Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Leadership for Customer Service is a Daily Sort of Thing

7-30 service team huddle smallAll over the world this morning, Ritz-Carlton employees (Ladies and Gentlemen, as they refer to themselves) are smiling and dressed to serve. But before they face a single guest, they make time for their 10-minute “lineup” meeting, a chance to align themselves for the task at hand by discussing one of their 16 central service principles, the core standards of the organization’s customer service culture. (Today the principle they are reinforcing is #8, which concerns every employee being able to grow and contribute in their job). Whether at the Ritz-Carlton Resort in Dove Mountain Arizona, at the “world’s highest hotel” in Hong Kong, at the Ritz’s suburban business hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia, this same scene is occurring.

(And, perhaps, it should also be occurring at your company. The daily lineup is an approach that can power the service culture and growth of a company in a variety of industries. In fact, it’s a practice that I use as a customer service consultant to create dramatic and–just as important–sustainable improvements in the customer service culture of the companies that I convince to implement it–across a wide variety of industries.)

The lineup is a daily, extremely brief, huddle that your employees hold in small groups throughout your company at the same time each day (or same times, if you have more than one shift). At the lineup, you discuss a single aspect of service–for example, one of your guiding service principles, as exemplified by an encounter with a particular customer.  It doesn’t, by the way, fall upon management or a trainer to lead the lineup. On the contrary: a different employee can lead the lineup each day, thereby learning and teaching at the same time

Since lineup is a practice that was pioneered at and has been most famously practiced by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company for three decades, I asked Diana Oreck, who helms Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center, what strikes her about the practice.

The daily lineup is the most important vehicle we have at Ritz-Carlton to keep the culture alive. Every single day, 365 days a year, three times a day (because there are three different shifts) we have our lineup and we cover the 16 principles [that are central to our service culture] in rotation.

If today we’re talking about Service Value No. 1, ‘I create Ritz-Carlton guests for life’ and you’re the GM in Tokyo and I am the GM in New York, we can’t go out of rotation. What’s fascinating is that within twelve hours, first our Asian colleagues, then the Europeans, and then the Americans will be hearing the same message.

One thing I want to stress is to always keep the lineup short.  It shouldn’t be longer than fifteen minutes because if it is, it’s a meeting and nobody needs another meeting in their day!

The lineup procedure gets inspiration from, yet is 180 degrees removed from, the old hospitality tradition of a check-in with staff where daily specials and other mundane updates are shared, fingernails are checked for cleanliness, and waiters have a last chance to borrow a pen and pad from a co-worker before going out to face their guests.

Here’s the thing: In today’s world the challenge of providing great service is not in such nuts and bolts, skills-and-details-related updates. (Put those on your wiki.) The challenge is that even if you start off strong with a great orientation, the daily grind will ensure that functional issues ultimately end up overwhelming company purpose. A daily standup meeting is a chance to keep your company focused on your overriding purpose and to ensure that all staff are aligned to fulfill it. It only takes a few minutes, and the difference it makes can be crucial.


Cloud Backup & Storage: Your Business at Your Fingertips

Imagine this scenario: It’s 8pm on Sunday night and you are presenting the results of a special project to your boss in a 9am meeting on Monday morning. You open up your computer after a relaxing weekend and realize you forgot to email yourself the presentation to review the material and make last minute adjustments. The file is on the desktop of your office computer, and you start to panic. If your business utilized a cloud backup and storage service, you would be able to log in to your account, download the file and get to work. The stress and anxiety you’re currently experiencing would be an emotion of the past.

Backing up and storing your files in the cloud allows you to access them from anywhere, on any device. The days of forgetting a file on your desktop will be a distant memory.

If you’ve thought about moving your files to a cloud-based storage service but haven’t committed yet, now is the time. Companies and employees now demand a more mobile and flexible work environment, and a cloud-based backup and storage service connects remote workers and allows employees to access their files from anywhere.

Not only will team projects be easier to manage, but you’ll increase team productivity and reduce time wasted sending each other files and working on old versions of presentations, projects, etc.

