Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Great Customer Service Reps are Born, not Made

11-25 Hiring Employees smallAll new hires need some formal or informal training to learn the ins and outs of their jobs, including customer service reps, who need to master basic company policies and procedures connected with customer interactions. While most employees who master training become great workers, perfect policy and procedure proficiency does not automatically make customer-facing employees good at their jobs.

Great customer service requires a special breed of people. Whether they sell to customers, help them navigate the aisles or resolve their issues on the phone, they display a genuine caring and helpful spirit, while being authentic. You can't teach that spirit, so your job is to seek it out from the time you write the want ad and throughout the interview process.

Advertise and Assess for Character Traits Before Technical Skills

Exceptional technical skills are meaningless in a customer service rep who doesn't deal well with people, so ask for people skills in the heading of your employment ad. A heading like, "Customer Service Rep with Computer Experience" attracts people who can log calls. A heading like, "Do People Come to You for Help?" draws in people who really like to help others. By all means, list minimum qualifications within the ad, but focus on attitude and people skills.

Of course, the interview requires the same type of focus. Be prepared to pose customer-related scenarios to find out how the applicant will handle them. And, even if some applicants fall slightly short of the skills requirements, listen for signs of trainability. Friendly, helpful people with basic computer skills can learn how to log calls, even if they have never before worked in a customer service environment.

Identify the Right Character Traits

You probably have no training in psychology, but that doesn't mean you have no capacity to recognize applicants who have a natural affinity for customer service. Here are some of the character traits to look for — and how to identify them:

  • Strong communication skills: Face it; angry or frustrated customers often do not communicate clearly. The reps you hire must be able to listen and understand long before they deliver a clear, unambiguous message. During the interview, applicants with the knack for two-way communication rise to the surface when you ask unclear questions. If they tactfully ask for clarification, they are better communicators than applicants who answer the wrong question.
  • Patience and compassion: Customers seldom seek out support when they are happy. In the worst cases, they are so livid that no solution seems to satisfy them. Your reps need a thick skin to avoid striking back at unearned verbal attacks. Then, they need the stamina to find resolutions that meet the customer's needs, while displaying a genuine degree of compassion for the customer's circumstances (no pity, please). A good way to test for these traits is to present an unsolvable issue and monitor the applicant's patience levels every time that you reject another solution.
  • Proactive problem-solving: Your company may have a rule book for resolving typical complaints. But even when reps memorize every rule, undocumented issues frequently arise. If you empower your employees to make decisions on the fly, raise some hypothetical situations to make sure that applicants have enough common sense to respond appropriately — and when they recognize the need to seek management intervention.

Mirror the Work Environment During the Interview

Traditionally, short phone interviews are a first step before bringing applicants in for one or more face-to-face meetings. But, does this really tell the whole story for a phone support applicant? Sure, these people may need to interact with other employees, so meeting in person makes sense. Still, the phone interview may be the best way to assess what their on-the-job performance will really be like.

If the position involves phone support, maybe the phone interview is most important because it lets you listen for a smile and get an idea of how well applicants read emotions over the phone without of the benefit of facial queues. Similarly, consider meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant to see how traveling sales reps handle business conversations in noisy environments — and to check their table manners.

Put Yourself in the Customer's Shoes During Each Interview:

You may be interviewing as the boss, but you need to listen to each answer as if you were the customer. Customers quickly recognize the difference between genuine support and scripted problem-solving. You can certainly teach new reps about the support process. You can even teach them to avoid certain stock phrases — like responding to a thank you with "no problem."

But helpfulness and winning personalities come from the heart. Bruce Nordstrom, of the third generation of customer service-oriented Nordstrom management, said it best: "We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can't hire salespeople and teach them to be nice."

Websites to Find New Employees for Your Small Business

11-25 Hiring Employees smallOnce you have determined that it will be beneficial to your business to begin hiring employees, where do you to start?  While its great to start delegating responsibility to other people, your next challenge is to find them. The days of putting classifieds in a newspaper are gone and word-of-mouth recommendations can only get you so far. Here are some of the web’s best resources to find new employees.


StartUpHire is a website dedicated to finding career professionals, and employee candidates. Many professionals aren’t familiar with the challenges that new small businesses face which can lead to conflicts early into their employment with you. One of StartUpHire’s standout features is the option for employees to search for employment based on a company’s stage of development (ie. seed, development, profitable) and funding. This does away with any misconceptions regarding a job description or the salary and benefit expectations. StartUpHire does charge a fee for its service. The most basic package is $79.


