Archive for the ‘Tuesday Tip’ Category


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Motivate Holiday Workers

Woman wrapping Christmas giftsIs your small business hiring customer service, call center or retail sales employees to help you handle the upcoming holiday rush? Motivating workers who are with your company for only a short time can be challenging, especially during such a busy and stressful time of year. Here are some tips to keep your holiday employees happy—so your customers will be happy, too.

  • Make seasonal workers feel at home. No matter how busy you and your permanent employees are, it’s crucial to start temporary workers off right by making them feel like they belong in the business. Welcome them to the team and assign them a “buddy” or team leader who’ll be responsible for training them, getting them up to speed on company norms, and generally making sure they’re doing OK.
  • Provide clear directions. Start seasonal employees off slowly by teaching one task at a time and then adding on. Provide easy-to-follow checklists, “cheat” sheets and operations manuals new employees can turn to if they need memory aids to fall back on while learning their jobs.
  • Set goals. Setting measurable goals, such as how many calls customer service employees should handle per hour, lets temporary workers know how well they’re doing. Go beyond individual goals by holding contests such as departmental competitions or team challenges. This helps make stressful jobs fun, promotes bonding and motivates employees to continually improve.
  • Reward results. Giving regular rewards such as gift cards, comp time off or a 15-minute free neck massage to the seasonal employee of the day helps temporary employees feel appreciated. 
  • Be flexible. Seasonal employees are often students, parents or others who need flexible hours to fit their schedules. Be open to their needs for flexibility (within reason) and you’ll do better at retaining them.
  • Look ahead. Got a great seasonal worker? Keep the person’s contact information and stay in touch during the year. Offer perks or pay upgrades to lure the person back next year. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

As a veteran of more late nights than I can count, I’d give anything if there were just a few more hours in each day to get work done. But short of adding time to the clock, there are some ways small business owners can accomplish more in less time. Here are five ideas to try.

  1. Come in late or leave early. Many small business owners get more done working at home, where they aren’t juggling meetings, clients and pop-in employees all day. It’s perfectly legit to come in late or leave early to get some work done at home before or after normal work hours. Just make sure once you’re in the office, you focus on helping your team with what they need.
  2. Minimize email. Lessen your email burdens by sending fewer emails in the first place, and keeping those you do send super-short. Forward less-important emails to an assistant (real or virtual) to handle. (Even better, have the assistant sort through your emails in the first place and only send you the important ones.) Create shortcuts or templates with your most-common replies instead of typing the same thing dozens of times a day. When you see “reply all” email chains getting out of hand, nip it in the bud.
  3. Delegate. Many small business owners work long hours because they can’t let go. Employees welcome the chance to learn and take tasks off your plate—that’s what they’re there for. Start small with simple tasks and build up to the big things.
  4. Automate. Use technology to do what it does best: save you time. Store documents and data in the cloud to eliminate endless hunts for files. Synch your desktop, laptop and mobile devices so you always have access to the same information no matter where you are. Cut back on tedious tasks like scanning, faxing and sorting receipts by using smartphone apps to speed these chores.
  5. Take breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking frequent, short breaks makes the time you do spend working more productive so you can get more done in less time. A recent study said those who work intensely for 52 minutes and then take 17 minutes breaks are more productive than those trying to muscle through without taking breaks. Use that break time to walk around the office checking in on your staff. Don’t spend that brain-break on your computer—that won’t refresh your mind the same way physical movement and real-world interaction will. 

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Customer Service Lessons From the Health Insurance Industry

???????????????????????????????????????????????Do you ever have to call your health insurance plan to get information about benefits or contest a claim? If you’re like most of us, you put off these calls as long as possible because you know it’s going to be a nightmare. But surprisingly, there are some lessons—both positive and negative—you can learn from making a customer service call to your health insurer.

Recently, my company had to switch health plans and Karen, one of my business partners (she handles our HR issues) spent quite a bit of time on the phone with our insurance company. Here’s what she learned that can help your business:

  1. Make sure your business website provides the information customers need. Armed with names of several insurance plans, Karen thought it would be a simple matter to look up the details and compare them. Think again: “I couldn’t find information about any of the plans online,” she says. Today, many customers prefer to do their pre-purchase research online. Providing basic information, downloadable PDFs of complex information or comparison charts of different products and services are easy ways to give customers what they need. (Most automotive websites do a great job of this, by the way.)
  2. Provide several ways to contact you. With only one basic phone number on the website, Karen was transferred several times, spending 45 minutes on hold before she even got to the correct department. If your business has multiple phone numbers for different types of customers (such as residential and commercial accounts), be sure they’re all clearly posted and differentiated on your website.
  3. Always get, and give, contact information. As soon as your customer service reps start a phone conversation with a customer, always have them ask for the person’s phone number immediately in case the call gets cut off. The insurance company didn’t do this, and after Karen finally got connected to the right department, the call cut off and she had to start all over again. When transferring a customer, have customer service reps give the person the phone number and/or extension you’re transferring them to, in case the same thing happens.
  4. Go above and beyond. After all this frustration, you might think Karen was ready to give up on the idea of health insurance altogether. Not so, because she finally got through to a customer service rep who went above and beyond. After Karen explained she’d been transferred all over and begged not to be transferred again, the woman patiently walked her through the company’s website, waiting while she went through every step, and even helped her Google information that couldn’t be found on the website. Even though this wasn’t her department, the rep sympathized with my Karen’s frustrations, helped her as far as she could and then connected her with an insurance broker to answer all the remaining questions.

The end result? Despite spending two hours on the phone, Karen ended the call feeling good about the company—all because of that one customer service rep who helped her.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Who Are the Online Influencers, and How Can You Reach Them?

Stocksy_txp89ac3847maA000_Small_295975Is your business taking advantage of online influencers to build your reputation, build relationships and make sales? Online influencers—or people whose opinions are shared online and disproportionately influence others—come in several varieties, including:

  • Bloggers with lots of followers among your target market (check out Klout or Alltop to help you identify these),
  • Journalists who report about your industry (you’ll know these by reading industry publications, major newspapers and business publications), and
  • Decision-makers (and those connected with them) at companies you want to sell to (LinkedIn is a useful tool for identifying these).

To successfully reach and influence online influencers, follow these steps:

  • Know what your goals are. Do you want a key influencer to write about your company in a newspaper, review your product on her blog, or introduce you to someone who can help your business grow? By determining specific goals, you’ll be better able to identify which influencers will be most useful in achieving them.
  • Be active on the social channels your influencers frequent. That includes social media as well as the influencers’ own blog and/or website. Spend some time “lurking” to get a sense of what the person cares about and thinks before you reach out to him or her.
  • Start small. Retweeting or sharing an influencer’s post is a good start to getting yourself on their radar. Then move on to commenting on posts. Don’t just say “Great post!” but offer a brief, thoughtful insight—ideally, you want to engage the person in an online conversation or get a conversation going among other followers.
  • Acknowledge any interaction. If an online influencer responds to your comment, retweets something you tweeted or even just thanks you for a comment, be sure to respond!
  • Move it on up. Once you feel that the influencer is aware of you as an individual and you’ve built up some goodwill on social media, you can reach out via email. To avoid being perceived as spam or a “cold call,” refer to your social media relationship and any mutual connections you may have. You don’t want to seem like a stalker or salesperson, so if email doesn’t get a response after two or three tries, go back to social media.
  • Once you’ve made a connection, be straightforward. Politely ask for what you want from the person, be it an introduction, an article or a review: “I’d love it if you’d review our new product X. May I send you a sample?”
  • Maintain the relationship. Don’t go dark once you get what you want. Keep the relationship going by interacting with your influencer just as you would any friend or colleague. 

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


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 Tuesday Tip: How to Manage Your Team and Still Get Your Own Work Done

One of the biggest challenges for any small business owner—or, for that matter, for any small business owner’s key managers—is how to manage people while still getting their own day-to-day work done. If you, like me, feel it’s important to be responsive to your team and value an open-door policy, you can often find yourself pulled in two directions as you balance an urgent task with an employee who urgently needs to talk to you.

How can you manage a team, put out unexpected “fires” in your business and still get your own work done? Here are three tips.

  1. Practice a closed-door policy. Not all the time, but at least one or two hours a day, set aside time when everyone knows that you’re not to be interrupted. Typically, the early morning hours work best for this. If you find this policy too difficult to stick to in the office, consider working at home for the first hour or so of the day before you head in to work. Once you’ve got that precious time, don’t waste it on small stuff—use it for activities that require concentration and focus, such as long-range planning or proposal writing.
  2. Delegate. As small business owners, we often like to keep our fingers in every pie. If you’re lucky enough to have managers working for you, make sure that employees go to their managers with questions, concerns or problems first before escalating it up to you. This doesn’t mean you’re an untouchable god on a throne in your office—it just means you shouldn’t be the first person that people come running to when they have a problem.
  3. Empower employees to create their own solutions. Very early in my career, someone gave me this advice: Never go to your boss with a problem until you’ve come up with at least two possible solutions on your own. Asking your employees—at all levels—to follow this rule will not only save you a lot of time coming up with solutions, but will also give your employees valuable lessons in coping with issues that arise at work. They’ll be better workers for it—and you’ll probably find that they often come up with better solutions than you would!

