Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Take Ownership of Errors — Even When Customers Make Them

Posted on by Carol Roth

Young businessman scratching his head confusedly.

Young businessman scratching his head confusedly.

The customer is always right … well, maybe much of the time. But when they place an erroneous order or even break a product out of carelessness, it can cost you big time. It’s not always fair, but if you want to retain your customers, you may have to suck it up.

Regardless of who is at fault, it is your job to fix the problem without laying blame. Your goal is to make the customer happy by resolving the problem — and taking measures to ensure that it never happens again.

Strike a Deal Rather Than Laying Blame

Small businesses cannot typically afford to spend time, resources and money fixing major customer-caused errors for free. But, you can often take advantage of the personal relationship that you have with customers to negotiate a mutually-beneficial solution.

Your job is to strike a deal that gets them what they need, but you may not need to take a huge loss to do it. For example, what if the customer provided the wrong specs for a customized product? If you charged $50 per hour for the original software development, maybe charging $25 for the fixes will cover your costs.

Make sure that your customers know that they are getting a special deal in these cases, but don’t use the word, “compromise,” and don’t come right out and say that you’re taking a loss. Your spirit of cooperation will increase their loyalty, even while they foot part of the bill.

Fix it Promptly — and Stay in Touch

Even clients who are fully at-fault for errors should not jump to the back of the line to get them fixed. If the fix is as simple as exchanging one product for another, take care of it immediately.

Unfortunately, not all problems can be resolved instantaneously through a simple product exchange. Depending on the issues, a fix might take a prolonged period —which might be the case if you have to re-tool to produce the custom-sized widgets that the customer did not originally request.

Even in these cases, you can communicate promptly. Tell customers when they can expect to receive the new products or services. Make sure that they know your plans and, for complex issues, set milestone dates. Then, be sure to check in promptly to inform them of your progress.

Learn How to Do It Better Next Time

Every customer error presents a golden learning opportunity for your business. You just have to be willing to recognize that a change in your process might prevent customers from making the same mistakes again.

Could you prevent future issues by carefully reviewing an order with the customer before making it final? Or perhaps the customer who ordered sauerbraten at your restaurant might not have placed that order if the server warned her that she was ordering sour meat.

You cannot control customer behavior. But, if you keep your mind open, you will see that you do have some control. So, whether you prevent issues by better educating customers, or you double and triple check custom orders before doing the setup, you can go a long way toward vastly improving your customer/vendor experience in the future.

Know When and How to Walk Away

Mistakes happen and everyone deserves a second (or maybe even a third) chance. But you can’t afford continued losses from the same customer forever, so learn when to say “no” to their business.

Your bottom line probably plays the biggest role in helping you decide when to turn down business, but other issues can come into play. Perhaps you realize that the customer is looking for a product or service that you cannot deliver. Or, maybe you cannot come to a meeting of the minds when it comes to price or quality.

Even if you are dealing with a toxic customer that isn’t worth your time or effort, do not walk away in anger. Turning down business is a part of customer service, too. Handled badly, you will gain the wrong kind of fame via vitriolic social media complaints. Handled with sensitivity, you can part company as friends who agree to disagree. 


The Difference Between Being an Entrepreneur and a Franchisee

5-27 comparing smallIf you’re planning to become your own boss, one option you might want to consider is becoming a franchisee. In a franchise everything’s already laid out for you in terms of the products you’ll sell and the marketing plan. Many people prefer becoming a franchisee over starting a business from scratch. Still, there are several differences between being an entrepreneur and being a franchise owner that you should be aware of.

1. There’s Less Risk with Franchises (But Still Risk)

Many franchisees are attracted to the fact that they’re buying into a proven business. After all, there are thousands of burger franchises across the country. People are already familiar with the brand, so you don’t have to work to establish it on your own.

Still, it’s important that you know that there are risks with running a franchise. No business is guaranteed, and it will be susceptible to all the same threats as any other business, including recessions, competition, and location (a bad location for your franchise can kill the business).

2. You Have to Follow the Rules as a Franchisee

While technically, yes, you are a small business owner as a franchisee, you essentially sign up to have a master, your franchisor, who will tell you exactly how to run your business. You will sign a contract agreeing to do business the franchise’s way, and there may be penalties if you don’t.

