Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 6 Ways to Cut Customer Wait Times

busy manLooking for new ways to eliminate customers’ stress while they wait for customer service? Try reducing the wait—or at least giving the impression you’re reducing it, a new study of customer psychology suggests.

A study written by three marketing professors and reported in MediaPost found that people often feel more time-pressed than they really are when they are facing multiple goals that conflict with each other. For instance, a working mother who’s also taking care of an aging parent is more likely to feel stressed at work even on a day when juggling children, parent and work is all going well, just because in the back of her mind she has conflicting roles to play.

How does this affect customer service? Well, any customer facing multiple goals or feeling conflict is going to be more sensitive to wait times. For instance, a customer calling customer service on her 15-minute break feels stressed about getting back to work on time. A customer who’s already had bad experiences with customer service about an unresolved issue will be extra-sensitive to wait times as he tries (again) to resolve it.

So how can you lessen wait times, or at least make them less onerous? Here are some tactics businesses are using successfully.

  • Provide as many self-serve options as you can. Your website can feature FAQs, clear directions, community forums and other information to guide customers without having to talk to an agent.  
  • Identify peak call times and staff appropriately. The more agents available, the more manageable wait times will be.
  • Offer to call customers back. Providing an option to call customers back at a time and number they specify is a less stressful alternative to waiting on hold.
  • Don’t leave them in a vacuum. Stress increases when customers have no idea how long they’ll be on hold. Have your hold message identify projected wait times (pad them a bit so customers will be pleased when they get helped “early”).
  • Give customer service agents access to a detailed and updated knowledge base so they can quickly get answers without having to find a supervisor or other agent to help.
  • Measure your call metrics. Set goals and benchmarks such as average time on hold, average time to resolve an issue, how many calls one agent can handle at a time before service starts to suffer, average numbers of transfers during one call and average number of times customers are put on hold during one call. By measuring these numbers, you’ll be able to identify bottlenecks slowing service and resolve them.  

Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Improving Office Morale

3-16 Employee Hapiness smallEvery office goes through cycles – from motivated, focused productivity, to the doldrums of boredom and complaints.  When you see the need for a collective boost in spirits, try out these tips, guaranteed to get your staff back on track.

  1. Daily Huddle.  Try conducting brief, daily meetings designed to keep your team collectively focused.  Identify challenges and goals, then get right back to work.  I like to conduct these meetings with the entire team standing, so there’s no temptation to get too comfortable.
  2. Schedule change-up.  In nearly all cases, there’s really no reason to require every single member of your staff to work the same set hours.  If it makes sense for some folks to work unique schedules and manage their personal lives better, you’ll discover they’re more focused and ready to be productive when they’re on the clock.
  3. Focus on the Why, rather than the What.  Remembering why you started your business – and reminding your staff of your purpose – can help employees redirect their energy toward accomplishing big picture goals.  Look at the benefits you provide your community if you need inspiration to keep going.
  4. Say thank you.  It doesn’t cost you a cent to express your appreciation.  Make sure your staff knows how much you appreciate them, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile for you and your customers.
  5. Listen.  Just like dealing with an irate customer, you need to provide a private way for dissatisfied employees to air their grievances.  Getting the problem out in the open lets you manage office problems, and it keeps your employee from spreading dissatisfaction to the rest of the staff.  If your staff thinks you don’t care about their concerns, their productivity and morale will inevitably suffer.
  6. Take the bullet.  While you don’t want to fall into the trap of being the number one troubleshooter for your company, sometimes the very best thing you can do is swoop in to save the day.  Letting your staff know you’re prepared to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work will inspire them to greater heights.  If they know you have their backs, they’re more willing to be creative and innovative.
  7. Provide a change of scenery.  Monotony is the slayer of creativity.  When your staff tires of staring at their cubicle walls, take a field trip!  Whether you reward your employees with a day at the baseball park, or you band together for a community service day, sometimes giving your staff a change of scenery is all you need to reinvigorate them.

