Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Manage Your Team and Still Get Your Own Work Done

One of the biggest challenges for any small business owner—or, for that matter, for any small business owner’s key managers—is how to manage people while still getting their own day-to-day work done. If you, like me, feel it’s important to be responsive to your team and value an open-door policy, you can often find yourself pulled in two directions as you balance an urgent task with an employee who urgently needs to talk to you.

How can you manage a team, put out unexpected “fires” in your business and still get your own work done? Here are three tips.

  1. Practice a closed-door policy. Not all the time, but at least one or two hours a day, set aside time when everyone knows that you’re not to be interrupted. Typically, the early morning hours work best for this. If you find this policy too difficult to stick to in the office, consider working at home for the first hour or so of the day before you head in to work. Once you’ve got that precious time, don’t waste it on small stuff—use it for activities that require concentration and focus, such as long-range planning or proposal writing.
  2. Delegate. As small business owners, we often like to keep our fingers in every pie. If you’re lucky enough to have managers working for you, make sure that employees go to their managers with questions, concerns or problems first before escalating it up to you. This doesn’t mean you’re an untouchable god on a throne in your office—it just means you shouldn’t be the first person that people come running to when they have a problem.
  3. Empower employees to create their own solutions. Very early in my career, someone gave me this advice: Never go to your boss with a problem until you’ve come up with at least two possible solutions on your own. Asking your employees—at all levels—to follow this rule will not only save you a lot of time coming up with solutions, but will also give your employees valuable lessons in coping with issues that arise at work. They’ll be better workers for it—and you’ll probably find that they often come up with better solutions than you would!

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Mondays with Mike: 7 Tips For Making Your Employees Marketing Superstars

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had a team of enthusiastic marketing superstars who promoted your brand everywhere they went?  Here’s a secret:  You can make it happen!  Consider the fact that every one of your employees interacts with dozens and dozens of people everyday, and you’re missing your opportunity if you don’t enlist them in your mission to promote your brand.  Here are some sure-fire strategies for making your employees part of your marketing strategy:

  1. Speak their language.  Every single member of your staff is motivated in a slightly different way.  Take the time to figure out what’s important to your employees, and you’ll be able to tell your story in a way that matters to them.  If you can sell your staff on your vision, they’ll sell it to your customers.
  2. Create the right climate.  Make sure that your staff understands that you’re not just in business for the bottom line.  Show the ways in which you enrich your community, whether it’s by providing necessary services or through your investment in community programs.  If your staff feels good about the work they’re doing, they’ll share their enthusiasm.
  3. Provide awesome wearables.  The key to this tip is making the wardrobe genuinely cool – something that your staff will actually choose to wear.  Your tagline or logo on a t-shirt becomes a walking billboard.  If you make sure your staff actually likes their company togs, then you’ll be sure that they won’t end up in the trunk of the car, where – let’s face it – they’re not doing you any good.
  4. Use social media.  Whether your run a caption contest or share pics of your staff wearing your logo in interesting locales, make sure you leverage the powerful tool provided by the various social media apps.  Folks love that fifteen minutes of fame – so why not use it?  Turning your brand into one that people have fun sharing increases your visibility and strengthens brand loyalty.
  5. Provide Halloween costumes.  Create a character that suits your company climate and offer your staff the chance to celebrate without having to stress over what to wear.  Whether you create a superhero – think something like Uber Geek if you’re an IT company or Grammar Nazi if you’re a PR firm – you’re injecting a little fun into your corporate image.
  6. Use every opportunity to advertise, no matter how small.  One of my favorite, often overlooked examples of an underused means of getting your company’s name out there is to make sure that your company wi-fi and your employees’ mobile hotspots are all branded with your company’s name.  The next time your sales rep is working and sipping a latte at Starbucks, everyone who logs on to the free wi-fi will see your company’s name.  Never miss a chance to make in impression.
  7. Don’t forget the hardware.  Don’t send your staff out with laptops that advertise for Apple; slap your awesome logo on everything that sits still long enough.  Your staff can make countless impressions just by toting gear that advertises for you.

Be open, and be creative!  Brands are built one impression at a time, and you have more opportunities than you realize.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Tips to Motivate Your Part-Time Employees

If you’re like many small business owners, you have more part-time employees now than you did in the past. As employers seek flexibility in hiring and the ability to staff up or down as needed, part-time workers can often be the most cost-effective option.

