Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


The Power of Crowd-augmented, Transparent Customer Support

Rather than solely rely on its employees to answer customer support inquiries, Applegate, the successful purveyor of humanely raised and slaughtered meats, openly crowdsources commentary and advice from other customers to answer these questions honestly, making use of a community software platform called “Get Satisfaction.” By using the feedback from customers who have already explored these kinds of questions, Applegate is making transparency work in its favor, elevating the customer and its products at the same time. This is particularly useful to the company and to its customers, because Applegate regularly fields specific, detailed and emotionally charged questions about both the meat and the packaging in which it is conveyed.

Letting your customers be the experts–in support of other customers

JD Peterson, chief revenue officer at Scripted.com and well known as a force behind the popular Zendesk customer support platform, points out that the millennial need for recognition and feedback drives the push toward crowdsourcing: “Let your power users be the voice [of your brand]. Customers these days are more willing to do this kind of work for your brand, but they want recognition for doing it—they would like to be given that badge or stamp that says, ‘You’re the power expert in Applegate bacon.’ Giving power users that recognition, a badge, points [or] some sort of title, giving them something they can stamp on their resume or their LinkedIn profile that says they’re an expert or a power user, I think, is really important to customers today. It’s certainly a win for [the] business as well: You’re not having to take on all the burden of support costs because your users are able to do some of that for you—and your customers get closer to the brand at the same time by assisting you.”

The power of ratings and review transparency

Ratings and review transparency is likewise an important commercial trend: from voluntary transparency on sites like amazon.com that openly show customer ratings for all products (including sometimes mixed reviews for Amazon’s own Kindle tablets and Fire phone), to enforced transparency via TripAdvisor, Yelp and the like that post reviews of your services and products whether you want to be rated this way or not. Embrace this trend even though it can be uncomfortable, because it’s not going away. Reviews are now decentralized and user driven, and you can’t control product ratings, product discussions or much else in the way of reviews, except by providing the best customer experience possible and by being proactive in responding to negative trends that come to the surface in your reviews and ratings.

Emulate a company like Engine Yard, a San Francisco-based cloud application management platform that has taken the brave step of putting a real-time (not to mention cute and cuddly) indicator of its current customer satisfaction stats right on its support site. You’ll find 100 panda icons featured prominently on Engine Yard’s website with just a few “sad pandas” crossed out in red. Looking at the company’s site right now I see 97 happy pandas and three that are crossed out, indicating a current 97% customer satisfaction rating. How does Engine Yard arrive at the proportion of happy and sad pandas? Each time there’s a support interaction, Engine Yard asks the customer, “Are you satisfied with the response you got? Yes or no?” They then total that percentage on their website for anyone to see. This transparent approach goes a long way toward reassuring customers (and, perhaps as much to the point in the competitive arena in which Engine Yard plays), prospective customers that this company is, and will remain, on the ball throughout the life of the customer relationship. 


6 Ways to Fix What’s Broken in Your Business

When you’ve been in business a while, it’s sometimes easier to bury your head in the sand than to deal with the issues at hand. You’re not doing your business any favors, however.  Look at these 6 scenarios, see what you can relate to, and take action to make positive changes for your company.  These are 6 ways to fix what’s broken in your business.

8-26 broken business small1. You Have Staffing Issues

One situation is that you’re a solopreneur and need help, but you can’t quite afford to hire a full-time employee. In this case, consider hiring a freelancer (great for design or marketing help), an intern (though you’ll have to do some hand-holding), or a part-time employee to fill the need. Consider hiremymom.com, to find a great stay-at-home mom great to get back into the workforce.

If your problem is more with the staff you have (especially true for those of you who hire teenagers), it’s time to firm up your discipline. Create an employee handbook to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them. If they’re unwilling to follow the rules, tell them to hit the road.

2. Cash Flow is a Problem

If you are biting your nails until your clients pay you so you can pay your team or your vendors, you have a cash flow problem. Sometimes, clients pay late, but you need to make sure you have a contingency plan. Here are a few strategies.