Most of us are operating on a budget and have more work to do than we have hours in a day, but you’ll be surprised at how effective an investment in your staff’s collective happiness can be for your company.  Keep ‘em focused.  Keep ‘em on track, and you’ll reap the benefits. 


Six Ways that Small Businesses Can Go Green for St. Patrick’s Day

3-13 St. Patty's Day for Biz smallAs a small business owner, you undoubtedly spend every day looking for ways to promote your business and increase your clientele. Just about every business takes advantage of Christmas to increase sales, with “Black Friday” representing the first day of profits in the retail world. Do you really want to wait until the end of the year to drive your bottom line? Why not get started earlier in the year? Perhaps the green in St. Patrick’s Day really stands for money.

Here are six ideas that can help you grab enough green to encourage company growth and prosperity.

1. Save Customers Some Green

Whether you offer a new customer discount or take cash off of orders for existing customers that provide referrals, the connection between money and St. Patrick’s Day green is an obvious one, but this particular holiday offers some natural benefits. For one thing, it lets you take shameless advantage of the color green in promotional materials. It also provides a natural time limit, allowing you to make your offer last for the entire month, for a week or even just on the actual day of the holiday. Most important, it helps jump-start your business early in the year.

2. Green Up the Environment

As many as 15 percent of local individuals define themselves as environmentalists. Your company may not make biodegradable diapers or cleaning products formulated from veggies, but the green tie-in lets you demonstrate your environmental interests. This is great time to tout your recycled product packaging or advertise your company’s sponsorship of a local recycling effort. For example, if you run an auto repair shop, offer to shoulder the recycling charges for all oil changes performed in March. And don’t worry about competition from eco-friendly businesses — they’re probably busy preparing for Earth Day in April.

3. Make Green a Lucky Color

A luck-of-the-Irish contest can attract more clients to your business. Make it easy to enter. Customers can “like” your Facebook page, provide an email address on your company web page or walk into your store to complete an entry form when they see a sign in your window. Entrants get a chance to win valuable gift certificates and other prizes — and you increase your customer database for future sales and promotion efforts.

4. Wear Green While Participating in Local Events

Chicago St. Patrick’s Day events begin by dying the Chicago River bright green, followed by a big parade. Naturally, bars and restaurants sponsor the events, but the list does not stop with alcoholic beverage providers. Sponsors include a wide array of businesses, including dance studios, beauty salons, banks and even trade unions. Of course, the media will be there, too. So, whether you sponsor a parade float or hang out with the spectators on the sidewalk, you can increase your brand recognition — or maybe see your company represented on the evening news.

5. Give Away Some Green Bling

Did you know that you can put your logo (and maybe a shamrock) on just about anything? Any visitors to your place of business can walk away with a variety of promotional items, from T-shirts and coffee mugs to flashlights, sports bottles or even USB hubs. Place these items in a re-usable grocery bag with your logo and maybe a few words about your business (go green!), and your logo can remain in front of potential customers for years to come.

6. Offer an Evergreen Movie at Your Place of Business

Admittedly, there really aren’t too many St. Patrick’s Day movies out there, but what about a classic 1952 Irish movie like The Quiet Man? If your customers prefer humor, maybe Waking Ned Devine is more to their liking. With a little extra effort, you can even make green popcorn. Attracting a movie audience gains you an instant audience for your business message as well.

Before the movie, use a welcome message to introduce your business. If you have a promotional video or TV commercial available, play it before and after the main event (wow — double feature!). And a discussion group after the movie enhances the movie experience while enhancing your personal relationship with customers. If they walk away carrying bling bags, all the better.

Be Sure to Make it Unique and Relevant

Doing the same things as everyone else gains your business no more visibility than if you were to jump into the green Chicago River wearing a green wet suit. If you use a little creativity to capitalize on the things that make your business unique, adding a little green will make it pop.


