Posts Tagged ‘Office Tips’


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

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

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

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

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

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


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Does Your Customer Service Automation Go Too Far?

5-26 automated customer service smallDo you think crotchety senior citizens are the only people who still complain about not being able to talk to a live customer service rep? Think again. When a recent poll asked 1,000 U.S. consumers for their number-one customer service gripe, not being able to get from an automated phone system to a live person was the top complaint among Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers alike.

Although often portrayed as wanting to interact with businesses entirely online, 32 percent of Millennials say their biggest frustration is being unable to reach a live person. Thirty percent of Gen X consumers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers feel the same way.

Of course, this doesn’t mean customers are opposed to automated customer service systems—90 percent have used them and nearly 60 percent say, in general, such systems have improved customer service. But the key is making intelligent use of your automated customer service system. How can you do this?

  • Always offer the option to reach a live person. Don’t make callers guess which button they need to push to get to a live representative, or wait through three minutes’ worth of options. When you run a small business, customers expect to get through quickly and to receive a personalized touch, so make sure you provide this.
  • Provide alternatives. If call wait times are unusually long at a specific time, for instance, offering callers the option to leave a voicemail that is then forwarded to a customer service rep’s email enables them to get their messages through with less frustration.
  • Choose customer service tools that integrate with your CRM. You’ll gain access to historical customer data that immeasurably improves your customer service reps’ ability to provide personalized, relevant service. If customers have been on hold for a while, having their data at the rep’s fingertips does a lot to ease their frustration.

With 87 percent of consumers polled saying customer service systems have a significant impact on their choice of businesses, and two-thirds reporting they’ve stopped doing business with a company due to poor service, using customer service technology the right way is more vital than ever.


How to Win Against the Biggest Time Wasters In Your Business

3-13 stop wasting time smallMany small business owners confuse being busy with being productive. You are busy, but are you always productive? Are you getting done what you want to complete every day? Wasting time is a luxury small business owners literally can’t afford. Interruptions typically dominate the workday and it becomes difficult to get anything done.

Here are the biggest time wasters in every small business and how to defeat them:

1. Meetings

Meetings are a huge drain on small business efficiency. It’s easy to fall into the habit of holding meetings on every subject and getting stuck in them back-to-back until the end of the working day. What is actually being gained in a particular meeting? What can only be accomplished by getting people together face to face or by phone?

Stop wasting time in meetings:

  • Have an agenda and stick to it. Begin and end on time. Make sure there are stated objectives and review follow ups before the meeting adjourns.
  • Stand up. For quick updates, don’t even give your team the chance to sit down and get comfortable. Hold a stand up meeting for a maximum of fifteen minutes.
  • Leave the phones outside (or turned off). Don’t allow distractions of these rings, buzzes and beeps.
  • Keep it lean. Carefully consider how many people really need to be involved. Too many people drain time and productivity, but a lack of key decision makers at the meeting will ensure that nothing gets accomplished.

2. Social Media

Business owners frequently spend little time on the marketing side of their business. Social media can be a huge time waster reading feeds, crafting tweets, Facebook updates, and writing content for their company blog.

Stop wasting time on social media:

  • Schedule with care. Invest in tools that will allow you to schedule what’s going out weeks in advance and keep track of your company’s entire social media presence in one spot.
  • Narrow your focus. It’s better to be really strong on one platform (hopefully the one where your customers spend the most time) than average across all platforms.

3. Email

Emails are never ending; your inbox seems to go from 0 to 60 unread messages in 3.5 seconds. New email notifications pop up or you check it a hundred times a day.

Stop wasting time with emails:

  • Just turn it off. Automatic email notifications are an interruption and absolutely kill productivity. You really don’t need to reply to every email that hits your inbox within five minutes. It sets the wrong expectation with clients and can mean tasks take twice as long. Only check your email intermittently throughout the day (e.g. first thing in the morning, lunch, before you leave).
  • Set expectations. Let your clients know you only check email certain times throughout the day and direct them to call or text you if they need a quick response.
  • Handle each email once. When reading an email, immediately reply, delete, file or set a follow up time to deal with it more fully. Distribute your emails into folders as soon as you read them. Save documents to your computer with appropriate names and file folders.
  • Unsubscribe. Most emails are subscription-based and now is the time to unsubscribe. Be honest with yourself about which ones you never ever read.

4. Administrative Tasks

Too often, small-business owners waste time on tasks they don't like or stink at. A lot of these tasks are accounting related—invoicing, payroll, and chasing down bad debt. If you’re spent three hours reconciling a bank statement, you’re making poor use of your time.

