Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Your Customer’s at the Center of His/Her Own World (Make Sure They Feel at the Center of Yours)

7-17 center of the world smallThere’s a lot of power for you as a service provider in creating the impression for your customer that she’s at the absolute center of your world. This is, in a sense, an illusion, because you have (I hope) a life of your own and (I’m hoping again) more than one customer to support. But it is an extremely powerful business-building illusion if you can successfully pull it off.

Customers are, after all, already at the center of their own world, their own reality.  And what they want from you as a service provider is not for you to grab center stage from them, but to reassure them that they, in fact, hold center stage in your world as well. 

I know this makes customers sound childish, but I think that’s fine.  We’re here to serve customers, not to fix them.  In fact, one of my favorite ways of giving myself a reality check about the relationship of a business to its customers is to think about the day, years ago, that my wife and I took our daughter to her first half-day of nursery school. On that fine New England morning, the young, hippie-trippy teacher collected our daughter from us outside the classroom, where we were sitting together on a red park bench. When the teacher returned our daughter to us at noon, my wife and I were again sitting, in the early-autumn warmth, on that same red bench. It wasn’t until a week or three later, as the routine continued, that it became evident that our daughter thought her two parents were sitting on that red bench each day throughout the entire morning, awaiting her return. She didn’t think this in a vague or metaphorical sense. She didn’t kind of half-believe this. She really believed it.

The lesson here is this: For a customer, as with a little kid, they’re not going to be thinking about your other obligations, interests, activities. They’ll think, until you prove them wrong (which would be a mistake) that your world revolves around them, all of the time. And as a service provider you benefit from giving this impression rather than becoming resentful that the customer’s presumptuous enough to be thinking this way. It’s a credit to your business, actually, and to your level of service, if they believe that you’re truly all about them all the time.

(In our daughter’s case, what were we doing in the hours when we weren’t visible to her?  Oh, we ate. We did other work, including behind-the-scenes work necessary for her ultimate happiness as our “customer,” as well as work that had nothing to do with her; we even, if there was time, slipped off to the bathroom. But—and here’s what mattered in keeping up the illusion—we were there for her even before she came outside to look for us after school was over, and we were entirely there for her when she did.)

So, I’m going to suggest you throw out the clichéd image of wowing your customers by “rolling out the red carpet” and replace it in your thinking with “sitting on the red bench” as the ultimate in customer care. In other words, what’s most important isn’t to just put on an all-star show for your customers as much as it’s to manage to create and maintain the illusion that you are always there awaiting your customer, attending to her as if you had nothing else on your agenda that could possibly interfere.

Pull this off and you’re well on your way to guaranteeing yourself a customer for life. Because, really: If you make customers feel this way, why would they ever leave you for a competitor? Odds are good they wouldn’t, because they’re already getting the feeling that they’re looking for from you.


Say Goodbye to Background Noise with Polycom’s Acoustic Fence Technology

At Nextiva our goal is to simplify business communication, and one of our long-time partners, Polycom, shares this goal. The well-known business phone manufacturer has released revolutionary new software for their Polycom VVX series phones that change the way Nextiva customers who use Polycom phones communicate.

Polycom’s UC Software 5.3 release, which Nextiva was the first provider to support, features the new Acoustic Fence technology. What exactly is Polycom’s Acoustic Fence you may ask?  With this technology, surrounding audio is evaluated when you’re on a call using your Polycom VVX series phone, and the phone performs noise cancellation for the person on the other end so only your beautiful voice is heard. In order to take advantage of this technology, you must be using a handset or headset and be within proximity of your phone.

Call centers, busy office environments, restaurants, retail stores, medical offices, law firms, and a variety of other industries benefit from this technology. No ones likes constantly asking the person on the other end of the call to repeat themselves because the background noise is drowning out the conversation. A live band could perform in your office and the caller on the other end of the phone never has to know.

Eliminating background noise for callers has numerous benefits, including:

  • Reduce customer frustration: The person on the other end of the call hears your response the first time, rather than having to constantly ask you to repeat yourself because they can’t “hear you.”
  • Reduce call times: For call centers and busy offices reducing call time is vital to reducing wait times and assisting callers in a timely manner.
  • Increase productivity: Repeating yourself is a time suck, not to mention it can be frustrating. Having a conversation without constant interruption because of background noise and needing to repeat information increases ones productivity so they can accomplish the task at hand quicker. 

