Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

In the pioneer days, customer service at the local general store meant a friendly greeting and wrapping a purchase in brown paper tied with string. Today, customers’ expectations have become far more sophisticated—and so has customer service. Here are some of the top customer service trends today, as identified by Forrester Research, and what they mean to your business.

  1. Customers want “pain-free” service. Basically, this means making it easy for customers to get the help they want, anytime, anywhere. For example, customers now expect to be able to use a variety of communications channels to get customer service. Voice is still the number-one channel used for customer service, but self-service, chat and email are all gaining in popularity. Moreover, customers expect the same level and quality of service, whether they’re using the phone or live chat. Finally, they expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and seamlessly complete it in another.
  2. Stocksy_txp6f31b4d2H08000_Small_165665Customers are going mobile. Most customers expect to be able to interact with customer service on a mobile device. It’s important you don’t just present a smaller version of your desktop website on mobile; instead, use responsive design to ensure customers can view and interact with your site whether they’re on a tablet, desktop or smartphone. For mobile, your customer service interface should be simple, intuitive and easy to use.
  3. Customer service is getting proactive. One big trend Forrester noticed: Nearly one-third of bigger companies plan to invest in proactive outbound communications with customers this year. For your small business, that could be anything from calling customers to follow up after a sale, to randomly surveying customers about your service, to using shopping cart software that reaches out with an invitation to live chat when customers’ actions indicate confusion.
  4. Companies are moving customer service to the cloud. More companies are relying on cloud-based, SaaS solutions rather than installing software. This enables them to keep current on changes in customer service and maintain fluid databases with new knowledge about how to handle customer problems and inquiries.
  5. Companies are incorporating self-service. Forrester reports that 67 percent of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. Savvy companies are looking to supplement their own knowledge bases with user-generated content, which enables customer service employees and customers alike to find answers to a wider range of questions and problems more quickly. 

Mondays with Mike: 4 Steps To Taking Your Business On The Road

I’m a self-taught mobile business evangelist.  When I made the decision to convert the way I did business from the traditional, office-based model, I literally never looked back, at least not fondly.  Now, everything I need to conduct business is in my backpack, and I can work – quite easily, in fact – from anywhere in the world.

Getting your business ready to go mobile isn’t without its pitfalls, though, so I’ve compiled a game plan for getting there with minimal hassle.

  1. Communication is key.  The single most important component of your mobile business strategy is ensuring that you can communicate reliably with your staff, clients, and key contacts.  Skype is the solution for my company.  It lets me talk by phone, conduct video conferences, and it even lets me send messages.  When you’re on the road, you can’t afford to be out of touch, so it’s worth it to research your options and make the choice that meets all of your needs.
  2. Use the cloud to store and share data.  In addition to being able to talk to clients and employees, you’re also going to need a way to store and share your data securely.  Google Drive works for me, and I simply can’t overstate how critical it is to be able to access, edit, and share files from the road.  Even if you end up paying for your cloud storage, you’ll end up saving money in the long run when you factor in the savings in both time and money.  No more searching for a fax machine or waiting for documents to arrive.  Being able to share files – even large ones – by pointing and clicking is critical.
  3. Create contingency plans.  Ask yourself what you’d do if your laptop battery died.  What would you do if you couldn’t find reliable wifi?  What if Google Drive stopped working in the middle of a negotiation that relies on sending and receiving files?  Think through the problems that could arise and start developing solutions.  Whether it’s a backup battery or a second cloud storage account, you’ll save yourself huge headaches if you do some troubleshooting before you need it.
  4. Take a deep breath and jump right in.  Force yourself to go mobile.  Even if you start with a single day, making yourself actually do it will help you identify problems with your systems and give you the confidence that you can, in fact, survive outside your office and outside your comfort zone.  As you start going through your regular tasks from a mobile office, you’ll start to realize all the benefits.  You’ll appreciate the flexibility, and you’ll quickly see that you’re actually more efficient.

Much of working outside the office relies on technology, but one of the things that I love most about working from my backpack is that I’m free to schedule more face time with my important clients.  Rather than being tied to a desk, I’m free to actually go seal a deal with a real handshake.  Your laptop doesn’t distance you from personal contact; it simply lets you keep tabs on your business while you go forge those important face-to-face connections. 

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Does Business Etiquette Still Matter?

?????????????In recent years, business has become very casual. Gone are the work days of suits, stationary, big titles, corner offices, secretaries, and power lunches. Small business is now done through email, video chats, texting, meet ups, social media and casual attire.

