through in a video, and creating a powerful emotional connection with your brand through your customers’ true stories promotes your brand in a positive way.
  4. Be pictorial or easy to replicate.  Maybe you invite your fans to take your logo on vacation with them and share pics of your logo in exotic places.  Or perhaps you give away bumper stickers and ask customers to take pics of their cars in unusual spots.  The key is to make it easy to incorporate your logo into a photo that can be shared and reshared until the image covers the globe. 

Creative images make millions of impressions via social media.  You invite the participation of your customers, and while you will need to monitor and perhaps to edit content to ensure that it’s appropriate, the beauty of a social media campaign is that you can sit back and let your fans do your marketing for you. 

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Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


How to Handle the Bad Boys (and Girls) in Your Company

Do you have a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson working at your business? These are the incredibly talented employees whose behavior is destructive to the culture of your company. They may be the top salesperson that never comes to work on time. It may be the most senior employee that is always bad mouthing the customers. While you pretend that these standouts and your business can coexist, they are in fact destroying your company from the inside out. What makes it worse, every other employee knows it and, in fact, it affects their own performance.

Remember that you teach what you tolerate. By allowing their behavior, you are sending the message they are special and that the rules do not apply to them. Your short term thinking further encourages their harmful behavior. The sooner that the business owner realizes the overall effect, the faster the company can move forward.

To be proactive, here are the steps to take today:

  1. Envision a company without them. Imagining your business without these star players is scary. But think of how all the performances of the other team members will improve without them.
  2. Counsel them. They will be surprised when you first approach them that their behavior is detrimental to the rest of the team since you have tolerated it for so long. They will think that their performance more than makes up for any other bad behavior. Instead, review exactly what you expect and how you will monitor their future behavior. Most likely, they will agree to try to change.
  3. Hold them accountable for their behavior. Since change is difficult, the star employee needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Each time they exhibit the bad behavior again, review the change you expect. Repeat on an ongoing basis.
  4. Fire them (if necessary). In reality, few of these star employees will be able to change and in most cases, they will need to be fired. Be prepared to have to replace this person and have the timing fit when it is optimal for the company. Use documentation that you have monitored to complete the separation process.
  5. Share with the team. Tell the team why the star employee was let go and what the plan is to move forward without them. Most of them will applaud your decision and will work harder to help with the transition.

Who are the bad boys and girls inside your company?

Businessmen at Work


5 Steps to Starting Your First Business

Woman Running Up the StairsIf you’ve been considering starting a business for some time, stop letting your fears and worries keep from making it a reality. Sure, it will require plenty of work and quite a lot of stress initially, but the payoff, both financially and spiritually, will be well worth the journey. Not sure where to begin? Here are the first five steps to starting your first business.

Step 1: Develop Your Viable Business Idea

Before you fall in love with an idea for your business that no one will actually buy into, do a little research to first see what the market is interested in, what other companies you’ll be competing against, and how you can come into a crowded market with something unique.

  • Conduct surveys and focus groups to understand how people perceive your business idea
  • Look at your competitors. What are their strengths? What areas are they leaving wide open for you?
  • Determine your unique selling proposition. Will you be the cheapest? Best quality? Unique in some other way?

Step 2: Take Care of Branding

Now that you know what you will sell, get your branding in place. This is an area I don’t recommend trying to DIY unless you happen to be a phenomenal designer. Work with a graphic designer with experience creating professional logos, as well as one who can develop a website that will attract new customers. Realize, too, that branding goes far beyond just your visual representation, and will include every message you put out to the world.

  • Look at other logos and take notes on what you like (and don’t)
  • Decide what’s critical to include on your website, and what’s extra
  • Provide as much input as possible on the branding process so that your expectations are met

Step 3: Get Your Plans in Place

You wouldn’t step into the forest without a map, so why would you start a business without a plan? You’ll need both a business and a marketing plan, though neither have to be gigantic, in-depth documents. Your documents are designed to guide you and to establish the direction you want to take. Your business plan should be an overview of your company, what you want to sell, and your approach to the business. Your marketing plan should encompass who your customers are, the different channels you’ll use to reach them, and strategies for each.