How to Win Against the Biggest Time Wasters In Your Business

3-13 stop wasting time smallMany small business owners confuse being busy with being productive. You are busy, but are you always productive? Are you getting done what you want to complete every day? Wasting time is a luxury small business owners literally can’t afford. Interruptions typically dominate the workday and it becomes difficult to get anything done.

Here are the biggest time wasters in every small business and how to defeat them:

1. Meetings

Meetings are a huge drain on small business efficiency. It’s easy to fall into the habit of holding meetings on every subject and getting stuck in them back-to-back until the end of the working day. What is actually being gained in a particular meeting? What can only be accomplished by getting people together face to face or by phone?

Stop wasting time in meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. Begin and end on time. Make sure there are stated objectives and review follow ups before the meeting adjourns.
  • Stand up. For quick updates, don’t even give your team the chance to sit down and get comfortable. Hold a stand up meeting for a maximum of fifteen minutes.
  • Leave the phones outside (or turned off). Don’t allow distractions of these rings, buzzes and beeps.
  • Keep it lean. Carefully consider how many people really need to be involved. Too many people drain time and productivity, but a lack of key decision makers at the meeting will ensure that nothing gets accomplished.

2. Social Media

Business owners frequently spend little time on the marketing side of their business. Social media can be a huge time waster reading feeds, crafting tweets, Facebook updates, and writing content for their company blog.

Stop wasting time on social media:

  • Schedule with care. Invest in tools that will allow you to schedule what’s going out weeks in advance and keep track of your company’s entire social media presence in one spot.
  • Narrow your focus. It’s better to be really strong on one platform (hopefully the one where your customers spend the most time) than average across all platforms.

3. Email

Emails are never ending; your inbox seems to go from 0 to 60 unread messages in 3.5 seconds. New email notifications pop up or you check it a hundred times a day.

Stop wasting time with emails:

  • Just turn it off. Automatic email notifications are an interruption and absolutely kill productivity. You really don’t need to reply to every email that hits your inbox within five minutes. It sets the wrong expectation with clients and can mean tasks take twice as long. Only check your email intermittently throughout the day (e.g. first thing in the morning, lunch, before you leave).
  • Set expectations. Let your clients know you only check email certain times throughout the day and direct them to call or text you if they need a quick response.
  • Handle each email once. When reading an email, immediately reply, delete, file or set a follow up time to deal with it more fully. Distribute your emails into folders as soon as you read them. Save documents to your computer with appropriate names and file folders.
  • Unsubscribe. Most emails are subscription-based and now is the time to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about which ones you never ever read.

4. Administrative Tasks

Too often, small-business owners waste time on tasks they don't like or stink at. A lot of these tasks are accounting related—invoicing, payroll, and chasing down bad debt. If you’re spent three hours reconciling a bank statement, you’re making poor use of your time.

  • Outsource. It may seem counterintuitive, but hiring out these tasks can actually be less expensive. How do you value your time? Put a price on it and compare it to the price of paying someone else.
  • Use an online tool. If you’re not quite ready to entirely outsource, make sure you are using online tools to ease your burdens. Accounting tools, for example, generate invoices, follow up with overdue invoices automatically, and give you fast overview of debits and credits so you always know what’s happening in your bank account.
  • Use one system. Use a unified communication solution (voice, video, mobile) like Nextiva so you never miss a customer interaction wherever your staff is located. Get all your messages coming to one place.

Most importantly, the evening before, pick your two “must completes” for the next day. Do those tasks in the morning before anything else and you can call the day a success!

Did your biggest time waster make the list?


Creating A Self-Reinforcing Culture Of Customer Service Excellence

3-12 Customer Service smallHere’s an important question, the answer to which determines whether or not you have any hope of creating a culture of customer service excellence: Are you willing to put the customer at the center of everything you do?  At the center of…

…your company

…your daily routines

…what you determine are best practices

…the way you schedule your day

…even the way you design your webforms?

