Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Leadership for Customer Service is a Daily Sort of Thing

7-30 service team huddle smallAll over the world this morning, Ritz-Carlton employees (Ladies and Gentlemen, as they refer to themselves) are smiling and dressed to serve. But before they face a single guest, they make time for their 10-minute “lineup” meeting, a chance to align themselves for the task at hand by discussing one of their 16 central service principles, the core standards of the organization’s customer service culture. (Today the principle they are reinforcing is #8, which concerns every employee being able to grow and contribute in their job). Whether at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Dove Mountain Arizona, at the “world’s highest hotel” in Hong Kong, at the Ritz’s suburban business hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia, this same scene is occurring.

(And, perhaps, it should also be occurring at your company. The daily lineup is an approach that can power the service culture and growth of a company in a variety of industries. In fact, it’s a practice that I use as a customer service consultant to create dramatic and–just as important–sustainable improvements in the customer service culture of the companies that I convince to implement it–across a wide variety of industries.)

The lineup is a daily, extremely brief, huddle that your employees hold in small groups throughout your company at the same time each day (or same times, if you have more than one shift). At the lineup, you discuss a single aspect of service–for example, one of your guiding service principles, as exemplified by an encounter with a particular customer.  It doesn’t, by the way, fall upon management or a trainer to lead the lineup. On the contrary: a different employee can lead the lineup each day, thereby learning and teaching at the same time

Since lineup is a practice that was pioneered at and has been most famously practiced by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for three decades, I asked Diana Oreck, who helms Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center, what strikes her about the practice.

The daily lineup is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep the culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts) we have our lineup and we cover the 16 principles [that are central to our service culture] in rotation.

If today we’re talking about Service Value No. 1, ‘I create Ritz-Carlton guests for life’ and you’re the GM in Tokyo and I am the GM in New York, we can’t go out of rotation. What’s fascinating is that within twelve hours, first our Asian colleagues, then the Europeans, and then the Americans will be hearing the same message.

One thing I want to stress is to always keep the lineup short.  It shouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes because if it is, it’s a meeting and nobody needs another meeting in their day!

The lineup procedure gets inspiration from, yet is 180 degrees removed from, the old hospitality tradition of a check-in with staff where daily specials and other mundane updates are shared, fingernails are checked for cleanliness, and waiters have a last chance to borrow a pen and pad from a co-worker before going out to face their guests.

Here’s the thing: In today’s world the challenge of providing great service is not in such nuts and bolts, skills-and-details-related updates. (Put those on your wiki.) The challenge is that even if you start off strong with a great orientation, the daily grind will ensure that functional issues ultimately end up overwhelming company purpose. A daily standup meeting is a chance to keep your company focused on your overriding purpose and to ensure that all staff are aligned to fulfill it. It only takes a few minutes, and the difference it makes can be crucial.


Cloud Backup & Storage: Your Business at Your Fingertips

Imagine this scenario: It’s 8pm on Sunday night and you are presenting the results of a special project to your boss in a 9am meeting on Monday morning. You open up your computer after a relaxing weekend and realize you forgot to email yourself the presentation to review the material and make last minute adjustments. The file is on the desktop of your office computer, and you start to panic. If your business utilized a cloud backup and storage service, you would be able to log in to your account, download the file and get to work. The stress and anxiety you’re currently experiencing would be an emotion of the past.

Backing up and storing your files in the cloud allows you to access them from anywhere, on any device. The days of forgetting a file on your desktop will be a distant memory.

If you’ve thought about moving your files to a cloud-based storage service but haven’t committed yet, now is the time. Companies and employees now demand a more mobile and flexible work environment, and a cloud-based backup and storage service connects remote workers and allows employees to access their files from anywhere.

Not only will team projects be easier to manage, but you’ll increase team productivity and reduce time wasted sending each other files and working on old versions of presentations, projects, etc.

BENEFITS

  • Backup business data on a schedule, on-demand or automatically based on your preferences
  • Securely transfer data from one device to another or between team members
  • Share files across devices, teams, departments and locations
  • Real-time sync so any time you add a new file or save changes to data, it syncs across all of your devices
  • Give users access to read only, read and write, or full control based on their role within the team, department or company

Still not convinced? Test out Nextiva Drive for FREE and experience the benefits of our cloud backup and storage service firsthand! Visit www.nextivadrive.com to get started.  


