Posts Tagged ‘Communication’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Keys to Success in a Family Business

Stocksy_txp9b4a083fTr5000_Small_64619Did you know that 70 percent of family businesses never make it to the second generation? How can you avoid your family business becoming that kind of sad statistic? The key to keeping a family business surviving—and thriving—is communication. Here are five keys to good communication in your family-owned business.

  1. Pay attention. Is someone making a lot of bitter comments, showing up to work late (or not at all), or otherwise acting out? Keeping your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you can nip communication problems in the bud.
  2. Address issues openly. Rightly or wrongly, many families “communicate” (or don’t) by sweeping things under the rug or denying that problems exist. When this kind of miscommunication infects the workplace, it can destroy your business. No matter how tough it is, make it a point to bring up problems before they fester.
  3. Keep it all in the family. Family business conflicts should be addressed openly, but that doesn’t mean they should be discussed in front of non-family employees. Call a family meeting or hold a one-on-one with the individual involved to hash out the problem before you involve non-family workers.
  4. Never assume. Because people are family, you may assume they will respond to things in certain ways or assign certain behaviors to them. (“Susan always gets offended by little things.”) Try to get beyond the “roles” that siblings, parents or other family members play in the family (the smart one, the peacemaker) and focus on the roles they play in the business. Give your family employees the same respect you’d give non-family employees and don’t attribute feelings to them without actually asking them how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
  5. Air the grievances. Let each family member get their feelings out in the open, even if you feel that one person is obviously right and the other wrong. An outside advisor, such as a family business consultant, your board of advisors or even a family therapist, can be helpful in mediating family business issues impartially. (It’s important, though, to make sure all family business members agree on who the outside advisor/s should be—ideally, before any problems arise.)

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How Do Your Employees Really Feel About the 24/7 Workplace?

Is your small business using technologies that enable employees to stay connected to work even outside of work hours? If so, are you concerned your employees might feel overloaded by the need to check in with work when they’re off the clock?

Well, stop worrying. According to a recent Gallup Poll of full-time U.S. employees, nearly 80 percent of them feel somewhat or very positive about being able to use computers and/or mobile devices to stay connected to their jobs outside of normal working hours.

???????????????????????????????????A cynic would say perhaps one reason so many people feel good about being able to check in with work after-hours is that most of them don’t actually do it. About one-third (36 percent) frequently connect with work online after-hours, while 64 percent admit to doing so occasionally, rarely or not at all. (Apparently, they just like knowing the option is available.)

However, don’t be so cynical just yet. The study also reveals that 86 percent of those who regularly check in with work of their own accord, and 81 percent of those whose employers require them to do so, think it’s a positive development.

Of course, employees like being able to connect with their jobs outside regular working hours because it enables them to do things like attend their children’s school functions, take time off or work flexible hours. But work-life balance can quickly tip out of balance, as every small business owner knows from experience.

How can you ensure that the ability to work after-hours continues to have an upside for your team? Here are 3 tips:

  • Pay attention. If you notice employees seem like they’re starting to burn out, grumble or complain, assess what’s going wrong. Sometimes the ability to check in 24/7 can lead to a compulsion to do so.
  • Encourage downtime. Make sure employees have “disconnect” time to recharge their personal batteries by unplugging from their devices. Model this behavior yourself.
  • Pull back. Even if you require employees to be available and check in after normal work hours, try to set reasonable limits. For example, you could say that employees must be available up until 10 p.m and after 7 a.m. Even if employees have to be available 24/7, try staggering that responsibility so everyone gets some days off. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Writing Emails That Get Results

Business-EmailDo you ever get frustrated when your emails seem to be ignored? If people don’t answer your emails, don’t respond fast enough or don’t understand what you write, maybe the problem is your emails. Here are five tips to help you write better emails—ones your recipients will read and act on.

1. Use a clear subject line. Your subject line should be brief but attention-getting so recipients quickly understand what the email is about. Stay away from vague subject lines like “Question” “Hi” or "1 more thing.” It’s much more useful to the recipient if you clearly label the email. Writing subject lines like, “Quick Question on Winston Project,” “Smith Proposal Attached” or “[Mutual friend] referred me to you” are all good ways to get attention while letting the recipient know what to expect.