Let’s look at that last one: webforms. There is a company I know that has over 97 percent of its customer base within the U.S. Yet, to fill out any form on this company’s website, you’ll find yourself trudging through over 200 unlikely options (Swaziland, Solomon Islands, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu…) just to get to the U’s to select “United States.”

This company, like so many others, hasn’t made the decision to put the customer at the center of its operation.

Assuming you’ve made this decision, we can get down to business.

And it’s an arduous business. It’s not easy. Putting the customer at the center doesn’t just mean being sweet as pie, over and over, and over and over again. It does mean that, but it means more than that. Putting the customer at the center is a more complicated, subtle, and demanding adventure than it sounds.

But it will ultimately be a very, very fruitful endeavor.

Doing what comes naturally. Sort of.

Once you’ve made the decision to have a customer-centered mindset, a “spreadable” situation will grow, more or less naturally. This, really, is central to thriving commercially in our world where customer service, customer experiences, are such a crucial part of real-life marketing.

Here’s how the doin’ what comes naturally virtuous circle works:

  • You commit to allocating resources, improving processes… based on the interests of the customer
  • You hire based on the customer
  • Those whom you hire inspire the next people hired through positive peer pressure.
  • Engaged customers themselves become ambassadors for your brand: your extended marketing team for the human-driven world of today.
  • The inspiration you receive from these customers, and the customers they bring to you, inspires you to do your work better and better. Putting customers at the center is no longer a chore, but an inspired passion.

I’m sounding a bit airy-fairy, new agey here, which I assure you I am not. And I have indeed left out many of the hard parts in this description, including developing detailed and battle-tested customer service standards for almost everything you will do that will affect the customer.

But all of this will flow, and will be self-reinforcing, if you start with the decision. 


How to Make Your Business Appealing to Angel Investors and Venture Capitalists

3-11 funding for SB smallSmall businesses and investors can go together like ice cream and apple pie. It is definitely a vote of confidence when someone provides funding that can take your business to the next level, yet there are trade-offs that come with accepting investor funding. If your idea is so big that you know the only way to bring it to success is with the support of outside resources, then angel investors or venture capitalists might be the right fit for your company. However, remember that this class of investor is looking for a good investment. They weight talent first and ideas second, so make sure you understand how to position yourself for this level of funding.

What’s The Difference Between Angels and VCs?

Keep in mind that angel investors and venture capitalists are very different types of investors. Angel investors are usually private individuals who have some money and are keen to use it to get a return, but they may want very little to do with the day-to-day running of your small business. They may fund businesses with lower growth rate projections and be more interested in firms that create value in the community in ways other than high profits.

Venture capitalists, who usually work as a collective firm rather than individuals, have deeper pockets, but desire larger and faster returns. They usually will require a much larger stake of your business to entice them to partner with you and may even take over management of your business as active backers. However both types of investors will become your partners and require a piece of equity in return.

There are many ways to appeal to angel investors and venture capitalists. The main thing to keep in mind is that you will have to work very hard to interest them and have conclusive evidence that your organization brings substantial value to the table. Here are five ways to make sure that you’ve got what it takes to encourage this level of investor.

1. Build your business (and your personal brand)

There is no way to avoid it: building your business takes hard work. One great way to make sure you succeed in this task is to become an expert in your field. Dig deep to build those skills. You may want to look for a mentor or networking group to ensure you continue to grow in areas like public speaking, marketing, or management. Consider this an investment in both you and your company.

2. Solve a problem

Make sure that your business solves a problem for which your customers need a solution. You need to be able to convey to an investor that you understand this problem, as well as how and the why your company is the best solution for this problem. There is no room for feebleness here. You must be on point. Rewrite your business plan if you have not yet fine-tuned this aspect of your business.

