Archive for the ‘Tuesday Tip’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

In the pioneer days, customer service at the local general store meant a friendly greeting and wrapping a purchase in brown paper tied with string. Today, customers’ expectations have become far more sophisticated—and so has customer service. Here are some of the top customer service trends today, as identified by Forrester Research, and what they mean to your business.

  1. Customers want “pain-free” service. Basically, this means making it easy for customers to get the help they want, anytime, anywhere. For example, customers now expect to be able to use a variety of communications channels to get customer service. Voice is still the number-one channel used for customer service, but self-service, chat and email are all gaining in popularity. Moreover, customers expect the same level and quality of service, whether they’re using the phone or live chat. Finally, they expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and seamlessly complete it in another.
  2. Stocksy_txp6f31b4d2H08000_Small_165665Customers are going mobile. Most customers expect to be able to interact with customer service on a mobile device. It’s important you don’t just present a smaller version of your desktop website on mobile; instead, use responsive design to ensure customers can view and interact with your site whether they’re on a tablet, desktop or smartphone. For mobile, your customer service interface should be simple, intuitive and easy to use.
  3. Customer service is getting proactive. One big trend Forrester noticed: Nearly one-third of bigger companies plan to invest in proactive outbound communications with customers this year. For your small business, that could be anything from calling customers to follow up after a sale, to randomly surveying customers about your service, to using shopping cart software that reaches out with an invitation to live chat when customers’ actions indicate confusion.
  4. Companies are moving customer service to the cloud. More companies are relying on cloud-based, SaaS solutions rather than installing software. This enables them to keep current on changes in customer service and maintain fluid databases with new knowledge about how to handle customer problems and inquiries.
  5. Companies are incorporating self-service. Forrester reports that 67 percent of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. Savvy companies are looking to supplement their own knowledge bases with user-generated content, which enables customer service employees and customers alike to find answers to a wider range of questions and problems more quickly. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Steps to Managing Employees’ Internet Use

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Has the World Cup had your employees on the edge of their seats watching every game—at work? Today, it’s common for just about every employee of a small business to have Internet access on the job. While that generally enables your team to do their jobs more efficiently, other times it can really slow things down—or even put your business at risk from hackers, viruses and more. How can you protect your business and ensure productivity without becoming “Big Brother” when it comes to Internet use? Here are some tips.

  1. Protect. It’s easy for busy employees in a rush to accidentally click on a link or open an attachment that unleashes a computer virus. Take the basic step of ensuring your network and each computer has security software and that it’s updated regularly.
  2. Mind their own devices. More and more employees are going “BYOD,” or “bring your own devices,” to work these days. While this can seem like the answer to a budget-minded entrepreneur’s dreams, if employees use their own personal tablets and smartphones for work, it can open up a whole can of worms. In the long run, it may actually be more cost-effective to provide company-issued devices that you can control, update and monitor.
  3. Educate. No matter how much security software you install or how many automatic updates you run, most data loss occurs due to human error. Create a policy for what employees can and can’t do on their work computers, tablets and smartphones, and make sure everyone understands and signs it. Regularly remind employees of the importance of changing passwords frequently, keeping them secure, not installing software without permission and avoiding questionable emails or links.
  4. Check it out. Being on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube can be part of an employee’s job—or it could just be distracting them from their jobs. If things are out of hand, you might consider installing monitoring software on stafffers’ computers, which can tell you what websites they visit, what emails they get and what they do online. This seems like a drastic step, so a more comfortable solution may be simply for you to get out and walk around your business and interact with your employees. You’ll be able to tell who’s goofing off.
  5. Be real. Don’t pretend no one ever goofs off online. Instead, acknowledge the reality and work around it. For example, does your staff want to watch a sports event? Talk about ways people can get their work done early so they can enjoy some bonding time watching the game together. That can be just as good for your business as working can. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Declare Your Employees’ Independence

???????????????????????????????The best thing the owner of a growing business can do is give his or her employees their independence. No, I’m not talking about firing your employees; I’m talking about giving them the freedom to make their own decisions about how to get their work done.

