Posts Tagged ‘Office Tips’

Flexible Work Environments: Today’s Workforce Wants Them

The standard 9-to-5 job is no longer the norm, it’s the exception. People want to be able to work when they want, where they want without sacrificing productivity. In order to do this, your business needs to utilize a variety of communications tools that allow for real-time communication between employees, teams and customers, no matter where they are that day.

Below are four communications tools I rely on, and your business can benefit from implementing, to stay productive and get work done whether you’re in the office, working from a coffee shop or on a flight.

Email Access from Anywhere

Can you imagine conducting business without email? It seems impossible in today’s world. Email allows you to communicate and share information with people across the world. On a recent trip to San Francisco, I was able to work from my hotel room, from the back seat of my Uber, and while waiting for a delayed flight at the airport all thanks to email access on my cell phone. This type of flexibility and mobility wasn’t available a few years ago, but now I can’t imagine working without it.

Instant messenger/Chat

Instant messaging (or chat) is to email what a phone call is to sending a letter. It allows for real-time communication between employees and customers. If your business doesn’t currently use a company-wide instant messaging system, you’re missing out on an easy and effective communication channel. There are a ton of free instant messenger options out there, but for more advanced features and usability, you may need to pay a small fee (worth it!). An added bonus, many solutions come with mobile apps so you can chat with co-workers even when you’re away from your computer.

Business cloud phone system

There are times when email and instant massager aren’t enough; you need to actually speak with a colleague or customer on the phone. Business cloud phone systems, such as Nextiva, allow you to take your business phone with you anywhere. There’s no need for two different phones or to provide people with an office and cell number anymore. Think of your phone number as any “anywhere” number when you have a cloud phone system. People can call one number and reach you in the office, on your home office phone or on your mobile device via the Nextiva App—really any device that has your number assigned to it. Even if you don’t have the mobile app, you can forward calls to a device of your choice based on a schedule or number of rings.

Online project management system

If you frequently collaborate on projects with different team members or departments, an online project management system will be a game changer. Emails are easy to miss, but housing all communication related to a project within a single system (Asana and Slack are popular, low-cost options), ensures nothing is missed. You can receive alerts for projects you are a part of when team members comment or add attachments. You can create tasks and sub-tasks that need to be completed for a project and they will all be housed within the larger project, keeping everything organized an in one place. Also, assign tasks to different team members and set due dates to keep people accountable and on track. Since the project management system is hosted online, you can access documents and see progress anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Moving everyday work systems to the cloud has not only cut down on expensive IT costs, but it enables employees to be productive wherever and whenever they want.

What is your favorite communications tool to use when working outside of the office?

3 Benefits of Using Auto Attendants for Your Business Communication

8:7 Auto Attendant Benefits smallThere are a variety of ways to route incoming calls to specific departments, teams, groups of employees, or individuals. The most common ways to route calls is by an employee answering the phone when it rings, via a live receptionist, or through an Auto Attendant. All options will help a caller get to where they need to go eventually, but utilizing an Auto Attendant with your phone system will significantly improve the likelihood they reach the correct destination the first time. Not only does this improve the customer experience, but it also saves your company from wasting precious time that can be better spent on other tasks and projects.

So what exactly is an Auto Attendant? Think of it as a virtual receptionist. An Auto Attendant presents the caller with an audible greeting (that is customized for your business), which offers the caller options to select. Once an option has been made, the call will be redirected to the chosen destination.

Auto Attendants are an invaluable feature of cloud-based business phone systems, and we’ve highlighted three key benefits below.

Top 3 benefits of implementing an Auto Attendant at your business

1. Your own virtual receptionist:

Gone are the days of needing someone, whether a dedicated receptionist or team member, to answer the phone and route calls to the appropriate destination. With cloud-based phone systems, such as Nextiva Office®, you can program callers’ options and route calls automatically to the specified destination.  

2. Increase team productivity:

How many times has a customer called your office when they meant to call your location across town, or you answered a call that was meant for the Billing department? By understanding your customers and what they commonly call in about, you can customize your Auto Attendant to include these options and significantly reduce the amount of times your team answers a call that is not related to their job responsibilities. Reducing the amount of time wasted on these calls will increase your team’s productivity (less interruptions!).

