Posts Tagged ‘Communication’


Mondays with Mike: 15 Email Mistakes To Eliminate

Man Writing an E-Mail on a LaptopGiven that many of us can conduct business without ever touching a piece of paper, email has become the single most important method of business communication.  Appointments, negotiations, confirmations, even billing can be handled via email, which means it’s more important than ever to ensure you’re communicating carefully and professionally.  Here are 15 mistakes you should never make in your business emails:

  1. Irrelevant (or missing) signature lines.  Your signature line should contain your contact information and nothing else.  That inspirational quote from your favorite author is just clutter in business communications.
  2. Cutesy emoticons.  Just don’t. 
  3. Using “Reply All” for every message.  Think about whether your reply really needs to go to everyone on the list.  Send information only to those recipients who really need it.
  4. Speling and gramer erors.  Nothing makes professional correspondence look sloppier than misspelled words and careless grammar errors.  If your email program doesn’t have spellcheck, take the time to copy and paste your messages into a word processing program to clean up any mistakes.  Put your best foot forward.
  5. Including long previous conversations.  Forwarding irrelevant portions of earlier conversations just means folks have to wade through more noise.  Strive to keep your emails clutter-free.
  6. Being too long-winded.  Email is supposed to make us more efficient.  Get to the point and wrap it up.  Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary information.
  7. Altering previous conversations.  Never, ever, ever should you edit earlier conversations to alter their meaning.  Not only is it completely unethical, but you’re likely to be called out for pulling an underhanded stunt.
  8.  Revealing you’ve been BCCed.  If you’re blind copied, it’s for a reason.  If you hit “Reply All,” you’re outing the sender of the original email.  Make sure you’re careful if there’s under-the-radar communication occurring.
  9. Irrelevant or vague subject lines.  If you’re sending an email, it’s because you have important information to share.  Using specific subject lines helps your colleagues wade through their inboxes and identify the emails which need their attention first.  A subject line like “Oh, by the way” is far less effective than “Change in meeting time.”  Be clear.
  10. Burying your point.  In the cases in which you do need to send a lengthy email, make sure your main point is covered early on.  You want to avoid the TL;DR effect – Too Long; Didn’t Read – by getting to the point right away.  Don’t make folks wade through a bunch of fluff to figure out what’s important.
  11. Babysitting your email.  It works just fine, even if you’re not watching it.  Email is supposed to enhance efficiency, but it doesn’t work that way if you’re interrupting your day every time you hear a “ding.”  Similarly, I see people pretending to be busy with their inboxes when they really could be doing something far more productive.  It’s a tool.  Use it at your convenience.
  12. Ignoring critical emails.  Don’t be a lousy correspondent.  So often we read an email and intend to come back to it later.  What ends up happening, though, is we forget, or when we do get back to it, we have to reread it to refresh our memories.  It’s far more efficient to handle important emails right away, or if you can’t, flag them so you don’t miss them when you’re reviewing your inbox.
  13. Replying too quickly.  We often get sucked into the trap of replying in a less than professional manner, simply because email is so quick.  Just because you’ve read a message doesn’t mean you have to answer it right that minute, though.  If you’re upset or confused, sometimes all you need is to take a little time and handle the email when you’re better equipped to do it calmly.
  14. Using a gushy closing.  These are business communications, and there’s really no place for flowery sign-offs.  Keep in mind that if your sig line has your name and contact information, you may not even need to sign off at all.
  15. Attaching enormous files.  Bear in mind that email has limits.  If you absolutely must send a large, critical file, compress or zip it so it doesn’t fill up the recipient’s inbox.

In short: be concise, be professional, and be clear. 


Can You Beat the Marshmallow Challenge?

1-30 marshmallow challenge smallHow can twenty sticks of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow help build a stronger team?

The Marshmallow Challenge has become a popular exercise in which small groups are asked to build the “tallest free-standing structure” out of the materials provided. The teams have eighteen minutes to complete this task including the entire marshmallow on top. It’s a fun and instructive exercise that allows teams to experience simple lessons in collaboration, innovation and creativity.

