Posts Tagged ‘Employee Management’


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. 

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Motivate Holiday Workers

Woman wrapping Christmas giftsIs your small business hiring customer service, call center or retail sales employees to help you handle the upcoming holiday rush? Motivating workers who are with your company for only a short time can be challenging, especially during such a busy and stressful time of year. Here are some tips to keep your holiday employees happy—so your customers will be happy, too.

  • Make seasonal workers feel at home. No matter how busy you and your permanent employees are, it’s crucial to start temporary workers off right by making them feel like they belong in the business. Welcome them to the team and assign them a “buddy” or team leader who’ll be responsible for training them, getting them up to speed on company norms, and generally making sure they’re doing OK.
  • Provide clear directions. Start seasonal employees off slowly by teaching one task at a time and then adding on. Provide easy-to-follow checklists, “cheat” sheets and operations manuals new employees can turn to if they need memory aids to fall back on while learning their jobs.
  • Set goals. Setting measurable goals, such as how many calls customer service employees should handle per hour, lets temporary workers know how well they’re doing. Go beyond individual goals by holding contests such as departmental competitions or team challenges. This helps make stressful jobs fun, promotes bonding and motivates employees to continually improve.
  • Reward results. Giving regular rewards such as gift cards, comp time off or a 15-minute free neck massage to the seasonal employee of the day helps temporary employees feel appreciated. 
  • Be flexible. Seasonal employees are often students, parents or others who need flexible hours to fit their schedules. Be open to their needs for flexibility (within reason) and you’ll do better at retaining them.
  • Look ahead. Got a great seasonal worker? Keep the person’s contact information and stay in touch during the year. Offer perks or pay upgrades to lure the person back next year. 

Life Lessons on Training Great Employees

Dog Photo SmallAll of life’s experiences can provide insight into running a small business. A good friend just drove this point home after adopting a new dog. She’s full of stories about her training challenges and as she told me her tales (or should I say, “tails?”), it was clear that the principles applied to employee training as well. You may have never trained a pet, but your own childhood memories or even your favorite TV show provide lessons that can make you a more effective employee trainer.

Keep it Positive

When my dog-training friend talks about her own childhood music training, it is easy to see the difference that positive reinforcement makes in a person’s ability and willingness to learn. She dutifully practiced piano (for a while), but her mother kept running into the room, yelling, “WRONG NOTE!” She quickly lost interest in playing piano. On the other hand, her mother’s outspoken pride in her dance abilities created a prodigy. At 13 years old, she was the youngest student in the advanced class that was generally reserved for teachers.

Positive reinforcement has real power over employees’ current and future success, so be sure to catch trainees doing something right and commend them for it. Each success breeds employee confidence, making it easier to master future tasks successfully. In fact, a well-placed compliment can feed their drive for success throughout their careers.

Also, give employees credit for contributions in front of clients, vendors and other employees.  The more that the employee knows that they are valued, the more incentivized they will be to do their best work.

Set New Employees Up for Success

Of course, it’s hard to provide positive reinforcement when the tasks are too complicated to learn, so break down new tasks into smaller components to give employees a real chance at success. Think back to the classic I Love Lucy Episode when Lucy and Ethel take jobs in a candy factory. They had about a minute of training before taking their places at a slow-moving conveyor belt to wrap chocolates. When the belt speed increased, the girls start stuffing candies into their mouths, their blouses and even their hats. They were set up to fail.

Not all jobs can be learned in five minutes —or even a week. And even relatively simple jobs cannot be performed at top speed on the first day. Break down procedures into manageable tasks so employee successes drive accuracy. Consider constructing checklists that the employee signs off on as they finish each task component. If you set them up for success, your employees will gain confidence and speed.

Use Errors as Training Opportunities

You have the power to turn trainee mistakes into lessons, rather than sources of embarrassment. My dog-training friend was happily surprised when a gentle “uh-uh,” combined with an acceptable chew toy, stopped her pup from biting an electric cord — and he avoided all cords from that point on because he learned what was wrong and what was right. Of course, saying, “uh-uh” to an employee would be patronizing, however, pointing out an error and gently correcting it makes a lot of sense.

No matter how carefully you conduct training, employees do not always know what “right” looks like until you point it out. If they pick lug bolts when filling a customer order that requests lug nuts, you have the opportunity to go beyond correcting that single error. This is the time to point out that many fasteners have similar names, so a careful review of each bin label is essential while picking each item in an order.

