Archive for the ‘Business’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why the Holidays are a Great Time to Call Your Customers

12-2 making a phone call smallWhen you think about the holiday season, you probably think about family, fun and feasting. But did you ever stop to think that the holidays are also a great time to reach out and call your small business customers?

There are several reasons why now is an ideal time to contact customers by phone.

  • The holiday season is a time for celebrating relationships, and talking in person can help reinforce and cement your business relationships.
  • With many businesses short-staffed during the holidays, decision-makers who normally don’t answer the phone may be a lot easier to reach.
  • While rank-and-file workers typically take time off, C-level execs are more likely to be working, frequently coming in early or staying late to take advantage of the quiet office and uninterrupted time to focus.
  • At many companies, budgets need to be spent before the year ends, so there might be money available for projects you might normally have trouble selling.
  • Other companies are planning their budgets for next year, making now a good time to get on their radar.

So how can you make your “reach out and touch” customer calls successful? Try these four tips:

  1. Make a list. Use your CRM system or other customer data to identify potentially most lucrative customers. For example, you might check who purchased from you this time last year or whose fiscal year is about to end.
  2. Set a goal. Calling is a numbers game, so it’s important not to get discouraged. Set a goal to call a certain number of customers per day, and just power through.
  3. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t waste the customer’s time. Yes, small talk greases the wheels, especially this time of year, but people are also busy.
  4. It’s not all about the sale. These calls aren’t focused on making an immediate sale (though that would be nice), but on enhancing your relationship with the customer and finding new ways to serve him or her. Explore their needs for the coming year, what they’d like to do differently and how you can help them achieve their 2015 goals. Ending up with a firm commitment to talk in 2015 is a good start.

Mondays with Mike: Why A One-Star Review Can Be Good For Your Business

Yelp ReviewsIn the olden days, you might have had to pick up a phone book or ask a neighbor if you wanted a recommendation for a business – whether it was a restaurant in an unfamiliar city or a contractor to fix something around your house.  Now, though, it’s possible to find reviews of nearly any business online.  That means consumers have access to more information than ever before about your company and the quality of service it provides.  That’s a great thing!

But bad reviews are inevitable.  What do you do when you see a lousy review about your company?  How you handle customer complaints is critical in terms of managing the public perception of your business, and what you do depends on what sort of review you’ve been given. 

There are basically two types of bad reviews:  ones that are unjustified, either from jealous competitors or from customers without legitimate gripes who would have been impossible to please, and then there are the legitimate complaints.  How you react is different for each instance. 

Say you’re a roofing contractor, and you periodically check out your reviews online (which EVERY business should be doing.)  You discover that one of the recent reviews complains of costs going over budget and construction deadlines missed – things you absolutely know aren’t true.  It could be that your competition is making up stories to win business away from you.  It could be that a customer mixed up the name of your business and posted a review for the wrong company. 

Whatever the case, though, you must address the complaint.  Since the review is posted publicly, I suggest replying to the review and asking the customer to get in contact with you so you can resolve the problem.  If time passes and there’s no response, then publicly state that you don’t see a record of the transaction, and you can only conclude that an honest mistake was made in posting the review. 

Your goal in addressing unjustified reviews should be to convey to prospective customers that you’re a reasonable, honest, and conscientious business owner, and you take criticism seriously.

Likewise, if you see a legitimate complaint – that your restaurant gave slow service on a particular Friday night – then you should step up publicly and apologize for any inconvenience and offer some way to make it up to the customer if you feel it’s appropriate.  If prospective diners see that you offered to buy a round of drinks to make up for the fact that you were short staffed, they’re going to understand that you’re serious about customer satisfaction.  Apologize when appropriate and make it right.

A lousy review is not the end of the world.  Every thriving business has them.  The good news is consumers are increasingly savvy about review analysis.  They look for authentic reviews – which won’t all be positive – and they look to see how business owners react when they’re criticized.  Flipping out, accusing customers of being unreasonable, or making excuses for less-than-ideal customer service is NOT the way to respond to criticism.  Be deliberate.  Be fair, and above all, be vigilant about responding.   


Why You Need a Google Alias Now

11-28 hiding behind a mask smallGoogle has become another social media tool that allows its Google Plus clients to use something other than their real name. These aliases or pseudonyms can be a nickname or just a series of letters. When Google launched their social tool a few years back, they wanted people to build a network based on people with real names. They recently ditched this idea in their terms of service in favor of a growing trend for any creative ID to act as a name similar to those used on Twitter and Youtube. However, there are limits to how many times a user can change their name in a given period of time.