As you undoubtedly know by now, it’s pretty much impossible for a small business owner to single-handedly do everything that needs to be done. That’s why you hire employees, right? Then why do so many of us refuse to let employees do their jobs, instead micromanaging them until they (and we) are miserable?

Here are four steps to giving your employees their independence.

  1. Provide training. Of course, you don’t want employees to totally wing it. Provide training in how to do the job, and give them direction in terms of what you want the results to be and what the overall goal is.
  2. Step back. Once employees know what you want and how to get there, step back and let them get from Point A to Point Z without offering your help (unless, of course, they ask). Who knows? Your employees might figure out a better way of getting things done.
  3. Empower decision-making. Customers hate it when employees have to “ask a manager” about every little thing. Provide parameters within which employees can make their own decisions about customer service, such as offering $X amount of comped food in your restaurant or refunding a certain amount of money with no questions asked. When employees feel trusted, they feel valued.
  4. Plan for the future. Discuss with your employees where they want to go in your company and how they can get there. When employees feel you have a stake in their future, they’ll give the business their all.

By giving your employees their independence, you’ll also gain freedom—the freedom to focus on what really matters in your business instead of sweating the small stuff. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Develop a Content Marketing Strategy

Are you using content marketing in your small business? If you ever write blog posts or articles for your business website, send out email newsletters or even post on social media, the answer is yes. Content marketing means creating content (text, visuals or both) and sharing it with your current and prospective customers through your website, social media or elsewhere online.

Content marketing is becoming more important as a marketing strategy. Last year, 90 percent of business owners in the Content Marketing Survey Report from Econsultancy and Outbrain predicted content marketing would be more important to business in 2014. What separates successful content marketers from those who try and fail? Having a content marketing strategy is crucial.

With just 38 percent of those in the survey reporting they have a content marketing strategy, developing one will clearly put you ahead of the pack. So how can you create a successful content marketing strategy?

  • Set goals. Figure out what you want your content to accomplish, whether that’s educating potential customers, getting existing customers to buy more from you, spreading the word about your business or establishing you as a thought leader in your industry.
  • Create quality content. Good-quality content is key to success. If you don’t have the talent or staff in-house to create good content, use sites such as Freelancer.com or Elance.com to find qualified content marketing writers.
  • Mix it up. Content isn’t just words—in fact, photos and videos often get more attention. Consider posting pictures of your employees or customer events, videos demonstrating your product in action or behind-the-scenes interviews with employees or satisfied customers to add excitement to your content.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Stop Wasting Time With Meetings

Are you and your employees spending too much time in meetings? In-person meetings can be the best way to get everyone on the same page, brainstorm new ideas or inspire teamwork. But meetings can easily spiral out of control and start devouring your workday, preventing you and your team from actually accomplishing all the stuff you’ve been meeting about.

Here are five ways to keep your team meetings manageable and productive.

  1. Stop the status meetings. Many businesses set up a weekly “status meeting” for everyone to check in and let the rest of the team know how their projects are going. Typically, this information could be just as easily conveyed by sending a status report everyone can read in 10 minutes.
  2. Keep it short. You’ve heard the saying “Work expands to fill the time available,” and the same is true of meetings. Always have a firm start and end time for your meetings—ideally, no longer than half an hour. This keeps everyone focused. Start wrapping up five minutes before closing time.
  3. Meet on the move. Try holding meetings with everyone standing up or meetings walking outside (obviously, the latter works better with a small team). Attendees will feel more energized, which makes standing meetings a great way to announce companywide changes or other news you want everyone to be excited about.
  4. Ban device use. Smartphones can make meetings take longer as people distracted by their devices miss key information and have to be brought up to speed. If your meetings are half an hour or shorter, it shouldn’t be a problem for everyone to put their phones face down on the table and focus. For longer meetings, set hourly breaks when people can grab refreshments, use the restroom and check phones and tablets.
  5. Be tough. Whoever’s in charge of the meeting needs to be tactful, but strict about keeping conversations on topic, managing “meeting hogs,” ensuring the meeting ends on time and clarifying next steps. If you can’t do this, appoint someone who can. 