The challenge has been conducted with business school graduates, CEOs, architects, engineers, and even kindergarteners. There have been surprising findings for which groups perform most successfully. Surprisingly, recent business school graduates are among the worst performers and kindergarteners often excel at this challenge. The children don’t spend time fighting to be the leader of the group. Instead, they just start playing and in the process begin prototyping. Business school grads spend most of the time talking, planning and building, which means they don’t have much time to change the design when it finally comes time to put the marshmallow on top which is usually too heavy for the structure that was built.

The teambuilding lessons from this challenge include:

Always test assumptions through prototyping: Participants think that marshmallows are light and will be easily supported, but when teams start building the structure, it suddenly tips it over. Only through realizing that every idea has value and then prototyping various solutions can the teams find out what works.

Don’t focus on being the tallest. When the instruction is given that the tallest will win, teams assume that height will win the contest. As a result, they wrongly focus on how high they can build the structure instead of the stability its base. Many times, companies try to grow too fast before they have a solid business.

Use what is available. Development of every product has limitations and teams can only use what they have and not get resources they want to build something better. In business, there is never unlimited resources or the perfect environment to grow.

Use only what is needed. There are some things that are given in the exercise that do not need to be used like the string. Teams have to figure out what is useful and what needs to be discarded in developing any solutions.

Give up perfection. Teams start out dreaming about building an elegant structure like the Eiffel Tower. They have to give up this idea of perfection and build something (even if it is ugly) that works that can be “good enough” to win.

If you’re looking for a fun way to kick start a meeting or get a team into a creative frame of mind, try running a marshmallow challenge of your own. Is your team up to it?


Help Out Your Customers Before They Know They Need Your Help

1-15-15 Alerting Customers small

What do customers prefer–strongly prefer–to having to ask your company for help, or for information, and then having to wait for an answer?  They like it if your company gets to them first with what they need as customers before they have to ask for anything themselves.

So, if you want to become irreplaceable to your customers, it’s time to develop a mindset–a companywide customer service policy, in fact–of “getting to them first”: providing customers with the information or assistance they’re going to need before they have to reach out to you to ask for it, before, in fact, they even know that they need it. 

Depending on the scale of your business, you will likely be doing this using modern communications technology and automation.

Anticipatory Customer Service Messaging

Like much else involved in creating great customer service and a superior customer experience, this requires a masterful touch, far removed from the hamfistedness of a spammer. Applied properly, the principle of ‘‘getting to them first’’ is a powerful way to make customers feel remembered, cared for, and, ultimately and paradoxically, left alone and unbothered, since they can now relax knowing you will, for example:

• Notify passengers if flights have been delayed or gates change, and if the worst happens (a cancellation) rebook them and alert them to the new arrangements, without any work on the passengers’ part.
• Reach out to customers if there’s a delay in shipping the item you’d promised to deliver before the holidays, so they can make alternative plans
• Remind customers of something they ‘‘should’’ be keeping track of themselves, but that you, in your quest to become their irreplaceable vendor, are happy to put on your own shoulders. For example, you can remind them, before they ask, when their mortgage payments are due or when a medication needs to be refilled.

Along these lines, you've perhaps noticed that your credit card company has cozied up to you by taking what should be your responsibility—posting my payments on time—off your shoulders and put it on the company’s. Now, as a result, I’ll bet you're a lot less frequently late on your credit card payments these days, and think a lot less about the idea of switching companies anymore, thanks to that simple automated alert sent to your inbox:

Alert: Your Payment Is Due in 10 Days to X Card Services
To: slowpayer@slackfest.com
Your payment to us will be due in 10 days, for your account that ends in 1111.

Leave ways for them to reach a (fabulous) human being

But you can't do everything with automation.  The effect of being cared for effortlessly (or at least with no effort on the part of the customer) that you've started electronically is enhanced by making sure that every automated addition to your repertoire is accompanied by an option for the recipient to easily reach a human being.

Remember, your marketing department would spill its blood to reach a live customer one on one, so talking with customers isn’t an overhead expense. It’s an opportunity. So strive to offer customers a chance to talk with a human, if that’s their preference, even when you’re reaching out to them through automation.