BENEFITS

  • Backup business data on a schedule, on-demand or automatically based on your preferences
  • Securely transfer data from one device to another or between team members
  • Share files across devices, teams, departments and locations
  • Real-time sync so any time you add a new file or save changes to data, it syncs across all of your devices
  • Give users access to read only, read and write, or full control based on their role within the team, department or company

Still not convinced? Test out Nextiva Drive for FREE and experience the benefits of our cloud backup and storage service firsthand! Visit www.nextivadrive.com to get started.  


Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.


Finding the Right Price Point for Your Product

7-22 Pricing Strategies smallOnce you start a business, how do you know how much to charge? If your product is priced too high, it won’t sell. If it’s priced too low, you’ll be swamped with orders, and have such a small profit margin, it wont even be worth the effort. Finding the balance is the trick.

What Goes Into Cost

Your price should:

  • Cover your costs
  • Highlight the value you provide your customers
  • Earn you a reasonable profit
  • Be competitive

There is no such thing as the perfect price. It’s all about developing a price that your customers are willing to pay, that also makes you a profit. Because remember profit is how we keep score in business. Pricing effects every aspect of business because price is used to create sales projections, establish a break-even point, and calculate profit. There are three ways to find the right price for your product:

1. Look at the competition.

Use your competitor’s price as a reference point. If your product is of a higher quality, and you can justify more benefits, then you can probably justify a higher price point. The goal must be to stay competitive. If your product is knock off, then your price point will be less.

2. Calculate the total cost of your product.
This should include your hard costs (labor, materials/inventory, packaging, shipping.) You should also include a percentage of your overhead expenses such as (legal, accounting, marketing, and administrative costs.) Once you have a all your costs then you need to determine your profit margin to calculate the final price. Depending on what you sell the profit margin could be anywhere from 30 percent to 300 percent.

3. It's all about the perception of value.

Perceived value is one of the most common factors business owners use to determine product pricing. Unfortunately, some small business owners we perceive their value to be much greater than their would-be customers, which is a great way to go out of business. The main factor that adds value to a product is the brand behind it. Lots of stores sell mixers, but if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer, you have a top of the line machine. Why is that? All mixers basically function the same.

It's all about the perception of value. The Kitchen Aid mixer has a higher perceived value.

Let me give you a quick MBA lesson:

Price = (Labor + Materials) x profit margin

What that profit margin is will depend on your industry and who you’re selling to. If you’re selling wholesale, you might double what your labor and materials cost. If you’re selling retail, it might be double what you’d charge wholesale.

Don’t Compete on Price

There’s often a pull to be the cheapest seller on the block. Resist the urge, otherwise you people will assume your products are lower quality. Someone will always be able to offer similar products cheaper than you, so this is a no-win situation.

Don’t be afraid to Charge a Premium!

People pay based on perceived value. If you are confident — and competent — and can point to great work you’ve done in the past, people absolutely will be willing to pay what you charge.

Down-the-Road Discounts

It’s easier to charge more and come down in price than to start out low and then charge more. If your prices seem to be too high for your marketplace, test out different promotions and see what price point resonates with your audience. Psychologically, you may see better results simply offering a discount occasionally than to reduce your prices across the board.

Test your Price Point

Pay attention to people’s response to your prices. If you don’t want to cut your profit margin down, consider adding more value to what they get, such as a free product, or discount on future purchases.


Mondays with Mike: 8 Ways To Alienate Your Employees

I recently ran into a friend of mine who works for a Fortune 500 company. He’s absolutely miserable, and while he’s been looking for another job, he’s been doing the absolute minimum he can to keep his boss off his back. He’s just marking time, and while he was running down the list of things he hates about his company, it occurred to me there’s something we can learn from my friend’s misery. Here are the things we need to be on our guard against, the ways in which we destroy employee loyalty.