2. Keep it short. Who wants to page down through a multi-paragraph email—especially these days when more and more people are reading their email on smartphones? Keep your email as brief as possible (ideally, no more than 5 sentences). Use line spaces between sentences so the email is a fast, easy read. If you must convey something complex, consider whether it would be better in an attachment instead of in the email, or whether you need to actually talk to the person face-to-face or by phone.

3. New topic, new email. Don’t piggyback a new topic onto an existing email chain. If the chain titled “December Sales Meeting” morphs into a discussion of redesigning your business website, people are going to get confused. When a new topic arises, start a new email chain. Also, avoid discussing more than one topic per email. Your emails are more likely to get read if you send several brief emails on different topics than one long email that covers six things.

4. Include a call to action. Just like in an ad or on your website, if you want the reader to take action, come out and say so. Include a time frame or deadline, and any contact information the reader may need to respond. For example:

Hi Steve,

Are you available for a conference call next week to discuss the next step in the Acme project? It should only take 30 minutes.

I am available M-W between 9am-noon EST, Thursday 9-5 EST and Friday 2-5pm EST.

Please call or email and let me know your availability.

Thank you,

Joe Smith

(contact information)

5. Follow up. Don’t be a pest who emails daily, but if a few days go by without a response, it’s wise to follow up either by email or phone to make sure the person got your email. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Ways to Communicate With Your Customers

virtual businessDo you have a “virtual assistant” like Siri on your mobile phone? The other day I read a fascinating article about the future of this technology. In the not-so-distant future, it seems, our devices, apps and GPS could be so seamlessly integrated that they will read our calendars and constantly send us reminders and notifications of events and opportunities. For instance they’ll be able to remind us we have a dentist appointment, and then when we’re there, alert us that the bakery next door has fresh-baked cookies on special.

However, there’s a fine line between customer communication that’s welcomed and customer communication that is considered intrusive. (Envisioning that future, my initial “Oooh, that would be cool” response rapidly turned into the reality of how annoying a constant barrage of dings, pings and flashes from my smartphone would be.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to communicate with your customers today. The key is to pick and choose which ones make the most sense for your business and for your customers. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Email: Studies continue to show that while it may not have the “hip factor” of social media, email is one of the most effective marketing methods for both B2B and B2C companies. One reason it works so well is just about everyone has email these days—from Millennials to seniors. For greatest success, be sure you use opt-in email, don’t email too frequently, and include calls to action in each email.
  2. Direct mail: Good old-fashioned direct mail (postcards, flyers and letters) works for many businesses, especially those that target a local customer base or cater to older consumers who still like to receive mail. In an era where most marketing is done digitally, sending mail can actually help your business stand out. Save on postage by using postcards or distributing fliers door-to-door.
  3. Social media: There are so many social media options out there it can quickly get overwhelming. However, one key to social media success is being consistent, so if you’re just starting out with social, start small focusing on one or two social networks. Facebook is pretty much a given for B2C companies, but Pinterest and Twitter can also work well. For B2B, focus on LinkedIn and Twitter. Post regularly, use lots of photos, keep it interesting and useful, and monitor your results. If one social channel isn’t paying off, dial it back and try another.
  4. Phone: When it comes to customer service, the ability to speak to a live person, when necessary, is pretty much essential. Plus, in these times when so much customer support is self-serve, automated or requires people to wade through thousands of posts on message boards, having live phone assistance can really set your business apart. However, the phone is also an ideal way to communicate via cold calls, follow-up calls or to build relationships with prospects if your company has a long sales cycle.

With so many options for communication, there’s no excuse not to stay in touch with your customers today. 


Two-Step Guide to Successful Crisis Communication

Author Charles R. Swindoll famously once said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This quote is especially powerful when applied to a business in crisis. As Steven B. Fink, president and CEO of Lexicon Communications Corp. and author of Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, explains, every entrepreneur should expect to experience a crisis at some point.

“Crisis is inevitable; it’s a question of when not if,” he says.

Here, Fink offers steps to successfully handle any crisis that comes your way.

Step 1: Identify potential problems & build a crisis management team

Business owners are smart to spend time trying to identify the roots of potential problems before they arise. Fink recommends doing this by creating a dedicated crisis management team of four to five people in the company. The team should be based on position, not specific employee (for example, the director of public relations and COO will always sit on the team).

Once a team is established, task them in talking with employees about problems they’ve come across. Maybe a few staffers have received complaints about customer service, or a product has been returned more than once. Instruct your crisis management team to meet at least once a month to discuss these problems and how to solve them before they escalate into something larger, suggests Fink.