  • Use your business plan as a guidance for the future, but don’t be afraid to tweak it every few months
  • Determine how much you can afford to spend on marketing before you decide on the channels you’ll use
  • Keep these documents handy where you can review them regularly

Step 4: Test It All Out

If you will be operating as an ecommerce site, ask friends or colleagues to play around on your site to ensure everything works well. Pay special attention to the checkout process, as it needs to be as simple and streamlined as possible. If you’ll be running a brick-and-mortar retail, make sure your staff is well-trained on your point of sale system, and that everything is running smoothly.

  • Click all links on your site to ensure they go where they should
  • Minimize the checkout process to just 1-2 pages
  • Hold a soft launch event in your store to test run how everything will go

Step 5: Just Do It

Waiting around for the perfect moment to open the (real or virtual) doors on your business is futile. Just jump in! There will be mistakes, so note them quickly, learn from them, and make changes for the better. Aim to create a big splash around your grand opening.

  • Notify local press about your grand opening and invite them for a tour
  • Offer special discounts your first days open
  • Amp up your social media efforts with your launch

You’ll never be flawless when you open your business (or later, either!) so consider it a learning process that will continue to help you evolve as a business owner.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Customer Service Lessons From the Health Insurance Industry

???????????????????????????????????????????????Do you ever have to call your health insurance plan to get information about benefits or contest a claim? If you’re like most of us, you put off these calls as long as possible because you know it’s going to be a nightmare. But surprisingly, there are some lessons—both positive and negative—you can learn from making a customer service call to your health insurer.

Recently, my company had to switch health plans and Karen, one of my business partners (she handles our HR issues) spent quite a bit of time on the phone with our insurance company. Here’s what she learned that can help your business:

  1. Make sure your business website provides the information customers need. Armed with names of several insurance plans, Karen thought it would be a simple matter to look up the details and compare them. Think again: “I couldn’t find information about any of the plans online,” she says. Today, many customers prefer to do their pre-purchase research online. Providing basic information, downloadable PDFs of complex information or comparison charts of different products and services are easy ways to give customers what they need. (Most automotive websites do a great job of this, by the way.)
  2. Provide several ways to contact you. With only one basic phone number on the website, Karen was transferred several times, spending 45 minutes on hold before she even got to the correct department. If your business has multiple phone numbers for different types of customers (such as residential and commercial accounts), be sure they’re all clearly posted and differentiated on your website.
  3. Always get, and give, contact information. As soon as your customer service reps start a phone conversation with a customer, always have them ask for the person’s phone number immediately in case the call gets cut off. The insurance company didn’t do this, and after Karen finally got connected to the right department, the call cut off and she had to start all over again. When transferring a customer, have customer service reps give the person the phone number and/or extension you’re transferring them to, in case the same thing happens.
  4. Go above and beyond. After all this frustration, you might think Karen was ready to give up on the idea of health insurance altogether. Not so, because she finally got through to a customer service rep who went above and beyond. After Karen explained she’d been transferred all over and begged not to be transferred again, the woman patiently walked her through the company’s website, waiting while she went through every step, and even helped her Google information that couldn’t be found on the website. Even though this wasn’t her department, the rep sympathized with my Karen’s frustrations, helped her as far as she could and then connected her with an insurance broker to answer all the remaining questions.

The end result? Despite spending two hours on the phone, Karen ended the call feeling good about the company—all because of that one customer service rep who helped her.


Mondays with Mike: The 4 Crazy Ways To Advertise With Mobile Technology

Consumers are absolutely besieged by images, messages, and impressions.  Every time we turn on our phones, computers, televisions, e-readers, or radios, we’re inundated by advertising and information.  Given the overload that we experience, it’s often the most outrageous messages that hit their mark. 

