Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.


Go Find the Thin Places in Your Business

Wide avenue with trees on each side forming a shaded tunnel.When was the last time you felt inspired and then fundamentally changed your view of the business world?

In the hustle and thickness of every day, it is rare to have a transformational experience. Most small business owners see their days as a list of to-do’s they must check off. Typically this provides nothing more than a sigh of relief or a sense of frustration at the conclusion of every day.

This is one reason why taking scheduled breaks to recharge from the daily routine is so important. It can thrust you into places where you can have new experiences and gain totally different perspectives. These are called thin places.

Characteristics of a Thin Place

According to Eric Weiner, cultural traveler and writer for the New York Times, thin places can be charming, enchanting, and awe-inspiring. They can be calming, yet stir feelings and emotions. Time passes pleasantly in these places, without feeling a need to track it. They are places where one can’t help but marvel at beauty, efficiency, and the power of everything. Thin places are where wisdom just sits. They prompt you to ponder rare and new thoughts. They help you make thought associations that have alluded you.

In his article, Weiner explains that thin places are not necessarily tranquil, beautiful, or fun. They usually aren’t places like Disney World or an awards dinner. Thin places are where there is not agenda. They can be natural places like the Sonoran Desert or the ocean. They can be man-made parks or city squares. For some people, thin places can even be an airport or a local bookstore.

Purpose of Thin Places
Thin places give people new perspectives. They don’t necessarily provide “spiritual breakthroughs”, but they do change the way one sees the world. They disorient, confuse, and transform. People leave as different, yet perhaps more authentically themselves, after encountering a thin place. They see themselves and their business from a different place.

How to Get to Thin Places
Usually, thin places are just stumbled upon. In order to increase the likelihood of encountering thinness, you must start by having no preconceived notions. Thinking you will walk out with a brilliant idea or revelation will probably mean disappointment. There are no guidebooks to take you there since thin places are not the same for everyone. Each person must discover what thinness looks like to them.

Whether you are traveling the world or a local neighborhood, be open to new places and experiences that don’t exist inside your office or your company. It’s not so much the place itself as it is how you feel in that place. You must find the places where you feel thin – where you feel really you.

My thin place is at Wallace Desert Gardens in Scottsdale. Where are yours?


Everyone In Your Company Needs To Be Responsible For Complaints

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Here’s an important question to ask yourself: Whom do you feel should be responsible for the customer experience at your company?

How you (and others in your organization) answer this question can make or break your company.

Here's my answer.

Make everyone responsible for the customer experience.  Responsible for handling complaints. For suggesting improvements in your processes. For maintaining the customer-friendly processes you already have. If you don't,  you'll find the actual responsibility for the customer experience at your company devolves quickly "no one."

This answer isn't as pie-in-the-sky as it sounds. "Everyone" here is shorthand for “everyone, to the extent of their abilities, to the extent of their trainability and to the extent they interact with customers.”

The picture of customer service we need to get out of our heads — and out of our businesses — is the old, compartmentalized version: an isolated clerk on an upper floor of a venerable department store, where customers have to schlep their returns to get an adjustment.

Instead, teach Joan in Sales and Jeff in Shipping how they themselves can initiate a service recovery. Jeff may not be the right person ultimately to fix the problem, but if he encounters an unsatisfied customer, he needs to know how to do more than say ‘‘I can’t help you, I just send boxes.’’

Even Dale, who cleans the toilets, should be empowered beyond helpless reactions like ‘‘Um, you’d need to ask a manager about that.’’ Customers hate to hear ‘‘You need to ask a manager.’’

Dale will feel better about himself and your company, his customer will feel better about herself and your company, and service problems will tend to turn out better if Dale has been trained to express confident enthusiasm: ‘‘Certainly, I am so sorry. I will help you with that,’’ followed by finding the right person to solve the problem (even if that does happen to be, in fact, a manager).


The Power of the Press Release

11-19 press release smallAs a small business owner, you need as many tools in your marketing arsenal as possible. Press releases are an excellent resource for helping you reach more people online as well as attract the attention of journalists and bloggers. But you don’t need to hire a public relations professional to start leveraging press releases. Here’s your guide to getting started.