  • Outsource. It may seem counterintuitive, but hiring out these tasks can actually be less expensive. How do you value your time? Put a price on it and compare it to the price of paying someone else.
  • Use an online tool. If you’re not quite ready to entirely outsource, make sure you are using online tools to ease your burdens. Accounting tools, for example, generate invoices, follow up with overdue invoices automatically, and give you fast overview of debits and credits so you always know what’s happening in your bank account.
  • Use one system. Use a unified communication solution (voice, video, mobile) like Nextiva so you never miss a customer interaction wherever your staff is located. Get all your messages coming to one place.

Most importantly, the evening before, pick your two “must completes” for the next day. Do those tasks in the morning before anything else and you can call the day a success!

Did your biggest time waster make the list?


Lease vs. Buy: Which is Right for Your Small Business?

3-4 lease or buy equipment smallCongratulations! You’ve secured an office space and are ready to begin setting up shop in your new small business location. But before you can start welcoming clients and customers through the door, you need to fill your office with furniture and equipment. This component of business ownership can be an expensive part of the process. One way to keep costs low is to look at leasing equipment rather than buying it outright. Which approach is best for your small business? Let’s look at the advantages of leasing and buying.

Advantages of Leasing

  • Better Cash Position: There are several advantages to this strategy, the most important being an improvement in your cash position. A loan to purchase equipment requires at least 25 percent of the loan in cash up front. Other than a refundable security deposit, equipment leases require no money down. This saves you considerable cash that you would be spending if you purchased it instead.
  • Easier to Secure Funding: It’s also easier to secure financing for leasing over buying. Leasing companies typically want a year or less of business credit history before approving a lease of furniture or office equipment. Capital equipment loans, on the other hand, require three years of financial history.
  • You Won’t Be Stuck with Obsolete Equipment: Another advantage leasing offers is the ability to change out equipment every one to two years. This is important because, seeing how quickly technology changes, it’s important not to be stuck with an antiquated machine when something faster and cheaper is available. Always see if you can negotiate a “modern equipment substitution clause” that lets you trade up for the latest technology.
  • Leasing Helps the Bottom Line: Your accountant may be able to re-categorize some assets on your balance sheet if you lease equipment, which can make your business’ debt-to-equity ratio look much healthier, as will your earnings-to-fixed-assets ratio.

Advantages of Buying

  • Less Expensive Overall: Over the long-term, leasing equipment is typically always more expensive than buying it outright. The reason is because you are paying for the item and monthly interest on the lease. So while you may be expending less cash each month, you are paying more over the course of the multi-year lease loan.
  • Ownership: With a lease, you are paying for items that you are only borrowing from someone else. At the conclusion of the payment cycle, you are not left with anything you own and are forced to start anew by expending more cash. Buying, on the other hand, provides you with an asset you can sell.
  • Tax Advantages:  Small businesses often miss out on the substantial savings that can be made by claiming business expenses. The office equipment you purchase for your business is tax-deductible, which can make a significant impact on your expenses and overall income when it comes time to pay taxes.

When furnishing your office with equipment and furniture, it’s best to review your financial plan before making any decision. Always run your numbers first to determine what you can afford and whether it makes more sense to buy or lease items. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Make Your Employees More Productive

12-30 Office Environment smallThe holidays are the season of giving, so since we’re just days away from the New Year, why not think about ways to give your employees a more comfortable workplace in 2015? This might sound frivolous, but in reality a comfortable work environment has been shown to make employees more creative, productive and happier with their jobs. That type of “gift” can’t help but translate into better interactions with customers!

Here are five ideas for ways to improve your employees’ work environment.

  1. Seating: Ergonomic desks and task chairs have become very affordable. Try letting workers pick the options they want on their own chairs (within a certain price range), such as with or without arms, with different back levels and with height-adjustable options.
  2. Lighting: Natural light is best—it helps keep employees alert, happy and engaged. If your office space doesn’t provide much natural light, look into getting light bulbs that mimic natural light. Also consider creating a break space outside so employees can get some sunlight during their downtime.
  3. Air quality: Since most office spaces don’t have windows that open, keeping air quality high is vitally important. Make sure your business’s air ducts are cleaned regularly so employees aren’t breathing polluted or allergen-laden air.
  4. Heating and cooling: In general, cooler temps are better for keeping workers alert and energetic, but you don’t want it so cold that people have to wear gloves at work or that they start bringing space heaters, which can be a fire hazard. Work with your team to find a comfortable level, and make sure your HVAC system is well maintained.
  5. Variety: Who does their best work in a beige box? Add life to your office with indoor plants, framed artwork and colorful carpeting or paint on the walls. Offering variety in seating and working arrangements can spark creativity and energize workers. For example, a few comfy couches or chairs scattered in inviting areas will encourage employees to chat, which might lead to informal brainstorming and innovations for your business. A cozy break room will get people to hang around work at lunch instead of leaving the building; that means less likelihood of late lunches and more employee bonding.