Think of Indeed as Google for jobs as it as a search will feature jobs from all over the Internet. Indeed is a highly visited site for jobseekers. Business owners can search for qualified candidates as many of Indeed’s users keep their resumes live on the site to be found by potential employers. Besides giving your available position loads of exposure, the price is right. Indeed’s pricing is based on pay-per-click, meaning you only pay when a candidate takes a look at your job description. Much like other pay-per-click websites, you set your own budget for how many clicks you can afford and watch the resumes roll in.


You might think of Craigslist as a place sell your old couch or buy a new car, but today the website is being used for so much more. Craigslist is as close to a newspaper classified as you can get in our digital age and, with ads that are as simple and straight forward, it can be a valuable place to find new talent. Job descriptions don’t require an application and all information you provide to jobseekers is voluntary (including location, hours required and salary/benefits). Using Craigslist also guarantees that you will hit candidates within your immediate area as the site operates as separate job boards based on major city or geographical location. It costs $35 for one job posting on Craigslist that remains active for 30 days regardless of how many responses the ad receives.

Monster is the grandfather of job posting websites. Monster is free for jobseekers to use and puts its primary focus on the candidate. Monster offers resources such as industry insights like average salaries and job growth trends. Of all these websites, Monster is the most expensive but also has the biggest reach. With Monster’s job posting packages, your job offerings are targeted and seen across newspaper sites, mobile apps and any other sites linked to the Monster network. It also offers “Power Resume Search,” which allows you to find the best-qualified candidates in the shortest amount of time.

Internet job sites are huge assets to small business owners with limited resources to conduct a job search. If you’re ready to bring fresh faces with immense talent into your business, you have to look for them where they’ll be looking for you: online.

Five “New Normals” That Your Customer Experience Needs To Keep Up With

A neon sign with the words "Open 24 Hours" against a brick wall. 3D render with HDRI lighting and raytraced textures.Here are five places where your customer experience may have fallen out of sync with what today's customers are looking for. Check the list and see where you stand.  It can make a real bottom-line difference today, and a sustainability difference over at least the next several years.

1. Good self-service options are a must: No matter how good your human-delivered customer service, customers expect self-service options as well. Self-service, which includes everything from web-based e-commerce to IVR (interactive voice response telephone systems) to concierge-like self-help touch-screen menus in public spaces to passengers printing their own boarding passes at home before traveling, is a powerful trend in customer service, and companies that ignore it, pursue it reluctantly, or violate the basic laws of its implementation will be left in the dust.

There are various factors driving the self-service trend: customers' round-the-clock lifestyle, a buying populace that is increasingly tech savvy, and even in some cases the higher comfort level of socially anxious customers when doing business with machines rather than face to face or even on the phone.

2. Extended hours are the new 9-5 Customers expect extended hours: hours that you’re open, hours that you provide support.  This may mean 24/7 or as close as you can get. For example: For its advertising clients, Google now not only offers support in 42 languages, it does so nearly around the clock, and offers English language support English-language support 24/5. That’s pretty good, considering we’re talking about B2B, non mission-critical support.

Customers also expect more flexibility and options during traditionally “off” hours. For example, if you’re in foodservice, consider letting customers order from either the dinner or lunch menu in the mid-afternoon, and consider offering a cold sandwich menu available late in the evening after the kitchen has closed but your bar is still open.

3. Faster, faster, faster Do you still have internal company documents with obsolete standards like “We strive to respond to Internet inquiries within 48 hours.”  Maybe such a time frame made sense a few years ago (I actually doubt it, but maybe), but today, such a response time is he equivalent of 36 years in Internet time.  Your customer support standard needs to be response within just a few hours; after that, your customer is going to assume that you’re never going to get back to them. An intensified expectation of timeliness also applies to product and services delivery, an area where is obviously one of the leaders. Amazon’s example, and the twitchiness that apps and the Internet itself invoke, means that your company’s traditional definition of “fast enough” probably isn’t, anymore.

4. Customers are looking for fun even in what used to be dull: On the one hand, there's a new expectation that fun, adventure, even ‘danger’ can be incorporated in potentially mundane interactions. Business travel is a great example of this: More and more travelers try to integrate some adventure, some local exploration, into what are ostensibly business trips. Conversely, airlines whose long-haul flights offer a “quick dine” option so the tray isn’t in the way when passengers are trying to work have their heads screwed on right.

5. "If I don't have a picture of it on my phone, it didn't happen": Social consumption is now the norm. Lisa Holladay, branding and marketing guru at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, tells me she's heard this sentiment lately from young customers.  This means that if business isn't building opportunities for social sharing into the customer experience, you're missing out on a chance to delight–rather than drive away–your customers. 

