Posts Tagged ‘Online tips’


The Customer Experience Can Always Be Improved

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker.

Customers place a certain value on consistency and familiarity when it comes to painlessly ordering or experiencing goods and services. For example (as a customer myself):

  • When I order something online from a company I’ve visited before, I expect the menu screen to be essentially the same as I’ve become accustomed to—I don’t want to bother with relearning the ordering protocol.
  • When I phone my heating oil company to place an order, I expect the usual protocol: to be told the current price per gallon, to be given a reasonable time frame for the delivery, and to have the delivery driver already know exactly where my fill spout is and how to get to it, without requiring me to be home at the time.

However, while customers value a feeling of consistency, a masterful company knows it always needs to improve, even to maintain that semblance of consistency, because customer expectations are continually getting more intense.

In the early twentieth century, just about thirty years after the telephone was invented and greeted with awe, the great writer and observer Marcel Proust made note of how unappreciated the phone had already become. Within a single generation, the telephone had gone from a miracle to an ordinary nuisance, spending more time complaining when hum or static broke up the line than on recognizing the essential wonder of this still quite new technology.

What was true of the telephone then is true today of all aspects of the customer experience.  And today, of course, the timetable in which perceptions change is much shorter than thirty years. What was a groundbreaking improvement in customer convenience last year is ho-hum today; what was timely last week feels as slow now as a dial-up modem.

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Nordstrom (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

A masterful company understands this and adapts and retools continually. For instance, a retail chain could have a simply stated goal as follows for each new location: “Make this store better than the last one we opened.” This simple approach is an optimal way to improve with every store opening and also avoid endless second-guessing and regrets about past shortfalls.

“Better,” sadly, is always going to be subjective.  And “better” very likely does not mean “change up everything.”  To do so will unnerve your existing customers who have gotten used to things the way they are.  And it may also deter not-yet customers, who are surprised by something so outside the norms of your industry.  A subtle, deft hand is necessary.

And, sometimes, the success or failure of your intended improvement won’t be clear for some time.  This stuff isn’t easy.  But standing still doesn’t work either.  Because it will feel to your customers, and your prospective customers, as if you’re moving backward.

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Sooner or later as you continue to improve the customer experience you provide, you’re going to run into another issue:  “Is this [our customer experience, our customer service] better than it needs to be?

Think this through carefully.  Features (even very subtle features and nearly invisible touches) that your customers value need to be shielded from willy-nilly cost cutting. At the same time, there are undoubtedly excesses built into some customer encounters and services. A specific sort of excess you should tune your antennae for is called lily-gilding. (The term comes from an approximation of Shakespeare:’‘To gild refined gold, to paint the lily’’—to overdo the already perfect, in other words.)

Lily-gilding is the brilliantly hand polished finish on an end table—when the end table is always hidden by a tablecloth. It’s an air conditioning compressor too powerful for the space it cools.

In customer interactions, lily-gilding takes the form of fancying up your offering beyond what your customers are interested in (or interested in paying for). This has both obvious and hidden costs. The hidden costs include excess features that can make your offering less attractive by complicating it for customers or implying to customers that they’re paying for something they don’t need.

This is rarely a central problem in customer service.  But it is absolutely one to keep half an eye on as you strive, always, to improve. 


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.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Get Control of Your Email

Is your email out of control? Are you constantly checking it on three different devices and feel like you never get out from under the avalanche? If your emails seem to be multiplying like rabbits, don’t despair—there are ways to get a grip and get back control of your life. Not all of the following tactics will work for everyone—but some should work for you.

  • Avoid checking email first thing in the morning. If you find that email sucks up your time and keeps you from accomplishing big projects, try designating the first hour of your day as email-free. Just be sure you use that time to work on key tasks that are crucial to your business—not busywork or checking Facebook. By dedicating a solid hour a day to focused effort, you’ll be amazed how much more you get done. (Disclosure: I offer this advice because so many time management people put it on their lists of must-do’s. Personally, I always check email first thing in the morning. To do otherwise seems counter-productive to me.)
  • Turn off email notifications. If your computer or smartphone dings every time you get a new email, no wonder you’re going nuts. Turn off notifications so you can focus instead of being interrupted every two seconds.
  • Set times for checking email. It’s human nature to seek out the new and exciting. When we’re bored or stressed, it’s natural to check our email to see if anything more interesting has come along. You’ll get more done if you set a few specific times of day for checking email—for example, one hour into your day, right before lunch, early afternoon and near the end of the day. If you let your team know about your email habits, they won’t panic when you don’t respond immediately.
  • Use filters, folders, rules and other tools. Whether you use Gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail or other program, investigate the tools available on your email program to help manage email. Spending a few hours now learning how to automatically sort emails into folders, set rules for what to do with emails and using filters to ensure you don’t miss important emails (and don’t waste time on pointless ones) will save you hours each day in the end.
  • Automate and delegate. If you frequently answer the same types of emails, such as a certain kind of customer inquiry, creating templates with stock language you can edit quickly will save you time. Or delegate these standard replies to an assistant (real or virtual).
  • Pick up the phone. Sometimes we spend hours going back and forth on email when a simple phone call would solve the issue in a flash. Never minimize the value of in-person communication.