  1. Demand 24/7 access. Your company is your baby, and it makes sense for you to work around the clock to nurture it.  You can’t expect your staff to make the same commitment, though.  We need downtime to rest and recharge, and pushing your staff to be available all the time will push them away.
  2. Require your employees to do work they hate.  We all have unique skill sets, and if you’re forcing your staff to work outside their areas of expertise, not only are you not getting the most from them, but you’re also damaging company morale.  Take the time to sort your staff into jobs they enjoy.
  3. Call your staff “human resources.”  I just sat in on a meeting in which a guy lamented the fact that his company was “low on human inventory.”  He’s a real gem, that guy, and he is probably clueless about why the company can’t recruit and retain great staff.  I see that it’s because he treats people like numbers.  If you value your staff, treat them like human beings.
  4. Require your staff to make the company part of their social life.  Not only do you need to allow your staff to keep their private lives private, but you also should avoid the potential for inappropriate Facebook posts about your company.  Don’t tell your staff you want to see them promoting your business on their personal social media.
  5. Blame the rules.  You’re the boss.  That means it’s up to you to make and adjust the rules as necessary.  If you’re hiding behind rules you’ve made to explain your decisions, you’re missing an opportunity to earn staff loyalty by demonstrating your flexibility and changing rules to benefit both your staff and your business.
  6. Ask for feedback and ignore it.  If you ask for input from your staff, you owe it to them to consider their suggestions.  You needn’t implement everything an employee suggests, but you need to make it clear you value your staff’s input.
  7. Use money as the sole motivator.  It is important to compensate your staff fairly, but there are a host of other benefits that can matter even more than money to your employees.  If you focus on finding ways to challenge and reward your staff that have nothing to do with a dollar, you’ll learn just how effective fulfillment is when it comes to retaining good employees.
  8. Put your company ahead of your staff.  If your employees feel like you care more about the bottom line than anything else, you’re liable to lose them at their first opportunity to jump ship.  Make an effort to support your staff, and you’ll have ‘em for life.

Many times we push our staff away completely by accident.  We think we’re doing the right thing for our business, but we end up making decisions that are penny wise and pound foolish.  Take a step back and make sure you’re avoiding the common traps and strengthening your staff’s ties to your company.


Your Customer’s at the Center of His/Her Own World (Make Sure They Feel at the Center of Yours)

7-17 center of the world smallThere’s a lot of power for you as a service provider in creating the impression for your customer that she’s at the absolute center of your world. This is, in a sense, an illusion, because you have (I hope) a life of your own and (I’m hoping again) more than one customer to support. But it is an extremely powerful business-building illusion if you can successfully pull it off.

Customers are, after all, already at the center of their own world, their own reality.  And what they want from you as a service provider is not for you to grab center stage from them, but to reassure them that they, in fact, hold center stage in your world as well. 

I know this makes customers sound childish, but I think that’s fine.  We’re here to serve customers, not to fix them.  In fact, one of my favorite ways of giving myself a reality check about the relationship of a business to its customers is to think about the day, years ago, that my wife and I took our daughter to her first half-day of nursery school. On that fine New England morning, the young, hippie-trippy teacher collected our daughter from us outside the classroom, where we were sitting together on a red park bench. When the teacher returned our daughter to us at noon, my wife and I were again sitting, in the early-autumn warmth, on that same red bench. It wasn’t until a week or three later, as the routine continued, that it became evident that our daughter thought her two parents were sitting on that red bench each day throughout the entire morning, awaiting her return. She didn’t think this in a vague or metaphorical sense. She didn’t kind of half-believe this. She really believed it.

The lesson here is this: For a customer, as with a little kid, they’re not going to be thinking about your other obligations, interests, activities. They’ll think, until you prove them wrong (which would be a mistake) that your world revolves around them, all of the time. And as a service provider you benefit from giving this impression rather than becoming resentful that the customer’s presumptuous enough to be thinking this way. It’s a credit to your business, actually, and to your level of service, if they believe that you’re truly all about them all the time.

(In our daughter’s case, what were we doing in the hours when we weren’t visible to her?  Oh, we ate. We did other work, including behind-the-scenes work necessary for her ultimate happiness as our “customer,” as well as work that had nothing to do with her; we even, if there was time, slipped off to the bathroom. But—and here’s what mattered in keeping up the illusion—we were there for her even before she came outside to look for us after school was over, and we were entirely there for her when she did.)

So, I’m going to suggest you throw out the clichéd image of wowing your customers by “rolling out the red carpet” and replace it in your thinking with “sitting on the red bench” as the ultimate in customer care. In other words, what’s most important isn’t to just put on an all-star show for your customers as much as it’s to manage to create and maintain the illusion that you are always there awaiting your customer, attending to her as if you had nothing else on your agenda that could possibly interfere.