However, etiquette still matters in business and can be a competitive advantage for you. Here is how:

Attire: How you look still matters. While John T. Molloy’s classic “Dress for Success” maybe outdated, someone who is dressed too sloppy or casual will still not be trusted as a person that is dressed as well as their customer. Appropriate attire choices also must made for video chats unless you want to show your customer your workout outfit.

Writing: Since so much of communication is done in short informal manner, there is greater chance of miscommunication. Being able to write effective email communications is still an important skill and requires increased practice. This can be done by sending an email to a customer and then following up immediately by phone to make sure that they understood exactly what you wrote.

Dining: A lot can be learned by having a meal with a business associate. People can win or lose a deal, promotion or job based on their table manners. This doesn’t necessarily mean using the right fork, but still includes RSVPs, keeping your napkin on your lap, elbows off the table, and chewing with your mouth closed. Not sure of your habits? Have a friend take note at your next lunch.

BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): More companies are not issuing smart phones, but instead are having employees bring their own smart phones.  As a result, personal and business data are mixing on the same device. It is critical to set the rules in advance as to what type of access the employer has for inspection of that device and whether it can be wiped cleaned when that employee leaves.

Travel: More small companies are doing business in different countries.  They need to be aware of various business and dining customs, business hierarchies, displays of affection and alcohol use. Important customs vary by country and culture.

Social Networking: Many small business owners and employees have separate social media sites for business and personal use. However, their brand image on both sites need to be consistent since customers will do a web search that will cover all of them. Personal and professional lives can no longer be practically separated.

Also remember that different generations will prefer different etiquette so this will add to its overall complexity. A great guide for the small business owner is the 2014 version of Emily Post’s “The Etiquette Business Advantage

What business etiquette is most important to you?


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.


How to Lower Your Bounce Rate on Your Small Business Website

???????You have a beautifully designed website. Check. Targeted keywords on the website. Check. You have a way to capture email addresses on your website. Check. So why aren’t you getting more customers from your small business website? You might have a decent flow of people visiting your site, but if they’re not converting to sales, it’s time to look at the reasons why. Start by examining your bounce rate.

What the Heck is a Bounce Rate?

Just like a shiny rubber ball, your bounce rate happens when people land on your site and then quickly bounce away. You can find your bounce rate by looking at your Google Analytics once e month. The technical definition for bounce rate: the percent of people who leave your site after visiting just one page. The higher the bounce rate, the more people are leaving rather than looking around. The average bounce rate is 50%. Here’s an illustration:

  1. Someone searches for something they’re looking for online.
  2. Your site shows up in those search results. They click your link.
  3. They land on your home page, don’t see what they expected, then leave.

So the question is: why are they not finding what they want? Why do they leave before even exploring your site? Typically there are a few reasons for this.

1. Your Design is Unappealing

While you wouldn’t expect a visitor to your site to hold bad design against you, first impressions really do matter. And if your website hasn’t been updated for 5 years, or is cluttered with ads or popups, there’s not much you can do to convince people to stay, even if your products are amazing.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this: get a new design! Website design has come way down in pricing, and there are even templates and platforms you can customize and manage yourself.

2. Poor Keywords

Let’s say the name of your company is Red Ball Marketing. You don’t actually sell red balls, but people still land on your site looking to buy red balls. You’re probably not willing to change your company name, but you can put more effort into appearing in search results for better keywords. You should know your top 6 keywords. If you haven’t really put much thought into your keywords, you’ll get a mix of traffic of people looking for lots of things, but not really what you sell.

Figure out the top keywords your audience is searching for and make sure you use them throughout your site, especially in your blog titles and static pages. For your marketing company, that would be terms like:

  • Content marketing
  • Marketing firm
  • Marketing for small business

If you continue to work to build your presence online with those keywords, as well as blogging, you should start to move up those search results and attract people who are looking for what you’re selling.

3. You Lack Calls to Action

Now that search engines have led leads to your website, it’s your job to make them drink the koolaid. If your home page lacks any call to action, how will visitors know what you want them to do? Consider your call to action your instructions for visitors to your site. Do you want them to:

  • Buy from you?
  • Get a free quote?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a free ebook?

Then let them know! Make your call to action bold, colored differently from surrounding text, and simple to follow.