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Selling to Millennials? You Need a Loyalty Program

Stocksy_txp65da3129op6000_Small_134151If your small business doesn’t have a loyalty program—but does have Millennial customers as part of your target market—you may want to reconsider and add some type of rewards program to your marketing mix. The 2014 Loyalty Report from Bond Brand Loyalty reports that U.S. Millennials (defined as aged 20 to 34) are more likely than other age groups to participate in loyalty programs. What’s more, they’re more likely than other age groups to change their shopping behaviors based on a loyalty program, the study says.

A whopping 60 percent of Millennials would switch brands and two-thirds would change where they buy in order to get more loyalty rewards. In addition, 67 percent contend they wouldn’t be loyal to a company without a good loyalty program.

Consumers overall are enrolled in an average of 10.4 loyalty programs, and are active in about seven of those. While loyalty programs are widespread, consumers are getting slightly more unwilling to share personal information with them. Some 32 percent say they worry about divulging personal information, compared to 29 percent last year.

What works to get customers to spill their data? Offering discounts based on prior purchasing behavior, inviting customers to special events, customizing offers for them and inviting them to online communities for loyalty program members are all effective ways to get users to share their personal data. In addition, users say that when a company’s loyalty program makes them feel valued and important, they’re more likely to share personal information with that business.

However, there are some important differences in what works for Millennials as opposed to other age groups. Millennials are more likely to want to interact with your business on a mobile device. They’re also more likely to care about non-monetary rewards, such as getting recognized by their peers or being able to share their experiences with others.

Craft your loyalty rewards program to appeal to your desired customer base, whether that’s seniors who want plain old punch cards or mobile-loving Millennials who want to track everything on their smartphones. Your efforts will pay off in greater loyalty and higher sales. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Could Seniors Be Your Secret Customer Service Weapon?

Stocksy_txpbe336fabXT6000_Small_6767There’s a reason Walmart hires senior citizens as greeters at its stores: Seniors who are seeking employment are generally “people persons” who like socializing and engaging with others. That’s one of the findings of a survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that asked hiring managers about hiring senior citizens.

If you’re looking to enhance your company’s customer service, hiring seniors could be a great idea. Here are a few of the reasons managers in the SHRM survey say seniors are valuable employees:

  • Seniors tend to be more patient than younger people when dealing with customers.
  • Because seniors have a lot of life experience, they’re often good at coming up with solutions to problems.
  • Hiring seniors who have past experience in your industry enables you to tap into their decades of knowledge.
  • Seniors often enjoy mentoring or passing their expertise on to younger employees.
  • If your business relies on referrals or word-of-mouth to gain new customers, you’ll be able to tap into seniors’ vast networks of contacts from years in the work force.
  • Seniors typically aren’t dealing with children at home, and they may be widowed or widowers, so they have more free time to dedicate to their jobs.
  • Most seniors have a strong work ethic and are highly reliable.

How can you make the most of seniors at your business?

  • Take advantage of their natural skills and past experience. A senior may not do as well in a fast-paced environment. You can still tap into the senior employee’s abilities by having younger workers “triage” customer service calls and pass them on to the senior employee to handle in detail. This way, customers feel they are being responded to quickly, but also feel cared for by the detail-oriented senior employees.
  • Train them on technology to get them up to speed. Although they didn’t grow up with technology, seniors who are in the work force are typically eager to learn. Most seniors use the Internet, email and social media in their personal lives, so you won’t be starting totally from scratch.
  • Treat them with respect. Give seniors an opportunity to share their insights and experiences with younger employees on your team. Their approach to solving customer problems will likely shed new light on common issues your customer service staff faces.

There are plenty of senior job boards, such as JobsOver50 or Senior Job Bank, where you can list openings to attract this age group; you can also contact local organizations for seniors in your community. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Hold an Online Focus Group

Stocksy_txp14c2a2052O6000_Small_64388 (1)Holding a focus group is a great way to learn what your target customers want from your business. Until recently, however, focus groups required physically getting representatives of your target market into a location; rewarding them with money, free gifts, food or some combination of all three; and organizing and recording the focus group session. This could be an expensive, stressful hassle for small business owners.