Mondays with Mike: Taking a Step Back from your Business

11-23 Step back from biz smallMost entrepreneurs I know – myself included – eat, sleep, and breathe our businesses, at least at the beginning.  It’s easy to see how it happens.  We start with nothing but a great idea and determination, and we nurture our companies.  We’re proud of what we’ve built, and we want to see it continue to grow.

But there are times when we need a break, and it can be very difficult to walk away and trust that our business can survive without our hands-on, day-to-day attention.

Meet Donnie Miller, CEO of Technical Adventures.  He started his full-service IT company about ten years ago, and he did it just the way most of us have.  He did everything – sales, customer service, numbers, lead technician, fire extinguisher, and chief bottle washer – all by himself.  And he needed a break.  He hadn’t taken a vacation in years, and his company had plateaued.  What did he do?

He walked away and took a six-month sabbatical.  Now he didn’t just walk out the door one day with no notice and vanish.  He took specific steps to set his company up to run in his absence.  His steps:

  1. Hire the right people and put them in the right positions.  Donnie had hired great, trustworthy people, folks he could rely on to run his business well, but it wasn’t until he actually took a day off – physically left the office – that his employees really started to shine.  If your staff relies on you to be the final arbiter of every issue that arises, you’ll never see them reach their potential. 
  2. Start small.  Donnie started by leaving for a few days at a time, checking in by phone.  He realized quickly that he was used to feeling needed and the phone calls were really more for his benefit than that of his managers.  When Donnie figured out that his staff would call when they needed him, he was ready for longer breaks from the office.
  3. Assess results.  After Donnie’s first six-month sabbatical, his business had dropped by thirty percent, mostly because he’d been the entire sales force before his departure.  He put people in place to handle sales, evaluated the successes and failures of the systems he’d put in place, and made the necessary changes. 
  4. Look at the big picture.  One of the chief benefits of Donnie’s absence was the fact that he knew his company could manage everyday matters without his assistance.  That freed him up for all sorts of new projects.  He could focus on all the new ideas and growth-oriented projects he’d never had time for back when he handled everything personally.  He was finally able to steer his company the way he’d always wanted.

It takes guts (and no small amount of humility) to step back from your business and let it run without you.  We get so wrapped up in thinking our value is in our hands-on micromanagement that we forget it’s our vision that’s our chief asset.  By following Donnie’s example and removing our ego from the equation, we often find the solution is far simpler than we realize.  Stepping back can give you and your company opportunity to grow.  

Why Online Reviews Are Flawed (and What to Do About It)

11-20 Online Peer Reviews smallPeople have always placed a lot of credibility in the reviews of others. On Amazon, eBay, Yelp or TripAdvisor, when they read what other consumers have said about products and services purchased, they place a higher value on this than any direct advertising from the company. This should not be a surprise since consumers see it as unbiased. But is it and how accurate are these reviews in judging the real performance of the product? 

Here is what is wrong with peer reviews:

  1. Consistency among star ratings. No one really knows what constitutes a five-star rating and what is a one star. Everyone’s scale is different so it is nearly impossible to tell. Some customers are generous scorers and others are painful critics. What one person sees as single star could be a four star to another.
  2. More lovers and haters post reviews. There are three types of customers that post most reviews. People that really like the product, people that really hate it and anyone being paid to do it. Realize that reviews by their very nature are going to skew toward the passionate positive or negative and may not reflect the opinion of the majority of customers who may fall somewhere in the middle.
  3. Gaming the system. Many companies try to pump up their ratings by offering incentives to people that post positive reviews about their business. While there may not be anything inherently wrong about this, it does skew the results in the company’s favor and is not a representative view of what the majority of the customers think. This happens because if a consumer is asked by the company for a review and is given an incentive to complete it, they are likely to be more positive in their comments.
  4. Fake reviews. These can either be very positive which are posted by friends or very negative which may be posted by competitors. Either way, they are inaccurate since they are not from customers. Amazon is now being very aggressive suing fake reviewers.   

