Posts Tagged ‘SMB’


How May I Direct Your Call?

Cara Plowman has been a member of the Nextiva team since December 2010. She has previously served as Nextiva's OLS Supervisor and Technical Support Manager, and is currently the team's Channel Operations Manager.

When I started my career at Nextiva, I wanted to make a name for myself, have my voice be heard. An eager 20-something, I knew little about the emerging technology known as VoIP, or to what extent my voice really would be heard.  Curious about all facets of cloud communications, I certainly started poking my nose around the office – hungry to learn what everyone knew about VoIP.  I quickly realized how deep the waters run, and how pliable the service has to be in order to meet the needs of so many different styles of business in multiple industries. 

Almost immediately I gravitated towards a high-demand feature, the auto attendant.  A fan favorite as more companies utilize automated systems, the auto attendant replaces the old fashioned switchboard operators of yesteryear.  Think, “How may I direct your call?”   Or, remember the movie Office Space, “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking, just a moment.” 

Previously, auto attendants did not leave a great impression on the caller, as they were often shuffled off to hold music by an over-worked, cold secretary. Beginning in the early 1980s, many companies started realizing there’s a better way to route callers, and do so without utilizing man-hours.

At first glance, the auto attendant may seem to be yet another hindrance to “talking to a real person.” But peel back the layers and there’s so much more.  I spent the past 3 years working as one of the “voices” of Nextiva’s auto attendant and "greeting recording team," recording thousands of custom greetings for industry leaders, start-up entrepreneurs, and even a few residential customers.  I learned a few tricks of the trade along the way I’m happy to share.

The big and small of it all

big-dog-little-dogIf you are new to VoIP, you may not know where to start when it comes to drafting an auto attendant. A great first question is, “Do I want my business to look small? Or big?” 

To properly approach this, you’ll need to know where you stand in the realm of the business world.  With only a handful of employees under your wing, it’s easy to designate your company as a small business. But what if you have 20 employees?  What about 50 or 100?  Essentially you should decide if you want your business to look bigger than it is or smaller than reality?

Remember Mom and Pop shops where you call and talk directly to the business owner no matter the time of day? Well, that charm and level of attentiveness isn’t easily obtainable in the modern world. However, if you’re setting up your attendant and want to go for that small-town tenor, make your greeting short and sweet. Delivering callers quickly to a live person should help you convey this impression.

On the contrary, let’s say your business is a one or two person operation. You may not want all clients to know you’re a startup company still. Or, perhaps you are so busy you’d like to have callers navigate through an automated menu to buy time.

Fortune 500 or startup, an auto attendant can dynamically change the way you operate your business.

Take it on the run

If your business expands multiple locations, an auto attendant can unify your business in countless ways. First, with an automated system you are able to have one primary contact number but still route callers to any location under the system. For example, let’s say when your main number is called the greeting states, “Press 1 for the California location. Press 2 for Arizona.”  Now your main number expands over any physical location imaginable. In the past, each location would have a designated phone number.

Or, let’s say you have a representative who works from home or travels. Auto attendants, and VoIP in general, make it easy to route callers to remote employees, while the caller is none the wiser. This also works great if your business utilizes outsourced teams, for example.

Another option is to use the attendant if your business secretary is out for the day or on vacation. Setting up an emergency greeting you can use in cases like this will likely turn a hectic day into one more manageable.

Although you may choose not to use an attendant for day time hours, many entrepreneurs choose to deploy an automatic greeting for times when the shop is closed.  This is a great alternative to being open 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week.  And don’t forget, you can still route calls to remote locations, such as a cell phone, so you never miss a call.

Design on a Dime

Nextiva offers all account holders a free greeting recording, which is a great way to experiment with your new phone system. First you’ll want to draft a game plan. Start with a simple layout and then add to it later. Analyze how callers use your current phone system, and what features would improve their experience.  Let’s say callers are currently routed quickly to a phone, but are placed on hold often for long periods of time. Expanding your greeting would help your reps stay organized and better prepare for the next call.

Figure out how many access points callers require to reach your staff – say, Billing, Sales and Management, and then create dialing options for your attendant.  For example, let’s say you have two primary departments callers can be routed to.  Create an easy-to-follow attendant that welcomes callers, states the company name and 2 dialing options. Then, add in personal touches, such as a company slogan or a nicety, such as “Make it a great day!”

Welcome to PaperTime, the best in the biz when it comes to paper accessories. If you’d like to talk to a sales representative, please press 1. Otherwise, press 2 to speak to the next available support technician. Or, if you’d like to leave a voicemail, please hold or press 3. We appreciate your business, and be sure to make it a great day!

