Posts Tagged ‘business tips’

The Top 5 Ways to Keep Remote Employees Connected & Engaged

10-19 remote workers smallIf you want to bring remote workers together and make them feel connected to your company, it is essential that you take advantage of the communications tools available today. Technology has changed the way the world works, and this is especially true for remote workers.

While all of our operations is located at our headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, we do have a growing number of sales representatives and software developers that work remotely. These individuals are essential to our company’s success, and we want them to feel just as connected to the company as our team members who work at our headquarters.

We have found that the five tools below significantly improve communication with remote team members, keep them informed of office activities, and keep them connected to their coworkers.

Regular team calls

This may seem like a no-brainer, but scheduling a call that works for everyone’s schedule is no small feat. However, constant and consistent communication is extremely important to moving projects along and discussing initiatives and goals. Try to touch base with your entire team at least once a week. If blocking off an hour may not be feasible, try for shorter, more frequent check-ins. This will hold team members accountable, will keep everyone up-to-date on what each team member is working on, and can help identify team members or projects that may need extra support.

Cloud Phone System

Moving communications systems to the cloud is a essential to keep employees connected, such as moving to a cloud phone system. You can route calls to these employees from your main office, take advantage of extension dialing, and utilize a mobile app to stay connected on the go.

Additionally, the mobile apps for these systems, such as the Nextiva App, come with additional features including IM and presence for easy communication from anywhere.

An Instant Message System

Remember the days of AIM? Instant message systems have matured from a social chat tool for teens and are now essential communications tools many of us, myself included, couldn’t imagine getting through a workday without. As the name indicates, an instant message system allows you to send messages to your coworkers in different locations and receive an immediate response. This tool is great for quick questions were sending an email is unnecessary, and the best part is it won’t clog your inbox! At Nextiva we rely on Jabber or the Nextiva App, but there are a variety of tools out there your business can use, and many are free.  

A Company-focused Blog

Our Culture team began an internal blog at Nextiva about a year ago and it has been a great platform to keep everyone connected. Everyone’s inboxes are overflowing these days and it’s easy to miss internal emails about office activities. Creating a central place to house all of your company communication will help keep everyone informed of office activities, product updates, HR resources, without having to check multiple places for the information. Also, blogs, especially ones powered by WordPress, are easy to customize and update to suite your unique needs and culture.

Employee Engagement Activities that are not Location-Based

Focus on creating employee engagement activities that all team members can participate in, regardless of their physical location. Voting activities or a weekly internal news show that highlights everything going on in the company that week is a great way to share information and make employees feel connected. Highlighting remote employees via “department discoveries” or internal interviews will help employees in different locations to get to know each other.

These five tools can be implemented in every business, and will help improve the satisfaction of your remote workers. Are there any tools you rely on to improve communication with remote team members and make them feel more connected to your company?

The Top 3 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture

Attracting top talent to your business is now more competitive than ever. Gone are the days of focusing only on compensation as your company’s main differentiating factor. Today’s workforce wants more than just a nice paycheck, especially when it comes to Millennials. Now people want to work for a company that shows appreciation for its employees in more ways then just money, provides advancement opportunities, has an inviting and fun work environment, and who’s mission and culture aligns with their values.

At Nextiva, we’ve found there are three ways you can improve your company culture to increase the overall happiness of your employees. And as any business owner or team leader knows, if you’re employees are happy, they’re more efficient, productive, and innovative.

1. Open communication between employees and management

To have truly open communication, your team must feel like their thoughts, opinions, and concerns are heard. This starts with creating a company culture that is void of egos and focused on two-way communication—talking and listening. Also, trust is a large part of the equation that takes time to establish, but if you stay consistent, it can be done. Trust is built from listening, following through on the things you said you would take action on, and creating an environment where employees feel supported. Fostering a culture that values everyone’s unique ideas can lead to amazing business advancement and growth. You never know who may have a great idea to improve a process, product or service, so stay open minded and listen to your employees.

OCEO Appreciation Day

2. Show your appreciation

This cannot be reiterated enough. Positive reinforcement will do wonders for individual and company-wide moral. If you show your employees appreciation on an individual and group basis, they’ll be more productive, happier and more likely to grow their career with your company.