Pull this off and you’re well on your way to guaranteeing yourself a customer for life. Because, really: If you make customers feel this way, why would they ever leave you for a competitor? Odds are good they wouldn’t, because they’re already getting the feeling that they’re looking for from you.


No Business is Too Small to Automate

As a small business owner, you have limited resources, so the real question is whether you can afford to not automate. You and your employees have to wear many hats and run in many directions to keep your business running every day. Without automation, you may have to skip important steps in the interest of time — not to mention the boredom of dealing with tons of needless minutiae.

Automation does not mean that you have to spend millions on fancy equipment. Here are five affordable ways that allow you to reserve your precious human resources for the type of work that they do best.

1. Automate the Customer Connection

Nothing replaces personal contact with your customers, but that contact can be enriched if you have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system to store business and personal information about your business contacts. After installing a CRM system, you can receive reminders that help predict when a customer will need to place new orders, identify cross-selling opportunities and even take a personal approach by knowing the names of spouses and children before you pick up the phone.

2. Handle Common Tasks on Schedule

If your company operates in a Microsoft Windows environment (which is a client of mine), you already have Task Scheduler within the Administrative Tools of your operating system. This tool lets you run any type of software task that you now run manually based on date or time, whenever a computer starts up or based on any trigger, such as running a program to automatically generate all paperwork when a customer initiates a product return. The Task Scheduler wizard makes it easy to schedule some tasks without a great degree of technical knowledge, but others may require assistance from someone who understands more about how Windows events work.

3. Answer Basic Customer Questions Automatically

It is impossible to over-stress the importance of remaining readily available to respond personally to customer questions or concerns. Still, customers’ time is valuable. When they can quickly get answers online without picking up the phone or even sending a text message, they may see this as the best experience of all. It is easy to add a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page to your website to provide the quick answers that many customers need. To keep it fresh and helpful, keep monitoring phone calls for the questions that you receive frequently and add them to your FAQ page on a regular basis.

4. Provide Customers with Additional Online Conveniences

Naturally, retail product vendors want to offer online shopping carts that customers can use day or night without the need for human contact. But service businesses and their customers can also benefit by offering another type of convenience when they need to periodically interact to get a job done. Online collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 provide many ways to establish an effective working partnership between your clients and your employees.

One of the key aspects of this tool is file sharing. You retain full control over who can see your files and what they can do with them. When a number of people edit the files, the software makes sure that no one overwrites prior changes, while also ensuring that all users see the most recent changes. Even users across the globe can keep projects moving forward within their own time zones without the need to wake anyone at 3:00 in the morning.

5. Handle Repetitive and Dangerous Tasks

Just the thought of introducing robotics into a small business factory setting is likely to cloud your vision with dollar signs. But, machines that cost as little as $20,000 (plus maintenance and other necessary costs) might avoid even higher labor costs. Why pay wages for people to count and package widgets when they can be trained to perform more important and interesting tasks? Even more important, robots can take on tasks that commonly injure employees. Your workers stay safe, they have fewer days off due to injury and you even benefit with lower workers’ compensation claims experience.

Caution: Automation Can Be Addictive

Once you start achieving efficiency through automation, you will probably keep looking for more and more ways to pare down your daily operations. You can even add a single-cup brewer to automate your waiting room while providing visitors with a choice of wait-time beverages. But there is no need to join an automation addiction support group because efficiency is good for business health.


Four Key Cloud Communications Trends

Cloud communications solutions are becoming increasingly popular among businesses, and implementing these technologies in your business will help you gain a competitive advantage.  

Below are four key trends you need to know about cloud communications that are changing the way businesses communicate, operate, grow, and succeed.

Decrease in Cost

With flat monthly fees, unlimited calling and enhanced features, switching to a cloud-based phone system will save your business significant operational costs while boosting your team's productivity. A recent article by the Huffington Post stated, “Hosted VoIP is rapidly being adopted by many businesses who seek to avoid the excess costs and complexities of an on premise phone service solution.”

