Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Mondays with Mike: Win Customers With Your Authenticity

6-15 Be Authentic smallEven though I’m not an accountant, I understand just how important effective accounting and accountants are to running my business successfully.  A few years ago, I attended an accounting conference, and I’ll admit it:  I wasn’t very excited about it.  I hire accountants because that’s not where my natural talents lie.

But there I was, armed with a gallon of high-octane coffee, committed to sitting through what I predicted would be a boring presentation.  The featured speaker stepped up to the podium, and I nearly groaned out loud.  He was everything I was afraid he’d be:  boring suit and matching monotone voice, with a heaping helping of a snooze-worthy Powerpoint.  Making numbers interesting ain’t easy, and this guy didn’t even try.

I made it through the presentation without falling asleep and drooling on my neighbor, and I hightailed it out of the seminar, glad to be gone.  You can imagine my dismay when I attended a friend’s barbecue a few weeks later and literally bumped into the accountant speaker.  Since we were face-to-face (and because he recognized me,) I was stuck.  While I was thinking of excuses to escape, he surprised me, though.

He was actually funny.  He was relaxed, dressed casually, and he was really interesting.  It was like it had been his boring clone making the presentations, because this guy was nothing like he’d been the first time we’d met.  We were laughing about a joke he’d told when he said something that simply stunned me.  He said, “Man, I hate having to be all professional at work.  I wish I could make money just by being myself.”

I’m pretty sure I spaced out for a moment as I though about the weight of what he’d just said.  He had no idea that he was more compelling, more appealing, and even seemed more trustworthy when he was being himself.  By putting on a false front in an attempt to appear professional, the accountant was making himself fit a mold that not only wasn’t comfortable for him, but was also unappealing to his clients.

I left that barbecue with two important takeaways.  First of all, that guy is now my accountant – the very best I’ve ever had.  Secondly, I realized just how important it is to be brave enough to be our authentic selves.  In fact, it’s when we give ourselves permission to let our real personalities emerge that we’re most likely to find clients who really connect with us, our values, and our big-picture goals.

Now I’m not advising that folks stop showering or litter their sales pitches with dirty jokes, but what I am advising is that we stop trying to pretend to be someone we’re not.  Let your creativity peek out.  Give your quirky sense of humor a chance to brighten your sales presentations.  Will everyone get your off-the-wall jokes?  Probably not.  But the ones who do are more likely to end up as customers for life.

I’m reminded of the wise Dr. Seuss’ timeless advice:  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.”  Let your authentic self shine through, and you’ll find your best, most loyal customers.


Call Recording: Why Your Business Needs It to Improve the Customer Experience

6-11 Call Recording smallDoes your company interact with customers over the phone, either by selling your product/service or providing support? If you’re like many businesses, a significant portion of the customer experience is conducted over the phone. If you’re not already recording your calls for training and quality assurance purposes, it’s a good idea to implement call recording with your phone service.

Recording calls is valuable for training purposes, coaching team members on the best way to handle customer questions and concerns, and identifying areas of opportunity that can improve the customer experience. While we would all love for our customers and employees to be happy 100% of the time, the reality is people are human and make mistakes—both employees and customers. By recording your phone calls, you have a record of these interactions that you can reference. Think of these recordings like your business safety blanket.

In the past, utilizing a call recording service for your business phone service was expensive and complicated, but cloud phone systems, such as Nextiva, have changed the game. Cloud phone systems have simplified the process and dramatically reduced the price—a win-win situation for businesses. If you’re a current Nextiva customer interested in utilizing this feature, it can be easily added to all of our Nextiva Office plans for a small monthly fee.

Also, with a cloud phone system you have more control over when your calls are recorded. Below are the recording modes available to you:

  • Always: automatically record all your calls in their entirety
  • Always with Pause/Resume: To automatically record all your calls with the ability to pause and restart recording during the call
  • On Demand: Record selected calls
  • On Demand with User Initiated Start: This mode differs from all of the other modes in that the recording of the call is not started until you record the call. Once the call is being recorded, the pause/resume and stop functionality become available

Nextiva keeps all of your call recordings for six months in your dedicated call recording portal. If you’d like to save a message to ensure it is not purged, simply download the .wav file or store it in a cloud storage system such as Nextiva Drive.