You can’t, for example, change the brand logo, or add new products the menu. The franchise may provide you with marketing materials (though you may have some freedom in how you market locally through newspaper ads, events, and social media).

3. Being a Franchisee is Expensive

Becoming a franchisee involves paying a franchise fee to the company. This is essentially your buy-in fee to have the right to use the brand’s name and products. But you’ll also probably pay a monthly royalty fee based on your sales. When you start your own business, you pay for start-up expenses — like your website, marketing services, inventory, uniforms, etc. — as they come up, and you’re beholden to no one over the long-term.

4. An Entrepreneur Has More Creative License

Because franchisees are limited in the creative decisions they can make, many who want to color outside the lines prefer to start their own business. That way, they can set up exactly how the business will operate, what they’ll sell, and how they’ll market it. If you feel stifled by other people’s rules, franchising might not be for you.

It’s important to understand the difference between starting your own business and buying a franchise. Based on your personality and preferences either one could work for you.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Automation Go Too Far?

5-26 automated customer service smallDo you think crotchety senior citizens are the only people who still complain about not being able to talk to a live customer service rep? Think again. When a recent poll asked 1,000 U.S. consumers for their number-one customer service gripe, not being able to get from an automated phone system to a live person was the top complaint among Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers alike.

Although often portrayed as wanting to interact with businesses entirely online, 32 percent of Millennials say their biggest frustration is being unable to reach a live person. Thirty percent of Gen X consumers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers feel the same way.

Of course, this doesn’t mean customers are opposed to automated customer service systems—90 percent have used them and nearly 60 percent say, in general, such systems have improved customer service. But the key is making intelligent use of your automated customer service system. How can you do this?

  • Always offer the option to reach a live person. Don’t make callers guess which button they need to push to get to a live representative, or wait through three minutes’ worth of options. When you run a small business, customers expect to get through quickly and to receive a personalized touch, so make sure you provide this.
  • Provide alternatives. If call wait times are unusually long at a specific time, for instance, offering callers the option to leave a voicemail that is then forwarded to a customer service rep’s email enables them to get their messages through with less frustration.
  • Choose customer service tools that integrate with your CRM. You’ll gain access to historical customer data that immeasurably improves your customer service reps’ ability to provide personalized, relevant service. If customers have been on hold for a while, having their data at the rep’s fingertips does a lot to ease their frustration.

With 87 percent of consumers polled saying customer service systems have a significant impact on their choice of businesses, and two-thirds reporting they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to poor service, using customer service technology the right way is more vital than ever.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Changes The Cloud Will Force Your Business To Make

5-25 cloud changes smallWhether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Even though we know a change will ultimately be for the good, some of us have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the light of new technology and new practices.  So maybe you’re one of those folks who’s put off transitioning your business to the cloud.  Knowing what’s ahead can help you be best equipped to handle what’s ahead.

  1. The transition is inevitable.  Seriously, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later, if for no other reason than you’ll have to if you want to retain good employees.  9-5 office jobs have gone the way of cocktail hours in the office.  It’s going to be harder and harder to find staff who don’t demand flexibility in terms of hours and even working locations.  Moving to the cloud lets you enable staff to work at hours and locations that suit their needs.  It’s a good thing.  You can either become flexible or lose your great staff to employers who are.
  2. Consumers demand convenience.  Okay, we’re spoiled.  We expect to be able to Google anything and have answers at our fingertips within seconds.  If your business doesn’t provide mobile apps or instant access, you’re less desirable to consumers who want it all now.  Having your business running on the cloud means you’re able to work wherever and whenever, offering your clients speedy and high quality service.
  3. You’ll need to train your staff.  Just like any new piece of office equipment, you’ll need to set aside time to make sure your employees are up to speed on the new cloud functions.  You may need to schedule time in the future to deal with inevitable upgrades, so you can be sure your staff is equipped to give great service throughout the transition.  You may also need some new hardware – think touch screens, dual monitors – in order to maximize the results from your move to the cloud.
  4. Sharing and securing information are the new priorities.  The biggest benefit of the cloud is that you and every member of your team can access information from all over the world.  The biggest liability is that you’ll need to make sure your data is secure.  You’ll have to protect what’s confidential and make sure only authorized users have access to confidential materials.  The good news is you’ll find lots of resources to make securing and sharing your information as safe and easy as possible.
  5. Bandwidth is everything.  Once you’re up and running on the cloud, you’ll have to make sure you have consistent, reliable access for all the members of your team.  You’ll also need to develop contingency plans for how you’ll handle power outages, Internet service problems, or the host of other problems that can disrupt the way you conduct business. 

