Posts Tagged ‘Team Building’


Mondays with Mike: Experts and Minions

????????????????????????????????????????????????????While entrepreneurs strive to staff their companies with superstars, we all know that there’s usually one person who stands out – you know, the person that everyone (including you) calls when you’re stuck and need expert advice.  Since cloning people isn’t legal – and probably not cost effective, either – it’s easy to feel frustrated when there’s simply not enough of your expert to go around. 

After all, an expert can only be in one place at a time, right?

Wrong!  The solution to your expert cloning needs is to provide your experts with minions.  Here’s an example of how it works:

Let’s say that you own a security company, and you provide installation and monitoring services to your clients.  You have technicians who work out in the field doing the installation and making service calls when something goes wrong.  These technicians are trained, but you’ve got one guy who can always troubleshoot any problem and devise intelligent solutions.  But he’s only one guy.

You can’t send him out on every service call, but what you can do is keep him in the office.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  You keep your expert in a single location, and you set up a way for him to communicate with everyone out in the field.  When a technician encounters a problem, he gets on the phone with the expert, and the expert talks him through the solution. 

The single most important component of this model is a consistent, reliable, and flexible means of communication, because if your communication goes down, the system falls apart.  Many VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocol) providers offer all the services you’ll need.  My team uses Skype, but there are other companies who provide similar services.

So your minions can connect to your expert via phone, but if they need to share files, Skype also facilitates that.  If your minion has a particularly sticky problem and needs to show the expert what’s going on first-hand, Skype lets you use a webcam to virtually put the expert on-site.  Think about it … if your minions are connected to your expert, then your expert can be virtually anywhere.  You’ve essentially cloned your expert.

The hidden benefit of this model is that while your technicians are out in the field, relying on the expert for support as needed, they’re also getting additional training when they implement your expert’s solutions.  They have a model for troubleshooting that they can begin to implement in their own work.

This model is surprisingly versatile, as well.  Any business that has to send trained staff out to work with clients occasionally has employees who encounter unexpected circumstances and find themselves out of their comfort zone.  Whether you make service calls to repair copiers, or whether you have a team of sales reps in the market, you never know when your staff will need quick answers from your expert.  Setting up an expert-minion structure and protocol ensures that you have enough staff to get out to your clients, without the expense of hiring a dozen experts.


Using Internet Monitoring Software to Increase Employee Productivity

Stocksy_txpe4825224HV7000_Small_184198Small business owners used to be able to walk around their offices to see the work that their employees where doing. But as organizations are have become increasingly virtual, it is now impossible for a manager to accomplish this since work is now done at client sites, coffee shops, and homes. As a result, many small business owners are up at night wondering if employees are working or just playing video games during the day.

Productivity is being impacted. A 2013 salary.com survey showed that 58% of employees waste up to 60 minutes per day on non-business related websites during the work day, not including lunch or break times.

One solution to this problem is to use an internet monitoring software service for employees. Web monitoring and filtering is traditionally installed to block adult content, phishing sites, or to reduce time wasted on shopping and social media sites. One company, Rawstream is a cloud-based web monitoring and filtering product that helps employees spend their time online productively, profitably and safely.

This tool shows the exact amount of time a user spends looking at a particular website. It gives managers the visibility to see what employees are working on in real time no matter where they are via the application dashboard and report generation function. It also allows managers to see what files are being put into sharing apps like Dropbox, Google Drive, One Drive, and Cubby. The software shows who is using the content sharing apps and lists any files shared that break company policy to protect against the sharing of files containing sensitive data such as credit card numbers. More importantly, employees have access to their own web usage reports, so they can examine their own habits and learn to use their time on the internet more effectively. Managers and employees can also set time limits to access to sites or block certain sites.

There are several benefits for small businesses to use web filtering solutions. Company production can increase when employees are not wasting time on websites that have no business value. Additionally, managers can have more confidence in allowing employees to work off site, giving employees the flexibility to work in an environment they can be most productive.

Too “Big Brother” for you? Remember that just letting employees know that the company is using an Internet monitoring tool will actually boost their productivity.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Declare Your Employees’ Independence

???????????????????????????????The best thing the owner of a growing business can do is give his or her employees their independence. No, I’m not talking about firing your employees; I’m talking about giving them the freedom to make their own decisions about how to get their work done.