An important thing to note, if you plan to take advantage of the benefits of call recording for your business, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you are adhere to the law and properly notifying your customers. Many states require that you notify a customer when a call is being recorded, with a friendly reminder such as, “To ensure Amazing Service, this call may be recorded,” so make sure to check the call recording laws in your area. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

If you’d like to learn more about Call Recording and our business cloud phone service, give us a call at (800) 799-0600 or visit nextiva.com, and we’d be happy to discuss the benefits to your business in more detail.


7 Things Small Businesses Do To Lose Online Customers

6-10 online shopping smallRunning a small business isn’t easy. Finding and keeping customers is even more difficult. If you don’t make it really simple to buy from you online, shoppers will go elsewhere for their next purchase. There are specific bad behaviors to avoid with the shopping experience on your website.

Here are seven things small businesses do to lose online customers.

1. You Have Confusing Information on Your Site.

As an entrepreneur, time is often your most precious commodity. If you don’t regularly review what’s on your website, you might be turning away potential customers with misinformation or simply old data.

If your newest blog post, for example, was written over a year ago, that’s a turnoff. If your products don’t have a sales page or enough detail to help shoppers make an informed decision about buying them, they won’t.

Remedy:

Periodically review all your web copy. Update it on an annual basis at minimum, and make sure it’s always accurate.

2.  No Contact Information.

Spam is a definite concern when posting your email address online, but there are alternatives that will make it easy for customers to reach you via email while keeping your inbox spam-free. Instead of burying your email address on a never-visited page, post a phone number and set up a contact form for customers to use to reach you.

Use FAQ page to help answer many of the questions people have before they hit submit on that contact form. Being helpful is always good customer service!

Remedy:

Ensure your contact information is clear and easy to locate. Offer multiple ways for customers to contact you (email, chat, phone, social media).

3.   You Don’t Answer Email in a Timely Manner.

Have you even sent an email trying to get help and no one every got back to you? Sure you have, but don't have that happening in your business. Don't set up an info@xxx.com email account no one checks. Time is money when people are shopping online.

It might have been acceptable for you to respond to a customer’s email within 24-48 hours several years ago, but now every minute counts in your response time. As in: the sooner, the better. Taking even a day could lose you serious business.

Remedy:

If your inbox is overflowing, consider hiring a customer service rep or social media virtual assistant to help field some of those emails.

4.  You Use Social Media Inconsistently.

Social media can be a game changer for small business owners…but only if you use it regularly. If you aren’t making an effort to update your profiles at least once a day, potential customers will not know you exist. A steady stream of fresh content, on the other hand, can pique people’s interest and lead them back to your website, which is your best opportunity to generate a sale. 

Remedy:

Focus on only one social media site to engage prospect customers. Update your social media account daily. Dedicate a few minutes each day to the effort.

5.   You Don’t Engage with Potential Customers with Email.

You need to make sure you have at least three ways to capture a potential customers email address when they come to your site, so even if they don't buy that day you can nurture the relationship. Use email to building your brand to attract future customers, share helpful information to a build a like, know and trust relationship with your prospects.

Remedy:

Use email marketing to engage potential customers by demonstrating your ability to anticipate their needs, and offer help.                                                                                            

6.  You Share Too Many Promotional Updates on Social.

One of the best ways to create a relationship with a potential customer is to provide assistanceOf course, you want to bolster your connection with your audience, but it is critical to provide value first especially in social media. Don't start selling relentlessly as soon as you start using social media, Instead, share informational tidbits in the guise of links, tweets and conversations to build community with potential customers. Make it about them and not about you.

Remedy:

Use the 4:1 ratio. For every four useful, informational updates, post one promotional one.


Three Ways that Viral Fads can Create Successful Businesses

Posted on by Carol Roth

6-8 instant success smallEvery entrepreneur dreams of “going viral”, but sometimes, that virality leads to a fad rather than a bona fide business. Fads can make big money, but if your business is based on a single trend, you need to make some important decisions upfront to make sure it’s a net money-maker, rather than a money-taker.

Take the Money and Run

Within six months of introducing the Pet Rock to the marketplace in 1975, Gary Dahl earned $15 million in profits. Not knowing if his silly idea would be a hit (and way before the Internet), Dahl kept his costs low. The product that he sold for nearly $4 cost less than a dollar. He had very low overhead, introducing the product at a gift show, and selling to major stores, with a little help from free publicity obtained from a Newsweek article and two appearances on The Tonight Show.