Want to see Polycom’s Acoustic Fence technology in action? Check out the video below featuring the legendary Sexy Sax Man. 

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


The Lowdown on Small Business Bank Loans

7-15 small business loan smallStarting a small business is a costly endeavor. It’s rare that a business owner has so much cash saved that she doesn’t need any capital once the business really start rolling. One way to secure funding is through a small business bank loan. While bank loans are not easy to obtain, once you’ve been in business at least 2 years and have financial statements which show your company is growing, you can find some local bank or CDFI’s Community Development Financial Institutions that will extend you a loan.

The key to finding a loan is to seek out banks that are more likely to work with small businesses. Smaller banks move faster in terms of processing the loan, but they are much more rigid in their loan requirements and require significant collateral. That being said, if you have a relationship with a local bank,that may be the first place you want to look at for funding.

Many of the large national banks chains cannot adequately service the needs of very small businesses. In addition, the lending decisions are not made locally. Whether you decide to seek funding for a larger national bank or small one, make sure you consider the six Cs, which is the way a bank will assess your application.

1. Capacity:  This is the most important factor your bank will consider in deciding whether to advance you money. It is essentially whether you can pay back the money you borrow. Your current cash flow statements should illustrate how you can repay the loan in a timely manner.

2. Credit: Your personal credit score is a factor in your small business loan application. Banks will require you to sign a personal guarantee on a loan to share the risk. The higher your credit score, the more favorable terms you can negotiate.

3. Capital: How much money do you need and how will you use those funds? It’s important to detail exactly how much you need and what you will use that money for in your business. Keep in mind the more money you ask for, the more scrutiny your loan application will receive. Typically you can borrow 10 percent of your gross revenue.

4. Collateral: Any business owner will be asked what assets he can provide to secure the loan. For example, if you own a home, car, or other personal assets, those will be considered when a bank decides whether to grant your loan request. The more collateral you have, the more willing a financial institution may be to lend you money.

5. Character:  Simply put, this is your reputation. You will be asked for references that can speak to whether you are trustworthy and have community connections. Banks will also look at your business experience and your industry background.

6. Conditions: This refers to your loan’s terms and conditions. You need to answer the question: is it a good deal for you or the lender? Your bank wants to make sure that you are using the loan for a legitimate business purpose. As such, some lenders will require invoices from your vendors and will cut checks directly to the vendors for payment.

When you’re seeking a small business loan, it’s important to understand what all six of the Cs look like for your business before completing your loan application. Keep in mind that credit unions and nonprofits may also offer small business loans. These organizations may give smaller loans than banks, but they are often a great first step in securing financing and establishing business credit, especially if banks are not an option. 


What is Amazing Service? We’re Raising the Customer Service Standard

7-14 Amazing Service smallAt Nextiva, we believe that standard customer service isn't good enough. Any business can deliver a customer experience that leaves the customer satisfied but not “wowed”. We are raising the standard of what customer service should be by delivering Amazing Service. This principle is at the heart of everything we do. It drives every decision, product innovation and customer interaction at Nextiva.

So what does Amazing Service mean for the businesses that rely on us for their communication needs?

100% U.S.-based Support

Outsourcing, especially when it comes to our support team, is not part of Nextiva’s business model. Every member of our support team is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona.

When a customer joins Nextiva, their Account Executive is sitting just a few feet away from the Onboarding team that will set up their phone system and the support team that will assist with any questions or issues that may arise during their time with Nextiva. This makes for efficient and effective internal communication so our customers can get the help they need as quickly as possible.

No Customer Service or Sales Scripts

We believe in letting each team members’ personality shine through. You don’t want to talk to a robot, you want to talk to a person you can connect with.

We focus on hiring team members who exhibit a positive attitude, are driven and passionate about helping others. Our team is our greatest asset, and they are what set Nextiva apart from other communications providers. We focus on fostering a fun and positive work environment because we feel this directly correlates to the service you receive as our customer.

Advocates for Your Business

Our customers are not just a number at Nextiva. They trust us to deliver reliable service and we take our job seriously. Account Executives, Technical Specialists, Account Managers, and everyone at Nextiva are here to help your business succeed. We don’t believe in saying “We can’t do that,” but instead not giving up until a solution is found and the issue is completely resolved. We're dedicated!