3. Have an amazing team

In short, your team must work together effortlessly and complement one another’s skills. Trust me, venture capitalists will go through your roster with a fine-tooth comb. They want to see your team in action and know that you can withstand whatever challenge comes your way. Always hire candidates who bring a variety of hard and soft skills to the table so that you can create a culture of success from the outset.

4. Have a phenomenal pitch

Your pitch must be persuasive, thoughtful, and farsighted. It will go hand and hand with your business plan, but you must be able to convey in confident and concise speech the essence of that plan. There is an art to delivering a pitch, so make sure the right person delivers it.

5. Always have the big picture in mind

If you have your eye on the big picture, you are guaranteed to keep things in perspective. Be honest with yourself about your venture and its challenges, so that you anticipate market changes that affect your industry before they arise.

Investors want humble founders who know the industry, the competition, the technology, the business climate, and regulatory issues. In short, they want to see someone who has their feet in reality, but is reaching for the stars. If you can be that person, you’ll find the right investor to help your business grow.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: To Find Good Customer Service Staff, Get Social

3-10 hiring with social media smallLooking to hire customer service employees this year? You’re not alone. According to the most recent SurePayroll Scorecard, which tracks small business hiring trends nationwide, 38 percent of small business owners are planning to hire salespeople or customer care representatives in the coming months.

With competition for good customer service workers heating up, more and more small business owners are turning to social media to find job candidates. In particular, 25 percent of small business owners use LinkedIn for recruiting—a huge increase from the 4 percent who did so last year. In addition, 18 percent use Facebook and 4 percent use Twitter.

LinkedIn has long been known as a hiring spot for big corporations, but now the nation’s smallest businesses are embracing it, too (the average company in the SurePayroll Scorecard has just six employees). It only makes sense if you’re looking for customer service employees—who need to be energetic and people-oriented—you’d turn to social media. After all, social media is all about interacting and sharing with others, so you can get a good sense of an employee’s people skills by using it.

How should you start when looking for customer service staff on social media? LinkedIn is a great place to start, since people often begin there when looking for jobs. Make sure your company LinkedIn profile is up to date, and post updates about changes in your company, new projects or opportunities. Of course, you can also use LinkedIn’s job listings to actively seek customer service employees, but sometimes you can find good candidates by looking for them, instead of waiting for them to come to you. Try joining groups related to your industry or customer service related issues. Pay attention to who contributes to discussions in the groups and what they have to say. You can then reach out to people you might want to consider as candidates and see if they’re looking to make a switch.

Facebook and Twitter can also work well for alerting potential customer service employees to opportunities at your business. You can tweet or post with a hashtag related to your industry, the job title or customer service jobs in general. You can also share photos or videos of your staff at work, or testimonials from your employees, to convey a sense of what your company is like to work for and get job candidates interested.

No matter how you reach out to candidates on social media, make sure you always direct followers to a place they can get more information about the job, whether that’s your business website or an online job listing. 


Mondays with Mike: 10 Interview Questions That Find Great Employees

Job InterviewWe all know prospective employees spend hours prepping for important interviews.  They research the company they’re applying to, and they try to anticipate tricky questions they’ll be asked.  What surprises me is how little time many entrepreneurs spend preparing to interview their prospective hires.  If you take the time to think through what you want to learn from an interview, you’ll make the most of your time and effort.

The basic premise behind this list of questions is that you want to evoke genuine – rather than scripted – responses that reveal patterns of behavior in your applicants.  The way they’ve behaved in the past is the best indicator of how they’ll behave in the future, and as expensive and time consuming as it is to hire, train, and sometimes fire new staff, you want to get it right.