Be Flexible

People have differing backgrounds and a variety of learning styles; they do not all need to learn the same things in the same way. You need to be flexible enough to make training interesting and informative on an individual basis.

I know a seasoned sales rep who nearly walked out on his first day when he was herded into a room with sales newbies to watch a week’s worth of generic sales training videos. Sure, he needed to learn the company’s product line and its sales culture, but he did not need to learn what a “cold call” is. Rather than lose the company’s most valuable new hire, the sales manager personally took on his training.

Let the Student Become the Teacher

New employees have a fresh outlook and ideas that are untainted by a “we’ve always done it this way” attitude. From their first day on the job, they can ask questions or spot process incongruities that can make things unnecessarily difficult. When my friend’s dog insisted on getting his leash attached while sitting on a chair, he made the process easier — no stooping required. So, whether trainees have certain personal preferences, or if they see ways to make a process simpler or more precise, you should listen and learn.

Even seasoned business owners have new things to learn. Just as you accept suggestions from your longer-term employees, never discount the possibility that the new kid on the block has something to contribute. Everyone benefits when the student becomes the teacher.


Ten Common And Dangerous Customer Service Mistakes

????????????????????????????????????????????Here are ten common but hazardous customer service mistakes.   All fixable (which keeps me in business), but each tragic in its own little, or not so little, way.

1. Burning your customers (and therefore yourself) because something bad happened once, or even never.  Not taking checks, for instance, because one time someone bounced one.

2. Forgetting it’s not just what you do, it’s also how you do it, specifically, it’s the language you use.   Language needs to be gentle, kind, and brand appropriate—without sounding stilted. And language includes getting the “words without words” right at your company as well: yielding the right of way to customers, never having your back to a guest, and so on

3. Failing the “cues to quality” test: customers in every setting pick up cues to quality from the darnedest places. Typos in your signs, dirty shoelaces on your nurses—this stuff matters.

4. Getting everything right except the beginning and the ending—the two most important moments as far as a customer’s memory is concerned. 

5. Hiring the wrong people and expecting that you'll be able to provide good customer service anyway. 

6. Hiring the right people but then failing to give them power: power to help customers in ways you haven’t thought of, power to design their tasks differently, power to do their best for you.

7. Treating your employees like dirt and expecting them to treat their customers like gold. You get a lot better results (not to mention karma) by emulating institutions like the Ritz-Carlton with its central operating philosophy of  putting employees and customers first: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”

8. Refusing to say you're sorry.

9. Saying you’re sorry in a way that makes it obvious that you aren’t, really. 

10. Being late, being misleading about timetables, being insensitive to the timing issues and pacing preferences and expectations of your customers.  Remember: a perfect product, delivered late, is a defect.


How to Handle the Bad Boys (and Girls) in Your Company

Do you have a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson working at your business? These are the incredibly talented employees whose behavior is destructive to the culture of your company. They may be the top salesperson that never comes to work on time. It may be the most senior employee that is always bad mouthing the customers. While you pretend that these standouts and your business can coexist, they are in fact destroying your company from the inside out. What makes it worse, every other employee knows it and, in fact, it affects their own performance.

Remember that you teach what you tolerate. By allowing their behavior, you are sending the message they are special and that the rules do not apply to them. Your short term thinking further encourages their harmful behavior. The sooner that the business owner realizes the overall effect, the faster the company can move forward.

To be proactive, here are the steps to take today:

  1. Envision a company without them. Imagining your business without these star players is scary. But think of how all the performances of the other team members will improve without them.
  2. Counsel them. They will be surprised when you first approach them that their behavior is detrimental to the rest of the team since you have tolerated it for so long. They will think that their performance more than makes up for any other bad behavior. Instead, review exactly what you expect and how you will monitor their future behavior. Most likely, they will agree to try to change.
  3. Hold them accountable for their behavior. Since change is difficult, the star employee needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis. Each time they exhibit the bad behavior again, review the change you expect. Repeat on an ongoing basis.
  4. Fire them (if necessary). In reality, few of these star employees will be able to change and in most cases, they will need to be fired. Be prepared to have to replace this person and have the timing fit when it is optimal for the company. Use documentation that you have monitored to complete the separation process.
  5. Share with the team. Tell the team why the star employee was let go and what the plan is to move forward without them. Most of them will applaud your decision and will work harder to help with the transition.

Who are the bad boys and girls inside your company?