Showing appreciation and recognition makes people feel valued, and they’re more willing to go the extra mile for you and your business. You don’t need to offer extravagant prizes to show appreciation. We’ve found that things such as a coveted parking spot, an extra vacation day, free lunch, etc. all make a big impact.

Additionally, we focus on initiatives and events that highlight individuals, teams, and departments. For example, our dedicated Culture team plans appreciation days throughout the year for each department, and once a year we highlight five individuals at our company event that made a positive impact on our culture and company. These awards are a huge honor and voted on by the management team. Also, team members are encouraged to give shout-outs to employees who go above and beyond for others in the company on an ongoing basis.

10-8 Nextiva Company Culture

3. Create career paths and advancement opportunities

No matter the size of your business, you can create career paths and advancement opportunities for your team. If you don’t give your team something to strive for, whether it is a raise, promotion, continuing education opportunities, or other means of advancing their career and improving skill-set, they’re going to look for a company that does offer these benefits.

Just as an athletic team works hard so they can win a game, your employees are also working hard towards their own individual goals. This aspect of your company culture is a direct result of creating an environment that promotes open communication and shows appreciation for its employees. Check in with your employees on an ongoing basis and ask what they’re interested in and the direction they’d like their career to go in your organization. From there, work on creating a development plan and projects that will help them acquire the skills and experience they need to get to the next level. This will not only benefit them, but the company overall.

Top Salesperson

Building a good company culture doesn’t happen overnight….

Building a strong company culture takes a lot of time, effort and consistency from all levels of the organization. Also, focus on fostering an environment that is in line with your companies mission and values. What works for one company may be not be feasible for another, but the three areas listed above—open communication, appreciation, and advancement opportunities—are universal to all organizations. How you execute this is up to you, but we guarantee it will improve the work environment, increase your team’s productivity, and ultimately help your business grow.

Developing a Style of Customer Service that Suits Today’s Customer Sensibilities

When it comes to communication, customers today and younger customers in particular are “disillusioned by anything canned and artificial,” as business and marketing expert Andrew Jensen puts it. A stilted, overly formal service style, even from the most caring providers, puts a ceiling on how intimate and inviting the interactions can be between employees and customers.

Which means that developing an authentic customer service style is a requirement for success with customers in the new economy. Customers in today’s marketplace (including the enormous millennial generation, their Boomer parents and the GenX’ers in the middle) favor a straightforward, down to earth, even slangy style of communication from most types of business with which they interact.

Your brand will appear out of touch or even condescending if you retain an excessively formal style. For example, traditionally prescribed hospitality language has included the use of phrases like “my pleasure” and “certainly, Sir,” which work up to a point but sound wooden when overused or used inappropriately. “It was really my pleasure to visit with you during your stay, Mr. Jamison” is fine, but never: “It will be my pleasure to clean your toilet.”

A good way to enforce reasonable language standards, without hobbling the verbal footwork of your employees, is what I’ve named the Danny Meyer Method, after the great New York restaurateur. With the Meyer Method, although you ask your employees to nix certain phrases (“it’s our policy,” “to be honest with you,” “uh-huh,” “you guys,” or this pet peeve of Danny’s: “Are we still working on the lamb?”), you don’t prescribe specific replacements, leaving that up to the creativity and individuality of your staff.

This approach has the additional benefit of keeping your employees comfortable in their own skins, using their own shorthand as needed with customers. You’re providing employees with boundaries in their interactions but empowering them by letting them use their own style within those parameters.

Now, with the authentic style of service I am suggesting, I don’t want to accidentally encourage you to be too familiar.  Instead, I suggest the approach that service designer Tim Miller has articulated: “What I look for from my staff in terms of authenticity is approximately a ‘first date’ level.  Best-foot-forward level.”  This is a style that’s going to work for your customers very well. 

How to Pursue Funding for Your Company

10-7 Funding your biz smallIf you have a great idea for a business and your second thought is to look for financing, I want you to hold your horses for a moment and ask yourself, Why? You need to get three different answers before moving forward. If you think that funding is the best option rather than bootstrapping it with your personal resources, be careful! Outside funding brings its own crop of distractions. Here are 7 things you need to know before pursing financing for your small business.