If authenticity is so important online, why would a business person want to use an alias?

  1. Get greater separation between personal and online life. Despite popular practices, not everything should be shared online. Many business people have opinions that they want to post that should not be associated with their business (and for good reasons).
  2. Prevent stalkers. There are a lot of weird and predatory people surfing the Internet. An alias gives more privacy which is a difficult commodity in an Internet connected world. It provides a barrier to actually meeting these crazy people in real life. Any pseudonym can be deleted and recreated in a different form at any time.
  3. Prevents work colleagues on viewing personal work or opinions online. Personal views may conflict with business employees or customers. It allows this body of work new opinions posted under an alias not to be viewed through the filter of a real known person.
  4. Aliases bring a new start. Anyone can create an online alter ego. This can be an outlet for creativity and exploration. Different personas can also cover a variety of niche areas without conflict.

Be careful. There are drawbacks of an alias which include:

  1. Adds stress to life. Constantly mentally separating to be an alias can be time consuming. This is especially true if it becomes more popular than the real life version of the person.
  2. The temptation of less accountability. Hiding behind an alias will tempt many business people to say and do things that they would not with their real identities. This can cause real life regret. Caution should still be used because no one should assume that an alias will never be connected to the real person.
  3. More conflicts. People may be put off when they find you are the alias for a pseudonym that they despise. Steve Colbert says he is playing a character on The Colbert Report and has a difficult time being viewed as himself.
  4. Changing perceptions. Once an alias becomes well established, it's hard to transfer that online capital to a real person. When Amber Osborne wanted to come out from behind her alias "blue haired Miss Destructo " persona,  there were many challenges. Some people did not want to view her as anything else except her alias. Think about the stereotyping of actors for certain roles like William Shatner as the iconic Captain Kirk and James Gandolfini as mob boss Tony Soprano.

Have you created a personal alias separate from the business? What has been the results?


4 Ways to Use Technology to Plan Your Office Holiday Party

Friends setting the table for Thanksgiving dinnerEach year, offices struggle to put together effective Holiday parties. Whether your business is planning a potluck or an outing to a local restaurant, getting employees together to determine the best time, location, and food preferences can be complicated. With professionals busier than ever, this process can be complicated and involved.

Fortunately, there are many technology tools available to help. Instead of sending an employee around with a sheet of paper and pen, businesses can now send one link to everyone and collect information immediately. By automating the process, your planning team can be more efficient, allowing them more time to focus on their daily duties.

Apps

There are numerous polling apps available that allow groups to vote using a PC or mobile device, with results available in real time. Your employees can vote on the type of Holiday party they want, the type of food they want served, or the restaurant they’d prefer. If a potluck party has been chosen, teams can use Google Drive or sign-up sheet apps like Jooners or SignUpGenius to allow team members to sign up for the items they would like to bring.

Party Planning Apps

If your office is planning a more complex party or you have an ambitious party planning committee, party planning apps can help. From organizing the layout of the banquet room to automated reminders that keep your team on track, these apps are usually designed to run on a smartphone, giving you the ability to work on your party planning from anywhere.

OpenTable

If your plan is to rent a facility or take your office to a local restaurant, OpenTable is a great resource. In many major cities, Holiday party venues are listed under “Private Dining venues” in a list on the left side. You can browse the list of venues that advertise that they host Holiday parties and complete a contact form to have someone get in touch with you to arrange your event. You can also make online reservations directly through OpenTable at select locations, although many venues limit the party size for online reservations. If you’re planning a small office party, however, OpenTable is a great resource for making a reservation without having to pick up the phone.

Online Ordering

If you want catering for your Holiday party, this can be set up online, as well. Some grocery stores and restaurants allow you to browse their selections and choose menu items online, as well as pay for everything and schedule a delivery time. After determining the type of food your employees prefer, find local restaurants, grocers, or catering companies that can deliver the items and get several cost estimates before making a final decision.

Thanks to modern technology, this year’s Holiday party can not only be a success, but planning can be made easy and quick. From getting a team-wide vote to ordering items to be delivered the day of the party, you can use technology to set everything up from the comfort of your office, freeing up time to focus on other tasks.