3. Significant cost savings:

Eliminating the need for a receptionist or team member to route calls saves you significant operating costs and human resources. The money previously spent on these wages can be reallocated to other areas of your business that will propel it forward.

All Nextiva Office plans come with the Auto Attendant feature. To learn more about how Auto Attendants and other cloud-based features can improve your business communications visit

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Provide Proactive Customer Care

How proactive is your small business’s customer service? Even if your customer service reps are ready to respond to phone calls on the first ring, know all the answers and can solve every possible problem a customer may have, they could still be doing more. “Proactive customer care” is one of the top customer service trends identified in WDS’ latest report, 10 Trends In Customer Care 2015.

Being proactive means providing customer service assistance before the customer even asks—and WDS believes it will be an increasingly important differentiator in the coming years. In brick-and-mortar retailing, the proactive “How can I help you?” greeting is ingrained in customer service. But how can this proactive attitude extend to other industries and online-only businesses? Here are some suggestions.

  • Follow up when an order is placed to confirm the order and provide an estimated delivery date. Make the message personalized by using a particular customer service rep’s name and having them take ownership of the customer.
  • Have salespeople contact customers after the purchase is completed to see if they are happy with the product or service, have any questions or would like to learn about complementary products or services. Using CRM, this can easily be done using templates that salespeople personalize and scheduling the outreach ahead of time.
  • Learn from customers’ activity on your website. If a customer is spending a lot of time on a particular page or product, or looking at “Help” and “FAQ” areas, reach out with a popup asking if the customer needs help and offering the option of live chat or a customer service phone number to call. This way, customers can get help in the way they prefer.
  • If your data shows certain customers make recurring or seasonal purchases (such as garden supplies every spring, a thorough housecleaning before Thanksgiving or skincare products every few months), contact them a few weeks ahead of the next time they’re likely to buy, and offer to set them up on an auto-ship or recurring service plan at a discount to lock in the current price.

By reaching out to offer assistance before customers need it, you’ll make their lives easier—and your business more memorable the next time they’re looking for what you sell. 

Delegate — but Don’t Abdicate — with Service Providers

7-37 Delegatiing & reviewing smallYou hire accountants, lawyers and other professionals because they have specialized knowledge that you don't have. This means that you can count on them to do their work without supervision, right? Well, not so fast.

Everyone makes occasional errors. As long as the name of your business appears on the paperwork, you have ultimate responsibility. So, whether you need to stay out of the line of sight of a possible IRS audit or you want to ensure that your advertising is accurate, you need to periodically check the work of the people that you hire to help with your business.

Here are some guidelines for checking the work of people who know their business better than you do.

Accountants Know Where the Debits Go, but You Can Still Check the Numbers

Before the advent of tax software, one accountant admitted that he knew the accounting rules in impressive detail, but he was quick to make mathematical errors. Happily, the software now eliminates mathematical errors, but entering accurate data in the right place is still largely a human effort.

While W2 earnings generally come straight from a computer, a more common area of error is the 1099 reporting of non-employee earnings. Granted, these recipients will be quick to tell you about errors, but it is far less work to get it right before you send the forms to the IRS. And, if you do have to send corrected 1099s, don't do it before you make sure the "CORRECTED" box is checked. Otherwise, these forms will start to seem like a second career.

You also want to look at the big picture and trust your intuition if you think that something is wrong. For example, if your tax forms (or even your financial statements) show earnings or profits significantly different than you expected them to be, you may not know how to dig into the financial weeds to find out if the number is accurate. But, you certainly can ask the accountant to explain it to you.

Lawyers Know the Law, but You Know the Questions

Your eyes may glaze over after reading the first sentence of a contract or other legal document, but your signature commits you to every word of legalese. Lawyers will tell you that the legalese is necessary for the sake of precision, but it certainly seems like it is intended to discourage careful review by laypeople.