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Provide Proactive Customer Care

How proactive is your small business’s customer service? Even if your customer service reps are ready to respond to phone calls on the first ring, know all the answers and can solve every possible problem a customer may have, they could still be doing more. “Proactive customer care” is one of the top customer service trends identified in WDS’ latest report, 10 Trends In Customer Care 2015.

Being proactive means providing customer service assistance before the customer even asks—and WDS believes it will be an increasingly important differentiator in the coming years. In brick-and-mortar retailing, the proactive “How can I help you?” greeting is ingrained in customer service. But how can this proactive attitude extend to other industries and online-only businesses? Here are some suggestions.

  • Follow up when an order is placed to confirm the order and provide an estimated delivery date. Make the message personalized by using a particular customer service rep’s name and having them take ownership of the customer.
  • Have salespeople contact customers after the purchase is completed to see if they are happy with the product or service, have any questions or would like to learn about complementary products or services. Using CRM, this can easily be done using templates that salespeople personalize and scheduling the outreach ahead of time.
  • Learn from customers’ activity on your website. If a customer is spending a lot of time on a particular page or product, or looking at “Help” and “FAQ” areas, reach out with a popup asking if the customer needs help and offering the option of live chat or a customer service phone number to call. This way, customers can get help in the way they prefer.
  • If your data shows certain customers make recurring or seasonal purchases (such as garden supplies every spring, a thorough housecleaning before Thanksgiving or skincare products every few months), contact them a few weeks ahead of the next time they’re likely to buy, and offer to set them up on an auto-ship or recurring service plan at a discount to lock in the current price.

By reaching out to offer assistance before customers need it, you’ll make their lives easier—and your business more memorable the next time they’re looking for what you sell. 


Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.


Advanced Call Routing with Nextiva’s Cloud-Based Phone System

7-23 Call Routing smallBusinesses are always looking for ways to maximize productivity and efficiency, while minimizing costs. It’s a balancing act that can be very hard to achieve, especially when factoring in customer service. Ensuring customers are not only happy, but loyal is the key to business success, and this can only be achieved by offering superior customer service. So how do you keep costs down, maximize productivity and deliver memorable customer service? The answer: Advanced Call Routing.  

Advanced Call Routing allows you to determine how incoming calls are handled, commonly with a welcome message containing a menu of options for the caller to choose from. With the rise of cloud-based business phone systems, implementing Advanced Call Routing at your business is now easier than ever, and you’ll begin experiencing the business benefits immediately.

Benefits

  • Increase customer satisfaction by connecting them to the department they need the first time
  • Increase team productivity by decreasing time spent speaking to customers that would be better served by a different department
  • Eliminate the need for a receptionist to direct calls to the appropriate department or team member

Features

  • Route calls based on business and after hours schedules, as well as location
  • Manager call routing and make adjustments in web-based user interface
  • Create employee groups (also known as Hunt Groups) to receive calls routed from specific numbers, based on the time of day or call volume
  • Route calls to alternative numbers, mobile devices, or to voicemail based on customizable schedules

Businesses of all sizes and industries will benefit from implementing Advanced Call Routing. Visit www.nextiva.com to learn more.


Finding the Right Price Point for Your Product

7-22 Pricing Strategies smallOnce you start a business, how do you know how much to charge? If your product is priced too high, it won’t sell. If it’s priced too low, you’ll be swamped with orders, and have such a small profit margin, it wont even be worth the effort. Finding the balance is the trick.

What Goes Into Cost

Your price should:

  • Cover your costs
  • Highlight the value you provide your customers
  • Earn you a reasonable profit
  • Be competitive

There is no such thing as the perfect price. It’s all about developing a price that your customers are willing to pay, that also makes you a profit. Because remember profit is how we keep score in business. Pricing effects every aspect of business because price is used to create sales projections, establish a break-even point, and calculate profit. There are three ways to find the right price for your product:

1. Look at the competition.

Use your competitor’s price as a reference point. If your product is of a higher quality, and you can justify more benefits, then you can probably justify a higher price point. The goal must be to stay competitive. If your product is knock off, then your price point will be less.

2. Calculate the total cost of your product.
This should include your hard costs (labor, materials/inventory, packaging, shipping.) You should also include a percentage of your overhead expenses such as (legal, accounting, marketing, and administrative costs.) Once you have a all your costs then you need to determine your profit margin to calculate the final price. Depending on what you sell the profit margin could be anywhere from 30 percent to 300 percent.