Each Business is Unique – Treat Them That Way

We don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all mentality. We want to provide the communication solution that best fits our customers’ business needs. We tailor our plans and feature offerings to fit each customer’s business needs and pain points. Personalization is key and each team member takes this approach when interacting with the businesses we serve, from the first call with an Account Executive to the last support interaction.

What does Amazing Service mean to you? 


No Business is Too Small to Automate

As a small business owner, you have limited resources, so the real question is whether you can afford to not automate. You and your employees have to wear many hats and run in many directions to keep your business running every day. Without automation, you may have to skip important steps in the interest of time — not to mention the boredom of dealing with tons of needless minutiae.

Automation does not mean that you have to spend millions on fancy equipment. Here are five affordable ways that allow you to reserve your precious human resources for the type of work that they do best.

1. Automate the Customer Connection

Nothing replaces personal contact with your customers, but that contact can be enriched if you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system to store business and personal information about your business contacts. After installing a CRM system, you can receive reminders that help predict when a customer will need to place new orders, identify cross-selling opportunities and even take a personal approach by knowing the names of spouses and children before you pick up the phone.

2. Handle Common Tasks on Schedule

If your company operates in a Microsoft Windows environment (which is a client of mine), you already have Task Scheduler within the Administrative Tools of your operating system. This tool lets you run any type of software task that you now run manually based on date or time, whenever a computer starts up or based on any trigger, such as running a program to automatically generate all paperwork when a customer initiates a product return. The Task Scheduler wizard makes it easy to schedule some tasks without a great degree of technical knowledge, but others may require assistance from someone who understands more about how Windows events work.

3. Answer Basic Customer Questions Automatically

It is impossible to over-stress the importance of remaining readily available to respond personally to customer questions or concerns. Still, customers’ time is valuable. When they can quickly get answers online without picking up the phone or even sending a text message, they may see this as the best experience of all. It is easy to add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to your website to provide the quick answers that many customers need. To keep it fresh and helpful, keep monitoring phone calls for the questions that you receive frequently and add them to your FAQ page on a regular basis.

4. Provide Customers with Additional Online Conveniences

Naturally, retail product vendors want to offer online shopping carts that customers can use day or night without the need for human contact. But service businesses and their customers can also benefit by offering another type of convenience when they need to periodically interact to get a job done. Online collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 provide many ways to establish an effective working partnership between your clients and your employees.

One of the key aspects of this tool is file sharing. You retain full control over who can see your files and what they can do with them. When a number of people edit the files, the software makes sure that no one overwrites prior changes, while also ensuring that all users see the most recent changes. Even users across the globe can keep projects moving forward within their own time zones without the need to wake anyone at 3:00 in the morning.

5. Handle Repetitive and Dangerous Tasks

Just the thought of introducing robotics into a small business factory setting is likely to cloud your vision with dollar signs. But, machines that cost as little as $20,000 (plus maintenance and other necessary costs) might avoid even higher labor costs. Why pay wages for people to count and package widgets when they can be trained to perform more important and interesting tasks? Even more important, robots can take on tasks that commonly injure employees. Your workers stay safe, they have fewer days off due to injury and you even benefit with lower workers’ compensation claims experience.

Caution: Automation Can Be Addictive

Once you start achieving efficiency through automation, you will probably keep looking for more and more ways to pare down your daily operations. You can even add a single-cup brewer to automate your waiting room while providing visitors with a choice of wait-time beverages. But there is no need to join an automation addiction support group because efficiency is good for business health.


Four Key Cloud Communications Trends

Cloud communications solutions are becoming increasingly popular among businesses, and implementing these technologies in your business will help you gain a competitive advantage.  

Below are four key trends you need to know about cloud communications that are changing the way businesses communicate, operate, grow, and succeed.

Decrease in Cost

With flat monthly fees, unlimited calling and enhanced features, switching to a cloud-based phone system will save your business significant operational costs while boosting your team's productivity. A recent article by the Huffington Post stated, “Hosted VoIP is rapidly being adopted by many businesses who seek to avoid the excess costs and complexities of an on premise phone service solution.”

In addition to phone service, there are a variety of cloud-based communication, collaboration and relationship management tools that will take your business to the next level.  As these technologies and features have moved to the cloud, they are now available at a fraction of the cost because expensive infrastructure, equipment and on-site IT staff to manage the systems are no longer necessary. The total cost of ownership of cloud-based tools is significantly less than traditional systems. With the decrease in price of these technologies and the increase in features, small and medium size businesses are able to grow at an unprecedented rate. 