1. You Won't Write the Deal

If this is your first business, then you don’t have a financial track record, which puts you in a beggar's position. The investor you seek funding from has the power and may deploy an agreement that puts you at a disadvantage, either by valuing your company less than you think it should be valued at, or by charging you a higher cost of capital.

2. You'll Be Chasing the Funding Instead of the Customer

At this stage of building a business, there are few things as important as your customer. Once you divert your interest from your clientele to pursue funding, you will distract yourself from the building your business. Building a customer base requires focus and dedication; getting funding requires the same. Since you have limited time, it will be a real challenge. Customers are the linchpin of your success. Ignore them at your own risk.

3. You Could Undervalue Your Company

When you seek money from outside sources, you have to place a specific monetary value on your company based on its assets and intellectual property. It is easy to make a substantial mistake that you’ll only be able to determine after the fact. It is difficult to calculate the value of an emerging company, and this may make getting funding a challenge.

4. You Might Partner With the Wrong People

Partnerships are like other relationships. When you partner with an investor in haste, you put your business at risk. The offer to fund your enterprise rarely comes without strings, so make sure you understand your financier better than you understand your spouse. If that sounds like a tall order, then you may not be ready to take the leap with complete confidence. There is a lot at stake, so use caution.

5. You'll Learn More Without Funding

Bootstrapping is a valuable exercise. A true entrepreneur builds a business to learn something: about the market, about the customer, about the product and himself. When you build your business without a cushion, you get to learn expensive lessons. They are often the most valuable. Running a business will build your instincts and help you hone your talent.

6. Funding Often Masks Underlying Problems

An excess of cash can hide critical deficiencies in a business model. An infusion of capital won’t fix all your problems. If your staff isn’t properly trained and you’re getting customer service complaints, money won’t remedy that; effort will. It’s sometimes easier to see these issues and fix them if you don’t have too much money between you and the problems.

7. You Could Lose Control of Your Company

Once you’ve put your most devoted efforts into building your company, and secured outside funding you’ll have to appoint a Board of Directors, but most likely your funded will have financial and board control. Investors like to work with executives they know. You, as a fresh entrepreneur, represent an unknown territory. Backers don’t know how you’ll react to success or difficulty and may want to remove you as the CEO.

If you see your business opportunity as a way to cash in quick, you may not have the stamina to bring your business venture to success. Investors rarely invest in an idea and they don’t invest quickly.  It could take 18-24 months to secure a deal.. The reality is that funding brings as many problems as it appears to solve. While there are other options for funding, explore them carefully and avoid making commitments under duress.

Get Your Ecommerce Customer Service Holiday-Ready

10-13 Holiday e-commerce smallThe holiday shopping season is coming up quickly. If you have an e-commerce business, this time of year probably accounts for a huge proportion of your profits—so now is the time to make sure your website is prepared to deliver standout customer service for the holidays.

  • Start by reviewing your e-commerce website from the point of view of someone who isn’t familiar with it. You may want to enlist friends or family members to take some time shopping the site and see what they think. What do they have questions about? What do they need help with? Is there anything that's confusing? Take the time to fix any problems so that your site is easy to use and intuitive even for new visitors.
  • Make sure customers can find what they want—including customer service assistance—by including your company's phone number prominently at the top of every page (not just the homepage). In case customers are shopping from their mobile devices, ensure that your number displays on mobile as a click-to-call button so they can contact you with one tap.
  • Online chat is a useful option for an e-commerce site, allowing instant contact with your customer service for customers who may not want to talk on the phone (perhaps they’re shopping while at work or otherwise multitasking). You can have the chat window pop up right away, or if you think customers will find that annoying, wait until a certain amount of time elapses or other signs appear indicating customers need help.
  • One of the best ways to ensure customers are satisfied with your service is to be proactive. Before the holidays hit, make sure your FAQ pages are updated with current answers to questions. Provide as much information as possible about common problems customers might encounter, or questions they may have. The more “self-service” activities customers can do by themselves, the better. This extends to providing detailed information about shipping costs, taxes and shipping times. Especially at the holidays, time is of the essence, and knowing when to expect delivery may make the difference in a customer’s purchasing from you or not.
  • Last but not least, make sure you have adequate customer service staff on hand to handle your expected volume of calls, chats and other contacts. Don't give your competitors the chance to grab your business by failing to answer customers’ questions in a timely fashion.