First, you can enforce either a late fee or offer an early discount for your invoices. The idea is that those late paying clients will be motivated — either to save money by paying early or to pay on time to avoid a late payment fee. Another idea is to take out a line of credit so that you can access cash when you need it, then pay it back when you get paid.

3. You Don’t Have Time to Market Your Business

You’re too busy dealing with those staffing and cash flow issues to hop on social media and update your profiles or write any new blog content. With only a trickle of customers coming through your door, marketing should be a priority.  Consider hiring a consultant or freelancer to take over some of your marketing efforts. You can pay a flat monthly rate or per article, and it may be more affordable than you’d imagine to hire a professional. The important thing is to get those customers coming back in, and then that expense won’t even matter.

4. You Haven’t Put Money Back into Your Business

As soon as you’ve paid everyone, you take out your cut. But your computer is on its last leg, you need to reorder inventory, and your business insurance is pats due. You feel like there’s just not enough money to go around. While paying yourself is critical, it’s just as important to reinvest in your business. Set aside a percentage of your profits — say, 20% — so that when you need to buy a computer or software, you’ve got the funds.

5. Your Yelp Reviews are Going Downhill

It started with a nasty review on Yelp months ago that you ignored, and now it’s snowballed. It seems like every other review is negative, and you don’t know what to do about it. It’s hurting your business. First, take action. Ignoring a bad review is like bleeding in shark-infested waters. Even if things aren’t so bad at your business, potential customers will move on after reading the negative review. But examine the complaints in those reviews. They might give you the opportunity to straighten up an attitudinal employee or polish your product.

6. You’re a Workaholic

If you’re working on the weekends, every weekend, please stop. I get it; sometimes you just need more time to get things done. But remember that you need downtime in the evenings and on weekends to recharge your battery. Otherwise you will burn out and eventually hate your business.  If you must work after hours, set a timer so you don’t end up eating an entire day that you should have been spending with your family. Set rules for yourself so you don’t check your email when you should be doing something more relaxing.


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Ruscomp, Inc.

Who says that small companies can’t have the same communication features and systems that large corporations utilize? Not us! At Nextiva, we believe every business, no matter their number of employees or locations, can benefit from a cloud-based phone system. The flat monthly fee per user and minimal equipment needs make it an ideal solution for small businesses with big plans to grow. Additionally, Nextiva’s cloud-based phone service has no hidden fees (kiss those service and maintenance fees goodbye!), comes with more than 40 features (hello endless possibilities) that will improve all internal and customer communication.

For businesses that rely heavily on their phone system to communicate with clients, such as Ruscomp Inc. based in Peachtree, Georgia right outside of Atlanta, unlimited calling and mobility features are essential to business growth. Ruscomp Inc. is a company of eight employees that creates custom facilities management software for large corporations throughout the United States and the world, and most of their customer support and client communication is facilitated over the phone.

Before switching to Nextiva, Kara Carpenter, Ruscomp’s Support Manager, said the company was plagued with call quality issues, lack of mobility features and customer service issues that lead them to seek out a new phone service provider. Once Ruscomp made the switch to Nextiva, they no longer worried about dropped calls, service reliability or support calls going unanswered. The setup process was a breeze, and the company was finally able to take advantage of the mobility features they desperately needed, such as the Nextiva App. Being able to take their business phones with them anywhere, on any device, via the Nextiva App has significantly increased the team’s productivity and improved the client experience.

The company recently moved offices, and the first thing that was up and running was their phone system. Since Nextiva handles all servicing and maintenance, Ruscomp simply plugged in their phones to the office Internet and were live within minutes. The company is growing and Nextiva offers them the scalability and infrastructure they need, at an affordable price, to successfully expand their business.

Meet Kara and hear her story in the video below. 

To learn more about Nextiva's cloud-based business phone service, please visit www.nextiva.com.