Where to find opportunities to "get to them first": 

  • With anything you think about more than/more frequently than your customers do. If your business is a mail-order pharmacy, it means you work all day on the intricacies of injectable medications. These are expensive and involved medications used for managing multiple sclerosis and other chronic illnesses, requiring pre-approvals from insurance agencies, typically shipped to the customer every ninety days. Your customer, on the other hand, has a life. She’s doing everything other than thinking about her medication supply in the eighty-nine-day span between reorders. So, you set up the ultimate in bulletproof reminder systems, check for her that insurance and physician verifications have remained up to date, etc., and handle everything for her as transparently as possible, thus becoming her indispensable dispensary.
  • Any time your customers would otherwise be waiting in the dark. Projects and products built or shipped in stages, from insurance applications and disaster relief efforts to cross-country relocations and event planning, are important opportunities to get to your customers first. ‘‘No news is good news’’ isn’t something customers assume or should assume. Regular updates should be your mode of operation.
  • With anything that customers need to know about, if you’re aware of it before they are. This could be protection from a new software virus; many stitches are saved when electronic patches are provided to customers before they need them. Or, let’s look at an application from the fine-arts world: Don’t make your patrons find out for themselves that a sporting event has closed off the normal route to the ballet. Courteously and cannily, the ticketing service used by the Philadelphia Ballet makes sure to send an automated call to ticketholders' phones to alert them to leave extra time so as not to miss the opening curtain.  It also couples the phone call—just for safety—with an email, for example, as follows:

An important message regarding your performance on Saturday at 12 p.m. The International Dragon Boat Festival and the U.S. Pro Bike Race will take place Saturday. Throughout the day Kelly Drive will be partially closed and MLK Drive will be completely closed. Please allow extra time to arrive at the Academy of Music for your 12 p.m. performance.

Sure, the ballet could rationalize to itself that the ballet patrons have already bought their nonrefundable tickets. Which is literally true this time–but the way to have them buy tickets repeatedly, and perhaps become that legacy donor you’ve been looking for is to avoid permitting them to encounter an aggravating experience that leaves a poor taste in their mouths.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Why the Holidays are a Great Time to Call Your Customers

12-2 making a phone call smallWhen you think about the holiday season, you probably think about family, fun and feasting. But did you ever stop to think that the holidays are also a great time to reach out and call your small business customers?

There are several reasons why now is an ideal time to contact customers by phone.

  • The holiday season is a time for celebrating relationships, and talking in person can help reinforce and cement your business relationships.
  • With many businesses short-staffed during the holidays, decision-makers who normally don’t answer the phone may be a lot easier to reach.
  • While rank-and-file workers typically take time off, C-level execs are more likely to be working, frequently coming in early or staying late to take advantage of the quiet office and uninterrupted time to focus.
  • At many companies, budgets need to be spent before the year ends, so there might be money available for projects you might normally have trouble selling.
  • Other companies are planning their budgets for next year, making now a good time to get on their radar.

So how can you make your “reach out and touch” customer calls successful? Try these four tips:

  1. Make a list. Use your CRM system or other customer data to identify potentially most lucrative customers. For example, you might check who purchased from you this time last year or whose fiscal year is about to end.
  2. Set a goal. Calling is a numbers game, so it’s important not to get discouraged. Set a goal to call a certain number of customers per day, and just power through.
  3. Be prepared. Know what you’re going to say in advance so you don’t waste the customer’s time. Yes, small talk greases the wheels, especially this time of year, but people are also busy.
  4. It’s not all about the sale. These calls aren’t focused on making an immediate sale (though that would be nice), but on enhancing your relationship with the customer and finding new ways to serve him or her. Explore their needs for the coming year, what they’d like to do differently and how you can help them achieve their 2015 goals. Ending up with a firm commitment to talk in 2015 is a good start.

Improving Customer Service? Try These 4 Tech Tools

11-21 tech customer service toolsCustomer service can make or break a business, especially in an era of online reviews and social media. One post about a bad experience with your company can linger online for years, scaring away business and harming the professional reputation you’ve worked so hard to build.

But technology can help businesses, too. A wide variety of tools are available to help businesses manage their customer service, automating processes to prevent calls from falling through the cracks. Here are four tools that can put your business in control of all of its interactions with customers.