Manage it right, and you'll find the customer service is the gift that keeps on giving, delivering loyal customers not only at the holidays, but long after.

Secret Handshake? Why Rituals Are Critical to Your Business Culture

10-5 company rituals smallDoes your company have a secret handshake? Probably not, but you may want to think about creating one. Look at any sports team and see the special things they do before, during and after a game. They prepare and celebrate in a way that is unique to them.

I saw one of the best examples of this while I was traveling to New Zealand and witnessed the national rugby team, The All Blacks playing a match. Their ritual of doing the legendary Haka, a native Maori dance before each game is legendary.  Paolo Guenzi, an Associate Professor of Marketing, Bocconi University in Milan, Italy states in Harvard Business Review that “It expresses the team’s pride in their heritage and teammates. Neuroscientific research shows that rituals like the Haka trigger feelings of connectivity, timelessness, and meaning, which stimulate mental flow states. These, in turn, reduce anxiety and increase energy and focus.”

This has also been tested by Francesca Gino, associate professor of business administration, at Harvard Business School. He conducted a series of studies and got people to do tasks that caused anxiety. Half the subjects had to perform the stress-inducing task without performing any ritual, while the other half were taught a ritual to carry out before the task. According to Professor Gino, the ritual in itself can be nonsensical. For example, Gino had one ritual in where the participants were asked to draw a picture of how they were feeling, sprinkle salt on the picture and then tear it into five pieces. He reveals that “we saw lower physical arousal and there were real differences in performance, [among those performing the ritual]…Ritual puts you in a mindset of ‘I am going to do this’.”

Rituals in a company are such an important part of any culture. It makes all employees feel like they are part of an exclusive club. Like in sports, it creates a share social identity which drives the team to deliver a better and happier performance.

A company that I worked at had a ritual of giving annually a Mercedes luxury car to the top sales manager. The following year, if another manager won the car, the previous winner had to drive the car to the new winner’s location wherever they were in the country. This ritual gave an incentive not to lose the prize each year since the managers were spread around the U.S. Similarly, top sales performers at Mary Kay Cosmetics are awarded driving privileges of pink Cadillac’s.  Some companies ring a gong when a new sale is made. 

At Gentle Giant, a Somerville, Mass.-based moving company, they host "The Stadium Run" up and down the stairs at Harvard to highlight its culture of hard work. For this team, it has become a rite of passage ritual for new movers.

Here are rituals every small business owner should add to their company:

  1. Awards ceremonies. A lot of companies give out prizes for outstanding performances. But, the successful organizations go one step further and give awards for things that are a bit more quirky with some elaborate pomp and circumstance. For example, the "Passing of the Pillars" is an important ritual at Boston Scientific's facility. When an employee has a tough project, they are "awarded" a small two-foot high plaster-of-Paris pillar to show that they have the support other team members.
  2. Team building exercises. These may be company outings, contests or sports team activities. They can be specific exercises that get them to solve a problem working together. These should be done in an open, creative and non-judgmental environment.
  3. Celebrations. This can revolve around holidays or birthdays. But, a more effective ritual is to create a company’s unique celebrations: Formal Fridays, Milkshake Monday, Pina- Colada hour, Ice Cream Sandwich day, and Crazy sock or hat day.

Let some of the rituals happen organically from the employees. Observe what the group does naturally and then reinforce them formally. A secret handshake may actually do the trick!

4 Tips on Mentoring Employees for Everyone’s Benefit

Without inspiration from a former boss, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos might not be where he is today. In a mutual mentorship, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turns to Washington Post CEO Donald Graham for advice on being a CEO; Graham turns to Zuckerberg for social media advice. But effective mentorship does not have to apply only to top brass. Nor does the mentoring relationship have to be formal or all-consuming — and the best partnerships are mutually-beneficial.

Here are four tips to help you learn the essentials of mentoring and how to do it for mutual benefit.

1. Mentor/Mentee Matches Often Begin Informally

Mentorships often begin when you offer a bit of advice to someone or when a person comes to you for advice. Whether a co-worker approaches you to learn your secret to handling difficult customers or you offer shortcut tips to a local print shop owner to improve scheduling, you are a mentor.