Focus on the Angle

Press releases, by their very nature, focus on news. They’re not promotional articles or advertising. So if you’re going to write one, you need a news angle. That might be that you just opened your shop downtown, or that you recently secured your first government contract. Ask yourself this: would this fit in my local newspaper? If not, you don’t have a topic for your first press release.

This is especially important when you reach out to journalists to cover your story. They don’t care how great you think your company is; they want stories that their readers are interested in. So keep your focus on relevant news, and you’ll be fine.

Consider Your Channels

There are websites that focus solely on distributing press releases online. These are great for getting your news out there on many sites, as well as getting links back to your website. The more places your press release is found, the more opportunity for potential customers, as well as journalists and bloggers, to stumble upon it.

Another option you have is to send that press release directly to journalists you think might be interested in your news. Start locally; you’ll have a better shot of making it in your local daily newspaper than on the front page of New York Times.

Keep Your Timing in Mind

If your news happens in two weeks, you need to start pitching journalists now, and ask them to honor the embargo of 2 weeks (that just means they won’t leak your news until your specified date). While journalists and bloggers will need more lead time to write the story, online press release distribution services don’t, and many can publish your release within a few hours of submission. Chart out your timing before you need your news announced so you avoid last minute time crunches that could ruin your carefully-timed news announcement.

Watch Those Metrics

One of the purposes of using press releases online is to attract website visitors. Once you’ve published a press release or have gotten mentioned in online media, check your analytics after a few days to see if this coverage resulted in a boost in traffic. See where the traffic is coming from; one site that publishes press releases might send more than another, and this is important for your overall marketing and PR strategy.

One press release won’t result in dozens of new customers, but a steady cadence might. Only publish releases if you’ve got something newsworthy, but do build them into the bigger picture.


Nextiva Drive: The Cloud Storage Solution You’ve Been Waiting For

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Nextiva is excited to announce the launch of Nextiva Drive, its complete cloud storage and sync service that allows you to access your important files anywhere, anytime. Perfect for businesses both large and small, Nextiva Drive is compatible with any desktop or mobile device, allowing you to sync your files in real-time across devices, seamlessly collaborate with remote coworkers on projects, and backup your files automatically, or on a schedule of your choosing. Features include:

  • Online Data Storage allows you to access all of your business data from anywhere—no hardware or IT staff required
  • Secure Data Transfer ensures your files are transferred securely via encrypted data from one device to another, or to the cloud
  • Automatic Backup so you never lose a file
  • SSL Security for added protection
  • Team Collaboration allows you to share files across devices, projects and locations, whether your team is in the office or remote
  • User Role Administration gives users different levels of access based on their role
  • Drag-n-Drop File Backup for easy uploading of new files to your cloud storage
  • Real-time Sync saves new files or changes to data across all of your devices

In addition to the features above, Nextiva Drive is supported by Nextiva’s 100% U.S.-based Amazing Service Support Team. To learn more about Nextiva Drive and the plans available, check out this video and visit www.nextivadrive.com


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Do Customers Want From Your Customer Service?

Woman working in restaurant taking payment from customerGood customer service makes life better for your customers—but it also makes your profits better. Need confirmation of that claim? Check out the results from the latest Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express.

Customers today don’t feel very positive about customer service in general. Maybe that’s why those who do get good service really appreciate it. Nearly three-fourths (74 percent) of consumers surveyed say they have spent more with a company because they had a history of positive customer service experiences with that business. On average, customers are willing to spend 14 percent more with companies that provide good service.

Good customer service not only boosts your sales with current customers, it’s a major factor in landing new customers. More than four in 10 (42 percent) say a recommendation from a friend or family member is likely to get them to do business with a new company. What’s more, 34 percent say such a recommendation is even more influential than sales or promotions.

