Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Building A Customer Experience that is (and isn’t) “Just Like Home”

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

A secret to creating a great customer experience is to get in the homebuilding business.  As in: You’re creating an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to your customer.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension.  What I mean by “like home” is an experience that is like being a kid in the home of a caring parent: your preferences are attended to (there’s food in the fridge that is to your taste), you’re missed when you leave and sincerely welcomed back when you return, the maintenance is done without you even noticing.  This is what “just like home” means to a customer and what can turn a customer into a loyalist and ambassador for your brand.

There’s a lot involved in creating a true loyalty-building, “homelike” situation for your customers. But I hope the homebuilding metaphor, which is supported by research done at the Ritz-Carlton, will give you a place to start. When you conclude an interaction with your customer, let her know that it matters to you that she come back soon (I’m assuming here that you’re not a surgeon or an undertaker). And when that customer returns to your business after an extended absence, let her know that she’s been missed. And, work on fulfilling, in that great phrase of The Ritz-Carlton, “even the unexpressed wishes” of your customers, as if you know them like they live here.  Customers shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to get across what they want from you. Figure it out yourself by really getting to know them.  It’ll be worth it.

Technology can make homebuilding easier

Child's house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Child’s house drawing (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Technology can make homebuilding and homekeeping simpler and better. For example, custom-tailored, automated anticipatory messaging helps you respond in advance (‘‘pre-spond,’’ I suppose) to customer needs and would have been impossible before the digital communications revolution. Anticipatory design, used so well by companies like Apple and Google, can help simplify your customer’s life. Well-designed ‘‘My 

Account’’ and other self-service technology has made it so that many customers are willing, even eager, to do much of the work for you to keep track of their preferences and other details—information that, in turn, makes anticipatory customer service easier to pull off. Customers will let you know how to improve more directly than before if you keep your ear to today’s available electronic listening channels, thus facilitating a much quicker feedback loop for future anticipatory service.

And, once you delight your customers with anticipatory customer service, they can spread the word much more quickly via social media than was ever possible in the past.

People who help people

But technology is almost never the entire story.  A kid raised by a kiosk would hardly get the warm home feeling I’m aiming for here.  The fact that an actual human cares (mom, or dad, or both) makes all the difference.  In the world of commerce, it’s more or less the same: Automated, fake friendliness will never have the same emotional power for a customer as knowing that she’s coming back to the place where the people themselves care about her and remember her.  Absolutely, those people should be using technology to keep track of credit card numbers so the customer doesn’t have to dig out the card and recite that number a second time.  Absolutely, a business should offer technology that lets the customer update her home address correctly, rather than forcing the customer to laboriously dictate it to a clerk who most likely will mis-enter it.  But the human service provider still needs to care, sincerely and visibly, for the magic to truly work. 


Three Ways to Improve Your Business Messaging

All businesses need to communicate a consistent story that describes who they are, what they do and why customers need their products or services.  But even relatively small businesses count on a number of employees to deliver the story in everything from advertising to bids.  Add social media to the mix and your business can become victim to issues ranging from sales errors to serious legal concerns.  To avoid potential financial losses or hits to your company’s reputation, you need to take control over every aspect of your business messaging to keep it correct and consistent.

Here are three methods for ensuring that the public hears the message that you intend to send.

Provide a Single Source of Key Company Information

??????????????????????????????????????

When a newspaper ad shows a 20 percent discount until July while your website shows a 10 percent discount until May, you have to honor the better offer.  You also have to honor bids offered to customers by sales reps who quoted lower prices shortly after you increased prices across your entire product line.  These can be costly errors that you can control by developing a better communication system with your employees.

Everyone in your company needs to turn to a single source where they can find the up-to-date information that they need to do their jobs effectively and accurately.  Here are two of the most typical examples of systems that can be worth the initial effort:

  • Marketing information can be maintained in word processing documents on your company’s network.  With an easy-to-follow organization and identification system, your employees can copy and paste this content into their advertising or other business documents to deliver a consistent message to the public.  But to be effective, the content needs to be up-to-the minute, so make sure that timely updates are a number one priority for the individuals who are responsible for them.
  • Product pricing information can be easy to find if your sales staff members can use their smart phones to gain instant access to a secure online database.  If your company’s growth requires you to find a high-tech solution to help your sales reps, this type of system might be a good investment to consider.  But even if your young company is operating on a shoe string budget, your reps should make a quick phone call to confirm prices before handing a quote over to a customer.

Channel All Important Communications Through One Person for Review

No matter how many safeguards that you use to ensure consistency, the most current information may not always be available.  In fact, your employees may not even be aware of your plans to target new types of customers or change prices within the next few weeks.

This is why you need to select a very small group of inner-circle staff members to have signing authority for the release of important messaging,- even if that “small group” consists of just you! 