The Danger Of DYPII (Did You Plug It In?)

In pulling off a successful service recovery (the times when a customer contacts you to complain about your service or product, or needs your help in addressing a service-related breakdown) one factor that underlies your ultimate success or failure is the language at you use.  For this reason, service-recovery language needs to be chosen intentionally in your business, ideally codified and immortalized in a “language lexicon” that all can refer to.

The language of calming, apology, and probing

You’ll never successfully calm an upset customer without the right words and phrasing. ‘‘I’m sorry, I apologize’’ are the words, delivered sincerely, that your customer wants to hear. Phrases like ‘‘It’s our policy’’ and any synonyms for ‘‘You’re wrong’’ must be banished. (If, in fact, the customer is wrong and there is a bona fide – e.g., safety-related or legally required – reason to point this out, you need words that express this obliquely, such as ‘‘Our records seem to indicate…’’ and ‘‘Perhaps… ’’ so that she can realize her error but also save face.

The five words you can never say to a customer: "Did You Plug It In?"

?????????????????????????There is a specific moment in service recovery where the language used (and the timing of when you use that language) comes most crucially into play.  When a customer is looking to resolve an issue, you are often put in an exploratory position that requires you to ask rudimentary questions like:‘‘Are you sure you, uh, typed in your password correctly?’’

I refer to these as DYPII (‘‘Did You Plug It In?’’) questions. DYPII questions (pronounced “dippy”), no matter how justified, are highly likely to raise customer hackles. If you bring up DYPII questions right away, before you’ve taken the time to sincerely apologize to the customer for a service breakdown—and before your customer has accepted your apology—they’ll almost universally be considered offensive.

But after you’ve apologized, and taken the time to help your customer develop a spirit of collaboration with you, the same questions are generally tolerated well, if you use the correct language.

Every industry has its own, often predictable, set of “DYPII” questions. Plan for them. Find new phrases to use. It makes all the difference.

In fact, the classically infuriating DYPII question, ‘‘Did you plug it in?’’ can be rendered as ‘‘Maybe the wall connection is loose. Can you do me a favor and check where it plugs into the socket?’’


How to Plan Your Holiday Vacation While Keeping Your Business Running

11-26 holiday vacation small The holiday season is upon us, and with that comes vacation time for many entrepreneurs. If you’re on the fence about shutting down your business while you go over the river and through the woods because you’re worried you’ll miss out on sales or opportunities, keep reading. You absolutely can take a vacation while keeping your business alive. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Start Planning Early

If you know you’ll be out between Christmas and New Year’s, plan for your vacation now. Let your clients know you’ll be out, and if they need any work done, to inform you now so you can get it done early. Clear your plate of work so that you can walk out the door confident that you didn’t leave any activities undone. This will also help you transition back to work on your return, and keep you from having to face a giant pile of work after such a relaxing vacation.

Tip 2: Put Someone in Charge

If your company will continue to operate in your absence, find a replacement for you for the week. At the minimum, you need a point of contact you can include in your vacation email autoresponder so that if people who email you need immediate help, they can get it. I always give a few points of contact in my autoresponder so that the appropriate person can help my clients.

Make sure the person you put in charge is confident in “being you” while you’re out. Go over any protocols or questions they have, and discourage them from contacting you unless it’s a true emergency. Empower them to make decisions in your absence.

Tip 3: Schedule Your Marketing

What I love about marketing tools these days is how you can schedule your social media updates and blog posts in advance. No one even needs to know you’re not working! Carve out time from your busy schedule to get your social media updates scheduled in your absence, as well as to write a few posts to go live while you’re out.

Tip 4: Tie Up Loose Ends

Do you have bills due while you’re out? Meetings you’re supposed to attend? Make sure everything is squared away so you don’t disappoint anyone who expects to meet with you (and don’t miss due dates for bills!). The more details you pay attention to now, the more refreshed you can return to the office after the holidays.

Tip 5: Relax. Your Business will be Fine

More than all the tactical, this is the hardest for many business owners. They are convinced that their businesses will fall apart if they’re not there. But the truth is, your business can handle it. Whether you’re a solopreneur or you have a capable team, if you’ve let clients know you’ll be out and done your part to clear your plate, you can relax and enjoy your time off.

And given that many other people take vacations at the end of the year, rest assured that there will be no crises while you’re out!