Your website holds the potential to convert visitors into customers. But you’ve got to ensure you’re targeting the right people with your content and keywords, and that your site is an inviting place to shop. Then you can lower that bounce rate and increase sales!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Managing Employees’ Internet Use

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Has the World Cup had your employees on the edge of their seats watching every game—at work? Today, it’s common for just about every employee of a small business to have Internet access on the job. While that generally enables your team to do their jobs more efficiently, other times it can really slow things down—or even put your business at risk from hackers, viruses and more. How can you protect your business and ensure productivity without becoming “Big Brother” when it comes to Internet use? Here are some tips.

  1. Protect. It’s easy for busy employees in a rush to accidentally click on a link or open an attachment that unleashes a computer virus. Take the basic step of ensuring your network and each computer has security software and that it’s updated regularly.
  2. Mind their own devices. More and more employees are going “BYOD,” or “bring your own devices,” to work these days. While this can seem like the answer to a budget-minded entrepreneur’s dreams, if employees use their own personal tablets and smartphones for work, it can open up a whole can of worms. In the long run, it may actually be more cost-effective to provide company-issued devices that you can control, update and monitor.
  3. Educate. No matter how much security software you install or how many automatic updates you run, most data loss occurs due to human error. Create a policy for what employees can and can’t do on their work computers, tablets and smartphones, and make sure everyone understands and signs it. Regularly remind employees of the importance of changing passwords frequently, keeping them secure, not installing software without permission and avoiding questionable emails or links.
  4. Check it out. Being on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube can be part of an employee’s job—or it could just be distracting them from their jobs. If things are out of hand, you might consider installing monitoring software on stafffers’ computers, which can tell you what websites they visit, what emails they get and what they do online. This seems like a drastic step, so a more comfortable solution may be simply for you to get out and walk around your business and interact with your employees. You’ll be able to tell who’s goofing off.
  5. Be real. Don’t pretend no one ever goofs off online. Instead, acknowledge the reality and work around it. For example, does your staff want to watch a sports event? Talk about ways people can get their work done early so they can enjoy some bonding time watching the game together. That can be just as good for your business as working can. 

Mondays with Mike: Make Micro Employment Work For You

Gone are the days of offices packed wall-to-wall with full-time employees pretending to be busy when the boss walks by.  It’s too expensive to keep a staff waiting around for your busy times, and savvy entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to micro employment to handle their fluctuating needs for staff.

Micro employment is employing contractors on an as-needed basis, and it works best for companies who have varying needs, based either on fluctuations in work load or based on shifting expertise requirements.  IT services is the perfect example:  from time to time, every single company is going to have technical difficulties and need the services of an IT professional.  But think about it … do you need one every day?  Every week?  If your needs are occasional, then you may be better off outsourcing your tech support.

Your first step is assessing your needs.  Do you need occasional articles written for your blog (and spend three days dreading the writing and another half day slogging through it?)  Find yourself a freelance writer.  If you’re an accountant and need additional help during tax time, you can find freelance help to help you get through the busy time.  Is your customer service department overwhelmed at the end of every month?  Find a temp to help ease that crunch. 

One important tip:  always, always try out your new contractor with a small sample job.  Hire your writer for a single article before you commit to a larger project, or bring your temp in during your slow time so that you can assess their abilities.  The point is to line up your freelancers before you need them so that you know you can count on them in a pinch.

It’s a big old world, and you may find that the contractor who best suits your needs lives on the other side of the planet.  While you can find good folks without having to meet them in person, I strongly advocate a virtual face-to-face via Skype.  There’s no substitute for spending a few minutes getting a feel for your micro employee.  You create a connection that’s impossible to forge via email.

Stocksy_txp28c9325ayB7000_Small_210944The key to finding – and keeping – good contractors at the ready is to pay them well.  The rule of thumb is that you’ll always pay more per hour for a good contractor than you would for a full-time staff person, but in the long run, it’ll almost always save you money.  How?  You only pay for the hours that your contractor is actually working, and you save on the benefits package as well.  I’m not advocating that you strip benefits from deserving staff, but I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to your company to staff it according to your needs.  In the long run, if you’re paying a highly hourly wage to a skilled contractor, they end up with the flexibility to work when they choose, and you end up with high quality work at a relative value.  Another tip:  always, always pay your contractors promptly.  You want them eagerly anticipating your next call, rather than looking for excuses not to work with you again.

At the end of the day, micro employment provides both you and your contractor with flexibility; you have the option to scale your staff up rapidly, as needed, and your contractors earn a higher hourly wage than they would if they were full-time, and they can schedule their work to suit themselves.  Micro employment works for everyone.