How to add credibility to your company’s online review ratings:

  1. Encourage everyone to post a review. Follow up with customers with an email and a link. Do not offer any type of reward or incentive. Thank positive reviewers and be empathetic to the negative ones. Get details about their actual purchase when necessary. This will help make sure that they are actual customers and if there are actionable steps the company needs to take to improve. This type of user generated content will also reach the search engines for better organic placement.
  2. Delete only fake reviews. Do not delete bad reviews. Instead, respond with understanding and a solution. Companies that respond to negative reviews by wanting to fix the problem are viewed more favorably than companies that do not display bad reviews.
  3. Give a suggested ratings scale. Suggest to customers what a one-star review should be and what a five star one could be to get more consistency. For example explain: “Rate your experience as a one star if we did not meet your expectations. Tell us exactly what went wrong and how we can remedy the situation. Rate your experience as a five star if we far exceeded the expectations you had for the product and where we excelled.”
  4. Do not repeat reviews in multiple places. Some software will also automatically place the review on the company’s website, Facebook, and Twitter. This duplicated content will be viewed negatively by search engine algorithms. In addition, if a prospect reads the same review in multiple places, they will become suspicious and may think it is fake.
  5. Place reviews on multiple pages of the company’s website. This again will add to search engine rankings. It also is a constant reminder to prospects of how good the product or service is. Many of them may not get to the page where all the reviews are listed.

What story does your reviews say about your company?

Maintaining Strategic Vision by Staying Privately Held

11-19 staying privately owned smallPicture a cruise ship on the ocean. You are a crewmember, and your job is to steer the boat based on the captain’s orders. In the past, your ship grew in popularity by adjusting routes based on customer requests. On your most recent trip, customers asked the captain to go on an unexpected detour so they could explore an island. Your captain knew that he would incur additional fuel costs for this trip, but he told you to head towards the island as it could become a destination spot for future tours.  

Now picture the same boat but with 20 different captains. The customers still want to go to the island. The original captain says to turn towards the island. However, 11 captains vote against the trip because they do not want any disruptions to their current profit margins. You are forced to maintain your current trajectory because current profit has become more important to your ship than future revenue.

The story above exemplifies how strategic vision can become diluted. The single captain represents a privately held company. Private companies, just like the single captain example, can make agile decisions that may benefit the company in the future. The captain realizes his strategic vision is future growth. He may lose money on this trip, but the new course could also lead to larger growth in the future.

The example with 20 different captains represents a public company. Public companies tend to be more risk averse, as they need to maintain shareholder satisfaction. Public companies are not as agile either. The more owners you have, the more input you get about the direction of the company. The strategic vision becomes diluted and you are left with a slow-to-market company that cannot adjust to current market demands.

Private companies can allocate money to different divisions faster than their publicly traded counterparts. They have complete control over how their funds are spent. Public companies have strict financial reporting rules and are more limited in how fast they can redistribute resources. Investor confidence becomes a priority for publicly traded firms. A risky financial decision can negatively influence your investors and subsequently devalue your company.

Nextiva’s CEO, Tomas Gorny, once said, “It is not the deals you do but the deals you don’t.” Tomas knows that his company could benefit from the instant cash brought forth by an IPO. While it may eventually make sense to go public, Nextiva is more focused on bringing value to the businesses it serves. Profits are re-invested into the company rather than shareholders, so Tomas can enhance Nextiva’s product offering. He is part of a new wave of private company owners that believe maintaining strategic vision is more important than the company’s current profit.

The choice to remain private is a strategic decision that is increasing in popularity. When a company is forced to change its strategic vision to appease short-sighted shareholder satisfaction, a company can lose out on long-term progress. 

How to Boost Your Business Over the Holidays

11-18 holiday shopping smallOnce Halloween passes, it’s a mad dash to the year’s finish line, kicking off at Thanksgiving and moving through New Years. If you haven’t already started thinking about how you can utilize the holidays to your advantage, don’t wait any longer! Big box stores may have a stronghold on the holiday season but small businesses clean up this time of year, too, and it’s all about how they market and what they offer. Follow these tips on how to effectively boost your business over the holidays.

1. Set the Scenery

Make it festive in your store. Use decorations: Put Christmas trees in every corner, string lights on every pole, A well-thought out window display is inviting to shoppers. When a store appears to cater to the holidays that customers assume (or at least become curious enough to walk in and check) that there are holiday sales happening in that store.

2. Cater to Every Budget

Chances are that no matter what you sell, your various products fall at different price points. An effective marketing tool includes the promotion of items targeted towards the specific budgets of your shoppers. This method doesn’t even require an actual “sale,” per se, just the advertisement of your products as they are. For example, you can advertise “$25 Steals” or “Great Gifts for Under $50!” You can change the dollar amounts as you like, but the idea is to catch the eye of those on any kind of budget.

3. Use Social Media

While email promotions are a great way to reach your loyal customer base, you should also be sharing your holiday specials with your social media following. You may continue to share your overall promotional deals to your fan base but you can also offer them “special” perks for following you. Offering a percentage off of purchases to your Facebook fans is two-fold as it is not only a good way to draw in those who may not yet be your customers, but can also be promoted via email to prospects and customers who may not yet follow you. “Like us on Facebook for special holiday offers” can be a great way to raise your fan count and bring in sales.