3. It's all about the perception of value.

Perceived value is one of the most common factors business owners use to determine product pricing. Unfortunately, some small business owners we perceive their value to be much greater than their would-be customers, which is a great way to go out of business. The main factor that adds value to a product is the brand behind it. Lots of stores sell mixers, but if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, you have a top of the line machine. Why is that? All mixers basically function the same.

It's all about the perception of value. The Kitchen Aid mixer has a higher perceived value.

Let me give you a quick MBA lesson:

Price = (Labor + Materials) x profit margin

What that profit margin is will depend on your industry and who you’re selling to. If you’re selling wholesale, you might double what your labor and materials cost. If you’re selling retail, it might be double what you’d charge wholesale.

Don’t Compete on Price

There’s often a pull to be the cheapest seller on the block. Resist the urge, otherwise you people will assume your products are lower quality. Someone will always be able to offer similar products cheaper than you, so this is a no-win situation.

Don’t be afraid to Charge a Premium!

People pay based on perceived value. If you are confident — and competent — and can point to great work you’ve done in the past, people absolutely will be willing to pay what you charge.

Down-the-Road Discounts

It’s easier to charge more and come down in price than to start out low and then charge more. If your prices seem to be too high for your marketplace, test out different promotions and see what price point resonates with your audience. Psychologically, you may see better results simply offering a discount occasionally than to reduce your prices across the board.

Test your Price Point

Pay attention to people’s response to your prices. If you don’t want to cut your profit margin down, consider adding more value to what they get, such as a free product, or discount on future purchases.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Progressive Medical Center

Progressive Medical Center is a national integrated medical clinic headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. They cater to patients with a variety of medical conditions and each center contains a blend of MDs and naturopaths that work together to help patients identify the root cause of their symptoms. With plans to expand the number of locations in the coming years, Progressive Medical Center was in need of a scalable phone solution that could easily grow with their business.

After looking at past few invoices and noticing that their service fees were consistently high every month, Progressive Medical Center knew they needed to switch to a phone solution that better fit their business needs. Carey Spurgeon, New Patient Acquisition Manager, explained the importance a reliable phone service, attentive support and no service or maintenance fees were for their business. After extensive research, they found that Nextiva met all their criteria for the ideal phone service provider. Nextiva’s 100% U.S.-based support takes care of all Progressive Medical Center’s questions and account updates at no additional fee, significantly reducing their operating expenses.

Implementing Nextiva’s cloud-based business phone system has provided Progressive Medical Center with many benefits, including:

  • Opening more locations across the U.S.: With plans to open more locations and grow their staff across the country, Nextiva’s phone solution easily connect all of their offices and additional lines of service can be added to their account in minutes.
  • Flat monthly fee per user: Unlimited long distance calling within the United States and Canada has saved the company significantly.
  • No service fees or hidden costs: All customer support and system maintenance is included in Nextiva’s flat monthly fee per user. Now Progressive Medical Center always has the latest technology and can make changes to their account and call flows without the fear of racking up an expensive service bill.
  • Reliable service and exceptional call quality: It is imperative that patients can creach the medical offices whenever there is an emergency, so they need reliable service with crisp call quality to build trust with the staff and physicians over the phone.
  • Employees have access to their business phone anywhere: Medical emergencies don’t follow a 9-to-5 schedule and can happen at any time. The Nextiva App allows doctors and staff to stay connected and assist patients with emergencies so they get the care they need, when they need it.

Meet Carey Spurgeon, New Patient Acquisition Manager, and hear her share her story in the video below. 


Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways To Alienate Your Employees

I recently ran into a friend of mine who works for a Fortune 500 company. He’s absolutely miserable, and while he’s been looking for another job, he’s been doing the absolute minimum he can to keep his boss off his back. He’s just marking time, and while he was running down the list of things he hates about his company, it occurred to me there’s something we can learn from my friend’s misery. Here are the things we need to be on our guard against, the ways in which we destroy employee loyalty.