While you may not initially be enthusiastic about transitioning to the cloud, you’ll be better positioned to capitalize on its enormous benefits if you’re prepared to manage the changes. 


Why your Business Loses Customer Focus as it Grows & How to Recapture It

5-15 lose focus smallThe attention lavished on customers in the early days of a business tends to slide when your, oh, five initial customers became 50, and a thousand, and ten thousand. Back in those exciting, if stressful, early days, the level of detail you kept on each customer and prospective customer, the number of times you followed up, and the care with which you did so, were no doubt impressive. These were big-ticket customers to you when you were just starting out; each of these customers was absolutely crucial to the survival and ultimate success of business.

But now that you’ve grown, you stop signing your notes by hand. You stop writing “thank you” on the invoices. You get rid of Jackie and Joanne, your quirkily charismatic receptionists, and switch to an auto-attendant to answer incoming calls.

This loss of focus doesn’t happen on its own, or overnight. At every step of this downward journey, there are defining moments, the moments when you answer, one way or the other, questions like: Do we really want to stop including a postpaid return envelope with our invoices? Should we just let it slide when a new employee is sneaking texts in on the job, in sight of customers, where in the past we would have been sure to gently and quickly correct such behavior?

These moments represent your chance to prevent, or slow, the blurring of your initial customer focus, but only if, in every single case, you answer the relaxing of standards with the following retort: “If we would do it for our first customer, we’ll do it for our 10,000th.

The secret, in other words, is to never stop believing in the importance of every single customer.  Never start believing – as cell phone providers and so many companies in so many other industries have – that there is an infinite cohort of customers out there for the taking, if only our marketing and sales get the promotions and discounts out there far and wide.

Tell yourselves instead that there’s just one customer, the one you’re facing. The one you need to follow up with, to make sure her problem was successfully resolved.

There’s only customer Jim. One Margo. One Alecia. Which means that even after you have thousands of customers, you need to do everything you can to maintain the mindset that every one of them is a core customer—and to treat the loss of a single customer as a tragedy.

Here’s why: Because every single customer is irreplaceable. Regardless of the size of your market segment, once you start writing off customers, I can predict the day in the future (and it’s probably not far into the future) when you’ll be out of business. And this is a calamity to be avoided.

Let your competitors keep thinking of customers as an abstraction, as an infinite plurality. You need to think of them, and serve them, in the specificity of their individuality, their Jim-ishness, Margo-ishness, and Alecia-ishness. Jim, who likes his service languid with plenty of time to consider his options. Margo who is always in a hurry, and doesn’t care to hear how your day was. And poor Alecia, whose cat is at the vet, and isn’t in the mood for your Pollyanna ponderings.

Every customer’s different from the next one — Jim from Margo, Margo from Alecia, and Alecia from Jim. Some will be easier to serve, and some harder.  And some are easier to serve sometimes and less so at others.  But each of them is precious. Recapture this attitude. Stop thinking “good enough” is o.k. Stop thinking your early reputation (built on those moments when you were treating every customer as precious) can pull you through your current slackness. It won’t. Only your redoubled attention to superior service can do that.


3 Keys to Writing a Powerful Mission Statement

5-20 writing a mission statement smallEstablishing your identity as a small business is a challenge. At first, you may be tempted to chase every dollar you think you can get in the attempt to bring in revenue, but the fact is that if you try to appeal to everyone, you will end up appealing to no one. It is important to hone and identify your core audience as part of your business plan. In doing so, you have laid the foundation for writing your mission statement.

While there are many examples of mission statements that are so grandiose, they are almost a joke, a good mission statement clearly communicates a business's services, the type of projects in which the firm specializes, and unique values offered. For example, as the SmallBizLady, my mission is to end small business failure. It sounds simple, but it is easy to get off track. In order to write a potent mission statement, here are three considerations to get you off to the right start.

1. Give Yourself Sufficient Time to Write.

Mission statements are deceptively simple. They usually consist of a one to three sentences that provide an overview of the business and its goals. However, a good mission statement will also provide a view into the essence of what sets your small business apart from others.