Clearly, Dahl never intended to start a long-term business, but his one product made him an instant millionaire.

If you have an idea for a one-hit wonder — and you don’t have to expend a great deal of time and money to get it to market — go for it. As long as you don’t spend your profits on too much overhead (expensive rents or inventory, for example), you might gain enough money that you never have to work again.

Add Value

Many workout programs have come and gone (remember Suzanne Sommers and the ThighMaster?) Well, direct response retailer Beachbody has managed to take some hot properties that could have died like so many before and has given them long lives by adding value. 

Programs like P90X have been supplemented by a number of items, including program line extensions and nutritional supplements to keep the customer engaged with the products (and consumable ones that require continual purchases).  These offerings add value to the original product — and keep their programs popular today.

To remain relevant over the long term, your product needs to morph over time. If it’s a toy or other object, make it bigger or smaller, or introduce must-have accessories.  If it’s a fitness program, think about follow-up videos, nutrition and personalized coaching. And, considering that consumers get bored, do not assume a consumable product is safe. Add more flavors or accompaniments, or create a low-fat or low-calorie variety. Even cream cheese now comes in an abundance of fat levels and flavors.

Expand Your Focus

On July 8th, 2014, Crumbs Bake Shop, which focused solely (and for a time, successfully) on the cupcake trend, announced its apparent demise when they closed their doors. Six days later, they filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 bankruptcy and about a month later, they announced the planned reopening of two dozen stores, under new ownership.

The new owners plan to expand the business beyond its popular cupcakes to a variety of sweets and snacks, instead of relying on a one-item fad like a cupcake.

If you have a one-product business, keep in mind that fads lose popularity over time. Set your focus over the long-term and find ways to expand your product line to keep it fresh and interesting to customers.

A similar strategy is being used by I Want to Draw a Cat for You, which reportedly earned $200,000 in its first year, by, you guessed it- drawing cats for customers. Knowing that this Internet-led sensation would not likely be sustainable in its current form, the company expanded by adding physical products (pins, greeting cards and tee shirts) to its initial offering of customized cat-drawing services.

So, either take the money and run or evolve your core, and you may be able to make your fad worthwhile.


How to Lower Your Work Stress in Five Minutes or Less

Feeling anxious or stressed? Many times I feel both.

This is very common among small business owners. Roger Cohen in the New York Times says “there’s a lot of status anxiety going about these days. People live suspended between the anxiety of being deluged in communication and the agony of receiving none. They have always wanted to be liked, but now they must also be “liked”…They are either on top of things, a momentary illusion, or overwhelmed, a permanent state intermittently denied. They look around wondering how it is possible to keep up. They have access to everything and certainty about nothing. They zigzag between indulgence and denial, frenetic states and cleansing cures, their busy selves and their better selves…They amass to-do lists that cannot get done.”

Diet, exercise and sleep are three of the best ways to battle this permanent state of stress. But what about right now during a very hectic day? Here are seven strategies to lower your stress in five minutes or less.

1. Create “happy” passwords

Pick passwords that make you smile or feel inspired each time you type them. Try including a name of someone you love, a few words from your favorite quote, or a word that sparks a favorite memory. For example, Be@chH0u$e could represent fond family memories at the beach.

2. Let go of those thoughts

Write down on paper the thoughts that keep repeating in your head. Start writing a list, a rant, or whatever is most troubling. You will be surprised how much less stressful things appear on paper than they do in your head.

3. Practice controlled breathing

Sit in your chair with your back straight. Breathe in for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of eight. Repeat for five minutes. This technique, “4-7-8 breathing, is a version of meditation that will help you get centered.

4. Play brain games

Brain games are easy mental activities that help channel thinking away from stressful thoughts. Brain games include counting backwards by three starting at 100, reciting the lyrics of an entire song without the music or creating a sentence where every word must begin with the same letter.

5. Grab some food

6-5 stressed and anxious smallFoods affect our emotional and mental well-being. Foods high in omega-3s, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, A, K can help beat stress. They include eggs, dark, leafy greens like kale, pumpkin seeds, salmon or canned tuna, flaxseed, and dark chocolate. If you’re not hungry, grab a green apple to alleviate a headache!