As you undoubtedly know by now, it’s pretty much impossible for a small business owner to single-handedly do everything that needs to be done. That’s why you hire employees, right? Then why do so many of us refuse to let employees do their jobs, instead micromanaging them until they (and we) are miserable?

Here are four steps to giving your employees their independence.

  1. Provide training. Of course, you don’t want employees to totally wing it. Provide training in how to do the job, and give them direction in terms of what you want the results to be and what the overall goal is.
  2. Step back. Once employees know what you want and how to get there, step back and let them get from Point A to Point Z without offering your help (unless, of course, they ask). Who knows? Your employees might figure out a better way of getting things done.
  3. Empower decision-making. Customers hate it when employees have to “ask a manager” about every little thing. Provide parameters within which employees can make their own decisions about customer service, such as offering $X amount of comped food in your restaurant or refunding a certain amount of money with no questions asked. When employees feel trusted, they feel valued.
  4. Plan for the future. Discuss with your employees where they want to go in your company and how they can get there. When employees feel you have a stake in their future, they’ll give the business their all.

By giving your employees their independence, you’ll also gain freedom—the freedom to focus on what really matters in your business instead of sweating the small stuff. 


Coaxing Great Service Behavior from your Employees

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. 

Coaxing great customer service behavior out of your employees is one of the most important elements of providing a great customer experience. Let’s take a look at what’s involved and how you get this done.

The waiter with no peripheral vision

I could give you examples from any high-tech, low-tech, or moderate-tech industry.  But since everyone goes out to eat, let’s look at two contrasting waiters.  These guys will be familiar to anyone who has ever eaten out.

Waiter #1: A skilled waiter [could be a waitress] never drops a tray, never reaches across you, brings out all the food accurately to his section. 

However, he’s also immensely skilled at ignoring any and all gestures and glances from anyone trying to get his attention who is outside his section or even who is within his assigned section but interfering with the order in which he was planning to go about his waiterly tasks.

Waiter #2: Equally skilled, but this one’s a master of using his peripheral vision, and even his peripheral hearing, to jump to the assistance of any guest, anywhere in the dining room — in or outside his own section — who needs his attention, who has dropped a fork, who has a question…

What makes the difference?  Stay tuned…

Purpose vs. Function

Let's assume your hiring process ensured that both waiters come to you with equal natural levels of empathy. The difference in their performances is due to one simple factor:  One waiter knows and understands his purpose in your organization, and the other one doesn’t.

Every employee has a job function, and a purpose in (and of) the organization. The function is what’s written, in detail, on the employee’s job description.   Or, to put it another way, it’s the technical side of the job.  Take orders.  Deliver food.  Process credit cards. 

An employee’s purpose is something different.  The purpose is the reason you’re doing all those technical things, and sometimes stepping out of your technical role to do whatever it takes.  A purpose for a waiter, and for everyone else working in foodservice or hospitality? Something along the lines of “you’re here to provide a pleasant, safe, and memorable experience for our guests.”  

Ritz-Carlton do not disturb sleepy image-copyright micah solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

(c) Micah Solomon

Get this purpose across right away, starting with orientation, and you’ll have to deal with fewer cases of employees who have mysteriously lost their peripheral vision.  You’ll have people competing to go the extra mile. Because they’ll understand, that this is what they’re paid for. The great Horst Schulze, who founded what we think of as the modern-day Ritz-Carlton, made sure to be at the opening of every hotel, personally doing the orientation.  He didn’t talk about the technical aspects of the job:  ensuring there are no water spots on the glasses, and so forth.  He talked about something else:  every employee’s purpose at the hotel.  He would introduce himself, letting them know “I’m President of the hotel.  I’m a very important person.”  Then he’d say “and you’re an important person too”— you control the impression the guests have of the hotel more than he, as president, ever could!

He’d go on to spell out their purpose, starting with: “the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.”

The Mayo Clinic, one of the most extraordinary hospital groups in the world, functions in a very technical, regulated, exacting fields: healthcare.  Yet what do the new employees here, from day one, over and over and over?  The incredibly untechnical, incredibly straightforward, seven word purpose they are assigned:  “The needs of the patient come first.”  They are given to understand, from the very beginning of their orientation, that they are to put the needs of the patient above anything they may think they’re “supposed to” be doing at that moment—if the two are in conflict.