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Motivate Your Part-Time Employees

If you’re like many small business owners, you have more part-time employees now than you did in the past. As employers seek flexibility in hiring and the ability to staff up or down as needed, part-time workers can often be the most cost-effective option.

But financial cost-effectiveness can come at a different cost. It’s often harder to manage and motivate part-time employees. They may not feel as connected to the company as full-timers with salaries and benefits, and for many of them, the job is short-term.

How can you motivate part-time workers despite these challenges? Try these tips.

  1. Show them where they fit in to the company’s structure and goals. It’s easy for part-timers to feel divorced from the “big picture,” especially if their work schedules vary from week to week. To create consistency, training for new part-timers should include an overview of the company’s organization chart, getting to know all the employees they’ll be working with, and how their job adds value to the company. By showing part-timers they’re not just random people who shows up on alternate afternoons, but instead are essential to your business’s success, they’ll feel more connected to your company.
  2. Know what they value. Different part-timers value different things, so it’s important to treat part-time employees as individuals. For instance, a mom working part-time may value consistent hours so she can spend after-school time with her kids; a senior working part-time may value social interaction with customers and co-workers; and a high school student working part-time may value flexible hours that give her time for school activities and a social life. Motivate each employee by ensuring they get what they value the most.
  3. Match them with mentors. Pairing part-timers with full-time mentors can ensure they’re kept in the loop about developments at the company that happen when they’re not there. It also gives them someone to ask questions of or express concerns to. In addition to helping with training and development, the mentor should also keep an eye on whether the part-timer seems happy and socially engaged as a member of the team.
  4. Plan for the long-term. Some part-timers are in it for a season, others want to work for you for the long haul. Show part-timers there are long-term opportunities at your business, and give them tasks that help them stretch and grow. For instance, if you hire a college student part-time during the summer, let him or her know if there are full-time job opportunities available after graduation.
  5. Use contests, rewards and incentives. Full-time employees have salaries and benefits to provide incentive, but you have to work a little harder with part-timers. Providing monetary rewards such as cash prizes for surpassing quotas or fun awards and recognition can make a big difference. For instance, has one of your part-timers excelled handing customer service calls? Then recognize his or her accomplishments at your weekly staff meeting, and perhaps offer a cash bonus or gift certificate. Get creative and think of rewards that match your corporate culture and your staff’s personalities.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Happens When Employees and Customers Clash?

???????????????????????????????????????????????Remember the classic scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Brad (actor Judge Reinhold), working at a fast-food joint, loses his temper at a rude customer, gets yelled at by his boss in front of the customer and gets fired? The customer may have been satisfied (temporarily), but the fast-food restaurant lost a good employee (check out this clip).

When an employee clashes with a customer, how should you handle it? If you don’t want to lose good employees or alienate good customers, the answer is “delicately.”

1. Separate the combatants. If an employee has blown his or her lid at a customer, your first step should be to remove the employee from the situation and deal with the customer yourself. Tell the customer you’re sorry for what happened and you will talk to the employee separately.

2. Get the customer’s side of the story. Take notes so you can remember clearly.

3. Make it right with the customer. Find out what the key issue is. For example, is the customer upset because he can’t get a refund? Or has the refund been given, but the customer feels the employee was rude during the process? Deal with the business issue first (i.e. the refund), then soothe the ruffled feelings.

4. Get the employee’s side of the story. Again, take notes. Go over what the customer said. Keep in mind both parties may not give you a full or correct account, but at least you’ll have a handle on what happened. If other employees were present, you may want to get their eyewitness accounts separately as well.

5. Assess the damage. Depending on what you learn, you’ll need to handle the situation in different ways. Did an employee with multiple behavioral issues admit to badmouthing a customer, with four eyewitnesses corroborating it? If so, you need to take disciplinary action. Was a stellar employee accused of something by an irate and seemingly irrational customer she and four eyewitnesses deny? If so, you may actually want to let that customer know you won’t tolerate their behavior.

6. Talk to the employee. Most situations fall somewhere between these extremes. In that case, talk to the employee to figure out how she could have handled the situation differently and better. The problem may lie in her responses, in which case you need to educate her about how she’s coming across and standards for interacting with customers. Or the problem may lie in your company’s systems—maybe you need clearer guidelines about returns or more empowerment for front-line workers to make their own decisions.

Ultimately, working through customer/employee clashes will let good employees know you support them, let good customers know you’re committed to providing standout service, and make your business better every day. 




 
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