Ticketing System

Whether a business is handling an occasional call for assistance or hundreds of support requests each day, a ticketing system can help bring it all together. Each call that comes in creates a new ticket that remains open until the issue is resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. The call is routed to the right support representative and escalated as necessary, with each employee logging notes as they work to help the customer. By regularly extracting reports on tickets, a business can pinpoint trends, including specific issues with a product or service, giving it the opportunity to fix those issues.

Live Chat

As your business grows, your website will receive multiple visits each day from customers interested in learning more about your product. The ability to initiate a chat to ask questions can make a big difference to both new visitors and current customers, some of whom feel more comfortable chatting through an online interface than picking up the phone to call. This technology has evolved even further in recent years to allow businesses to initiate a chat with every guest who visits. As a user clicks around your site, an invitation to chat (usually phrased as “How may I help you today?”) can be sent, with the customer opting to either close it or engage in a conversation.

Virtual Call Center

Cloud technology allows businesses to set up an affordable customer service desk online. Representatives no longer have to drive into an office each day to gather in clusters of cubicles. With a virtual call center, each customer service representatives can login from any internet-connected device to begin accepting calls, freeing up businesses to hire employees to work from home. With reporting and call management features, virtual call centers also provide ongoing insight into call volume trends for resource planning purposes.

Google Alerts

When a customer has an issue with a product or service your business provides, he can easily blast it across the internet before you’re even aware of it. By setting up Google Alerts for any mention of your brand, you’ll know immediately when you’ve been mentioned on social media or online review sites, giving you the opportunity to engage in damage control before the problem spirals out of control.

Quality customer service is essential to a business’s ongoing success. Thanks to technology, it’s easier than ever to implement and manage high-quality customer service desks. With many of these features coming with built-in reporting tools, you’ll have insight into your customers that will help drive future business decisions, improving your efficiency and keeping you in better contact with the consumers you’re serving.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Improve Employee Communication

10-28 Intergenerational communicationIs your business struggling with communication issues between different age groups at work? While the problem of intergenerational communication is nothing new (remember the “Generation Gap” of the 60s?), it’s more pronounced than ever because there are so many different generations in the work force today. As older workers put off retirement due to the past recession, your business may have Millennials, Generation X and Baby Boomers all on the same team.

Technology is widening the generation gap in business. When younger workers who grew up with smartphones meet up with Baby Boomers hanging on to their flip phones, sparks can fly. Boomers may feel that Millennials are rude and tactless because they’re always looking at their phones and want to “talk” via text, while Millennials feel Boomers are slow and old-fashioned because they take notes on paper and want to talk face-to-face.

How can you resolve these communication issues? Try these tips.

  • Bring generations together. Create teams with diverse age groups so employees can learn from each other and get beyond stereotypes. There’s nothing like getting to know someone to dispel your preconceptions about that age group. Believing that all older people are tech dinosaurs or all 20-somethings are text-happy social media mavens ignores each person’s reality. (In fact, one study from Cornerstone reports Gen Y (Millennials) is the generation most likely to say they’re suffering from “tech overload.”)
  • Have workers bring each other up to speed. Younger employees can show older ones how to use IM or social media. Even if they don’t need to do it for their jobs, they’ll appreciate not feeling left behind.
  • Make sure no one gets left out. Company-wide information, such as announcements or operations manuals, should be distributed in a format that all employees know how to access, such as via email. This ensures even the less tech-savvy workers get the information they need.
  • Use multiple communications tools. Mixing it up is good for everyone. Encourage employees to use the method that fits the message. That might be IM and texting sometimes, email or phone calls at other times and even walking across the office to talk to someone in person (gasp) when it’s called for.
  • Lead by example. Be a good communicator yourself—get out of your office, walk around and see what’s going on, and become familiar with multiple communications tools so you can interact with everyone on your team the way they prefer. 

Mondays with Mike: How To Get Your Entire Business Running On The Cloud In One Day

Stocksy_txpe7e51ee740B000_Small_134978A lot of business owners put off making big decisions – like transitioning their company to running on the cloud – because they fear change.  They’re reluctant to undertake a major overhaul because they know that difficulties will arise, and there will be a learning curve for their staff.