Identifying and communicating your core principle may be challenging. You’ll need to write several versions and give yourself time to edit them into one cohesive statement. It is best if you allow yourself several writing sessions over a few days in order to convey it in a direct and meaningful way.

2. Communicate What Makes Your Small Business Unique.

Many a mission statement has been written on the bones of another more established company's hard work. You may be tempted to take the easy way out and "borrow" a phrase or even direct quotes from a firm you admire. It’s fine to get inspiration from other companies’ mission statements, but yours should be unique to your brand.

3. Use This as an Opportunity to Further Refine Your Business's Core Values.

Not all of us enjoy writing or even think that we can write well. However, this mindset will sap of you of your strength and undermine your confidence. At its core, writing is a powerful form of communication, and strong communication is a central tenet of doing business. It’s all about what you want to be known for.

The exercise of writing your mission statement strengthens your ability to communicate in a compelling manner. It is vital to push yourself to do this significant work in a thoughtful and conscientious way. You might even, through the act of writing, uncover core values you hadn’t elaborated on before.

Your mission statement is the cornerstone of your marketing efforts. It provides clarity and focus on the essence of your business. When you put substantial effort into the creation of this document, you create a steady foundation that helps you move forward with more vigor and determination.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Take a Summer Vacation and Still Provide Great Customer Service

Blue parasolsDo you want to take a summer vacation this year, but fear you can’t without your company’s customer service suffering? Perhaps you’re worried about how to handle employees’ requests for time off this summer and still provide great service.

Your small business doesn’t need to suffer, nor do you and your staff need to sacrifice time off. In fact, the majority of small business owners (59 percent) plan to take at least one full week of vacation this summer, according to the American Express OPEN Spring 2015 Small Business Monitor. Here are 3 steps you can take to ensure service doesn’t shut down while you or some of your staff are gone.

  1. Plan ahead. If you want to enjoy your vacation instead of working through it, let your staff know what is—and isn’t—important enough for them to disturb you. Identify someone who can “triage” work while you’re gone, handling what’s urgent and communicating with customers or clients for you. Select a couple times a day (if possible) when you’ll quickly check voice mail and email for urgent messages; then try to avoid looking at your devices. Otherwise, you’ll never relax and recharge.
  2. Make sure you have the capabilities you need to stay in touch. Look for a business phone system, like Nextiva, with features such as flexible forwarding. This can route your incoming office calls to your cell phone or other numbers you choose. Services such as voicemail-to-email or voicemail-to-text make it easy to get your voice messages no matter where you are. Last, but not least, being able to set up and hold conference calls from your mobile phone, tablet or laptop will ensure that if an urgent situation arises, you can communicate with everyone on your team that you need to consult.
  3. Streamline the service process. Phone system features that lessen the need for live workers make it easier to give employees time off. For instance, an auto-attendant feature ensures customers get a professional greeting and are quickly routed to the person or department they need without having to go through a live receptionist. Look for call center options that make it easy to switch callers from one service representative to another, track time on hold so customers don’t spend too long in the queue, share information about customers so they don’t have to repeat themselves. All of these features ensure customers never know when your team is short staffed because they always get the same great level of service.

Mondays with Mike: Boost Your Bottom Line With Recurring Fees

5-18 recurring fees smallAttracting and converting new customers is an important part of any business.  Revenue is the lifeblood of our companies, and it’s important to devote time and energy to ensuring we have a steady, fresh supply.  One source of revenue we shouldn’t overlook, though, is our existing customer base.  If we’re chasing down new clients without first looking at how we can maximize revenue from our current clients, we’re missing out on real opportunities.

One of the very best ways I’ve found to bump up my billing is by converting customers to a recurring fee plan.  Here’s how it works:

Say you own an HVAC company.  You have a stable of corporate clients, and when they call you for a repair, it’s never cheap.  Your average call results in a bill for $2000.  You make an average of one call per year to each client, but you’re looking for a way to increase your per client earnings.  So you offer your clients a plan.  They pay $200 each month, and when they call you, their service is covered (with appropriate restrictions of course.)  Your revenue per client has gone up to $2400 per year, and you’re providing a huge benefit to your clients as well.  Rather than having to scrape together $2K when the a/c goes on the fritz in August, they know they’re covered.  They benefit from predictable costs, and you benefit from increased revenue and predictable income.  It’s a win-win.