On the flip side, last year six out of 10 consumers say they had an experience where they planned to buy something from a business, but changed their minds after a poor customer service experience. And 37 percent of respondents say they only give a business one chance to mess up before they switch to the competition.

While nearly half of consumers tell people about good customer service—and they tell an average of eight people—a whopping 95 percent of shoppers tell others about bad customer service experiences. Even worse, customers who have negative experiences tell twice as many people as those who have positive experiences.

So what constitutes good customer service? It’s pretty easy to do: To exceed U.S. consumers’ expectations, simply deliver the value you promise at the right price. While that’s the most important factor in customer service, consumers also say “ease of doing business” and “personalized service” factor in to good customer service.

When it comes to interaction with customer service reps, consumers overwhelmingly agree that good service means being able to provide satisfactory answers to their questions (86 percent) or connect them with someone who can (78 percent).

Beyond these basics, customers value efficiency (they want their transactions handled quickly and competently) and empowerment (they want employees who are able to make decisions on their own). 


Mondays with Mike: Why Pivoting Can Kill Your Business

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If you’re anything like me, you’re perpetually trying to improve your business.  I read a lot of material produced by other entrepreneurs to make sure I stay on top of trends and the most current research that can help me be a better business owner.  My companies are my babies, and I want to be a good parent.

We have to be wary consumers of entrepreneurial advice, though, and there’s one trend that is particularly troubling to me because it eats away at the core reasons you and I had for starting our companies in the first place.  Pivoting can be lethal to your business, and here’s why.

Pivoting, explained simply, is finding out what your customers want and altering your product until you satisfy your customers.  Now in theory, trying to please your customers doesn’t sound like a bad thing, right?  Here’s the problem, though:  assuming that you started your business because you had a philosophy and a product that you believed in, pivoting can end up being nothing more than incremental steps that carry you further and further from your vision.

In fact, not only can pivoting move you away from your vision, but it can also do real harm to your bottom line. 

I’ll share a story that illustrates how dangerous pivoting can be:  When I wrote my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I thought I knew exactly who my target audience was.  I was absolutely certain that my readers would be male, recent college graduates.  I’d created marketing plans with that reader in mind, and I was shocked when I didn’t see immediate sales to my expected demographic.  I’d missed my mark, and for whatever reason, my book wasn’t selling as well as I’d hoped … at least not to the people I thought it would.

As it turned out – before I could revise the book and re-release it, hoping to get the readers I’d hoped for – I discovered my book did have a market – a really good one.  It just wasn’t what I expected.  I was shocked when I started getting feedback from middle aged women who were telling me how valuable they’d found my insights.  I did have natural readership – one who identified with and valued my methods – and if I’d revised my book to chase after another set of readers, I’d have lost the ones I had.  Had I pivoted … altered my product … I’d have missed out on the customer that already existed – for the product I really believed in.

So pivoting can not only mean that you’ll miss out on the natural customers who want what you’re producing, but there’s also a principle at the core of pivoting that’s a problem.  You’ll see advice about producing a minimum viable product (MVP) to test market customer reception.  The problem with MVPs is that they’re necessarily watered down, poorer quality offerings than what you’d produce if you were really going all in with a product launch.  It’s my position that if you’re truly invested in a product you believe is a unique, high quality offering, then you’ll find your customers.  Putting out a lousy representation in order to test the waters will ultimately damage your brand and dilute the effect you’re trying to create in the marketplace.

My advice when it comes to pivoting – or any other entrepreneurial trend – is to remember why you started your business in the first place.  Any trend or new concept that moves you away from your vision for your company deserves closer scrutiny and a skeptical eye.  Finding your authentic customers and then earning and keeping their confidence is a much sounder course than shifting your direction in search of an easier road.


Great Customer Service Requires Effective Language

Your company, I expect, has put quite a bit of thought into the language used in your marketing campaigns and website. And quite a bit less thought into the words that your employees use directly with customers.

At least, this is the pattern I encounter as a customer experience consultant. And it's a serious mistake, because customers don’t generally get their make-or-break impressions of a company primarily from high-minded branding exercises. They get them primarily from day-to-day conversations with you.