Reserve Social Media Messaging for Employees That You Trust

Even in the hands of experts, social media campaigns can unexpectedly go wrong, as was the case in 2012, when McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign and customers decided to use it to post complaints.  But social media has become an important part of company marketing tools, especially for small businesses looking to get maximum return on their limited advertising dollars.

Twitter quickly becomes a double-edged sword in the hands of your employees, even if their intentions are honorable.  What would happen if a loyal employee decides to respond in kind when a customer tweets a rudely-worded complaint?  The original complaint will likely fade out in a short time.  But a snarky response issued under your company’s name can catch the attention of the news media, causing serious damage to your brand.

Rule of thumb:  Grant permission to only a few individuals to broadcast messages on social media accounts that bear the company name.  And, while you may not have control over their private activities, strongly encourage all employees to keep your company name out of their personal Tweets, as well.  Also, consider putting together a style and communications guide to minimize the potential for off-message posts.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Clearly, the words that you broadcast to the world can make a tremendous difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line.  Taking control over your company’s message takes some effort, but it is a task that you should make a priority.


Are You Getting Everything You Should Be Out of Google Apps?

If you’re like many small businesses, you might be using Gmail for your company email addresses. Or maybe you rely on Google Calendar to alert you about meetings and events from any mobile device. But those are just the tip of the iceberg for Google Apps. There are tons more features that help you collaborate with your team, work away from your desktop, and hold more productive meetings, both in person and virtual.

Build a Smarter Team

The great thing about Google products is they work so well together, as well as individually, especially for teams. While I’ve written about the best apps small business owners need to thrive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Drive. When you’re collaborating on documents, sharing them in the cloud makes it easy for multiple people to access the documents and make their changes, without all that crossover of emails with different versions of that doc.You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and share them with anyone you want to have access to them.

And if your team isn’t in the office with you, Google Hangouts makes meetings easier. Up to 15 people can be on a call, and there are apps for mobile devices, so you’re not tethered to your desktop.

Google Calendar, too, is ideal when trying to schedule meetings for your team. You can share access of your calendar or see availability on others’ calendars, then send invites to your team. You can even include a video call in the invite (on Hangouts, of course!).

Taking it on the Go

There are compelling reasons for Google lovers to choose Android phones over Apple. They’re much more intuitive when it comes to using Google Apps, and many (like the Samsung S5) come standard with all of the apps built in. Sign in once and get access to your Hangouts, email, Drive, and calendar.

It’s the Little Things

Beyond these tools, there are plenty more. Like Google Vault, which helps you archive email and chats, making audits and legal research easy. Or Google Sites, a free tool with simple website templates. Groups let you channel your conversations into one place online, and Translate helps you understand foreign text.

Integrate What You’re Already Using

A little-known feature of Google Apps is its Marketplace (I myself didn’t even know about it until I did some digging). The apps here are from software and programs you’re likely already using, like CRM, workflow, and email marketing. Enabling your accounts to work within Google Apps streamlines the activity between the two.

For example, the Nimble app in the Marketplace gives Nimble users more functionality. It allows you to import contacts from your social stream with one click; link emails, tweets, tasks, and events to a profile; and allow your team to log into Nimble using their Google account.

You might even discover new tools, like the HelloFax app, which lets you fax documents from your Drive. Or QuoteRoller, which helps you build out quotes and proposals.

All This…at What Cost?

If you signed up for Google in 2012 or earlier, you’ve been grandfathered in to free services. But at only $50 a year (or $120 with unlimited storage and Vault), it remains an affordable option for any small business looking for easy productivity tools.

We’ve come to rely heavily on Google, and for good reason: the brand keeps providing useful tools that help us do more with our businesses.

google_apps6464


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating an Ergonomic Workspace for Your Employees

Stocksy_txp60acfecbxm9000_Small_302510In today’s business environment, employees work long hours, typically hunched over computer keyboards or, in a customer service environment, on the phone. Did you ever stop to think about whether your employees’ workspace is ergonomically sound? I didn’t either until years ago when one of my employees began suffering from repetitive-stress injuries and eventually had to have surgery.

Ergonomics, or the study of how to fit work systems to workers, doesn’t get a lot of press these days—which is ironic considering a new generation of employees are working in ways that can be harmful to their health. Over time, typing on a keyboard that’s not suited to them, holding their hands in the wrong position or sitting in an uncomfortable chair for long periods can lead to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck problems or even tennis elbow (which is on the rise among iPad users). My doctor recently gave me an earful about my bad habit of spending hours slouched over my laptop on the couch.