Five Tips for Social Media Success with Your Customers

Here are five secrets to succeeding on social media even in the face of the most irate customer postings (though read all the way to #5 for how to avoid most such postings in the first place).

1. Reach out directly to online complainers.
Suppose that you’ve spotted the following outrageous tweet about your firm:

Company X double-bills customers—Must Think We R Suckrs—#FAIL

This is insulting, and hard to handle. Not only will your staff need to suppress the urge to respond angrily, they also will need to prepare a response that is thoughtful and positive. A thoughtful and positive response in a situation like this is rare precisely because it’s so hard for somebody who has just been insulted to muster thoughtful positivity.

But that rarity makes it powerful: A thoughtful and positive response can come as such a surprise to an online critic that it can help to convert the critic into your advocate. At the least, it will stanch your losses.

First, however, in order to respond, you’ll first need to reach your critic. How can you do that online? That depends on your professional relationship with the critic. If the person behind this message follows you (or agrees temporarily to follow you) on Twitter, or if she’s in your database, send her a direct, “backchannel” message. Include a real, monitored email address and phone number. Otherwise, reply publicly in the same forum she chose. List offline ways to reach you (including a real, monitored email address and/or phone), and express your regret and concern.

Contacting a social media critic to request an offline conversation is the digital equivalent of ushering a loud and angry customer into your office for a discreet discussion. You move the discussion out of a public venue and into a one-on-one situation, where you can work directly with your antagonist without thousands of eyes dissecting your every move while failing to understand the whole story. After a successful resolution, politely ask the complainer to amend or even withdraw the original ugly comment.

2. A delayed response can create a social media fiasco. Can you spell F-I-A-S-C-O? The formula in social media is simple: Small Error +Slow Response Time = Colossal PR Disaster. Put differently, the magnitude of a company’s social media embarrassment is proportional to how delayed its online response was. An event in the online world gathers social steam with such speed that your delay can become more of a problem than the initial incident. Even an afternoon’s lag in responding can be catastrophic.

3. Whoever handles your social media responses needs as much customer service skill and training as your traditional customer service reps. Social media responses are customer service, plain and simple. Sure, it’s customer service at breakneck speed, with lots of hazards and quirks, but it’s still customer service. So if some of your customers expect that you will serve them via social media, meet their online expectations superbly. Engage and assist those customers online as energetically and effectively as you do through traditional service channels.

Get this effort off on the right foot by staffing your online presence with your company’s people. This is crucial. Companies often make the mistake of leaving social media teams instead in the hands of technical experts. Technical wizardry is a crucial resource, but don’t let that technical tail wag the customer service dog. Let your people experts lead the way — because your social media team needs to be every bit as customer-centric as your other support/response channels. If not, it’s bound to hurt your brand rather than help it.

4. Beware the Streisand effect. When someone uses social media to attack your business, your first urge, naturally, may be to sic lawyers on the critic, or otherwise try to intimidate the attacker into removing the complaint. Think carefully before taking that course of action. The rule online is that a defensive reaction tends to bring additional publicity—very negative publicity. This rule even has a name: the Streisand Effect, named after Barbra Streisand, who sued a photographer in a failed attempt to remove a photo of the singer’s precariously sited mansion from the California Coastal Records Project. Streisand’s aggressive reaction to free expression offended some netizens and titillated others. The result was far wider distribution of the photograph she wanted to suppress – on T-shirts, websites, coffee mugs – and a permanent blemish on her public image.

Over and over, brands and businesses discover the inviolability of the Streisand Effect the hard way. Threatening your online customers almost never solves the harm they are causing you, and it often backfires dramatically.

Any public, digital argument with a customer is an exponentially greater risk for your company than the old-fashioned kind of argument that didn’t involve social media. Without a doubt, arguing with customers has always been a losing proposition for time immemorial. But today, online, those same arguments are far costlier online, because of all the additional customers and prospects you risk losing who are watching from the sidelines. So make sure everybody who represents your company online has taken the time to learn how to slow down, breathe, and bite their tongue — consistently. Train them to think of the big picture. The future of your company likely depends on it.