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Be Productive During the Holidays

Mother and Daughter Making Christmas Cookies for SantaAre you one of those small business owners whose holiday wish would be for “more hours in the day”? Even if you’re usually a model of efficiency, the holidays—with their hectic schedules, family visitors and employee vacation days—can throw everything off.

How can you stay productive and still enjoy the holidays? Try these tips.

Plan ahead. Let employees know how far ahead of time they should put in requests for time off. Employee scheduling software tools can make things simpler, especially if you run a business like a retail store or service provider that gets slammed this time of year. And be prepared for employees to call in sick at the last minute—that’s simply what happens this time of year, so have a backup plan in mind.

Prioritize. Both in your personal and your work lives, it’s important to know which battles to fight. If you’ll save time, money and sanity by sending e-cards this year instead of mailing 200 paper cards to your client list, do it! If you always knit scarves for family gifts but this year a huge project is getting in the way, take a break from the tradition to do something simpler. Know what you aren’t willing to compromise on, and stick to that decision.

Hand it off. You can delegate almost anything these days. Try services like TaskRabbit to handle time-consuming chores like running to the post office or picking up your drycleaning. Holding a family gathering? Hire a cleaning service and get the meal catered or at the very least, have your groceries delivered instead of heading to the store. The concept works for business, too—if your staff is overloaded, call a temporary help agency, enlist a teenage relative home from college to help out for a few days, or connect with a virtual assistant.

Tap technology. Use mobile devices, apps and cloud services to access your business files, data and documents wherever you are so you can get work done wherever you are. Devising templates, auto-responses and keyboard shortcuts lets you create files or reply to inquiries quickly so you’re not reinventing the wheel every time.


Don’t Do This! 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When Handling Your Staff

I’ve hired and fired enough people to know what works and what doesn’t in terms of managing staff.  When you’re dealing with people, things can be unpredictable, but I’ve learned a few lessons that always hold true.  Here’s my top list of things you should NOT do when you’re dealing with your staff.

  1. Expect the same dedication you bring to the office.  Your company is your baby.  It’s your dream, your vision, and your potential payoff.  Your staff – even the most vibrant, engaged employees – are in it for the paycheck.  They don’t stand to gain as much as you do if you succeed, and they don’t see the same value you do in sacrificing their energy, free time, and income.  If you expect your staff to give up their lives in service of your vision, you’re asking too much, and you’re certain to be disappointed.  Be realistic about what you can expect from your staff.
  2. Give a lofty title to a rookie.  In the absence of tons of free money, entrepreneurs sometimes have to be creative when it comes to rewarding their staff.  Don’t attempt to compensate your staff by giving them titles they haven’t earned.  If you hire on an admin to handle your corporate Facebook and Twitter account and put “Chief Marketing Officer” on the new business card, you’re setting yourself up for problems.  If your new Chief Marketing Officer learns that his title usually comes with a much higher salary out in the marketplace, he’s likely to become disgruntled and feel like he’s undercompensated.  Give your staff authentic titles.
  3. Not handling reviews on time.  Your employees know their start dates, and you should too.  Not only do formal, regular reviews give you a chance to address any problems, but they also give your staff valuable feedback on what they’re doing right.  Don’t overlook an opportunity to praise your staff.
  4. Train and pray.  It’s expensive to hire and fire staff, and one of the most commonly made mistakes in the way business owners handle their staff is to skimp on the training.  If you send an employee out with inadequate training, not only are you running the risk of disappointing your customers, but you’re also fostering uncertainty in your new hire.  Let your staff know that you care enough about them and your clients to train and support new hires properly.
  5. Messing up the first day.  Your new hire starts forming an impression of you and your company the second they walk through the door on the first day on the new job.  You can either impress your new employee with business cards, formal, supportive training, and a schedule for the first day, or you can put them in a corner and let them fill out paperwork.  Start your staff off right – thoughtfully, deliberately, and with a warm welcome that lets your employees know you’re glad they’re there.

Hiring and firing employees is time consuming and can be very costly.  When you add in the immeasurable value of great staff, you’ll realize right away that making a conscious effort to handle your staff properly will pay dividends.  You’ll be able to retain great staff and continue to give your customers great value, and you’ll also free yourself up to develop new business, rather than dealing with staff troubles.

10-24 handing employees small


Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.




 
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