Injured employees lead to worker’s compensation claims, lowered productivity and other problems for your business. An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure in this case! Here are some steps to make your office more ergonomic:

  • Buy adjustable chairs that offer back, neck and armrest support. If needed, invest in additional cushions to support lower backs.
  • Encourage employees to get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour. There are many online apps that can pop up on their computers and remind them.
  • Provide headsets or cordless options for employees who spend long hours on the phone, such as customer service or salespeople.
  • Laptop keyboards are a big cause of repetitive stress injuries because they’re typically smaller and flatter than desktop keyboards. If employees use laptops for long periods, a simple search for “wireless ergonomic keyboards” will turn up many keyboards you can deploy with laptops.
  • Provide a selection of computer mice and let employees choose the one that feels best to them.
  • Make sure workspaces are properly lighted so employees don’t strain their eyes. Provide task lighting as needed—for example, desk lamps or under-shelf lighting for when employees need to work on paper.
  • Encourage employees to come to you when they’re feeling pain so you can get them treatment and adjust their workspace to resolve the issue. Repetitive stress injuries take time to build, but can appear quickly, so acting fast to treat the problem is key.

Check out OSHA’s guide to ergonomics and WebMD’s guide to ergonomic injuries


Mondays with Mike: How To Prep Your Business For Sale In 90 Days (Or Less!)

I know a thing or two about selling businesses.  I’ve done it both hard way, and the easy way, and it’s not hard to figure out which way I prefer.  Even if you plan on turning your company into a legacy that your children will run after you’re gone, the best time to get your business ready to sell is today!  Before you ever want or need to sell your business – that’s when you should start.  Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Identify strategic buyers.  Strategic buyers are those who want your business for some reason other than just your company’s revenue.  They may want your customers, your intellectual property, or even your employees.  If you can identify these buyers, you can learn which of your assets are most desirable – and you can protect them.
  2. Resolve any legal troubles.  Buyers won’t want to touch a business that has lawsuits or liens against it, so you need to clear up any old business and get your company in the clear. 
  3. ??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on profitability, rather than debt.  Businesses are often valued by a multiple of their profit, so you’re better off directing extra revenue toward measures that make you more profitable.  Paying down debt with your extra money doesn’t add nearly as much to your value.
  4. Protect your key employees’ positions.  We all have those staff members who are critical to our survival, and it’s smart to make a plan for what you’d do if one of them left.  Whether your discreetly cross-train employees or keep a list of potential new hires, you want to make sure that if one of your key employees leaves, that your business goes on as usual.
  5. Get out of the office.  Not only is your business more valuable if it can run in your absence, but you also need to be out in the marketplace as the face of your company.  You need to continue running your business as if you’re going to hand it down to your children, and that means cementing relationships with important clients and maintaining your market share.  Don’t slack off!
  6. Cut costs.  You’ll boost your selling price if your company is lean, efficient, and profitable.  Make sure you trim unnecessary expenses and eliminate anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the health of your company.
  7. Work with a business broker or investment banker.  You’ll want to make sure your business is ready to sell when you tackle this step, but you’ll often find that brokers have a stable of businesses looking to acquire others.  Not only can you sell your company more quickly, but a broker can also help you get top dollar for it.
  8. Be hard to get.  If you appear to be desperate to sell, your value diminishes.  Cultivate a field of buyers and watch your price go up.  You want buyers to have competition in order to ensure that you get every penny you’re worth.
  9. Keep it quiet.  The news that you’re looking to sell your company can potentially frighten off employees and even deter new clients from signing on with you.  You want your business to continue to grow and flourish … just in case a sale falls through.

The time you spend preparing your business will give you one additional benefit other than just getting you ready to sell, and it’s actually a huge one.  Your business will be healthier.  Much of the advice I’ve listed here is stuff you should be doing anyway – measures that make your business more efficient and profitable, in addition to making it more attractive to buyers.  


The Four Elements of Satisfactory Customer Service

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Before an organization can even think about delighting customers, it needs to be able to consistently deliver what it takes in order to satisfy customers.

Satisfying a customer is dependent on:

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Smiley-faced warehouse equipment (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

1. A “perfect product or service

…perfect being defined as “designed and tested to perform perfectly within circumstances you can reasonably foresee.”  (Not the snowstorm of the century, not the city-wide lockdown in Boston during the marathon terror manhunt.  But reasonably foreseeable.)

2. Caring delivery

…no product is perfect in if it’s presented to the customer in a way that doesn’t appear to be “caring” to the intended recipient. No matter how delicious the food, no matter how safe the jet travel, if it’s presented in a way that doesn’t show care for the customer, it’s not going to be a hit.

3. Timely delivery

…a perfect product or service, delivered on a timetable that doesn’t match your customer’s expectations, is a defect. And customer expectations in the area of time have recently ramped up astoundingly.  Factors that range from amazon.com to the smartphone revolution to global competition to customers with complicated work schedules have led to a ramping up of what customers expect in terms of timeliness in nearly industry.

4. An effective problem resolution process

…because you will, sometimes, be late/uncaring/imperfect. An effective and complete problem resolution process is covered here.