6. Give yourself an ear massage

An ear massage releases calming endorphins in the brain. Start by using your thumbs to massage the ears from lobes to temples, then follow these four steps to ease the tension of a stressful moment.

7. Smile!

Even when you don’t feel like it, smile. It’s difficult to have stressful thoughts when you are smiling. A facial smile will make you search for happier thoughts. Sit at your desk with your eyes closed and smile for two to three minutes, or walk around and smile at others. You can’t help but feel better.

Which strategy will you use to lower your stress at work? 


Never Listen to a Voicemail Again with Voicemail-to-Text

Businessman With a Mobile Phone on the StreetHow diligent are you about checking your voicemails? Does the flashing light on your desk phone cause you anxiety? Wouldn’t it be nice to read through your voicemails rather than listening to the entire message, only to realize you missed a few digits of the caller’s number?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, keep reading.

Cloud phone systems have allowed you to forward your voicemails to your email as an audio file for a while, and although this makes checking your voicemails more convenient, it doesn’t solve the issue of having to listen to a message multiple times to gather all of the important information. Luckily, your voicemail prayers have been answered.

With Nextiva’s Voicemail-to-Text feature you can not only have your voicemails emailed to you, but now you can have them transcribed as well. Prefer to get your voicemails as a text message? Just select that setting.

Voicemail transcription will save you valuable time, while increasing your productivity and efficiency—the combo every busy business owner and professionals strives for. Gone are the days of listening to a voicemail five times to get the full call back number. Now you’ll have all of the information transcribed for you in a text format for easy referencing.

Voicemail-to-Text highlights:

  • SAVE TIME
  • Speech recognition transcribes voicemails to text
  • Easily reference information from voicemails for future use
  • Receive voicemails via email or SMS

Interested? The Voicemail-to-Text feature can be added to any Nextiva Office plan for an additional fee per line. Give us a call at (800) 799-0600 or visit nextiva.com for more information.  


Lifetime Network Value: Even More Important Than Lifetime Customer Value

Roundabout traffic signTaking the time to calculate the lifetime value of a single customer can be a powerful motivator to treat your customers right: Once a company realizes how enormous the value of a single customer can be over her lifetime, it provides a great encouragement to stop nickel and diming your customers, to stop arguing over responsibility for a FedEx upgrade, and so forth.

But there has been understandable concern among businesses about brand fickleness in today’s–and tomorrow’s– generations of customers.  The ability of customers to switch providers at the click of a mouse, as well as the surfeit of acceptable providers in many consumer and B2B categories, is troubling and has created a competitive landscape in which our existing lifetime customer value calculations may no longer valid.

However, this required recalculation isn’t exactly bad news. The occasional straying of customers today due to the ease of switching masks a more important positive change in today’s landscape: the extent to which social media and Internet reviews have amplified the reach of every customer’s word-of-mouth.

Never before have customers enjoyed such powerful platforms to share and broadcast their opinions of products and services. This is true today of every generation—millennials, Gen X’ers, Boomers, and even some Silent Generation customers share on Facebook and post reviews on TripAdvisor and Amazon. (Millennials, thanks to their lifetime of technology use and their growing buying power, are likely to make especially active spokes-customers. Boston Consulting Group, with grand understatement, says that “the vast majority” of millennials report socially sharing and promoting their brand preferences.)

Customers today are talking about your business when they’re considering making a purchase, awaiting assistance, trying something on, paying for it and when they get home. If, for example, you own a restaurant, the value of a single guest today goes further than the amount of the check.

The added value comes from a process that the great Patrick O’Connell, chef and proprietor of the double five-diamond Inn At Little Washington, calls competitive dining: “comparing and rating dishes, photographing everything they eat, and tweeting and emailing the details of all their dining adventures.”

By doing so, they’ve greatly increased what I call their Lifetime Customer Network Value. And this makes them at least as valued as any customers in the past–even if they have wandering eyes and wallets to an extent not expected of previous generations of customers.

*****

It’s easy to underestimate the commercial power that today’s customers have, particularly when the network value of the youngest of these customers doesn’t immediately translate into sales. Be careful not to sell their potential short and let that assumption drive you headlong into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Remember that younger customers are experimenting right now as they begin to form preferences they may keep for a lifetime. A little love lavished on these customers now will likely be repaid in spades in the future.