Experience Your Business the Way Your Customers Experience It

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Every day you’re in business, take some time to make sure you’re experiencing what doing business feels like, looks like, sounds like, tastes like, smells like as a customer.

Even great companies fail at this, more often than they realize.

A simple example

Here’s a simple example of what can go wrong, and why.  Do you ever wonder why it’s so often chilly in your favorite restaurant?  Even the great Charlie Trotter’s restaurant was notoriously frigid, for all the warm service you received as a guest there. 

The reason is this:  Restaurant work is hard, active work.  Restaurants are staffed by employees who are on their feet, hustling, working their rear ends off.  Good employees. Helpful employees. But employees who most likely don’t realize that sitting down, expending zero calories as you wait for your caloric infusion (dinner), is going to cause a guest to have a different sensibility relating to comfort and temperature.

It’s not always simple

Striving to see things from your customer’s perspectives has some inherent traps. If yours is an unusually innovative company or trying an unusually innovative approach, sometimes you will throw intentional or unavoidable obstacles (a steep learning curve, for example) in the way of your customer.  This means sacrificing immediate sales or immediate ease of use in the interest of ultimate success.  For example:

  • Maybe you have the wrong customers. This is a reasonable theory, for those of us who are truly brave and truly trying something new.  If you’re opening a restaurant with cutting-edge cuisine (sorry about the cascading foodservice examples today—I must be hungry) in a primarily tourist-trappy “Tour Buses Welcome” part of town, it may take time before you are discovered by the discerning diners you’ll truly need for your business to ultimately thrive.
  • Maybe your customers won't immediately get what you're about, and maybe that's ok. If you can see into the future (like Steve Jobs) there’s a chance you can bring your customers with you, not instantly but over time.  Just because a system seems alien on day one doesn’t mean it always will.  Remember how weird having a mouse and no keyboard commands was in the ‘80s until we adapted.  Think about what it was like when ATMs were introduced.

Don’t kid yourself.  Usually you’re being oblivious, not innovative.

Most of the time, this innovating-ahead-of-the-customer isn’t what’s causing your blind spots. What’s going on is more likely that you’re simply unaware of how your business comes across to your customer, how you’re abusing your customer’s patience and aesthetic sense while the poor customer is trying to do business with you. 

You need to become aware of, and then eliminate:

  • Elements you intend to be simple that are actually confusing

For example: Does your website violate usability rules and expectations?

  • ​Elements you intend to be easy that are arduous

For example: A customer can be in a heck of a bad mood by the time they even get into your store if they find it hard to find parking, if your address is unclear, if your hours are incorrectly reported by Google or Yelp. 

  • Elements you intend to seem trustworthy and straightforward, that don’t come across that way to your customers

For example: Pricing that a customer assumes to be all inclusive but that requires extra charges to be complete. (Charging for wifi may seem reasonable to a hotelier, since she knows what it cost her to install the system, but it won’t seem that way to a hotel guest.)

How do you get there?

Well, there’s no "we are there now—we’re done“ in customer service. But it’s a process you have to start, and continue, forever.  Including:

  • Park where where your customers park
  • Come in the same entrance your customers come in
  • Read what your customers read (for example online reviews of your company — and of your competitors); don’t assume their journey with your company begins on your website or at your front door
  • Use the public website for your company, logging in as customers log in (no insider override here, please).

Amazon box as delivered by UPS/ copyright Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Wonder why amazon.com is such a powerhouse?  Well, there are a lot of reasons.  but here’s one you probably only think about if you live in the Seattle area:  Amazon has 80,000 built in customers.  Literally everyone who works there orders from them, the same way the rest of us do.  And these 80,000 users catch issues fast, suggest improvements minute to minute and day to day (which are then often acted on right away).

There’s one more element to it.

There’s value in getting to know your customers outside of their interactions with your company.  In other words, finding out what the rest of their lives look like.  This isn't easy either, but it’s important. Otherwise you can only create an environment that is comfortable for people who are more or less similar to you. To give you a simple example of this: I worked with some car dealers recently who had the most male-defined waiting rooms you can imagine.  Although more than 50 percent of their purchases (and, I’ll bet, even more of the decisionmakers on purchases) are women, the overwhelmingly male managers were who had picked out the furniture and even the magazines for the weighting areas.  They would have done better to have someone (most likely female) who understood the norms and expectations of their customers a bit better.

Seeing your business from the viewpoint of your customers isn’t easy, and won’t always come naturally.  But it’s worth it. 

 

© 2014 Micah Solomon


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.




 
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