5. Prevent most online complaints in the first place. Unhappy customers are unlikely to complain by public methods like Tripadvisor or on their blogs if they know they can use email, the phone, or a feedback form to reach you directly — and if they feel sure that their problem will be addressed immediately. You can do a lot to ensure that the first impulse of such customers is to reach out to you directly, day or night: Offer “chime-in” forms everywhere. Provide direct chat links for when your FAQ’s fail to assist. Provide an easy way to respond directly at the bottom of every corporate email you send out, instead of ending with that obnoxious “please do not reply to this email” footer.

Overall, become widely known for your rapid and satisfying responsiveness, and such customers will come to you, offer to help you improve — and will keep their complaints and misgivings “in the family.”


5 Ways to Improve Your Internal Communication With Cloud Phone Service

Effective and efficient internal communication is key to business success and an enjoyable work environment, but the execution is not always as easy as it seems. Keeping appropriate team members informed and ensuring communication is seamless between employees, departments, and different locations takes a significant amount of dedication, effort and communication tools.  Luckily, technology, and specifically cloud-based unified communications services, have streamlined processes and made it easier than ever to stay connected and communicate within your organization.

Nextiva Office® is a robust cloud-based suite of products that will improve your internal communication. Below are five key features within Nextiva Office that will change the way your team communicates.

The Nextiva App

With features such as chat and Presence, it is easy to communicate with team members when you’re in the office or working remotely. Additionally, you’ll have your business phone at your fingertips so colleagues can reach you anytime without having to call multiple numbers to track you down.

Group Paging

Sometimes an email just won’t do. The Group Paging feature allows you to initiate a one-way call to multiple users. You can easily broadcast information to a group of people from the convenience of your office phone.

Call Forwarding

Reduce your colleagues’ frustration and wait time by automatically redirecting, or forwarding, calls to a third party destination, such as a phone number or extension based on circumstances you specify, when you are away from your office phone.

Voicemail-to-Text

With the more advanced version of Voicemail-to-Email, Voicemail-to-Text transcribes your voicemails and sends them to you via email or SMS depending on your personal preferences. You’ll be able to quickly reference information mentioned in the voicemail when working with coworkers on a project. Also, easily share the message with colleagues to reduce issues that arise from miscommunication.

Quick Call Transfers

Quickly transfer calls and call team members in different locations or home offices via an extension. You no longer have to dial a full 10-digit number or ask the customer to hang up and call the other location’s direct number.

What tools do you use in your business for effective internal communication? 


Starting Small: Why It Might Be Your Best Bet for Business Success

8-19 business growth smallWhile you may have a large-scale idea for a new business, sometimes it’s better to take just a small segment of your plan and focus on starting your business on a small level. If this is your first business, you may want to target an endeavor that will help you build skills without wiping out your nest egg. A business that can succeed on a small level gives you great training wheels for building the experience, knowledge, and competency you’ll need to take your company to the next level. Here are several reasons why it might be your best bet  to start small for business success.

1. You’ll Save Money

Starting with a narrow scope of business means you can run it out of your extra bedroom or den. You won’t have to rent office space or furnish a suite. There are even tax incentives or deductions you can take to save money as you build your business on the small side. If you do need specialized space for your endeavor, you can investigate subleasing space from other entrepreneurs, which reduces costs.

2. You’ll Need Less Capital to Get Started

Bootstrapping is an effective strategy that allows you to grow into your business and keep initial financial outlays on the low end. Instead of stressing over technology requirements and phone systems, you can concentrate on creating your sales funnel or refining your product. The fancy phone system can come later (if at all). A lean business structure keeps you flexible and focused.

3. Learn as You Go

When you base your business on a hobby, you can start by making a handful of products, selling them, then growing when you’re ready. As your business takes off, you can educate yourself in other areas of running a business, creating a formal business structure, managing employees, and meeting regulatory requirements.