5 Tips for Picking the Right Business Partner

Having the perfect business partner can help you take your business to another level even faster than you could take it on your own. Not only will you have someone to bounce ideas off of, but you can also have someone whose skill sets complement your own, making you a well-rounded team. But just like any relationship, you need to date first and test the relationship, so that you don't make an expensive mistake. Breaking up a business partnership is a major distraction, so you must choose well.

Here’s how to make sure the person you pick is right for your business.

1. Pick Your Partner Carefully.

Just like you wouldn’t marry someone you barely know, it’s important that you get to know the person you want to run a business with. In other words: date before you get married in business.

How can you do that? Work on a few projects together before joining forces in business. See how you work together. Do you flow well, or do you butt heads? Do you enjoy working together?

It’s also a good idea to do a background check to know who you're getting in business with. 

2. Get an Entrepreneur's Prenup.

Even if you trust your new partner implicitly, it’s still a good idea to hire a lawyer to develop a formal partnership agreement. Make sure it addresses how money will be managed and when net profits will be shared, as well as how hiring decisions will be made, and spells out each of your roles and responsibilities. Make sure to clarify terms on exits, buyouts, death, and divorce.

Money can ruin a good partnership. Have clear policies drawn up on how money is handled, including vendor payments, reimbursements, cash withdrawals, etc. Having this document can help you if things go south and you need legal proof of your original agreement. If you agree to change the partnership agreement, legally document the change. 

3. Keep it Business.

Unless you’re married to your business partner, your relationship will do better if you focus on business and keep your ego in check. Never make decisions based on emotions, and do take your partner’s opinion into consideration. Schedule meetings to rtegularly review your financial statements together. Be open with information and clear with communication.

4. Don't Be a Credit Hog.

There is no "I" in team. Successful partnerships can be ruined when one partner wants to take credit for everything. If your partner has come up with a great idea, pat him or her on the back and make sure credit is given where it’s due. It takes teamwork to make the dream work.  If one of you dominates the relationship, the business partnership won’t last long.

5. Value a Good Partnership.

If you have a good partner and the business is successful, celebrate this. That way both will thrive. Always make sure to make decisions in the best interest of the business and not your personal self interest. Just like in any relationship it will take time and effort on your part to develop trust and keep balance in the partnership.  

Understand the value of that partnership and make concessions for the good of the partnership. Remember: this isn’t just your business anymore. You share it with someone else, and everything you do should take that into consideration.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Are Machines the Future of Customer Service?

6-2 call center smallIn the future, will machines be handling all aspects of customer service? As social media, live chat and texting become part of the fabric of customer service, IBM has begun taking customer service even further into the digital age. The Wall Street Journal reports the tech giant is currently testing new software that uses “emotional analysis” to recognize human emotions when customers type into chat windows, or send emails or tweets.

The software analyzes a variety of data, including how fast someone is typing, what words or emoticons they use, how many times they have contacted the company and whether they use exclamation points or other punctuation, to tell if the person is upset or angry. If so, the computer either modifies its own language or switches the contact to a live customer service rep to handle the customer. In the near future, the Journal reports, IBM will develop a version of the software to handle voice calls.

Will the future of customer service be a software program? Many large companies already use chat or “answer” tools that look like a live person is at the other end, but are really just software. (In my experience, they typically deliver a less than satisfactory customer experience.) Of course, for smaller companies, this type of technology is likely quite a way in the future. Still, it’s a good reminder of the challenges you face from bigger competitors, as well as the ways you can use technology to improve your own customer service. For example, you can…

  • Incorporate CRM into your customer service system so customer service reps can access information about each customer to provide better service.
  • Use a customer service tool that enables you to match the customer’s need or level of urgency with an appropriate customer service rep. For instance, angry customers can be escalated to a specific agent with skill in handling their types of issues.
  • Take advantage of greetings, music and recorded announcements to provide information and assurance to callers as they wait on hold.
  • Choose systems that provide as much detail as possible to customer service reps when they receive a call, such as what queue the caller is coming from and what information they have provided.
  • Look for the option to monitor customer service reps’ busy status and route calls in a variety of ways to get every customer handled as quickly as possible.

Yes, machines are becoming more important to customer service. But as the concept of escalating calls to a live person shows, there’s still no replacement for the sensitivity a real person can provide. By incorporating technology with well-trained customer service reps, you’ll be able to offer the best of both worlds. 




 
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