Of course, its not quite that easy.

There’s certainly more to coaxing the most out of your employees than saying a mantra over and over.  But it’s a very good place to start.

What else helps?

  • Reinforcement.  Daily if possible, weekly if not. Hold a brief (5-10 minute) meeting where you reinforce your company purpose and discuss ways to achieve it.
  • Positive Peer Pressure.  We think of peer pressure as something negative, by and large.  Kids don’t decide to light a stick of tobacco on their own; they see other kids do it first.   But peer pressure can be a powerful force for good as well.  It’s the reason Disney parks are so famously spotless:  You see your peers picking up stray trash, so you do it as well. 

For our hypothetical waiter, he’ll see his co-workers rushing to replace a dropped fork, continually scanning the rooms for eye contact from guests outside as well as inside their station, finding additional ways to be helpful before being asked.   And he’ll figure out that he’s expected to do the same.

  • Standards.  Everything that is done on a regular basis in a company is worth developing standards for:  answering the phone, replying by email, running a credit card charge, opening a service ticket, whatever it is.  But you need to design these standards in a way that explains the reason for the standard and makes clear when it may make sense to deviate from it. Otherwise you’ll have standards complied with in a robotic way by embittered and ultimately sabotaging employees.
  • Employee empowerment. This goes hand in hand with standards. Employees need to be empowered to do what’s right for their guests.  Period. They can’t be nickeled and dimed (or houred and minuted) to death for what they didn’t get done because they were tied up doing what’s right.  They’re late coming back from their lunch break because they were jump-starting a guest’s car in the parking lot?  This is something to celebrate, not something to be disciplined for. 

© 2014, Micah Solomon


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Could Seniors Be Your Secret Customer Service Weapon?

Stocksy_txpbe336fabXT6000_Small_6767There’s a reason Walmart hires senior citizens as greeters at its stores: Seniors who are seeking employment are generally “people persons” who like socializing and engaging with others. That’s one of the findings of a survey by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) that asked hiring managers about hiring senior citizens.

If you’re looking to enhance your company’s customer service, hiring seniors could be a great idea. Here are a few of the reasons managers in the SHRM survey say seniors are valuable employees:

  • Seniors tend to be more patient than younger people when dealing with customers.
  • Because seniors have a lot of life experience, they’re often good at coming up with solutions to problems.
  • Hiring seniors who have past experience in your industry enables you to tap into their decades of knowledge.
  • Seniors often enjoy mentoring or passing their expertise on to younger employees.
  • If your business relies on referrals or word-of-mouth to gain new customers, you’ll be able to tap into seniors’ vast networks of contacts from years in the work force.
  • Seniors typically aren’t dealing with children at home, and they may be widowed or widowers, so they have more free time to dedicate to their jobs.
  • Most seniors have a strong work ethic and are highly reliable.

How can you make the most of seniors at your business?

  • Take advantage of their natural skills and past experience. A senior may not do as well in a fast-paced environment. You can still tap into the senior employee’s abilities by having younger workers “triage” customer service calls and pass them on to the senior employee to handle in detail. This way, customers feel they are being responded to quickly, but also feel cared for by the detail-oriented senior employees.
  • Train them on technology to get them up to speed. Although they didn’t grow up with technology, seniors who are in the work force are typically eager to learn. Most seniors use the Internet, email and social media in their personal lives, so you won’t be starting totally from scratch.
  • Treat them with respect. Give seniors an opportunity to share their insights and experiences with younger employees on your team. Their approach to solving customer problems will likely shed new light on common issues your customer service staff faces.

There are plenty of senior job boards, such as JobsOver50 or Senior Job Bank, where you can list openings to attract this age group; you can also contact local organizations for seniors in your community. 


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.


A Great Customer Experience Depends on Great Hiring

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.

A great customer experience depends on great employees. To get those great employees, you need to know what to look for in an employee you’re going to put in a customer-facing position.

The trick is to hire your customer-facing team based on the following psychological traits, even before you start thinking about the specific skill set you’re looking for.  (Yes, the appropriate technical skills also matter. You can’t hire an empathetic surgeon who is also a klutz. But for most customer-facing positions, the technical skills are largely teachable, while the underlying personality traits can be much more easily hired than taught.) 