 

For the most part, they’re right.  Change is a struggle.  But it’s a struggle worth taking on.  My advice to entrepreneurs considering making the switch to a cloud-based office is to take a deep breath, get a few things in place ahead of time, and dive right in!  If you follow these steps, your transition will be smooth and will put you on the road to flexibility you’ve only dreamed of.  

 

The key to a seamless transition to the cloud is doing your homework and making a workable plan.

 

First, you want to pick your date.  There actually is a very best day for major business transitions – January 1st.  While everyone else in the world is sleeping off a hangover, you have a full day to make you changes and start working out the bugs before the world returns to work.  A new fiscal year makes record keeping easier, and since you’re likely to do little actual business, you’ll be able to focus on your transition.  Working out the kinks on a slow day lets you troubleshoot without the stress of impatient customers.

 

Next, you’ll want to make a list of all the applications and programs you use and sort them into three categories:  apps you use daily, ones you use monthly, and ones that you use occasionally or only for special purposes.  How frequently you use an app will determine exactly how you transition it.

 

For apps you use daily – word processing, phone service, accounting – you’ll ideally want to port all of your information directly – say, from QuickBooks to QuickBoooks Online.  If that’s not an option, you’ll need to find a full replacement.  Keep in mind that any replacement will have differences, and you’ll want to familiarize yourself with those differences ahead of time.  Apps you use monthly can be replaced by cloud-based alternatives, and apps that you use infrequently may not need to be cloud-based at all.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the time and money looking for alternatives for programs that you seldom use.

 

Once you have your cloud-based applications selected, you should select your test users, and I strongly recommend that you don’t rely on your IT people for this task.  You want to get a feel for how the folks who will actually be in the trenches – the ones who will have to use the new tech to do their jobs – will interact with the new programs.  Once your test users are comfortable, you’re ready to roll the cloud out to the rest of the company, using your new experts as support staff.

 

If it’s possible, you should plan to run parallel for a few weeks.  Now I know that running parallel is double the work, but if you have a problem, you’ll be glad you did it.  Keeping the old system up for a brief period ensures that your customers don’t experience any troubles getting the same great service they’re used to.

 

Finally, since your business is now cloud-based, you need to develop an emergency plan – figure out what you’ll do if something goes wrong.  Think I’m overreacting?  When Superstorm Sandy swept through my neck of the woods, I managed to keep my business running from an emergency shelter.  How?  I’d already planned and tested how my office would handle needing to work in less-than-ideal circumstances.  Knowing that if the power goes out you can still do business is key.

 

Is it a lot of work to get your business up and running on the cloud?  You bet!  Is it worth it to get flexibility and increased productivity?  Absolutely.  While making the transition in a day may not be ideal, it is possible, which demonstrates that you shouldn’t be afraid to make the leap.


Mondays with Mike: How To Become A TED Speaker

TED-Talk-WebTED can change your life, and I’m not just talking about the insights you can glean from the brilliant ideas shared by the many speakers. I’m talking about giving a TED talk – one single engagement that will expose you, your ideas, and your brand to millions of people. It’s the biggest public speaking opportunity around, and it ain’t an easy one to land.  

I’ve given a few TEDx talks – the regional feeder program for TED, and I sat down with the curator of TEDx Hoboken, Elizabeth Barry, to get some insight into what the curators are looking for and some strategies that speakers can use to get the opportunity of giving a talk. If your goal is to give a TED talk, TEDx is the logical place to start.  

 

Let’s start with Elizabeth’s list of dos and don’ts for landing a TEDx talk:

 

DO NOT:

  • Pitch yourself or your business. TED and TEDx talks focus on ideas, rather than people.
  • Simply repeat an earlier performance. Find a fresh idea.
  • Think you’re more important than your idea.

DO:

  • Be real and be kind. You’re not the focus of the talk; your idea is.
  • Present an idea that’s original, profound, and genuinely worth spreading.
  • Bring all your passion and expertise.
  • Focus on your idea and its applications in the lives of others.  Your talk should be more than simply a story about your life. Look for an idea that can benefit your audience.