Now there’s a better way: You can simply go online to host a virtual “focus group” using survey tools and social media. While it may not be as in-depth as a real-world focus group, because you’ll be able to incorporate more people’s opinions, you will actually get a better feel for what your target customers think.

Here are some tips for making online focus groups work.

  1. Be specific. Online focus groups work best when they cast a wide net over a narrow subject, so it’s important to narrow down exactly what you want to find out. For example, if you sell women’s clothing online and you’re considering opening a physical store, you could ask whether customers would drive to a physical store, what local area would be preferred and what days and hours they would be likely to shop.
  2. Keep it simple. Customers get bored and tired if your online survey goes on too long. You can break your survey down and ask one or two quick questions a day right on social media. For example, use polling apps to set up a poll with radio button options on Facebook, or tweet out a question for users to answer. Even if you are conducting a longer survey, it’s best if you ensure it can be answered in just a few minutes.
  3. Provide room for expression. Radio buttons are an easy way to conduct online surveys, but make sure you leave a blank form at the end of the survey where users can add detailed comments or opinions. This can provide valuable insights into what customers want (or don’t want) from your business.
  4. Pay ‘em back. You may not need to order in pizza for customers of your virtual focus group, but you should reward them for their time if they take a survey longer than one or two questions. A good way to motivate users without going broke is to enter all survey respondents in a drawing to win a free product or other prize from your business. You could also offer a discount such as a code good for $5 off their next purchase.
  5. Use technology. Survey tools such as SurveyMonkey, Create Survey and QuestionPro let you create surveys in a variety of formats, then use analytics tools to dig into the results.
  6. Follow up. Ask survey respondents to share their contact information with you if they are comfortable having you follow up with more questions. This enables you to probe deeper into customers’ interests, wants and concerns, just as you would in a real-life focus group. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 3 Types of Loyalty Programs and How to Make Them Work

Does your small business use a loyalty program to keep customers engaged and spur them to buy? The Boston Consulting Group recently published a report on loyalty programs and what it takes to make them profitable and effective for businesses.

According to BCG, there are three main types of loyalty programs:

  1. Earn-and-Burn. The classic punch-card program (Buy 10, get one free) is an example of earn-and-burn, in which customers benefit from their purchases by earning rewards at specific thresholds. Other types of earn-and-burn loyalty programs include points programs (in which customers earn points they can redeem for free products) and discount programs (in which members get discounts).
  2. Recognition. In a recognition program, repeat customers get special perks or services only for them, based on the total amount they spend or the total number of points they accumulate. Airline rewards points are an example of a recognition program; customers who accumulate a certain number of points earn special perks and upgrades. 
  3. Customer Relationship Management. CRM programs are the most sophisticated type of loyalty program. They typically use loyalty software to capture purchase data, then use that data to develop targeted special offers for loyalty members. Examples include members-only promotions or targeted communications such as newsletters, emails or even website content.

According to BCG, each type of program has its pros and cons. The cost of an earn-and-burn program can eliminate any gains, while recognition programs by their nature limit the number of members, and CRM programs can have both of these flaws.

Ideally, you’ll want to find a loyalty program that enables you to prompt more spending from customers, increasing your margins rather than cutting into them. BCG uses the example of a company with a 35 percent gross profit margin. In this case, a customer who spends $100 annually generates $35 in profit. If the customer joins the loyalty program and increases spending by 10 percent, to $110 annually, the company makes an additional $3.50 in profit. However, the cost of the loyalty program ($3.30) eats up most of that; essentially, the business is breaking even. But if the customer spends 20 percent more, the company makes $7 in profit, or $3.70 minus the cost of the loyalty program. At this point, profit begins to grow rapidly.

According to the study, the most profitable loyalty programs invest more in the customers who spend the most. Typically they do so by using a tiered rewards system: As customers meet increasingly higher thresholds of spending, they qualify for bigger and better rewards.

Ideally, you’ll also want to use rewards that are inexpensive for your business to give, but have high value to the customer. For example, a hotel that has an expensive room sitting unused can score points by upgrading a loyalty customer to that room. It doesn’t cost the hotel anything, but it earns greater loyalty from the customer.

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