In addition, this team should be tasked with developing a plan when/if a full-blown crisis happens and communicate those steps to employees on a regular basis.

Step 2: Break the story honestly & first

“Be honest, candid and forthcoming with all of your constituents—your customers, stakeholders and your investors,” Fink recommends. “The worst thing a company can do is stonewall or not offer a comment or lie.”

It can be hard to admit the truth at times, especially when the problem is embarrassing or potentially damaging to your business. But, as Fink points out, customers will be much more forgiving if a company owns up to its mistakes than if it hides under a rug.

Importantly, Fink suggests business owners should immediately make public (via channels most used by customers—TV, email, Twitter, newspapers, Facebook, LinkedIn) the crisis, even before the media gets wind of it, if possible. This is critically important because as the breaker of the news you will be in control of the discussion, not put on the defensive.

“If you don’t come forth right away, the vacuum you create by a lack of informed response will allow your opposition to spread what tales they want to about you,” he says.

When announcing/breaking the news of your crisis, state the facts of the situation and the measures you and your company are taking to solve the problem. Circle back with an update when the issue has been resolved.

crisis_communication

 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Keep Your Team on the Same Page With an In-House Communication Plan

It’s pretty ironic. These days, we’ve got dozens of ways to communicate with our employees, but so often, we’re still not getting through. Key information doesn’t get shared, so we miss deadlines and opportunities. Sometimes, the plethora of communication solutions seems to be the problem itself—ever had the same person IM, text and frantically call you?

How can you choose the best tools for in-office communication to ensure balls don’t get dropped? Try these tips.

  1. Assess your needs. What do you and your team need to communicate about? Do you have installers in the field who need to communicate with the home office? Do you have remote employees or independent contractors who need to be kept in the loop? Are most of your communications short and/or urgent (suited to instant messaging or texting) or do they tend to be long and complex (so conference calling or emailing would work best)?
  2. Investigate possible solutions. What tools do you already have at your disposal (smartphones, IM, VoIP solutions) and what could you add? What solutions will work best with your existing phone and computer systems? Don’t forget to consider mobile tools—if your employees use smartphones or tablet computers on the road, your solutions need to mesh with those devices, too.
  3. Match the message to the channel. Decide what types of communications are suited to what channels, and get all your employees on the same page. For instance, you might tell everyone to use instant messaging only for urgent communication (so employees know to respond right away). Making a certain channel the “default mode” for a certain communication helps prevent the situation where someone gets an IM, email and voice mail about the same issue.  
  4. CommunicationSet regular communications times and channels. Constant interruptions hurt productivity, so whenever possible, streamline communications by regularly disseminating key information at the same time and in the same way. For instance, have a 10-minute “all-hands” conference call every Monday morning where you quickly run down the week’s priorities, have your sales team email you a status update at the end of each week so you can review it over the weekend, or have your assistant text quick appointment reminders to you first thing each morning. 

Why Your Communication Stinks

StinksB.C. (Before Computers) business owners sent letters, called on the phone or went to visit a customer in person. There were really only these three ways to “talk”. As a result, business communication was much simpler. Now customers can contact a business through chat, social media, email, voice mail, and fax. With a smart phone in every customer’s hand, there are so many ways to communicate at any time of day or night. What makes it even more difficult is that customers expect an answer immediately! The timeliness of a small business’ customer conversation has a big impact on their reputation and therefore sales.  

Most small businesses stink at communicating with customers. They don’t have a unified plan to monitor all the communication channels and don’t get back to customers in a timely fashion by the same team of people.

Here are specific guidelines to improve communication:

Email should be replied to within the same day. There should be an immediate auto responder on the single email address that customers most use that sets the expectation when someone will get back to the person. A customer service rep needs to then reply within the specified time.

Only offer chat from the website if it can be staffed for an extended period of time. Review website traffic and find out when a majority of users visit. Be careful when outsourcing this function since that company may not have enough information to really help the customer. Do not offer mobile phone chat unless this is the targeted customers’ favorite form of communication. (Typically under 25 years old)

Monitor what customers are saying about the company on the Internet. Use a free service like Google Alerts or other paid services to track when your company is mentioned. Then get involved in these conversations when they are positive and negative.

When the customer calls, have a live person nearby. Depending on the volume of calls, it may not be practical to have every caller be answered live. However, automated answer trees should be limited and only have one level.