Elizabeth stressed that TED and TEDx aren’t about grandstanding. Sure, the events generate great publicity, but the goal of the project is to spread and profound ideas that make a difference in people’s lives.  

 

Once you’ve landed and given a TEDx talk, you can focus on the big fish. One thing you should keep in mind is that TED was created by a group of journalists, so your best angle is to focus on a compelling story. Additionally, you should consult the editorial calendar to make sure your great idea wasn’t covered by the previous quarter’s talks. 

 

You should absolutely promote the heck out of your TEDx video – since each view is a new (and trackable) impression, but it’s essential that you not simply try to recycle your TEDx content. Don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s your idea that’s the focus. Should you land a TED gig, it’s not simply because you’re so wonderful; it’s because you have something important to share that can enrich the lives of the audience.

 

It’s impossible to overstate how huge a TED talk will be for your career. At the time I wrote this article, 1.2 million viewers had watched a TED talk given by a young man named Cesar Kuriyama. He stood on the stage and shared the insight he’d gained from his project in which he recorded one second of video every day and edited the clips into a video that captures the absolutely ordinary images that comprise our lives. The power of his talk was in the weight of the impressions that fill our lives … the ones that we too often take for granted and forget as soon as we’ve seen them.  

 

Kuriyama shared his experience of image and memory and the complex ways that we recall the events of our lives, both good and bad. Not only has he gained astounding publicity for his projects, but he’s also touched 1.2 million people with his idea worth sharing. That’s the power of TED. It’s a worthy goal.


4 Tips for Building Your Network Before You Start Your Business

Many would-be entrepreneurs think they’ve got to wait until they start a business to begin building a network of contacts and potential customers. Not so. 90 percent of all small business owners get business from referrals, so the sooner you start — both online and off — the sooner you can forge connections with people that will help you create a sustainable business. You also want to position yourself as a resource so that you can make connections that are meaningful. So don’t wait to start networking! Get started today.

Tip 1: Find Your Industry Peers Locally

?????????????????????????????????Depending on how large a city you live in, there may be networking or support groups for businesses in your industry. If that’s the case, begin your networking efforts there immediately. Join professional organizations or simply attend a few meetings so you can get to know the big (and small) players in the space where you want to do business.

How this will help you: Networking in person helps you assess what types of businesses you’ll be competing against, as well as provide ideas for how you can better serve your target audience. You can look for strategic partnerships. If you plan to only offer Service A, you can find others who offer Services B, C, and D, and by working together, you can reach more customers. And finally, you can find a mentor who can provide you with guidance through your journey into entrepreneurship.

Tip 2: Start Getting Social Online

Social media provides you with the fabulous opportunity to brand yourself and your soon-to-be business. You can create profiles for yourself now and start sharing content that will make you known in your field, before you even have a website for your company. Start by following people that fit the mold for the types of customers you’ll want for your business, and you’ll have an instant audience when you do launch.

How this will help you: Once you start your business, you’ll need an audience for your content. Social media is the ticket to getting more readers for your blog posts — and thereby more customers on your site. And being known as a thought leader will also net you plenty of followers.

Tip 3: Attend Conferences

Another spot rife with networking opportunity is industry conferences or local business events and workshops. Wherever people in your industry — or for that matter, your ideal customers — gather, you want to be there too. Collect business cards. Run your idea by people. Just get your name out there.

How this will help you: Not only do conferences provide great learning opportunities, but you can observe your competition closely. You can also bounce your business idea off of other people to see if it’s even got viability. You may find you need to tweak your strategy before you launch — by getting feedback from others now, you save the time and money of not launching a bad idea.

Tip 4: Join LinkedIn Groups

An even more specific social networking strategy, especially useful if you’re relatively new to an industry or owning a business, is to participate in LinkedIn groups that cater to that niche. Just like with other types of networking, LinkedIn provides access to smart folks who can give you ideas for your business, as well as let you get feedback from them before you start yours.

How this will help you: There’s plenty to learn from others, if you’re open to it. Read the articles and discussions, jump in where appropriate, and take plenty of notes. You’ll need them for your business.

Networking opportunities are abound, if you know where to look. It’s better to start your relationship-building now while you’ve got the time, because once you launch that business, you’re going to be really busy!




 
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