But there’s more: your technicians have added incentive to work efficiently, since they’re not billing by the hour.  They also have incentive to fix things properly the first time, since any shoddy work will come out of your bottom line, should they have to go back for a second repair.  Likewise, your customers will call you at the first sign of trouble, rather than waiting for a small problem to turn into a large one.

You’ll be surprised at how easily you’ll be able to convert customers to a recurring fee model.  We’re far less likely to balk at a low monthly fee than we are to experience sticker shock when we look at the annual total.  Once your customers get used to your new model, they don’t even think about that predictable monthly expense.  It’s practically invisible to them.

Nearly every business can find some way to implement a recurring fee program.  Whether you’re a liquor store that enrolls clients in a Beer-of-the-Month Club, or you’re an office supplier who bills monthly for copier servicing plans, you can find a way to make recurring fees work for your company.

The best of both worlds is when your recurring fees bring your customers even closer to you and your staff.  Creating an elite program for your top-drawer clients gives the client an ego boost and gives you a revenue boost.  You’re preserving future business, and you’re doing it in a way that lets your clients manage their costs effectively. 


How to Build “Overnight Success”…Within a Decade

Posted on by Carol Roth

5-15 long-term success smallIn a world where two clicks are too many and online purchases are about to arrive at our doors instantly via drones, we have taken the concept of instant gratification to a new level. Every new business owner envisions overnight success. But no amount of technology is likely to make up for patience and dedication.

Most companies touted as overnight successes were actually years in the making. Here are some ways that you can emulate their long-term success.

The Willingness to Do What it Takes

The major players got to where they are through hard work over the long-term and business success does not lighten the load. To this day, Howard Schultz, the CEO of  Starbucks is reported to put in 13-hour days at the office before going home to work some more.

Doing what it takes involves much more than running your daily business operations. Be prepared to get out of the office. Attend conferences that can teach you new methods within your industry or within business in general. Travel across your community, the country or even around the world to find new markets for your products or services. Check out other companies whose success you want to meet or exceed.  And don’t just try—make things happen by leaving no stone unturned.

Collaboration Over Competition

Rather than looking at other companies in your industry as competition, think of them as potential allies. Your businesses may excel in different areas that can create a winning relationship through formal or informal collaboration, ultimately leading to more success for your business.

In an article in FastCompany, Bob Mudge, President of Consumer and Mass Business at Verizon refers to this as “co-opetition,” asserting that cooperating with other companies in the same industry may seem counterintuitive to competition, but it is an essential part of business success.

You may not be ready to collaborate on the same scale as Verizon, but even customer referrals can have a huge effect on your bottom line. Just as important, your cooperative spirit builds long-term business and personal relationships that you will value for a lifetime.

Flexibility

Your initial business idea may have a great foundation, but it may require substantial tweaking before it earns success. Steve Jobs’ early inventions did not create Apple’s success. Even though the Apple Lisa introduced the world to the Graphical User Interface, it took many years of modification until the Mac was born. And it took around two decades of reinvention before the company became an overnight success.

The old motto, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” should be posted on the wall of every business owner who really wants to make it big. Always look for ways to change or enhance your products or services until customers beat a path to your door.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

At the opposite end of the coin, you need recognize what you are doing right and stay the course. Take a lesson from the “new Coke” fiasco from back in 1985. In spite of blind taste tests that indicated that customers preferred the new formula over both Pepsi and the original Coca-Cola product, consumers flooded the company with letters of complaints. Three months later, the original formula was back on store shelves.

When loyal customers already like what you do and how you do it, don’t take it away from them. As they say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Perseverance

When prospective customers say “no,” they often mean “not now.” If you have done your homework, you already have a good understanding of their current and future needs. Whether you re-design a product to better meet their needs or find ways to add value, make sure you keep them in the loop. Your diligence can turn “no” into a resounding “yes.”

Additionally, having patience is a key component of success.  Everything will take longer than you anticipate (and longer than it probably should) to complete, so keep moving forward, even when it seems like you are wading through quicksand.

You may  “want it all” and “want it now”, but the successful business owner is the one who can keep their eye on the prize and the big picture over time. Your hard work and patience will be the keys to making it big.




 
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