In fact, those few minutes may mark the entire mentor relationship. But, it may also mark the beginning of a long-term mentorship.

2. Scout for Likely Candidates

The ability to promote from within an organization is valuable, whether you run a small business or manage a department within a multi-national conglomerate. Why seek outside candidates when you have promising employees that already have experience with the company processes and culture? The key is to identify the employees that show promise for advancement.

If you are a small business owner, you probably already know the potential of your staff. Managers at large companies, on the other hand, do not have intimate knowledge of all of the people around them. If you are a large-company manager, you might suggest company-arranged (and funded) lunches to help spot the up-and-comers. These are the people who think beyond their job descriptions. They may regularly come up with money-saving ideas and they generally recognize that departments outside their own are affected by every decision. Their ideas consider this big picture.

3. Understand the Difference Between Mentoring and Training

Mentors help develop people into their best selves by guiding them to capitalize on their own abilities and attitudes. So, while you would train a person to follow steps 1, 2 and 3, you might mentor employees to make decisions by requiring them to practice their reasoning abilities.

Have you ever felt frustrated when someone answers a question with a question? This is known as the Socratic Method and it is very appropriate in mentoring. When a mentee asks how to handle two employees that need the same resources to meet identical deadlines, for example, this is the time to ask some questions. Are the deadlines equally important? What are the consequences of missing each deadline? Are there ways to share the resources? Do not tell mentees what you would do; teach them to think it out for themselves. This is the difference between mentoring and training.

Training develops a skill set — bookkeepers learn where to put the debits and credits, sales people learn the details of the product line, and everyone learns where paperwork goes for processing. Good mentors may recommend additional training, but great mentors might wait until their mentees recognize that they need training — and ask for it.

4. Know What's in it For You

Mentorship relationships are beneficial to mentors, too. If you are a work-overloaded manager, a talented mentee can take some of the load off, even freeing you up to better focus on high-level tasks. You also gain the loyalty of someone who is likely to help you in some important way in the future.

Still, if your company requires you to take someone under your wing, it is important to be clear on the benefits that you will receive. Will you receive monetary compensation if the mentorship creates more work? Or, will your mentoring efforts make it possible for you to move up the ladder while you groom your replacement? You might undertake an informal, short-term mentorship purely for altruistic reasons, but it is reasonable (and necessary) to expect more from a formal relationship.

Mentors Need Mentors, Too

You have many abilities to pass on to promising employees — particularly if you want to retain them over the long term. But don't forget that mentors need mentors, too — even the top gun. If you own a business or run a large organization, recognize that there is a vast array of resources outside of your company doors. As you network with other business owners or executives, don't be afraid to ask for advice to help you further your short- or long-term goals. And, don't be afraid to offer advice, either.

6 Ways to Strengthen Your Connection with Your Customers

10-14 Customer relationships smallYour first sale may feel like a huge validation of your vision, and your first passel of sales may leave you feeling confident. As much as you treasure sales though, it’s your customers that make your business run smoothly. While many of your customers will only buy from you once, other customers will give you repeat business. And once you establish a relationship, they will happily buy from you again and again as long as you continue to deliver great service and products.  So what can you do as a small business owner to build, support, and encourage a long-lasting relationship with your customers? Here are six habits that guarantee they’ll keep coming back for more of what you offer.

1. Make Good on Your Promises

If you promise to fulfill an order, you must complete it in the timeframe you promised. If you said the product will be delivered in a pink box by a bear, and it gets there in red box delivered by an ox, you have failed. Yes, the delivery made it and most customers will appreciate that, but by not following through as you promised, you’ve already damaged trust.

2. Find a Balance Between Value and Profit

When you undervalue your product or service, the quality of your offering will be questioned. Also, if you set the bar too high, you may miss part of your market by charging too much. As a business owner, it is important to fine tune this balance; charge too little and you won’t make any profit; charge too much and people will go elsewhere for the same product at a lower price.

3. Focus on Quality

Whatever specialty you offer, be it goods or services, the quality of your offering will deepen devotion. Yes, you can obsess about details that make you lose focus on the big picture, but you rarely will go wrong when you improve the quality of your product. Ask your customers how you can improve their experience and take action on her suggestions.