4. You Can Start Today

If you set your sights on a small enterprise, the barriers are lower and you can get going more quickly. You don’t need a huge infrastructure, massive staff, or complete line of products to get started. You have no excuse for not starting your business today.

5. Your Sweat Equity is Valuable

By doing everything yourself, you learn all that's needed to keep your company going. Of course, it’s great to hire out those things that you are not able to do, but if you have direct knowhow those experiences inform your executive decisions down the road. It will also help you make better decisions that impact your customers. While financial investment is necessary to building a business, your sweat equity is just as necessary to growing your endeavor. 

6. It’s Simpler to Run

Smaller companies are lean machines and often have higher profit margins because they are simpler to run. There are fewer costs associated with overhead and administrative requirements with a small-scale business, and you can reassess market changes frequently and pivot when necessary. When big jobs come through, you can team with other small companies or hire contractors to deal with the workflow if it’s more than you can handle.

Slow and steady wins the race. Start small. Test the market. Grow with intention. Sample the cheese before you bet the farm on your idea. When it comes to small business success, the truth is: scaled-down, slower growth companies do just as well as their big sisters.


6 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

A lot has changed in the business world since 2007, but perhaps what’s changed the most is how rapidly customer service expectations have risen. As customers evolve, your customer service has to keep pace. Just how are customers’ expectations changing? Customer2020, a new study from Accenture, has some insights every business owner should know about.

  1. They want it now. Accenture dubs today’s consumer the “Nonstop Customer”—which should give you a clue as to what type of service they expect. Customers don’t just want rapid resolution and minimal hassle—they expect it. If your business doesn’t deliver, they’ll move on to your competitor. Slightly more than half of consumers polled say they have become more impatient with the buying process since last year; two-thirds say they turn to online channels for customer service because they’re seeking speed and convenience.
  2. They have more options. Not only are consumers today more impatient, but they also have more places to go if they’re not happy with your customer service. Two-thirds report that the number of companies or brands they consider when making a purchase has increased significantly compared to 10 years ago.
  3. They care about what others have to say. Word-of-mouth has always been important to growing a business—but never more so than today. Last year, Accenture reported that 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do, which means they have many more opportunities to hear good (or bad) things about your customer service. More than half of respondents say they rely “much more” on other people’s experiences or reviews when making a purchase decision than they did 10 years ago. If bad word-of-mouth about your service spreads, either offline or online, you’ve got to turn it around.
  4. They’re itching to switch. Consumer loyalty isn’t quite a thing of the past, but it’s definitely become much harder to come by. Two-thirds of respondents say they have switched providers in at least one industry as a result of poor customer service. Six in 10 say they are more likely to switch providers now than they were 10 years ago.
  5. They want you to fix it the first time. Of those respondents who switched providers because of poor service, over 80 percent say the original company could have kept their business if their issue had been resolved the first time they contacted the company about it. In fact, first-contact resolution has been consumers’ number-one source of frustration for the past five years of the study—which suggests that companies aren’t getting much better at it.
  6. They still like human contact. While some consumers have “gone digital,” seeking to interact with customer service via online channels at every opportunity, many others of all ages still prefer traditional channels for resolving issues. To keep everyone happy (isn’t that the whole point of customer service?), your best bet is to provide a wide variety of ways for customers to resolve service problems.

By incorporating these six trends into your customer service systems, you’ll be able to step ahead of the pack and provide the kind of service today’s customers expect. 


To Win the Hearts of Today’s Consumer, Stand for Something and Mean It

A business that wants to win the hearts of today’s consumers benefits from standing for something and meaning it.  “Meaning it” is key: Customers are always on the lookout for corporate hypocrisy. One test for gauging an organization’s trustworthiness is whether it engages in greenwashing, the practice of merely paying lip service to environmental issues. Greenwashing is considered bad enough on its own, but customers also feel it likely to indicate hypocrisy at the company concerning other ethical issues as well. These knocks include the more general phenomenon called “causewashing,” where companies put up a façade of sympathetic labor practices, community involvement, ethical dealings with vendors, humane treatment of animals and more. One millennial I interviewed told me, “People my age are especially attuned to and adept at figuring out if a company is being pro-people or pro-environment in its marketing, and anti-peopleor anti-environment in its actions.”