WETCO: The five crucial traits of customer-facing employees

Employees Only: Do Not Open Door-Snake Pit (humorous signage from Wall Drug, Wall, ND) © Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

Wall Drug, N.D. (c) micah@micahsolomon.com

The traits I consider crucial for customer-facing work are contained in my acronym “WETCO.” My suggestion is to picture a big, wet dog at PETCO, and you’ll never forget this acronym.

Warmth: Simple human kindness. Warmth is perhaps the simplest and yet most fundamental of these five personality traits. In essence, it means enjoying our human commonality, flaws and all.

Empathy: The ability to sense what another person is feeling. Empathy is a step up from warmth; empathy moves beyond the plateau of liking other people and is more like reading hearts—the ability to sense what a customer needs or wants, whether or not this desire is even yet apparent to the customer.

Teamwork: An inclination toward ‘‘Lets work together to make this happen’’ and against ‘‘Id rather do it all myself.’’   On the one hand, customers do need the help of entrepreneurially minded employees who will take charge of the situation without prodding, people who are willing to fix a problem all by themselves, if necessary. But that attitude needs to be seasoned by an inclination to favor a team approach, or your organization will soon suffer from the friction created.

Conscientiousness: Detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion. Conscientiousness is a key trait for successfully serving customers, and unfortunately may not always be found in those who are otherwise suited to customer service work. The quintessential ‘‘people person’’ may lack conscientiousness, and this one flaw can be fatal: An employee can smile, empathize, and play well with the team, but if he can’t remember to follow through on the promises he made to customers, he’ll kill your company image.

Optimism: The ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges. Optimism is a necessity in customer-facing positions. Employees who can’t shake off a drubbing from a customer won’t last long. Support from management is, of course, important here, but the employees themselves need a positive, optimistic self-image as well to propel themselves forward in the face of daily adversity.

How to select for WETCO

How to select such people? An ideal approach is to match candidates to the psychological profiles of existing, successful employees. You may not have gathered this data for yourself yet, in which case you’ll be dependent on an outside company to provide it. That’s okay, because some of the available external tools are excellent. But you need to use your chosen methodology consistently: on every hire, rather than as the whim hits you. If you use scientific methods only sporadically you’ll never know what worked and what didn’t. Instead, the selectiveness of your inherently biased—that is, human—memory will trick you and you’ll continue to favor unscientific, ineffective hiring patterns that will hamper your organization for years to come.

If you start with externally generated profiles, as you grow be sure to gather data specific to your company. This process isn’t that complicated. Have your best performers answer profile questions and then bank these results. Have your average performers do the same, and then bank those results. If you show a consistently measurable difference between these two categories of employee, you have a valid test.

The necessity of a trial period

Great companies tend to have a lengthy trial period before newly hired employees become ‘‘brand ambassadors’’—that is, are ready to be foisted on the public. This is important in providing consistently great service, because how your brand is perceived is only as strong as the weakest cliche´—sorry, link. There’s no truer truism than the simile of the weak link; it’s one of the unnerving truths about providing customer service. You never want those potentially weak links out there representing your brand, whether at the returns counter, the contact center, or connected via their workstations to customers.

The trial period is also important for protecting your company culture. Even in the best-handled hiring scenario, it can take ninety days to know if you have a fit. Most often, it takes that much time for the employee to know if there’s a fit. At the Ritz-Carlton, for example, the first twenty-one days are treated as crucial, and if you’re not there for the big, transitional ‘‘Day 21,’’ you’re taken out of the work schedule. They don’t cut corners here, and neither should you.

Article © 2014 Micah Solomon


Mondays with Mike: Do This BEFORE You Hire An Employee

Most entrepreneurs start out as the sole employee of their company.  There are benefits to this setup – you know exactly who forgot to clean out the coffee maker, and you’ll never forget a staff birthday.  But eventually, if you want to grow your business, you know that you’ll have to hire someone to work for you.  You want to accomplish more, and you need additional staff to make that happen.