If you’re looking to boost the number of impressions you make, one of the very best ways to do it is via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram touch more users more times per day than we can really wrap our heads around.  That’s a lot of potential impressions, but you have to do something novel to really capture the attention of potential customers.  If you’re determined to make a splash, here are some ideas to get your started. 

  1. Invite users to submit videos or pics with your product or logo.  Think people won’t take the time to make and upload a video?  Think again!  Look at the thousands and thousands of ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos filling up your newsfeed on Facebook.  The videos of folks dumping ice water over their heads – sometimes in very creative ways – demonstrate the power of the novelty video.  Someone makes a video, shares it, and it spreads, increasing exponentially to reach more users every day.  The best way to adapt this photo/video idea for business is to run a contest:  Invite customers to post pics of themselves wearing a hat or t-shirt with your logo while they’re on vacation or in an unusual spot.  The photo that gets the most likes or shares wins a prize.  Think about the potential here – you’re going to be making thousands of impressions and building fans for life.  Powerful stuff.
  2. Pop-up advertising.  We become completely immune to things we see or hear day after day.  When the same old ad comes on my Pandora radio, I completely tune it out.  It’s like I don’t even hear it.  Novelty is king, and that’s why pop-up advertising is so effective.  Whether you turn your pizza shop delivery vehicle into a giant slice of pizza or whether you hire a clown who walks on five foot tall stilts to entertain folks in the parking lot on a busy Saturday, the real secret to pop-up advertising is that random people will take pics and share them with their friends.  Your little attention-getting stunt will continue to make its way around social media long after your part is finished.
  3. 2014-08-25_1635Flash mobs.  More labor intensive than some other techniques, the surprise and wonder factor here is huge.  You coordinate a number of people to perform in public, making sure you get good quality video of the event, and you post the video online.  Again, like the other social media techniques, the power isn’t in the initial views.  While the folks who happen to be on the street or mall when you perform will certainly be surprised and enjoy the event, the real numbers come when the video is shared over and over, resulting in tens, or even hundreds of thousands of impressions.
  4. Work lightning fast.  Twitter is particularly useful for brief messages that are timely and relevant to rapidly developing current events.  One of my favorite examples was the Oreo hashtag during the Superbowl when the lights in the stadium abruptly went out.  “You can still dunk in the dark” was the tagline of the ad that appeared on Twitter just seconds into the blackout.  The ad was retweeted countless times, and Oreo was declared the winner of the Marketing Superbowl.  You need a smart, witty social media guru on your payroll in order to take advantage of current events opportunities, but it can be worth every penny you pay.  Seize the moment!

Key to all of these social media strategies is the fact that by getting consumers involved with spreading the word about your brand, you’re transforming them into your biggest fans.  Social media works because everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, and there’s no reason while they can’t have that fifteen minutes while wearing your logo and creating millions of brand impressions. 


Stop Thinking Of Customers In The Plural

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It's time to stop thinking of the people who patronize your business as "customers."

(Don't worry: I'm not going to ask you to start calling them "guests."  A big box store could start calling me a "guest" and it wouldn't change a thing. When you graft Disney language out of context it only makes you look, um, Goofy.)

I would argue that this group you've been calling "customers" doesn't exist as an aggregation, as an abstraction, as a plural.

There's just one customer, the one you're facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There's only Jim. One Margo. One Alecia.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their Jim-ish, Margo-ish, and Alecia-ishness.

Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn't care how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn't in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Now, every customer's different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  Regardless: I suggest in the strongest terms that you think of every one of your customers as a core customer—and treat the loss of a customer as a tragedy.

Here's why: Because Every single customer is irreplaceable.

Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it's probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business.

If Margo leaves, she's gone, forever. That Margoish opportunity has evaporated for the length of your enterprise.  Your available market has diminished by one: one you already had on your side.

And this is a calamity to be avoided.

(The same principle holds true, by the way, in B2B companies with large accounts.  Stop thinking of a customer called "IBM." There's no "IBM account." There's only Juli in A/P at IBM, Jeff in design, and so forth.  Without them, you're right: there won't be an IBM account.)


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.




 
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