Language underlies all other components of customer satisfaction.

For example:

  • A perfect product won’t be experienced as perfect unless you also use the right language in describing it to customers.
  • Even your best-intentioned, technically flawless employees can alienate customers if they use the wrong language.
  • When you have a service failure, the right words can be your best ally.

If you haven’t given much thought to selecting and controlling your company language—what your staff, signage, emails, voicemails, and web-based autoresponders should say, and should never say, to customers—it’s time to do it now.

Establish a Consistent Style of Speech

No brand is complete until a brand-appropriate style of speaking with customers is in place at all levels of the enterprise. You should therefore work to achieve a consistent (although not stilted or overly scripted-sounding) style of service speech.

A distinctive and consistent companywide style of service speech won’t happen on its own. You’ll need social engineering: that is, systematic training of employees. Imagine, for example, that you’ve selected ten promising salespeople for your new high-end jewelry boutique. You’ve provided them with uniforms and stylish haircuts and encouraged them to become your own brand’s versions of a Mr. or Ms. Cartier, starting on opening day. But they’ll still speak with customers much the way they speak in their own homes: that is, until you’ve trained them in a different language style.

Happily, engineering a company-wide style of speech can be a positive, collaborative experience. If you approach this correctly, you won’t need to put a gag on anybody or twist any arms. Once everybody in an organization understands the reasons for language guidelines, it becomes a challenge, not a hindrance. The improved customer reactions and collaborative pride of mission are rewarding. As a consequence, my customer service consulting clients have found it to be a pretty easy sell companywide.

Heres how to make it happen

Study the language that works best with your own customers, and identify harmful phrases that should be avoided. Codify this for your employees in a brief lexicon or language handbook that can be learned and referred to on the job. In the lexicon, you’ll spell out which words and phrases are best to use and which should be avoided in various common situations.

Putting together a language handbook is a relatively simple undertaking. It doesn’t require an English degree (although those are great to have). But it does require forethought, experimentation, and some pondering about human nature.

Here, for example, are some good/bad language choices I use in the lexicon I’ve prepared for my own businesses and those for whom I'm a customer service consultant. These are certainly not surgical rocketry, as you’ll see.

Bad: ‘‘You owe . . .’’
Good: ‘‘Our records show a balance of . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘You need to . . .’’ (This makes some customers think: ‘‘I don’need to do jack, buddy—Im your customer!’’)
Good: ‘‘We find it usually works best when . . .’’

Bad: ‘‘Please hold.’’
Good: ‘‘May I briefly place you on hold?’’ (and then actually listen to the callers answer)

Time to worry about  “No worries!”

Good lexicons will vary depending on industry, clientele, and location. A cheerful ‘‘No worries!’’ sounds fine coming from the clerk at a Bose audio store in Portland (an informal business in an informal town) but bizarre if spoken by the concierge at the Four Seasons in Milan.

Choose language to put customers at ease, not to put them down

No matter what your business is, make it your mission to avoid having your employees use any condescending or coercive language. Sometimes these language put-downs are obvious, but sometimes they're quite subtle. Here are examples of both:

Subtly insulting: In an informal business, if a customer asks, ‘‘How are you?’’ the response, ‘‘I’m well,’’ may make you feel like you're using proper-sounding grammar—but may not be the best choice. Hearing this  Victorian-sounding response may make your customers momentarily self-conscious about whether their own grammar is less than perfect. It may be better to have your employees choose from more familiar alternatives like, ‘‘I’m doing great!’’ or ‘’Super!’’

(Most important, of course, is to follow up with an inquiry about the customer’s own well-being: ‘‘And how are you, this morning?’’)

Unsubtly coercive: I’m not likely to forget the famous steakhouse that trained staff to ask our party as they seated us, ‘‘Which bottled water will you be enjoying with us this evening, still, or sparkling?’’ We took that phrasing to mean we weren’t permitted to ask for tap water.