Don’t underestimate the importance of this decision.  It’s estimated that the cost of acquiring, hiring, and training a new employee is around 15% of their annual salary.  That’s a hefty chunk of change, which means that you need to invest it wisely.  One thing that I’ve discovered is that you can dramatically improve the odds of your first hire being a successful one if you prepare properly.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Evaluate the work you do.  Now you may think that you already know what position you want to hire for, but humor me here.  When you’re finished with this step, you’ll thank me.  You need to take a step back from the work you do every day and look at all of the roles you’re filling – sales, customer service, accounting, technical support, collections, etc.  The list may be longer than you realize!  Then you create an organizational chart, give each position a title, and arrange it on the chart based on who reports to whom.  Post this chart on the wall, and as you go through the next week, jot down the tasks that you perform under each of the positions.
  2. Define the position you’re hiring for.  Take a look at your chart after the week has elapsed and decide which of the roles is the best one to delegate to another person.  You’re not quite ready to hire yet, but you are already prepared with a list of the tasks that your future employee will be charged with.
  3. ???????????Make it concrete.  So if you’ve decided that you’re going to hire someone to handle your accounting and billing, you need to get their physical workspace set up.  You get a desk, computer, chair, adding machine … basically everything that they’ll need to do the job, and you start performing all of the new position’s tasks in the new workspace.  By physically moving to the new desk, you’ll ensure that everything the position requires is handy.  By the time you’re finally ready to hire, you’ll be ready to train your new employee (because you’ve listed all of the tasks) and you’ll already have had the chance to troubleshoot the new workspace.

Systematization is the key to efficiency, and by taking the time to analyze and systematize the new position that you want to fill, you’re setting yourself and your new employee up for success.  Employees who feel like their bosses are competent and organized will be more likely to emulate those qualities and stick around for the long haul.

  


Mondays with Mike: Secret Weapons – Contractors You Can’t Live Without

Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoThe traditional office, staffed with full-time employees with full-time benefits is a relic from Mad Men days.  Most of us have to move quickly and operate on razor-thin margins that make it impossible to afford a complement of workers waiting for something to do.  It’s become far more feasible and profitable to assemble a team of contractors – specialists in their niches – who are on call, command high rates for their expertise, and appreciate the flexibility of working when they want to. 

What’s essential is that you assemble your contractors ahead of time – locate, vet, and create a relationship before you need them for big projects so you don’t have to scramble last minute.  Here are the people you should look for:

  1. Web Designer – There’s really no good excuse for a lousy website.  Most people will encounter your company on the web, and you want to put your best foot forward.  Finding a web designer who designs your site and stays on call to give you the ability to adapt your website to particular client needs or conditions is key. 
  2. Web Administrator – As more of us move our businesses online, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of web security and web reliability.  This position is perhaps the most important contractor you’ll hire, because they’ll literally have the keys to your online kingdom.  When there’s a problem with your system, you want immediate availability from your administrator.
  3. Core Competency – Find extra local talent in your field and keep them ready for when you have big jobs that require you to be able to scale up rapidly.  Whether you’re a chef who needs catering staff for special events or you’re an accountant who needs additional help at tax time, doing the legwork ahead of time can give you a competitive edge when it comes to winning new clients in a clutch situation.
  4. Writer – We may not want to own up to it, but most of us aren’t great writers.  As important as our written messages are, it’s worth locating a skilled wordsmith to polish our prose.  Weigh your options:  you could spend all day working on a company newsletter (and hope no one catches the grammatical mistakes,) or you can call your professional writer, share the details, and get to work doing what you do best while your writer pens a perfect account of what’s current in your company.
  5. Translator – If you don’t need one now, odds are very good that you will before long.  The broadening global marketplace means that if you’re not working with clients in other countries, then you’re probably missing opportunities.  Identify the languages that are most likely to be relevant in your field and line up translators before you start losing jobs because you’re not fluent in Mandarin or Spanish.
  6. Administrative Assistant – This position is your key, backup, catch-all.  Whether you need timely follow-up on a new marketing campaign, or whether your full-time admin needs help handling the seasonal rush in your field, it’s wise to find a good admin to be at the ready.

So where do you find these folks?  You’ll be shocked at how many resources are out there.  Freelance websites like Elance and ODesk connect you with contractors all over the world in a variety of niches, and community-based sites like Craigslist or Patch can connect you with local talent.  The keys to successfully working with contractors are these:  first, get them lined up and vetted – with a small project to start – before you have a critical need for their services.   Second, always pay them promptly and treat them like gold.  You want that contractor to always be happy to get your call and eager to get to work on your next project. 




 
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