By implementing these five simple changes, you can create a more inviting workplace where people are happy to spend time and feel “fired up” to do their best. 


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Ways to Get More Done in Less Time

As a veteran of more late nights than I can count, I’d give anything if there were just a few more hours in each day to get work done. But short of adding time to the clock, there are some ways small business owners can accomplish more in less time. Here are five ideas to try.

  1. Come in late or leave early. Many small business owners get more done working at home, where they aren’t juggling meetings, clients and pop-in employees all day. It’s perfectly legit to come in late or leave early to get some work done at home before or after normal work hours. Just make sure once you’re in the office, you focus on helping your team with what they need.
  2. Minimize email. Lessen your email burdens by sending fewer emails in the first place, and keeping those you do send super-short. Forward less-important emails to an assistant (real or virtual) to handle. (Even better, have the assistant sort through your emails in the first place and only send you the important ones.) Create shortcuts or templates with your most-common replies instead of typing the same thing dozens of times a day. When you see “reply all” email chains getting out of hand, nip it in the bud.
  3. Delegate. Many small business owners work long hours because they can’t let go. Employees welcome the chance to learn and take tasks off your plate—that’s what they’re there for. Start small with simple tasks and build up to the big things.
  4. Automate. Use technology to do what it does best: save you time. Store documents and data in the cloud to eliminate endless hunts for files. Synch your desktop, laptop and mobile devices so you always have access to the same information no matter where you are. Cut back on tedious tasks like scanning, faxing and sorting receipts by using smartphone apps to speed these chores.
  5. Take breaks. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking frequent, short breaks makes the time you do spend working more productive so you can get more done in less time. A recent study said those who work intensely for 52 minutes and then take 17 minutes breaks are more productive than those trying to muscle through without taking breaks. Use that break time to walk around the office checking in on your staff. Don’t spend that brain-break on your computer—that won’t refresh your mind the same way physical movement and real-world interaction will. ‚Äč

Clock hanging in modern railway station


Mondays with Mike: The 8 Female Values Every Male Leader Needs

Stocksy_txpc96af066We9000_Small_285956I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some spectacularly smart and strong women throughout my career, and I’m frequently reminded of the values that these women have displayed – things I’m working hard to implement in my own business.  Whether you believe that gender differences are the result of nature or of nurture, don’t miss out on the lessons you can learn from successful women.

  1. Self-worth derives from community service.  Some men tend to be trophy hunters – racking up accomplishments and money in an attempt to demonstrate their value to the world.  Women tend to see their relationship to their community – and the vital ways in which they are connected to their community – as the hallmark of success.  Keeping in mind that we are part of our community and that it is our interconnectedness that makes and keeps us relevant and necessary can help us focus on strengthening ties rather than creating distance.
  2. Presentation matters.  Women have been judged by their appearances to a much greater degree than men have, and it’s worth remembering that we only get one chance to make a first impression.  Make sure that you present yourself as organized, neat, and capable … every time.  And hey – stylish doesn’t hurt either!
  3. Balance work and home.  While no one gets it perfect every day, women tend to make the effort to flourish in their careers, while still making time to spend time with their families.  It’s important to maintain the vital support of our home lives – the support that will actually help us succeed in business.  Don’t devote all of your time to your career at the expense of your partner and your family.
  4. Tolerate pain.  Running a successful business is hard work – much like the labor that precedes a delivery.  Women are masters as gritting their teeth, settling in for the long haul, and getting the job done.  Growing a business is a struggle, and it’s never painless.  Entrepreneurs can’t afford to be wimps!
  5. Multitask.  Women tend to be much more adept than men at juggling multiple tasks efficiently.  While there is something to be said for a single-minded focus, sometimes concentrating on just one task is a luxury we don’t have.  When you’re faced with many things all competing for your attention, observe some women working on multiple tasks and see if you can improve your multitasking abilities.
  6. Ask for help.  We joke about the man who will drive around forever and never stop to ask for directions, but the joke hits close to home for some men.  Realizing that you’re not an expert in everything and that asking for help is actually a sign of strength lets you avail yourself of the expertise that’s all around you.  You don’t have to be the best at every task that keeps your business running, and asking employees or mentors for advice or assistance shows your confidence in them.
  7. Use social skills.  Women are master networkers.  They use their ties to the community as a powerful asset, and nurturing those connections will put you in contact with more clients and more collaborators.
  8. Collaborate.  As fields become increasingly specialized, we’re going to find more tasks that require us to collaborate with other experts.  If you’re focused on producing the very best products and services, that goal will nearly always be more easily achieved by collaboration.  Look around you for folks who can make you better.

