Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Buzz vs. Staying Power: Creating a Customer Experience They Want to Come Back To

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.

 

Buzz is a mysterious, magical substance. It's what gets customers to your establishment in the first place. 

Books have been written about this mysterious force. But not by me. 

boy looks in window of closed toy store / (c) 2014 Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) micah@micahsolomon.com

Because buzz only gets you so far, and only for so long.  Literally speaking, it  only gets them to the front door, to try you that first time.

Far be it from me to say that buzz isn't important; Obviously, getting prospective customers interested in what you do is an important first step.  But it's not enough to build a business on, any more than building a business on Groupon discounts is a long-term strategy.

What you need is staying power.  Something that gives customers a desire to return. 

And the best model for this is a vision of home. 

Here’s what I mean: If you want your customers to return over and over, you need to consciously create an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to them.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– the home of the typical adult, with dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension. 

At home as a typical adult, you are in control, but only on a self-serve basis. In your childhood home (optimally), it was a different sort of experience. Food appeared at mealtimes. You didn’t have to worry about shopping for personal items. When light bulbs blew out, new ones replaced them. When you left in the morning for school, your parents were genuinely saddened by your departure, and they looked forward to seeing you again. Your personal preferences were well known and were ‘’magically’’ taken into consideration.

So how does this apply to building staying power at your business?  Well, spend a lot of time greeting your customers enthusiastically when they return.  Pay attention to how you bid them good-bye when they leave. Make sure that what they typically order is already pre-selected for them and available without any—any—hassle at all. 

This builds an environment that a customer will choose to return to, over and over and over. Where they’re known.  Where they’re welcomed.  Where things work.  Where they not only can get what they want, but where you know what they want before they even have to ask for it.

This is the ultimate way to acknowledge a human being, in this case a customer.

© 2014 Micah Solomon


Desperate for Cash? Beware of These Lenders

One of the main results of the banking crisis that brought the Great Recession was a new law created to protect the consumer through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Unfortunately, this has only moved the focus for predatory lenders to small businesses.

Desperately seeking cash, these owners are now at risk of borrowing money for their companies and not fully understanding the terms of their loans. The subprime lending industry has exploded to $3 billion. These loans are still unregulated and are not protected by the same laws that cover individual borrowers. Mark Pinsky of Opportunity Finance Network says “[For subprime business lenders] the sweet spot is someone who can limp along well enough for six months but probably isn't going to be around much longer…They’re in the business of helping these businesses fail.”

Stocksy_txpbb9bc609CY7000_Small_159204According to Bloomberg Businessweek, one of the companies specializing in subprime lending – also referred to alternative lending – is World Business Lenders. The firm’s representatives pitch their high-rate loans to small business owners who have trouble borrowing elsewhere. World Business Lenders seizes collateral such as vehicles and other assets when borrowers can’t pay, and press legal action where World Business sues companies for missed payments, often sending companies into bankruptcy. In fact, 20 percent of World Business’s borrowers were forced to close down last year, according to former executives.

This capital comes from well-known sources. One subprime business lender, OnDeck, has credit commitments from financial lenders like Goldman Sachs. Interest rates on loans from OnDeck range from 29 percent to 134 percent.

Sales representatives of these types of lenders can use confusing terminology such as “short-term capital” and discuss “money factors” instead of interest rates when talking to potential borrowers. Here are steps you need to take before signing any loan agreement:

  1. How much are you borrowing? Know the exact amount you will receive after any application, up front or prepaid fees.
  2. What is the actual annual interest rate?  Make sure you understand in writing the nominal and effective annual percentage rate.
  3. What is the borrowing term? How often do on time payments need to be made? What are the penalties for late payments?
  4. Are there other fees for paying off the loan early? Some agreements apply all the term interest even if the loan is paid ahead of schedule.
  5. Is there a personal guarantee? Are just the officers of the company signing the documents or do you need to personally guarantee it as well?  Stay away from these types of guarantees that can put your personal savings and home at risk.
  6. Don’t rush it. Don’t be in a hurry to sign any document. Think about it for a day. Show it to a professional advisor (or a banker) to get their opinion on this source of capital.

Always look at all other available sources of capital before agreeing to this type of loan. Check for help from friends, family, customers and additional business cash flow management.


5 Ways to Make Money Through Text Messaging for Your Small Business

???????????????????????????????It’s nearly impossible to go anywhere without seeing people using their smartphones to text, talk, use apps, or surf the web. More than 90 percent of the U.S. population has mobile phones, and those individuals spend 19 hours per day with the device at arm’s length (some even more!). If you’re not using text messaging as part of your marketing and business development plan, you’re missing out on serious opportunity to connect with your customers and increase sales.

Text messages are one of the most-read methods of communication, with a 97 percent open rate (that’s much higher than the average email gets). And 85 percent of text messages are read within 15 minutes of receipt. This is a boon if you’re trying to get people’s attention right now. Here’s a look at how you can leverage text messages to make money for your small business.

  1. Get permission first.  You must make sure that your customers want to hear from you via text message, or you’ll risk suffering a huge backlash and potentially losing customers.
  2. Use text messaging as a relationship building tool. Like with any type of business development venture, don’t immediately start using a text messaging strategy to sell products and services. Instead texting should first be a way to build relationships with current customers and prospects. Send out useful information that customers will want, such as appointment reminders or coupons. Just remember not to send text messages too frequently or you’ll risk irritating people.
  3. Use text messaging to support existing marketing and sales efforts. One of the best ways to use text messaging is to present special offers, which lead customers to buy in the store or online. For example, if your business has a sale on a Monday, a text message can be sent Sunday afternoon to remind customers about this opportunity to shop and save.​​Starbucks will often send out text messages to customers reminding them to use their “treat receipt” (morning coffee receipt) to buy an afternoon drink at a discounted price. The “treat receipt” is an existing sales strategy, and adding the text messaging component helps to encourage customers to come back for a second purchase on the same day.
  4. Develop exclusive mobile content. You want customers to pay attention to the text messages you send. As such, don’t simply promote the same discounts and offers you send in email and your website. Create specific offers such as a 20 percent discount using a text message code. This will train the buyer not to ignore your texts.
  5. Find the right service provider. This is an important step in order to deploy a text messaging strategy for your business. There are text messaging platforms available for iPhones and Android devices that allow geo-tracking, which shows the geographic location of the mobile device holder. This is important if you plan to send text offers to customers who are near your business.

A text messaging strategy is a critical part of business development and marketing in today’s multi-channel marketing world. Remember to use texting to form relationships before going straight for the sale, and think about a strategy before sending your first message. 


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. 



 
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