4. Don’t Forget the Extras

There are many things you can offer customers to get them to buy from your store versus the behemoths big box retailers– and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Providing free gift-wrapping on every purchase can really sway shoppers who either hate the task or are too busy to do it. Free shipping is great for online sales and you can also promote quick site-to-store pickups or store-to-home delivery.

5. Make Connections

Use the influx of holiday shoppers to bolster your email list for future sales and non-holiday promotions. This can be as simple as asking for an email address at the time of checkout or leaving a clipboard out on the counter of your shop. This is also a good time to promote your Yelp!, Google+ and Facebook pages in order to gain positive reviews from satisfied customers.

Don’t forget: holiday shopping season isn’t just a stretch of days in November and December; it’s an opportunity for you to build long-lasting relationships with prospects and customers. Follow these tips and get see your business boom during – and long after – the holidays.

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What’s the State of Service Today?

11-17 Customer Service top performers smallHow well does your company’s customer service measure up? recently released a survey of nearly 2,000 global companies that are leaders in customer service. The study looked at common service benchmarks, service trends for the year ahead, and the factors that define high-performing customer service teams. Here’s what the survey uncovered about top-performing customer service organizations, and the lessons for your business.

Top-performing customer service companies…

  • Have three priorities: “always-on” service, personalized service and faster service. For a small business, outsourcing customer service can offer your customers 24/7 assistance, CRM tools can help you maintain records enabling more personalized service, and setting goals and monitoring results can improve response speed.
  • Value efficiency. Speed is still the number-one metric top performers use to measure their customer service reps’ success. When asked to name their top three metrics, 47 percent choose average handle time, 38 percent say the number of cases handled and 32 percent name customer satisfaction.
  • Empower customer service employees to do whatever is needed to make customers happy. Top-performing companies are more than three times more likely than poor performers to have empowered employees.
  • Are more likely to be heavy users of technology. For example, high performers are more likely to be providing service via mobile apps or to be exploring video streaming as a customer service tool.
  • Excel at predicting what customers need. You can use CRM tools as well as social listening tools to assist in these predictions.
  • Use analytics and dashboards to learn and improve. You can use these tools to measure your customer service team’s key performance indicators, as well as to collect and analyze customer feedback.
  • Tap into the power of self-service and community portals to enable customers to find their own solutions to problems. (That’s a smart move, because the same study shows Millennial consumers overwhelmingly use self-service options first before initiating any type of interaction with a customer service representative.) Creating self-service options can be simple, like putting up a list of FAQs or more complex, such as a searchable database of solutions.

Is your small business on track to be a top customer service performer—or are you already there?

Mondays with Mike: The 15 Best Business Quotes

Hand holding a note card that reads "What are you waiting for?" with forest background.I’m a big fan of forging my own way, relying on my instincts (backed up by research, of course) to make my business decisions.  But there are times when it’s wise to heed the words of successful folks.  There’s a lot of wisdom in the following quotes:

On Your Employees:

Hire good ones and treat them like gold.  Listen to the experts on how to keep your most valuable business asset around.

1.  “People are definitely a company's greatest asset. It doesn't make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.” Mary Kay Ash

2.  “The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit for doing them.” Benjamin Jowett

3.   “You don't lie to your own doctor. You don't lie to your own attorney, and you don't lie to your employees.” Gordon Bethune

4.  “Hire character. Train skill.” Peter Schutz

On the Nature of the Successful Entrepreneur:

Though we all find our ways individually, there are certain qualities entrepreneurs possess.

5.  The secret of business is to know something that nobody else knows.” Aristotle Onassis

6.  “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.” Peter Drucker

7.  “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But today. The true entrepreneur is a doer, not a dreamer. “ Nolan Bushnell

8.  “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch

9.  “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. “ Charles Darwin


One of the qualities I most admire is the ability to strip a situation down to its essence – to deal only with what’s absolutely necessary.

10.  “Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing… layout, processes, and procedures.” Tom Peters

11.  “If you see a snake, just kill it. Don’t appoint a committee on snakes.” Henry Ross Perot

12.  “That's been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” Steve Jobs

13.  “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” E.F. Schumacher


We all stumble from time to time.  The successful people are the ones who get back up and keep moving in the right direction.

14.  “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie

15.  “Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.” Thomas A. Edison

I know inspirational quotes won’t solve all the world’s problems, but when you’re struggling or uncertain, it’s useful to know that other successful people have faced the very same struggles, persevered, and succeeded.

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