4. Stay in Front of Difficulties When They Occur

Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, you will make mistakes. The more quickly you acknowledge them, the more quickly you can correct them. Never let your customer tell you about a problem that you already know about. Reach out to your customer and alert her if you know your shipment is late or you’ve sent the wrong item. Don’t depend on the customer’s lack of attention to amend the situation. You will gain respect and appear extra reliable.

5. Show Appreciation

It really is as easy as saying or writing “thank you for your business.” Of course, if you want to do more, I don't think there is a customer alive who will discourage that. Create a loyalty program, special flash sales, discounts on large orders, gifts with sales, and referral benefits are all ways to show your appreciation. Birthday specials, trunk shows, or exclusive benefits are extra ways to say “Thank you!”

6. Keep in Touch

Don’t just close the sale and move on. Your follow-up after a completed transaction is key to repeat business. You need to find out how everything went. But if a customer hasn’t purchased in a while reach out to them. You don’t even have to bring up future business. You can thank them for past order or share a tidbit of information to reconnect. Just touching base can motivate a past customer to think about your brand again.

Making the effort to build a relationship with a customer will pay off long term. It takes such a small amount of effort to keep a customer happy and buying, just make the effort.

Become a Stage For Customer Interactions

In my last article, I discussed how to make it easy for your customers to share their impressions of your business. Today’s theme is related: helping customers connect with each other as they together experience your service. 

People shopping in a retail store.While your business may be the star of your life, for your customers it represents something different.  It will never, as a matter of fact, be the center of your customers' lives. Only your customer, and the people your customer cares about, will every hold that position.  So a business often insinuates itself best into a customer’s life, memory and loyalty by being a backdrop to the story of their lives, as experienced with their friends and family. By learning from them, learning about them, and then getting the heck out of the way, or at least out of the foreground of the experience.

Restaurants, for example, provide the setting for marriage proposals, love affairs, breakups, arguments and, according to every mob drama I’ve ever enjoyed, the occasional professional hit. Not to mention the more prosaic: business meetings, shared sunsets and outings with coworkers. This isn’t isolated to foodservice setting: Airlines, hospitals, even the DMV, can be settings for the drama that runs through customers’ lives. Embracing this reality can allow your business to become very powerful, by helping customers to live out the drama and fantasy of their lives with the people who matter to them.

“My goal in life is to make you a hero to your spouse,” luxury hotelier Mark Harmon tells me. If Harmon were more shortsighted, he might set his aims on something more conventional: making his hotels the most profitable properties in the luxury hotel market, for example. But Harmon focuses on his customers’ goals rather than his own. As he puts it, “The touches we add [help] make for a memorable time together here. This is important, and we take it seriously. In the big scheme of things, how often as a couple do you really—I mean really—get away from the kids and get to connect, in a stress-free setting? We’re honored that guests let us be the setting for that, whether or not it’s technically what you’d call a special occasion.” Harmon feels his Auberge Resorts’ success is built upon the relationships his guests have with each other while enjoying Auberge’s service. It’s an astute and effective way to serve today’s customers.

For the fraught, high-stakes referral healthcare that Mayo Clinic is known for, treatment often becomes a socially complex, multigenerational affair. Mayo addresses the inclusion of family members and loved ones through design. Every exam room is designed to encourage collaboration and commiseration. One simple change has made a big difference: Each consultation room, as Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic author Leonard Berry has observed, features a specially designed, multipurpose couch instead of a couple chairs that only two can use and are rarely plentiful enough for everyone who needs to be present.

You may not think the relationship-conduit model applies to every business situation, but it applies quite widely. The True Value Hardware store and the CVS Minute Clinic seem purely functional at first glance, so putting a priority on facilitating customer relationships there appears beside the point. But even mundane, transactional situations common to the Minute Clinic or a hardware store can be improved by keeping an eye out for how relationships among customers can be facilitated. A Minute Clinic is a lot more comfortable for the patient if the patient’s family has a place to sit as well; the same goes for a customer at True Value if there are changing tables (for when you bring the family) and aisles wide enough to accommodate a shopping companion who gets around via wheelchair.

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