****

Beyond satisfaction: building brand ambassadors

A satisfactory product or service, delivered successfully time after time, is a lot of work to pull off. And it’s important to be able to deliver satisfaction over and over and over.  The only problem is, nobody ever shouted “Yeehaw, that was a really satisfactory experience I just had with your company.”  It’s nothing to holler about or to jump on to Twitter to describe.  To bring your service up to the level beyond satisfaction, where customers are engaged, loyal, advocating for you, requires something else.  Stay tuned—we’ll talk about it next article.


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


Understanding When It’s Time to Develop a Board for Your Small Business

?????????????????????????????????????As your business grows, you may seek additional input and support from others outside of your company. If you’ve reached that point, it might be beneficial for you to consider starting a Board. Whether it’s an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors, having the experience and insight of a well-rounded group of individuals can help you take your small business to heights you couldn’t have realized on your own.

The Difference Between the Two

There are two kinds of Boards you can consider developing: an Advisory Board or a Board of Directors. An Advisory Board includes a panel of people that have experience that can help guide you to making decisions for your company. A Board of Directors takes that one step further and has the power to vote on those decisions. If you incorporate your business, you’re required to have a Board of Directors, though you may not hold more than the required number of meetings. If you have shareholders you’ll also need a Board of Directors, as they’re the body that act in the interest of the shareholders.

How to Cultivate a Fabulous Board

Whichever type of Board you want to develop, here are a few ground rules to get started.

Start by determining what you hope to achieve with your Board. We’ve already covered the situations where you’re required to set up a Board of Directors, but if you want an Advisory Board (and you can certainly have both), you need a purpose and direction. Maybe you want to take your private company public, and want the right people on your team to guide you to success. Or maybe you want to enter a new industry that you know little about. Having experts in that field on your Board can help you navigate that transition.

Next, get the right people on board. (Pun. Get it?) Aim to find people with experience different than the rest of your Advisory Board or Board of Directors so you have a balanced panel. For example, you might invite one accountant to help with the financial side, one industry expert, a marketer, and a strategist. If you can find a well-known industry leader willing to participate, that’ll be great PR for your company.

You want to set expectations early so that potential members know what’s expected of them. How often will you meet? Will they be required to participate in email or phone call conversations between in-person meetings?

Then, set compensation. Board members are often shareholders, so they get compensated partially or completely in stock. For Advisory Board members, you might only pay for meals in meetings, or you might offer a stipend for their time. Remember: they are giving you some of their valuable time, so consider a fair and appealing compensation plan.

Developing Relationships Over Time

You may only meet with your Board once a quarter or once a year, so make sure to maintain communications throughout the year so they feel in touch with your business. Send a monthly newsletter updating them on what’s happening at your company. Check in with a phone call or coffee date occasionally. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them. It’s important to make this a reciprocal relationship so they want to stay on your Board for years to come.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Get a Grip on Social Media

As an avid user of social media for business, I know how crucial social media is to marketing for today’s small businesses. Unfortunately, I also know how much of a time-suck it can be. How do you strike the right balance between spending half your day on social media and abandoning it for days on end? Try these tips to get a grip:

  1. Find your focus. Your business doesn’t need to be on every single social media channel out there. The main criteria for choosing a social network should be, “Where are my customers spending their time?” This can vary depending on your audience and your industry. For instance, if you sell B2B services to corporations, you’ll likely find your customers on LinkedIn. If you run a clothing boutique for women, chances are Pinterest or Facebook is where your prospects hang out. One or two social networks can be plenty as long as they’re getting results.
  2. Set a schedule. The worst thing you can do on social media is “go dark” for weeks at a time. When I visit a company’s Facebook page and it hasn’t posted in a month, I start wondering if they’re out of business or how responsive they are to their customers. Set a schedule and stick to it. It’s better to post less often, but regularly, than to post sporadically.
  3. ????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A picture is worth 1,000 words. Images get more engagement than text-only posts on most social networks. Instead of struggling to craft the perfect words, save time by sharing product shots, behind-the-scenes photos or short video clips.
  4. Get someone else to do the work. Encouraging customers to share their own photos or videos, to comment on questions you post or to put suggestions on your social media accounts is a great way to generate more content without having to create it yourself. Sharing others’ content, such as links to interesting news, videos or statistics, also saves time and promotes your business as a source of information.
  5. Use time-saving tools. You don’t want to get too automated, but using social media management tools can save you steps without making your account feel mechanical. Hootsuite, Buffer and NutshellMail are a few popular options to try. 



 
Nextiva Logo

phone-icon(800) 799-0600 Sales phone-icon(800) 285-7995 Support
Nextiva is the leader in Business VoIP Services. Copyright 2014 Nextiva, All Rights Reserved,
Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policy, Patents, Sitemap