Businessmen at Work


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 4 Customer Service Lessons From the Health Insurance Industry

???????????????????????????????????????????????Do you ever have to call your health insurance plan to get information about benefits or contest a claim? If you’re like most of us, you put off these calls as long as possible because you know it’s going to be a nightmare. But surprisingly, there are some lessons—both positive and negative—you can learn from making a customer service call to your health insurer.

Recently, my company had to switch health plans and Karen, one of my business partners (she handles our HR issues) spent quite a bit of time on the phone with our insurance company. Here’s what she learned that can help your business:

  1. Make sure your business website provides the information customers need. Armed with names of several insurance plans, Karen thought it would be a simple matter to look up the details and compare them. Think again: “I couldn’t find information about any of the plans online,” she says. Today, many customers prefer to do their pre-purchase research online. Providing basic information, downloadable PDFs of complex information or comparison charts of different products and services are easy ways to give customers what they need. (Most automotive websites do a great job of this, by the way.)
  2. Provide several ways to contact you. With only one basic phone number on the website, Karen was transferred several times, spending 45 minutes on hold before she even got to the correct department. If your business has multiple phone numbers for different types of customers (such as residential and commercial accounts), be sure they’re all clearly posted and differentiated on your website.
  3. Always get, and give, contact information. As soon as your customer service reps start a phone conversation with a customer, always have them ask for the person’s phone number immediately in case the call gets cut off. The insurance company didn’t do this, and after Karen finally got connected to the right department, the call cut off and she had to start all over again. When transferring a customer, have customer service reps give the person the phone number and/or extension you’re transferring them to, in case the same thing happens.
  4. Go above and beyond. After all this frustration, you might think Karen was ready to give up on the idea of health insurance altogether. Not so, because she finally got through to a customer service rep who went above and beyond. After Karen explained she’d been transferred all over and begged not to be transferred again, the woman patiently walked her through the company’s website, waiting while she went through every step, and even helped her Google information that couldn’t be found on the website. Even though this wasn’t her department, the rep sympathized with my Karen’s frustrations, helped her as far as she could and then connected her with an insurance broker to answer all the remaining questions.

The end result? Despite spending two hours on the phone, Karen ended the call feeling good about the company—all because of that one customer service rep who helped her.


Win More Customers with These Body Language Adjustments

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????Small business owners get out of practice. They spend so much time in their offices and online that they sometimes forget how to act when they come face to face with a prospect or customer. While many professionals spend time practicing what they will say in a meeting, few focus on what their body language looks like. This is unfortunate since studies show over half how we communicate comes from our facial expression and body positions.

Here is what you can do to win over more customers:

  1. Smile. The first thing a person sees when meeting is your facial expression. This begins on your approach and will set the tone for the entire meeting. Prepare for this by remembering positive things that make you smile about a minute before beginning that meeting. This will make smiling more unconscious and authentic. In the meeting, looking someone straight in the eye and smiling will instantly make them more comfortable. It will also make you more likable which increases the chance of a sale.
  2. Sit up straight. Customers get more confidence from people that hold themselves up straight then those that slouch. Most small business owners have poor posture from being at computers all day or talking on a smart phone. Before the meeting, stand with feet shoulder width apart and get a grounded footing. Then stand straight as if someone had a string attached to the top of your head. This will help you stand, walk and sit straighter. Customers will buy more from people that show confidence in themselves with this type of posture.
  3. Lean in. The physical orientation of two people together says a lot about their relationship. Slouching back in a chair or sitting straight on the end doesn’t make the other person comfortable. Instead, leaning forward will engage people in any conversation. This also enables you to talk more softly so people need to tune in to what you are saying. Leaning in can also show a greater intent to listen which the customer will appreciate. However, be careful not to invade their personal space. Also, try to sit side by side with someone you are trying to win over rather than two opposing chairs or across a desk or a table. This will help them feel you are both on the “same side”.
  4. Matching body language. When you “mirror” similar body language to the customer, it builds feelings of trust because it generates unconscious positive feelings of affirmation. It will make them think you agree with what they are saying which increases the likability factor.  This does not mean that every time the customer crosses their leg, you need to do the same. Instead, look for body language cues to copy over the course of your meeting.

Remember that business body language differs by culture. All of this takes practice so always make it a standard part of your pre-meeting preparation.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Use Incentives for Your Customer Service Employees

Salespeople typically get incentivized to motivate better performance, but do you offer incentives to your customer service employees, too? After all, they have the arguably harder job of keeping customers happy after the sale. Creating a customer service employee incentive program can not only improve your customer service, but also boost profits and help retain valued customer service workers.