So, make yourself an 8-ounce cup of espresso (or a highly-caffeinated beverage of choice), and read every word before signing. Check every number for accuracy and make sure that you understand every nuance of what you are committing to. Then, discuss your questions with your lawyer. If you don't understand the answers, insist that he or she speak to you in English.

Advertising Agencies Know How to Sell, but You Know How to Proofread

It is not uncommon to leave your company's ad campaign largely in the hands of advertising professionals. But, understand that creative people do not always do the best job with details, so don't let them release print or broadcast ads without conducting a full review.

Remember that just one character can make a huge difference. Do you really want to commit to a 100 percent discount when you intended it to be 10 percent? Or do you want customers beating a path to 2000 Orchard Street when your store is a mile away at 2000 Orchard Lane? Don't allow any ad to go out before you thoroughly check the fine points.

Software Does Things Consistently, but You Know When it's Consistently Wrong

Today's off-the-shelf software is generally pretty accurate, but it's not perfect, so you need to keep a watchful eye on the details. For example, a great way to monitor tax preparation software is to watch the results of your entries on the tax totals that are typically displayed on every screen. If you enter a known deduction and then see the taxes increase, there's something seriously wrong that you need to investigate.

When you hire a company to produce custom software for your business, you need to get involved in testing before taking it live. Make sure that the company uses test data that you provide because you can then predict the results. Even when tests run clean, you should also run the new software in parallel with your old system over an extended time period to make sure that the results are accurate to the penny.

When it Comes to Your Business, You are the Ultimate Expert

As a small business owner, you wear many hats, but you can't be an expert in every aspect of your company. Even though you cannot match the knowledge of the outside resources that you hire, they can't match your knowledge either. In the end, everything boils down to details that you can — and should — check.

Four Key Cloud Communications Trends

Cloud communications solutions are becoming increasingly popular among businesses, and implementing these technologies in your business will help you gain a competitive advantage.  

Below are four key trends you need to know about cloud communications that are changing the way businesses communicate, operate, grow, and succeed.

Decrease in Cost

With flat monthly fees, unlimited calling and enhanced features, switching to a cloud-based phone system will save your business significant operational costs while boosting your team's productivity. A recent article by the Huffington Post stated, “Hosted VoIP is rapidly being adopted by many businesses who seek to avoid the excess costs and complexities of an on premise phone service solution.”

In addition to phone service, there are a variety of cloud-based communication, collaboration and relationship management tools that will take your business to the next level.  As these technologies and features have moved to the cloud, they are now available at a fraction of the cost because expensive infrastructure, equipment and on-site IT staff to manage the systems are no longer necessary. The total cost of ownership of cloud-based tools is significantly less than traditional systems. With the decrease in price of these technologies and the increase in features, small and medium size businesses are able to grow at an unprecedented rate. 

Mobility is Key

The concept of mobility isn’t new, but its importance to business success is now undeniable. It is essential for business professionals to have the ability to conduct business from anywhere, and cloud communications and collaborations systems provide the flexibility they need. Just as today’s consumers want to be able to make a bank deposit while sitting on the beach, today’s workforce needs to be able to work while waiting for a flight, sitting in a coffee shop between meetings, or from home while being as productive as they are in the office.

Cloud communications allow remote team members to stay connected and manage their phone system, files and meetings from web-based interfaces that are accessible from anywhere. Businesses will increase team productivity significantly by investing in cloud-based technologies that promote mobility and a flexible work environment.

Cloud-Based File Backup and Storage

You can’t afford to lose important business files or not be able to access them when the need arises. Backing up and storing your files in the cloud makes it easy to access files from anywhere, share them with colleagues, and collaborate on projects with remote workers. Backing up your files to the cloud also ensures your business doesn’t miss a beat in the event of a natural disaster or internal network issue.

Companies of All Sizes are Adopting Unified Communications Solutions

Unified cloud communications benefits companies of all sizes and industries. There isn’t a business out there that wouldn’t like to increase team productivity and efficiency. Those two ingredients, along with hard work and dedication, are what create and grow successful businesses. The move to cloud-based systems allows large enterprises to retire their outdated and costly equipment, and allows small businesses to implement technologies that were previously unattainable.

Has your business thought about moving to the cloud?

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. 

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