(In this situation, one that comes up in many restaurants, what is a better choice of words? How about: ‘‘Would you prefer ice water or bottled water with your meal?’’ Or, considering that this question offers an early chance for the waitstaff to build rapport with guests, add some local flavor. In Chicago, a friend’s restaurant a few years back was asking, ‘‘Will you be having bottled water or The Mayor’s finest aqua with your meal?’’)

Danny Meyer-ize or the classic Ritz-Carlton approach: It's your choice.

Getting employees to say the right thing is a tough and touchy subject. And there are two ways to write your company lexicon–your language handbook. You should choose whichever method suits you better.

One is the classic ‘‘Say This While Avoiding This’’ language guide style, made famous for many years by the work of the Ritz-Carlton.   This optimizes customer satisfaction in most businesses and helps bind staff members into a team. It also helps you work with a wider variety of employees, with a wider variety of educational backgrounds, who may appreciate the help choosing the most appropriate phrase.

But if it strikes you as too prescriptive (or too much work) to develop scripted phrases and specific word choices for your employees, at least consider developing a brief ‘‘Negative Lexicon.’’ A Negative Lexicon is just a list of crucial Thou Shalt Nots.

I call the Negative Lexicon the Danny Meyer approach, after the teachings of the New York restaurateur and master of hospitality. Meyer feels uncomfortable giving his staff a list of what to say, but he doesn’t hesitate to specifically ban phrases that grate on his ears (‘‘Are we still working on the lamb?’’)

A Negative Lexicon can be kept short, sweet, and easy to learn. Of course, new problematic words and phrases are sure to crop up as time moves on. Ideally, you’ll update your Negative Lexicon frequently.

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3 Tech Tools That Make Your Small Business Seem Much Larger

11-13 shadowBusinesses no longer are forced to lease office space and hire multiple employees to start and grow. Thanks to the many technology tools that are available today, even a one-person startup operating out of a home office can interact with clients and customers. Best of all, these tools are often affordable, utilizing the devices an entrepreneur already has.

By choosing the right selection of tools, a professional can grow slowly, giving customers the impression the business is located in a large multi-story business suite. Here are three great technologies that can turn your small enterprise into a complex business, complete with customer service representatives and administrative assistants.

VoIP Call Forwarding

As a small business owner, your cell phone is your lifeline. Today’s cloud-enabled VoIP phone systems offer a wide variety of features to facilitate communication as you grow. Using an online interface or a desk phone, a business can forward calls as needed throughout the day.

As a business adds employees, additional users can be added, with calls being routed to employees whether they’re at home, in the office, or traveling from one meeting to the next. These systems can also be set to ring multiple phones at once, so a professional can have a desk phone, cell phone, and home phone ring simultaneously to ensure no call is ever missed.

Cloud Services

Cloud service providers have served as the great equalizer in the business world, giving SMBs access to technologies traditionally only available to larger businesses. Companies pay a monthly fee for access to software, file and application hosting, and web hosting from any device. Cloud services providers employ some of the best IT professionals to provide the highest level of security and reliability.

In addition to providing storage and software functionality, the cloud has also made it possible for businesses to rethink the traditional approach to getting work completed. Instead of committing to a full-time employee with salary and benefits, a business owner can contract with an online virtual assistant to help manage tasks, as well as graphic designers, application developers, marketing professionals, and other workers. This work can be done on a paid-per-job basis, with workers potentially living on the other side of the world.

Billing and Payment Solutions

Invoicing is an essential part of any growing business. During the process of building and growing a startup, an entrepreneur doesn’t have the time to dedicate to sending invoices, collecting payments, and tracking funds. Automated solutions give business owners the opportunity to automate the process, saving time and preventing costly errors.

Newer solutions also offer the opportunity of setting up a portal through which clients and vendors can view and pay invoices, as well as view the status of pending payments. These tools cut down on the number of phone calls for information and give a business an even more professional, big business appearance.

Technology has opened up many possibilities for businesses, including giving small businesses the ability to appear much larger. By setting up the right infrastructure from the beginning, an SMB can give itself a competitive edge in its field.




 
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