Life Hacks: Auto Attendant Edition

  • Don’t talk too fast or too slow!
  • Long auto attendants can frustrate callers; Be sure your attendant isn’t working against you. Use a timer to see how long it takes to navigate your attendant – most average 1-2 mins.
  • Make sure the script is well-written and easy to understand.
  • Test to be sure night-time schedules work properly.
  • Set up a generic “Closed for the day” greeting for holidays or unexpected office closures.
  • Update your attendant whenever your business needs change.
  • Don’t stray too far from the norm – make sure callers can navigate the system with ease.

Mondays with Mike: 5 Steps To Drama-Free Discipline

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Over and over, I hear from entrepreneurs who fret over the prospect of needing to discipline an employee.  I get it.  You want harmony and happy, productive employees in your office, and you worry that you’re going to upset your staff when you call a performance problem to their attention.  Stop for a minute, though.  Discipline doesn’t have to equal drama.  Here’s how you resolve problems, keep the office calm, and get right back on track without missing a beat.

  1. Start on day one.  On new employees’ very first day, I always take the time to ask them how they like to handle issues that arise.  I say, “How should I bring things to your attention?” but you can word it any way you like.  Your goal should be to acknowledge up front that there will be issues that need to be addressed, and you’re setting the stage to handle it professionally, calmly, and in a way that doesn’t stress your employee out. 
  2. Document your employee’s preference.  Even small businesses need HR files, and I always make a note of an employee’s stated preference for conflict resolution.  Some staff members like to have problems pointed out immediately; some prefer a closed-door meeting at the end of the workday.  Resolving conflict isn’t one-size-fits-all, and you’ll have much better results if you take your employees’ preferences into account.
  3. Respect your employee’s preference.  When a problem comes up, use the technique you’ve agreed on, and call attention to the fact that you’re respecting the staff member’s request.  When you deliver your message in a way that feels comfortable, your employee will actually hear what you’re saying, rather than getting all wrapped up in the emotion of having to handle a dramatic conflict. 
  4. Document the incident.  Now you may not need to keep a letter on file just because you discover your IT guy passing around a Superbowl block pool during business hours, but you do need to be mindful of the possibility of frivolous employment lawsuits and unjustified unemployment claims.  CYA.  Cover Your Ass(ets,) and make sure that you document serious issues.
  5. Focus on the solution, and follow up if necessary.  The whole point of bringing a problem to an employee’s attention is to solve the problem and move on, so your meeting needs to focus on resolution.  Lay out the problem, briefly discuss the consequences of that problem, and make a plan – with your employee’s assistance – to fix the problem.  Whether you agree to check back in to review sales performance or review a time card in the event of chronic lateness, make sure you follow up and ensure that your employee’s back on track.

You can’t avoid conflict, not if you strive for excellence.  Demonstrating that you respect your staff enough to resolve problems without drama shows that you are committed to them and to the health of your business.  Your staff, in turn, will be far more likely to strive to meet or exceed your performance standards.


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Where Small Businesses Are Stuck in 2014

During the course of their career, every small business owner gets stuck. The key is to know where and how to get unstuck.

My annual survey of 5,000 small business owners identifies the problem areas. Here are a few excerpts:

  1. Treating their company like a job. The Survey: Over 40% of owners do whatever customers need in order to earn money for their business. This does not allow them to strategically ramp up a profitable business. The Solution: Don’t take every piece of work offered by a customer. Focus on what the company is good at and get more of that profitable business.
  2. The daily plan gets interrupted when entering the office. The Survey: 53% don’t have a plan for their day or it gets destroyed when the start work. The Solution: Before opening email, voice mail or social media, do two important tasks that will make the day productive.
  3. Stocksy_txpe7f75a0ezH4000_Small_41935They never take a break. The Survey: Over 50% said they are too busy to take a break and always have their phone near them. This is because they have a fear of getting left behind. The Solution: Find a daily place without a smartphone where personal batteries can be recharged and let creativity flow.
  4. They fear failure. The Survey: Over 40% said that failure is not an option. They fear it so much that they stop taking risks in their business. The Solution: Accept failure. Learn something. Let go of that failure and take another action to get to another success.
  5. They are afraid of selling. The Survey: 41% are either afraid of rejection or not sure how to build a relationship with a prospect. 59% said that they are too busy servicing existing customer to find new ones. The Solution: A company can’t really sell anything to anyone. They need to be there when customers are ready to buy by executing a daily systematic marketing plan.
  6. They stop marketing as soon as they have sales. The Survey: 58% only market their products when they do not have sales. They also believe their products are so superior that they do not need to market them at all! The Solution: Execute a systematic marketing plan through content marketing on a weekly basis.
  7. They don’t know how to use or have stopped with social media. The Survey: 54% either do not have a social media strategy or have stopped using it. The Solution: Social media is part of promotion. Use it to form relationships by providing help to customers, prospects and connectors.
  8. They let poor performing employees stay. The Survey: 53% never fire employees since it is too uncomfortable or they are too loyal. The Solution: Be slow to hire and quick to fire. Find the team that makes the company profitable. Fire anyone that does not add productively to the company.
  9. They don’t ask for help. The Survey: 44% never ask for help because they believe they have to figure it out on their own. Many others are unsure of who to ask for help. The Solution: Find a formal or informal group of advisors and mentors to answer pressing questions. Do not go it alone!
  10. They allow personal smartphone usage at work. The Survey: 74% do not monitor personal use of smartphones which can destroy company productivity. The Solution: Have a written policy that personal smartphones are not to be used during work except in emergencies.