Mobility is Key

The concept of mobility isn’t new, but its importance to business success is now undeniable. It is essential for business professionals to have the ability to conduct business from anywhere, and cloud communications and collaborations systems provide the flexibility they need. Just as today’s consumers want to be able to make a bank deposit while sitting on the beach, today’s workforce needs to be able to work while waiting for a flight, sitting in a coffee shop between meetings, or from home while being as productive as they are in the office.

Cloud communications allow remote team members to stay connected and manage their phone system, files and meetings from web-based interfaces that are accessible from anywhere. Businesses will increase team productivity significantly by investing in cloud-based technologies that promote mobility and a flexible work environment.

Cloud-Based File Backup and Storage

You can’t afford to lose important business files or not be able to access them when the need arises. Backing up and storing your files in the cloud makes it easy to access files from anywhere, share them with colleagues, and collaborate on projects with remote workers. Backing up your files to the cloud also ensures your business doesn’t miss a beat in the event of a natural disaster or internal network issue.

Companies of All Sizes are Adopting Unified Communications Solutions

Unified cloud communications benefits companies of all sizes and industries. There isn’t a business out there that wouldn’t like to increase team productivity and efficiency. Those two ingredients, along with hard work and dedication, are what create and grow successful businesses. The move to cloud-based systems allows large enterprises to retire their outdated and costly equipment, and allows small businesses to implement technologies that were previously unattainable.

Has your business thought about moving to the cloud?


How to Make Sure You Leave Work

Analogue Clock at 10 to 10As a small business owner, it is tough to “leave work” because work can take over life. The line between being at work and not there is extremely blurred in a 24/7 Internet world. Work is no longer really a physical place, but a state of mind. This is especially true for an increasingly number of small business owners that work out of their home.

Here is how to draw the line between your work and other important things in your life.

1. Set an alarm

If you’re the type who gets lost in their work and just forgets to look at the clock, use this solution. Simply set a “warning” alarm for when you want to leave work. You can set multiple alarms—one for “wrap it up” and one for “pack up”—each with different sounds.

In addition to setting an alarm on your phone or other device, there may be external cues around your office you can use as alarms as well. For example, when the cleaning crew shows up, you know it’s time to head out!

2. Have a family member call you

Similar, yet more personal than an alarm, is a call from a family member or friend when it’s time for you to head out. If one of your main motivations for leaving work is to spend time with your significant other, friends, or children, this method is effective.

Thinking about seeing someone you care about at the end of the day isn’t always enough to make you shut down the computer. Hearing your daughter’s voice, on the other hand, may be enough motivation for you to want to get home to see her. You’ll need to coordinate this step with your friends and family.

3. Schedule an activity

Sign up for something that will force you to leave the work at a regular time each day. These activities are also a great way to stay active. If you’ve been meaning to get into shape, sign up for a gym membership. If simply having the membership isn’t enough, plan to meet a friend there or sign up for specific group classes at a given start time.

Other options are to sign up your child for a soccer team and commit to being there for the practices. You can also make a commitment to volunteer at the local food pantry or take an art class.

4. Share your goal with others

One of the best ways to reach a goal is to publicly declare it. Tell your family that your target is to be done with work by dinnertime each night. Share on Facebook and Twitter that you signed up for cycling class and your goal is to attend three times a week after work.

You won’t want to disappoint your family or your followers, so you’ll work harder to achieve those goals than if you kept them to yourself. Ask if anyone wants to join and recruit them to help keep you accountable.

5. Start small

Some small business owners just have too much to do to be able to leave work when they want to. You’re not going to go from a 14 hour work day to an 8 hour work day overnight. It’s going to be a gradual process. It will require you to delegate tasks to employees or freelancers, empower them to solve problems, and learn to say no.

Ultimately, leaving work, both mentally and physically, comes down to you starting to make one small change and then building on it.

How are you going to make sure you leave work today?


The 4 Ps of Marketing (and How to Incorporate Them in Your Marketing Plan)

When many business owners think of marketing, the things that often come to mind are techniques like writing advertising copy or crafting messages for social media. While those tactics do eventually become part of the plan, they are not the sole components of marketing your services. The first step to successfully developing your businesses’ marketing plan is defining the four Ps and understanding how they inform the strategy in its entirety. Let’s take a look at the four Ps and how to include them in your marketing plan.