Finally, whoever “catches” the first communication message from the customer should track it through to completion. The biggest complaint that most people have when they call a company is they get passed off to someone else and have to explain their issue all over again.

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Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a business speaker, author and consultant. Barry can be found at www.barrymoltz.com

 


Why Your Customer Communications Stinks (and What to Do About It)

Posted on by Barry Moltz

Many small business owners believe that if they don't hear complaints from their customers, their company is doing well. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most customers will never really say what they think directly to the company. Instead, they just sulk away and tell all their social media friends. This can be disaster in a social media connected world.

It’s not that some customers don't try very hard to tell the company what they think. Many small businesses are either difficult to reach or don’t respond to customers in a timely fashion. In fact, their communication process with their customers truly stinks! As a result, companies lose not only customers, but potential raving fans.

Here are 3 areas that need to be served to turn customer communication into a competitive advantage:

When? There needs to a mechanism in place at every phase of the sales and service cycle for a customer to give feedback to the company. This includes pre-  sale, during the sale, and post sale. This is critical because problems and questions happen at every stage for different customers.

CommunicationHow? Depending on your customer, be prepared to communicate via all the popular channels including phone, text, email, blog, and social media. Different customers will comfortable communicating in different ways. For example, many of them will never email the company, but will tweet instead. If a company’s customers are much older, telephone or mail may be the best form of communication.

How soon? Different channels of communication require different response rates. For example:

  • Phone: within 24 hours
  • Text: within an hour
  • Email: same business day
  • Comments on blog posts: within 4 hours
  • Social media: within 4 hours
  • Mail: within 24 hours

If a company does not have the financial resources to respond in this period of time, do not offer it as a communication channel. Always state up front how long it will take to respond and stick with it.

Every communication with a customer needs to answer these questions:

1.    Why is the customer calling? What is their real problem? Many times digging deeper for the answer will get better results.

2.    How can the company make them more satisfied? It's not just about helping them, but truly making this one customer satisfied.

How often do you really communicate with your customers? If it is not frequently, then you are missing something.

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Barry Moltz gets small businesses unstuck. He is a small business motivational speaker, writer, and radio host. Barry can be found at www.barrymoltz.com


Quiz: Is Twitter Right for Your Business?

twitter-iconTwitter, a social media platform that allows users to broadcast, or “tweet,” 140-character messages to the world, has more than 200 million users worldwide. So does that mean that your business should have a Twitter account, too?

Not necessarily. Some small business owners feel guilty if they don’t use Twitter, but also aren’t sure if the platform would really help their bottom line. “I call it social media guilt,” says Jason McDonald, director of JM Internet Group, a social media and SEO consulting company in Fremont, Calif. “Social media might be technically free to utilize, but it takes a lot of work and if your customers aren’t listening, it might not be worth it. Sometimes you have to throw stuff over the boat.”

Consider the following questions before opening a Twitter account for your business.

Question #1: Are your customers on Twitter?

McDonald’s daughter is obsessed with the apparel brand Juicy Couture. She follows the brand on Twitter and shares photos of celebrities donning the clothing. “Juicy is a company with a good demographic for Twitter,” he says. “Customers are 18 to 28 years old and really into their mobile phones. They want to know about the latest products before they hit the market and get the inside scoop.”

But what if you are a plumber or a CPA? “I recommend opting for Google Local or Yelp for those professions,” he says.

Question #2: What can you offer only on Twitter?

Taking the plumber and CPA example, there are very few value-adds that those professions can offer on Twitter. On the other hand, a food truck or pizza restaurant can provide great value to clients on the social media site.

“In the case of the pizza place, you could tweet out a special deal for the lunchtime crowd or alert them to a change in the menu,” says McDonald. “If you own a food truck, you could tell your clients when and where you will be the following day so they have insider information.”

Question #3: Do you have a plan for your Twitter page?

Survey your customer base before launching your Twitter page. What business-specific insights would they find valuable? Once you collect that information, create a well-thought-out plan for your Twitter page. Detail how often you will Tweet, what you will send out, how many discounts you will offer, etc.

Bonus Question: Do you ever go to conferences?

One of the best ways for small business owners to get their feet wet on the social media site is to join a conference-specific Twitter conversation using hashtags.

“Twitter is huge a tradeshows,” says McDonald. “The next time you go to your industry’s version of ‘nerdworld,’ boot up your Twitter page and participate in the conversation. It will help you get an idea of how to use the site.” 




 
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