Bonus: They rarely review their financial statements. The Survey: Over 20% never look at their financial statements because they are hard to understand. The Solution: Get trained to understand every line of the company’s financial statement. Review them monthly.

Tell me where you are stuck!


Why to Question Assumptions When You Are Successful

It’s easy for small business owners to question themselves and their assumptions when they are failing. But at that point, it may be too late to fundamentally make changes that can turn their company around. The success rates goes up if the owner questions assumptions when things are going well. However, most entrepreneurs will have a hard time doing this because they will not want to “mess with success” or “if it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it”. Many times, they do not even know what the success formula really is. They make cause-and-effect connections where it truly does not exist.

Stocksy_txp5226ac4eb53000_Small_135613For example, the phenomenon of success actually not bringing more success has been statistically documented in basketball. A  study called “The Hot Hand in Basketball: On the Misperception of Random Sequences” states, “ The chances of success on the next shot are not correlated with the success of the last shot. In other words, the ‘hot hand’ idea is a fallacy.”

To increase success in the future, look to see what conditions exist in the market that will make the company profitable now. Evaluate past results, but do not base future actions solely on them. Don’t say, “Well, it worked in the past, so it should work in the future!” Keep thinking like a start-up entrepreneur as long as possible. This worked for IBM in the early ‘80s when the company moved the work on their new personal computer to a separate business unit so the effort would not be “weighed down” by IBM’s past success in unrelated areas.

A $75M company I know had been in business for 50 years. Historically, they were only able to deliver five percent net profit to the bottom line. Sales had grown slowly over the years, so there was never a need to make any changes since they could predict what they could contribute to the parent company. A new CEO got worried about what would happened to the company’s profits if sales dipped during a recession.  She realized that even a small drop in sales was going to mean disaster for their overall profit contribution. The CEO needed to find ways to cut their expenses or increase their gross profit while not cutting revenue. She was able to do this by throwing out established distribution channel assumptions, cutting discounts for many vendors and raising prices for newer products to their customers. When sales eventually shrank during the Great Recession, the company was able to deliver the same dollar profit to the parent corporation. Now that times are better, and sales have grown again, they have become even more profitable.

What assumptions are you not questioning?


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How to Take Advantage of Small Business Saturday

small-business-saturday1-e1320932175381Black Friday is always a difficult day for small business owners to compete with the hoopla around early morning discounts at big box retailers. The day after Black Friday has become a day to focus on shopping at small businesses. American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010.

Here is how to take advantage this year on November 30, 2013 to drive customers to your company:

  1. Give $10 gift to each customer. Promote that American Express is offering a $10 credit to card members who register and use their card to shop at small businesses on that Saturday. Multiply this $10 when they use it at your company.
  2. Build a specific campaign leveraging this day and American Express’ brand. There are few times when a small business can tie their company directly to a national brand and promotion. This gives them the leverage of a large big box retailer. Build marketing offer specifically for this day. This can be exclusive pricing, bundles, free add ons or availability.
  3. Customized marketing material. Use free customized online ad cards, logos and other recognizable images provided by American Express.
  4. Social media starters. Use Twitter and Facebook templates available to help spread the word about your company leading up to this day. Use the #SmallBusinessSaturday hashtag on Twitter. If your business has never used social media, these templates are an excellent way to easily get started.
  5. Welcome mats. Free Small Business Saturday Welcome mats (literally) are available from American Express.  If you do not have a physical retail location, use the mats in creative pictures on Facebook or Pinterest.    
  6. Join a neighborhood circle. Get involved with local merchants to drive traffic to each others retail locations (or online sites). American Express will help you form this relationships. This is an excellent way to work with other local businesses that can extend well beyond this promotional day.
  7. Get on the map. American Express has built an interactive map to help their cardholders find and shop at small businesses. They are also giving their members an exclusive offer redeemable only at merchants that appear on the Small Business Saturday Map. Get found!

How will your business be promoting Small Business Saturday? 




 
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