In addition to phone service, there are a variety of cloud-based communication, collaboration and relationship management tools that will take your business to the next level.  As these technologies and features have moved to the cloud, they are now available at a fraction of the cost because expensive infrastructure, equipment and on-site IT staff to manage the systems are no longer necessary. The total cost of ownership of cloud-based tools is significantly less than traditional systems. With the decrease in price of these technologies and the increase in features, small and medium size businesses are able to grow at an unprecedented rate. 

Mobility is Key

The concept of mobility isn’t new, but its importance to business success is now undeniable. It is essential for business professionals to have the ability to conduct business from anywhere, and cloud communications and collaborations systems provide the flexibility they need. Just as today’s consumers want to be able to make a bank deposit while sitting on the beach, today’s workforce needs to be able to work while waiting for a flight, sitting in a coffee shop between meetings, or from home while being as productive as they are in the office.

Cloud communications allow remote team members to stay connected and manage their phone system, files and meetings from web-based interfaces that are accessible from anywhere. Businesses will increase team productivity significantly by investing in cloud-based technologies that promote mobility and a flexible work environment.

Cloud-Based File Backup and Storage

You can’t afford to lose important business files or not be able to access them when the need arises. Backing up and storing your files in the cloud makes it easy to access files from anywhere, share them with colleagues, and collaborate on projects with remote workers. Backing up your files to the cloud also ensures your business doesn’t miss a beat in the event of a natural disaster or internal network issue.

Companies of All Sizes are Adopting Unified Communications Solutions

Unified cloud communications benefits companies of all sizes and industries. There isn’t a business out there that wouldn’t like to increase team productivity and efficiency. Those two ingredients, along with hard work and dedication, are what create and grow successful businesses. The move to cloud-based systems allows large enterprises to retire their outdated and costly equipment, and allows small businesses to implement technologies that were previously unattainable.

Has your business thought about moving to the cloud?


How to Make Sure You Leave Work

Analogue Clock at 10 to 10As a small business owner, it is tough to “leave work” because work can take over life. The line between being at work and not there is extremely blurred in a 24/7 Internet world. Work is no longer really a physical place, but a state of mind. This is especially true for an increasingly number of small business owners that work out of their home.

Here is how to draw the line between your work and other important things in your life.

1. Set an alarm

If you’re the type who gets lost in their work and just forgets to look at the clock, use this solution. Simply set a “warning” alarm for when you want to leave work. You can set multiple alarms—one for “wrap it up” and one for “pack up”—each with different sounds.

In addition to setting an alarm on your phone or other device, there may be external cues around your office you can use as alarms as well. For example, when the cleaning crew shows up, you know it’s time to head out!

2. Have a family member call you

Similar, yet more personal than an alarm, is a call from a family member or friend when it’s time for you to head out. If one of your main motivations for leaving work is to spend time with your significant other, friends, or children, this method is effective.

Thinking about seeing someone you care about at the end of the day isn’t always enough to make you shut down the computer. Hearing your daughter’s voice, on the other hand, may be enough motivation for you to want to get home to see her. You’ll need to coordinate this step with your friends and family.

3. Schedule an activity

Sign up for something that will force you to leave the work at a regular time each day. These activities are also a great way to stay active. If you’ve been meaning to get into shape, sign up for a gym membership. If simply having the membership isn’t enough, plan to meet a friend there or sign up for specific group classes at a given start time.

Other options are to sign up your child for a soccer team and commit to being there for the practices. You can also make a commitment to volunteer at the local food pantry or take an art class.

4. Share your goal with others

One of the best ways to reach a goal is to publicly declare it. Tell your family that your target is to be done with work by dinnertime each night. Share on Facebook and Twitter that you signed up for cycling class and your goal is to attend three times a week after work.

You won’t want to disappoint your family or your followers, so you’ll work harder to achieve those goals than if you kept them to yourself. Ask if anyone wants to join and recruit them to help keep you accountable.

5. Start small

Some small business owners just have too much to do to be able to leave work when they want to. You’re not going to go from a 14 hour work day to an 8 hour work day overnight. It’s going to be a gradual process. It will require you to delegate tasks to employees or freelancers, empower them to solve problems, and learn to say no.

Ultimately, leaving work, both mentally and physically, comes down to you starting to make one small change and then building on it.

How are you going to make sure you leave work today?




 
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