In listing these values that I’ve seen in so many successful women, I’m not guy-bashing.  I work hard to keep an open mind about techniques for improving my abilities to run my businesses, and I’ve learned that success had no gender.  It’s available to us all.


How to Get the Work Done and Still Go on Vacation

Stocksy_txp611ba5ef119000_Small_293786American small business owners don’t take enough vacation. In fact, the United States is the only western nation without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation. Do they know something we don’t?

Most entrepreneurs would agree that time away from work is actually good for their productivity. Unfortunately, so many small business owners are afraid to take vacation for fear of missing something or the their company “falling apart”. However, vacation time is actually a good time to measure how well the company actually operates without you. If the company‘s success is all about you, it is actually a very dangerous situation. Assign someone take your place while you are on vacation and test what happens. Even though it is a risk, a company that runs without your daily involvement is more valuable to any buyer or shareholder.

When I go on vacation, I do come back to over 3,000 emails, but I also realize that no one died and nothing happened that I could not be resolved the next week. No matter how fast we think business moves, things will many times wait longer than you initially realized. While there may be a few missed opportunities, the time away will be worth the increased productivity when you return.

If you can’t leave work for an entire week to recharge, consider doing work every morning for an hour while on vacation. During this time, follow these strict rules:

  1. Set an out of out of office message on your email and voice mail. Do not respond to emails that can be successfully handled by others at the company or when you return. While this may be tempting, it is important not to engage in these conversations since they will lead to additional work while on vacation.
  2. Leave strict instructions with your staff. This should include not to be bothered unless they need your advice or approval to a situation that will be “irreversible” if it is resolved instead in a week. Never call into the office to see “what’s happening”.
  3. Have no major deadlines while on vacation. Don’t take work with you. Any business done during this week should be to new issues that come up while you are gone.
  4. Do not use your laptop, tablet or phone for work except during this one hour a day. If you forgot something that you think of later in the day, write it down and let it wait to be addressed until the following morning.

What tips do you have to go on vacation from work?


How to Prevent Hacking of Your Email

??????????????????????????Security is one of the biggest issues facing small businesses. With BYOD policies (Bring Your Own Device), many small businesses make easy targets for hacks that can literally cause havoc in their company. This is the result of having less sophisticated security that larger companies employ to protect themselves.

Many security breaches occur through email since they are a lot like postcards that travel over the internet. They are addressed to a person, but anyone can turn them over and read them. This is a major problem since emails often contain customer sensitive information.

When small businesses share information with their clients via email, they are liable for protecting that data. If a client sends their credit card information and someone intercepts that email, it can be used fraudulently. Not only does it reflect very poorly on the business, they may be liable

Here are a few steps small business owners should take to protect their email communication:

  1. Do not share passwords or accounts.  A lot of small businesses have a general account for communicating with customers that several people have access to. The problem is that every person can now access every message. Action to take: Increase the security of email communications by using person-specific accounts and not sharing passwords. Remember, a general account can automatically forward email to many person specific accounts if information always needs to be shared.
  2. Prevent physical access.. Leaving a computer open and unattended makes it incredibly easy for someone to walk up and read emails. Action to take: Make sure that all devices lock after not being used for 15 seconds and require a password to logon.
  3. Encrypt emails. Email encryption services, such as Enlocked, give an easy way to secure messages, allowing them to be sent safely over standard email. The service works right within an email environment. Action to take. Draft an email and address it to a user just like normal except next to the send standard button is a “send secure” button. The recipient receives the message normally, but must authenticate themselves before viewing.
  4. Use different channels. A common method for sending sensitive information, such as usernames and passwords, is send them in separate emails. Action to take: Use two separate channels; send the username via email and the password via text message. Another popular method of protection is sending password protected files. It works as a great first step, but the sender still runs into the problem of safely communicating password information.

If protecting email communications is not seen as problem in your company, you haven’t had the problem. Take the necessary steps to protect sensitive information and evaluate what works best for your small business.




 
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