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How to Lower Your Bounce Rate on Your Small Business Website

???????You have a beautifully designed website. Check. Targeted keywords on the website. Check. You have a way to capture email addresses on your website. Check. So why aren’t you getting more customers from your small business website? You might have a decent flow of people visiting your site, but if they’re not converting to sales, it’s time to look at the reasons why. Start by examining your bounce rate.

What the Heck is a Bounce Rate?

Just like a shiny rubber ball, your bounce rate happens when people land on your site and then quickly bounce away. You can find your bounce rate by looking at your Google Analytics once e month. The technical definition for bounce rate: the percent of people who leave your site after visiting just one page. The higher the bounce rate, the more people are leaving rather than looking around. The average bounce rate is 50%. Here’s an illustration:

  1. Someone searches for something they’re looking for online.
  2. Your site shows up in those search results. They click your link.
  3. They land on your home page, don’t see what they expected, then leave.

So the question is: why are they not finding what they want? Why do they leave before even exploring your site? Typically there are a few reasons for this.

1. Your Design is Unappealing

While you wouldn’t expect a visitor to your site to hold bad design against you, first impressions really do matter. And if your website hasn’t been updated for 5 years, or is cluttered with ads or popups, there’s not much you can do to convince people to stay, even if your products are amazing.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this: get a new design! Website design has come way down in pricing, and there are even templates and platforms you can customize and manage yourself.

2. Poor Keywords

Let’s say the name of your company is Red Ball Marketing. You don’t actually sell red balls, but people still land on your site looking to buy red balls. You’re probably not willing to change your company name, but you can put more effort into appearing in search results for better keywords. You should know your top 6 keywords. If you haven’t really put much thought into your keywords, you’ll get a mix of traffic of people looking for lots of things, but not really what you sell.

Figure out the top keywords your audience is searching for and make sure you use them throughout your site, especially in your blog titles and static pages. For your marketing company, that would be terms like:

  • Content marketing
  • Marketing firm
  • Marketing for small business

If you continue to work to build your presence online with those keywords, as well as blogging, you should start to move up those search results and attract people who are looking for what you’re selling.

3. You Lack Calls to Action

Now that search engines have led leads to your website, it’s your job to make them drink the koolaid. If your home page lacks any call to action, how will visitors know what you want them to do? Consider your call to action your instructions for visitors to your site. Do you want them to:

  • Buy from you?
  • Get a free quote?
  • Subscribe to your newsletter?
  • Download a free ebook?

Then let them know! Make your call to action bold, colored differently from surrounding text, and simple to follow.

Your website holds the potential to convert visitors into customers. But you’ve got to ensure you’re targeting the right people with your content and keywords, and that your site is an inviting place to shop. Then you can lower that bounce rate and increase sales!


7 Technologies to Ignore in 2014

New technologies are released every day. For those small business owners that have shiny object syndromes (SOS), they can be hard to resist. Many are pushed to thinking that in order to have a competitive edge, they need to offer their customers the latest technology. However, for the good of their company, here are seven that need to be ignored in the next 12 months:

  1. Smartphone Watch. Wearable technology is a hot topic, but unless your product is related to getting data directly from consumer movements, pass on this technology now. Let’s be realistic; do you really need to look at a watch for an incoming message or call instead of pulling out your smartphone? It’s uber cool (in a Dick Tracy kind of way), but the productivity factor so far is missing.
  2. 3-D Printers. Need one for the office? Probably not unless there is a physical part you sell that can be created from it, instead of ordering from a supplier. For $500 to $2,000 (supplies not included), you can probably fulfill the need some way else.
  3. QR Codes. This is a technology that had a lot of promise, but has never been really accepted by the consumer. Most will not go to their scanning app to retrieve the web site location referred by the QR Code. Sit this one out and use a web or social media address on your products.
  4. Big Data. Analyzing your company with data is a good thing, but small businesses need to forget about going big. The reason is that most owners don’t look at even the simplest information. Do the analysis of your financial statements and your customers’ buying habits before you even think big data.
  5. Snapchat-LogoTemporary Social Media. This has been a big hit in many teen circles where pictures and messages self-destruct after a period of time. Small business owners should run their companies as if every message sent or posted will last forever. This is the best way to measure company values and actions.
  6. Google Glass. While this technology has many exciting possibilities, it does not fit into the critical path for servicing your customer. Until Google brings down the price to $500, it will remain only for the leading edge techie and curiosity seeker.
  7. Bitcoin. Ever since Mt. Gox default disaster, this virtual currency has been derailed. Your customers won’t be paying in bitcoins anytime soon. Easy mobile and online payments should be your only focus

Someday, these technologies may be useful to a every small business, but not today. What technologies are you putting off implementing?


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Google Analytics

Google Analytics gives you a comprehensive look at your company's website. Learn how to use this tool to assess how your online marketing is working from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Turning Negative Reviews

Manage the online reputation of your small business with these tips from Melinda Emerson, the Small Biz Lady.


Work Your Biz Wednesday: Online is Where It Is At

Here are 6 tips that will make you look like a rockstar when promoting your small business online from the Small Biz Lady, Melinda Emerson.




 
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