Here are some tips for setting up a successful incentive program:

  • Set specific goals. What behaviors do you want to reinforce with your incentives? Take time to think about what customer service activities have the biggest effect on customer retention, profits and word-of-mouth. For example, rewarding the customer service rep who handles the most calls in the shortest time won’t be effective if those customers aren’t truly satisfied. In this case, rewarding employees who get the best customer reviews might be a better criterion.
  • Share the standards for obtaining incentives. Make it very clear to customer service employees what behaviors or actions you are rewarding and how you will measure their activities. This way, employees will know for themselves if they’re working up to par.
  •  Mix it up. Use different types of rewards depending on the behavior you’re trying to encourage, what your customer service reps want most, and what you can afford. You might want to use cash bonuses for some behaviors, gift cards or certificates for others, and recognition (such as “Employee of the Week”) for others. Also consider letting employees choose their own rewards from among a “menu” of options.
  • Make it fun. Customer service is a tiring job, so re-energize employees with game-oriented rewards that encourage friendly competition. For instance, you could wrap up a mystery prize and award it to the employee or team who most exemplifies going “above and beyond” at the end of a day.
  • Set a budget. Put money aside for customer service employee incentives—it’s important. If you’re on a tight budget, barter with other local businesses to get gift cards or free products and services you can use as rewards.
  • Make it a group activity. In addition to individual and team-based incentives, consider adding a departmental incentive such as an annual outing to a local theme park, sporting event or spa if the customer service department meets specific goals. Make sure the event is something all your customer service employees will enjoy and aspire to.

 

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at rieva@smallbizdaily.com, follow her on Google+  and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.


Are You Getting Everything You Should Be Out of Google Apps?

If you’re like many small businesses, you might be using Gmail for your company email addresses. Or maybe you rely on Google Calendar to alert you about meetings and events from any mobile device. But those are just the tip of the iceberg for Google Apps. There are tons more features that help you collaborate with your team, work away from your desktop, and hold more productive meetings, both in person and virtual.

Build a Smarter Team

The great thing about Google products is they work so well together, as well as individually, especially for teams. While I’ve written about the best apps small business owners need to thrive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Drive. When you’re collaborating on documents, sharing them in the cloud makes it easy for multiple people to access the documents and make their changes, without all that crossover of emails with different versions of that doc.You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and share them with anyone you want to have access to them.

And if your team isn’t in the office with you, Google Hangouts makes meetings easier. Up to 15 people can be on a call, and there are apps for mobile devices, so you’re not tethered to your desktop.

Google Calendar, too, is ideal when trying to schedule meetings for your team. You can share access of your calendar or see availability on others’ calendars, then send invites to your team. You can even include a video call in the invite (on Hangouts, of course!).

Taking it on the Go

There are compelling reasons for Google lovers to choose Android phones over Apple. They’re much more intuitive when it comes to using Google Apps, and many (like the Samsung S5) come standard with all of the apps built in. Sign in once and get access to your Hangouts, email, Drive, and calendar.

It’s the Little Things

Beyond these tools, there are plenty more. Like Google Vault, which helps you archive email and chats, making audits and legal research easy. Or Google Sites, a free tool with simple website templates. Groups let you channel your conversations into one place online, and Translate helps you understand foreign text.

Integrate What You’re Already Using

A little-known feature of Google Apps is its Marketplace (I myself didn’t even know about it until I did some digging). The apps here are from software and programs you’re likely already using, like CRM, workflow, and email marketing. Enabling your accounts to work within Google Apps streamlines the activity between the two.

For example, the Nimble app in the Marketplace gives Nimble users more functionality. It allows you to import contacts from your social stream with one click; link emails, tweets, tasks, and events to a profile; and allow your team to log into Nimble using their Google account.

You might even discover new tools, like the HelloFax app, which lets you fax documents from your Drive. Or QuoteRoller, which helps you build out quotes and proposals.

All This…at What Cost?

If you signed up for Google in 2012 or earlier, you’ve been grandfathered in to free services. But at only $50 a year (or $120 with unlimited storage and Vault), it remains an affordable option for any small business looking for easy productivity tools.

We’ve come to rely heavily on Google, and for good reason: the brand keeps providing useful tools that help us do more with our businesses.

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