Here’s what to ask:

  1. What is your purpose in life?  The folks who have thought about the answer to this question are the ones less likely to be motivated solely by money, meaning they are less likely to jump ship for a higher wage.  Since staff turnover costs you money, you want to identify candidates with long term potential.
  2. How do you make decisions?  This question is a two-parter:  you want to assess your prospects’ decision making process, but you also want to ask for examples of decisions prospects have made in order to determine if their actions support their words.
  3. Show me how…  Ask applicants to demonstrate some of the skills they’ll be using in their new job.  They may feel like you’re putting them on the spot, and in truth, you are.  Whether you ask them to show you how they’d answer the phone, pitch your product, or resolve a customer complaint, you’ll get an idea of how they’ll handle the work they’ll be doing.
  4. How did you go about researching our company?  Serious candidates take the time to learn something about the places they apply.
  5. Tell me something about me you think is interesting.  Again, you’re putting an applicant on the spot, seeing how they think on their feet, and testing the extent of their research.  Do they understand your goals and values?
  6. Tell me about your past bosses.  This is a particularly powerful question, as it gives you insight into candidates’ relationship to authority, and it also tells you how they like to be managed.  Keep an eye out for applicants who complain about every single boss they’ve ever had;  they’re revealing more about their struggle with authority than they realize.
  7. What is your greatest fear about this position?  This question sifts out dishonest applicants, as every single one of them has fears, whether they own up to them or not.  It also lets you identify areas that will need extra attention when you hire.  You’ll be able to start off on the right foot by addressing concerns on the very first day.
  8. If money were no object, what would your ideal job be?  In a perfect world, you want to hire long term employees, and finding out what candidates really want to be doing lets you know if they’ll be around for the long haul.  If the position you’re hiring for isn’t at least a stepping stone, then you may be looking at a short-timer.
  9. Who are the biggest jerks you’ve ever dealt with?  What you’re looking for in this answer is a reveal of candidates’ conflict resolution skills.  How do they see people who cause them problems, and how do they deal with the conflict that will inevitably occur?
  10. What parts of work drive you nuts?  This question offers another way to catch a glimpse of applicants’ weaknesses and insecurities, letting you weed out inadequate candidates or address challenges early on.

Hiring new staff is too important for you to walk into an interview unprepared, but sometimes you’re still uncertain whether prospects are a good long term fit for your company’s goals and values.  When that’s the case, I advise you to hire on a temporary basis – say three months.  At the end of the trial period – assuming you’re pleased with the work – offer the employee a chance to stay on for a full time position or walk away with a $500 check.  The folks who jump at the check aren’t likely to be committed to your long-term success, and the ones who rip up your check are proving their dedication to you.


The Importance Of New-Employee Orientation – And How To Do It Right

3-6 employee orientation smallDo you know—for certain—what the first day of work is like for your employees? Is there a chance you’re frittering away orientation–a key part of building your corporate culture–on inconsequential details? (‘‘This is the break room. We clean the employee fridge out each Friday.’’)

Each day, all around the world, careless orientations like this one are creating lasting negative expectations among employees. And executives and managers typically have no idea it’s happening. Be sure your precious first moments with an employee aren’t squandered (or worse). Institute a careful, effective orientation process.

Use Orientation to Instill New Values, Attitudes, and Beliefs

Employees are especially impressionable during their first days—and especially their very first day—on the job. This is because beginning any new job is disorienting, and psychologists have shown that during periods of disorientation, people are particularly susceptible to adopting new roles, goals, and values. Those new values and beliefs might turn out to be destructive ones, or constructive ones like you want to seed. It depends largely on your orientation program.

With this in mind, I recommend that you focus your orientation process not on instilling practical know-how, but rather on instilling the most useful attitudes, beliefs, and goals possible. Keep the focus on what is most crucial for your business: core customer service principles, your company values, and why and how your employee is an essential part of the company’s overall mission.

Involve the highest leadership level possible, ideally the CEO, to personally provide the orientation on values, beliefs, and purpose. Sound impractical, even impossible? Consider this: The CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company conducts, personally, every single Day One event at every hotel and resort Ritz-Carlton opens, no matter where it is in the world.

So, figure out a way. You only get one Day One.




 
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