With social media ubiquitous and “inside information” a Google search away, an organization can’t hope to hide its hypocrisy for long. A causewashing company, or any company that appears to differ between its words and its deeds, can find itself flayed online before it knows what happened. When Lululemon showed reluctance to take responsibility for a see-through yoga-pants debacle, it turned off customers, who had previously considered the company a paragon of New Age virtue, to the tune of a massive drop in share price. You’d do better as a company to emulate Starbucks and strive for honest marketing practices, walking the talk of your corporate philosophy. The coffee giant spends more than it needs to spend on coffee beans to buy only the most ethically sourced beans. It also famously shells out (heh) more on employee compensation by insisting on giving health insurance to every part-time worker, not just to the company’s full-timers

Transparency is a corporate attribute that today’s customers particularly value. And transparency is inherently an attribute that a business can’t superficially slap atop its brand. “I look for total transparency in a company I buy from—or, for that matter, work for,” says Adriana Dunn, a customer behavior and marketing expert and a youthful consumer herself. “I want to know what’s behind the brand.” Two brands that Dunn singled out for making transparency a cornerstone of their business practices are Everlane and Honest by. Everlane offers designer goods with transparent pricing and sourcing: Vendor practices, markup, and materials and production processes are laid out online for all to see. Honest by sells luxury brands with complete sourcing transparency. Its openness corresponds to its lengthy ethical statement, so lengthy in fact that I'm not going to strain your eyesight reprinting it here.

This phenomenon is significant, and extends to all demographics.   Three years ago, a study of consumer habits confirmed that shoppers are becoming “more deliberate and purposeful” in their purchasing decisions, and another study showed that 87% of consumers in the United States believe that companies should value the interests of society at least as much as strict business interests.  Today, with the rise of millennials (born circa 1980-2000) as customers, this commitment to values-based purchasing is becoming more pronounced than ever.  So getting ahead of the curve is key. 


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Carroll Organization

Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs when it comes to their operating expenses without sacrificing the features and systems they rely on to run and grow their businesses. With a cloud-based phone system, businesses get more functionality than a traditional provider, but at a flat monthly fee per user. This significantly reduces a main operating expense—the phone system. Over the past few years more and more businesses have made the switch to a cloud-based phone system for these reasons.

We love meeting Nextiva customers, learning more about their business, and why they made the switch to Nextiva. Recently, our team had the opportunity to meet with Pavan Nanduri, Director of Information Systems at Carroll Organization in Atlanta, Georgia who is one of the larger businesses Nextiva serves. Pavan began looking for a new phone system because the company wanted to cut costs and find a solution that was easy to implement at the high-quality multi-family homes across the country the company invests in and manages. The old on-premises PBX system they were using was costly to maintain, changes to the system could take days, and it was not a scalable solution to grow with the company as they acquire and build more properties. Pavan knew a cloud-based solution would meet Carroll Organization’s communication needs. This led him to Nextiva.

Nextiva provided the value, reliability and features Pavan wanted, at an affordable price that pleased Carroll Organization’s investors and partners. Additionally, by moving to Nextiva’s NextOS platform, the company now benefits from:

  • Quick implementation of Nextiva’s cloud phone service at properties they acquire and invest in. They can plug in the phones and be operational in a matter of minutes.
  • No service or maintenance fees, and all system upgrades are handled by Nextiva so the company always has the latest technology available.
  • Crystal clear call quality that reflects the professionalism of the organization.
  • Reliable service that ensures investors, partners and residence can always reach the company.
  • Easily transfer calls between the main office in Atlanta and the properties Carroll Organization manages throughout the country.

Meet Pavan and hear Carroll Organization’s Nextiva story in the video below. 




 
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