  1. Demand 24/7 access. Your company is your baby, and it makes sense for you to work around the clock to nurture it.  You can’t expect your staff to make the same commitment, though.  We need downtime to rest and recharge, and pushing your staff to be available all the time will push them away.
  2. Require your employees to do work they hate.  We all have unique skill sets, and if you’re forcing your staff to work outside their areas of expertise, not only are you not getting the most from them, but you’re also damaging company morale.  Take the time to sort your staff into jobs they enjoy.
  3. Call your staff “human resources.”  I just sat in on a meeting in which a guy lamented the fact that his company was “low on human inventory.”  He’s a real gem, that guy, and he is probably clueless about why the company can’t recruit and retain great staff.  I see that it’s because he treats people like numbers.  If you value your staff, treat them like human beings.
  4. Require your staff to make the company part of their social life.  Not only do you need to allow your staff to keep their private lives private, but you also should avoid the potential for inappropriate Facebook posts about your company.  Don’t tell your staff you want to see them promoting your business on their personal social media.
  5. Blame the rules.  You’re the boss.  That means it’s up to you to make and adjust the rules as necessary.  If you’re hiding behind rules you’ve made to explain your decisions, you’re missing an opportunity to earn staff loyalty by demonstrating your flexibility and changing rules to benefit both your staff and your business.
  6. Ask for feedback and ignore it.  If you ask for input from your staff, you owe it to them to consider their suggestions.  You needn’t implement everything an employee suggests, but you need to make it clear you value your staff’s input.
  7. Use money as the sole motivator.  It is important to compensate your staff fairly, but there are a host of other benefits that can matter even more than money to your employees.  If you focus on finding ways to challenge and reward your staff that have nothing to do with a dollar, you’ll learn just how effective fulfillment is when it comes to retaining good employees.
  8. Put your company ahead of your staff.  If your employees feel like you care more about the bottom line than anything else, you’re liable to lose them at their first opportunity to jump ship.  Make an effort to support your staff, and you’ll have ‘em for life.

Many times we push our staff away completely by accident.  We think we’re doing the right thing for our business, but we end up making decisions that are penny wise and pound foolish.  Take a step back and make sure you’re avoiding the common traps and strengthening your staff’s ties to your company.


Your Customer’s at the Center of His/Her Own World (Make Sure They Feel at the Center of Yours)

7-17 center of the world smallThere’s a lot of power for you as a service provider in creating the impression for your customer that she’s at the absolute center of your world. This is, in a sense, an illusion, because you have (I hope) a life of your own and (I’m hoping again) more than one customer to support. But it is an extremely powerful business-building illusion if you can successfully pull it off.

Customers are, after all, already at the center of their own world, their own reality.  And what they want from you as a service provider is not for you to grab center stage from them, but to reassure them that they, in fact, hold center stage in your world as well. 

I know this makes customers sound childish, but I think that’s fine.  We’re here to serve customers, not to fix them.  In fact, one of my favorite ways of giving myself a reality check about the relationship of a business to its customers is to think about the day, years ago, that my wife and I took our daughter to her first half-day of nursery school. On that fine New England morning, the young, hippie-trippy teacher collected our daughter from us outside the classroom, where we were sitting together on a red park bench. When the teacher returned our daughter to us at noon, my wife and I were again sitting, in the early-autumn warmth, on that same red bench. It wasn’t until a week or three later, as the routine continued, that it became evident that our daughter thought her two parents were sitting on that red bench each day throughout the entire morning, awaiting her return. She didn’t think this in a vague or metaphorical sense. She didn’t kind of half-believe this. She really believed it.

The lesson here is this: For a customer, as with a little kid, they’re not going to be thinking about your other obligations, interests, activities. They’ll think, until you prove them wrong (which would be a mistake) that your world revolves around them, all of the time. And as a service provider you benefit from giving this impression rather than becoming resentful that the customer’s presumptuous enough to be thinking this way. It’s a credit to your business, actually, and to your level of service, if they believe that you’re truly all about them all the time.

(In our daughter’s case, what were we doing in the hours when we weren’t visible to her?  Oh, we ate. We did other work, including behind-the-scenes work necessary for her ultimate happiness as our “customer,” as well as work that had nothing to do with her; we even, if there was time, slipped off to the bathroom. But—and here’s what mattered in keeping up the illusion—we were there for her even before she came outside to look for us after school was over, and we were entirely there for her when she did.)

So, I’m going to suggest you throw out the clichéd image of wowing your customers by “rolling out the red carpet” and replace it in your thinking with “sitting on the red bench” as the ultimate in customer care. In other words, what’s most important isn’t to just put on an all-star show for your customers as much as it’s to manage to create and maintain the illusion that you are always there awaiting your customer, attending to her as if you had nothing else on your agenda that could possibly interfere.

Pull this off and you’re well on your way to guaranteeing yourself a customer for life. Because, really: If you make customers feel this way, why would they ever leave you for a competitor? Odds are good they wouldn’t, because they’re already getting the feeling that they’re looking for from you.




 
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