What are the Four Ps?

The ultimate goal of all marketing is to generate sales. As such, the four Ps of marketing are tools to help you effectively turn a profit, (which I believe should be the 5 p’s actually). Understanding what you need to maximize both profits and sales is key to developing an effective marketing plan. The four Ps — Product, Placement, Promotion and Price — help you do that.

Product

The foundation of any business is the item or service you are selling. Hence the first P is product. Take time to describe in detail the product or service you offer. If it’s a physical item, write down the different options, packaging, features, and sizes.

Once you’ve described the product itself, delve into how that product meets the needs of the client, the features and benefits, and your competitive edge. Explain how it will be manufactured or performed. Then take it a step further and identify what deeper problem it’s helping the client solve. For example, the product may be a technology service that helps the client better track inventory. But it’s also helping the client attain sales goals and make more money each month.

Placement

The second P stands for placement, which covers how the product or service will be delivered. At this point, describe the distribution channels and physical facilities needed in order to move the product from manufacturing and storage to the consumer. For example, is the product placed in a warehouse, garage, fulfillment house, or office space?

Promotion

The third P — promotion– is where many of the tactical and fun ideas for marketing your product come into play. At this stage, outline what advertising channels you will use to let people know about the product. For example, will you use the Internet, flyers, magazines or newspaper ads, direct mail, broadcasting, or social media? Write out all your public relations strategies and ideas. Then review your personal and business networks to determine who can help you implement the marketing strategies.

Price

The fourth P is price, and it is here where you determine what the market will pay for the product or service. Pricing strategy is all about pricing your product or service for your different target markets. Determine the list price, discounts, wholesale allowances, markdowns, payment periods, and credit terms.

The good news is that much of the information you need to develop a marketing plan is free or low cost. Before you sit down to write your four Ps and marketing plan, spend time online listening to your potential customers and your competition. Go to the library and subscribe to industry publications. Join trade organizations, contact the local Chamber of Commerce, and talk to potential customers. Doing these things will help you articulate your four Ps and write a marketing plan that really targets your target markets with the right messages, and through the most effective channels.  


Nextiva Customer Success Story: Charlotte Geek

At Nextiva, our goal is to simplify business communication so you can focus on the important stuff, such as running your business. Our products and features are designed with the busy professional who is always on the go in mind. Our cloud-based phone system allows users to increase their productivity, flexibility and mobility with the NextOS platform. We are excited to introduce you to Charlotte Geek, one of the businesses we serve that takes full advantage of our mobility features.

North Carolina-based Charlotte Geek is an IT collective made up of IT professionals who have been permitted by their current employers to assist other small businesses in the area with IT skills that they do not currently have. Paying a monthly fee for an IT consultant is not realistic for many small businesses, especially those that only need assistance with technology-related questions or issues a few times a month. Charlotte Geek provides these local businesses with an affordable resource that is essential to their business success. IT professionals that are a part of the collective are scattered throughout the city and work on an as-needed basis for Charlotte Geek. These IT professionals are often on location and needed a phone system that they could access from anywhere so they didn’t have to provide multiple numbers to their clients.

Daniel Pentecost, Founder of Charlotte Geek, and his team were in need of a phone system that provided them with all of the traditional features of a business phone system, but allowed them to access their phone while out in the field. Additionally, they wanted to have the ability to easily transfer calls from their desk phone to their cell phone, without the client they were currently speaking with knowing as they are frequently running from one location to the next.

The NextOS platform, and specifically the Nextiva App, provides Charlotte Geek with numerous business benefits, including:

  • Mobility: Charlotte Geek IT professionals are always on the go, and they need to have the ability to easily transfer a call, put a client on hold, or instant message a colleague, which is all made possible by the Nextiva App.
  • HD Voice: Crystal clear voice quality is essential for Charlotte Geek. The team is often on the road running between client appointments, and the HD Voice feature builds trust with their clients and shows them that they are a professional company that will take care of their IT needs.
  • Amazing Service: Charlotte Geek knows they can count on Nextiva to make updates to their account quickly so they don’t experience service interruptions, whcih are common with traditional phone providers.

When discussing the importance of Charlotte Geek’s phone system, Daniel said, “A phone is the lifeline of our business, and I absolutely consider Nextiva to be that lifeline for us.”

Meet Daniel and hear his story in the video below:  




 
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