But financial cost-effectiveness can come at a different cost. It’s often harder to manage and motivate part-time employees. They may not feel as connected to the company as full-timers with salaries and benefits, and for many of them, the job is short-term.

How can you motivate part-time workers despite these challenges? Try these tips.

  1. Show them where they fit in to the company’s structure and goals. It’s easy for part-timers to feel divorced from the “big picture,” especially if their work schedules vary from week to week. To create consistency, training for new part-timers should include an overview of the company’s organization chart, getting to know all the employees they’ll be working with, and how their job adds value to the company. By showing part-timers they’re not just random people who shows up on alternate afternoons, but instead are essential to your business’s success, they’ll feel more connected to your company.
  2. Know what they value. Different part-timers value different things, so it’s important to treat part-time employees as individuals. For instance, a mom working part-time may value consistent hours so she can spend after-school time with her kids; a senior working part-time may value social interaction with customers and co-workers; and a high school student working part-time may value flexible hours that give her time for school activities and a social life. Motivate each employee by ensuring they get what they value the most.
  3. Match them with mentors. Pairing part-timers with full-time mentors can ensure they’re kept in the loop about developments at the company that happen when they’re not there. It also gives them someone to ask questions of or express concerns to. In addition to helping with training and development, the mentor should also keep an eye on whether the part-timer seems happy and socially engaged as a member of the team.
  4. Plan for the long-term. Some part-timers are in it for a season, others want to work for you for the long haul. Show part-timers there are long-term opportunities at your business, and give them tasks that help them stretch and grow. For instance, if you hire a college student part-time during the summer, let him or her know if there are full-time job opportunities available after graduation.
  5. Use contests, rewards and incentives. Full-time employees have salaries and benefits to provide incentive, but you have to work a little harder with part-timers. Providing monetary rewards such as cash prizes for surpassing quotas or fun awards and recognition can make a big difference. For instance, has one of your part-timers excelled handing customer service calls? Then recognize his or her accomplishments at your weekly staff meeting, and perhaps offer a cash bonus or gift certificate. Get creative and think of rewards that match your corporate culture and your staff’s personalities.

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BUBL: The Secret of Successfully Invading a Customer’s Space

Baby and mom with soap bubbles

Bubbles – (c) Micah Solomon micah@micahsolomon.com

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.

Those customers who look so normal–to the untrained eye–as they wander around your establishment are actually each surrounded by a transparent protective bubble.

To be able to provide great customer service, your team needs to be aware of this phenomenon and be conscious of the extent to which a customer’s individual protective shell is open or closed at any particular moment. Learn to recognize when and when not to venture into the customer’s protective bubble–the invisible sanctuary within which the customer has expectations of solitude–and for how long.

Learn and remember the principles of this human force field by using my acronym “BUBL.”  

The BUBL method for starting, pacing, and concluding a service interaction

  • B Begin Immediately
  • U Uncode the guests    messages and pacing
  • B Break your schedule
  • L Leave room for more interaction

Let’s take these steps one by one.

B – Begin ImmediatelyThe guest expects service to begin the moment she comes into contact with the employee      

(Busy employees: Sometimes this needs to be accomplished even if you’re speaking with another customer; you may need to learn how to work with one customer while visually acknowledging the presence of a new arrival.)

Determining whether or not the customer actually considers contact to have been made for the purpose of soliciting service is a subtle part of this step. For example, if a guest catches a server’s eye, it may be merely accidental, but if the guest holds the server’s gaze, it usually means he’s expecting to be offered assistance.

U – Uncode: Decode the messages the customer is giving you about pacing, about their level of happiness or distress, etc. and adjust appropriately to their mood and timing. (This isn’t only detectable in person, by the way: such cues can be discerned on the phone, in live online chat, via videoconferencing, etc.)

(Yeah I know: I had to invent a word–“uncode”–to make my acronym work.  If I had stuck with D-Decode, the acronym would have been BDBL, which is actually fun to say, but maybe not so memorable.)

B – Break your scheduleYour customer has let you into their sanctuary for this moment. Drop what you’re doing and work on what they need. True service can never be slave to your checking things off in a predetermined order from a to-do list. Attending properly to a customer means adhering to the customers schedule, not the other way around. 

L -  Leave room for moreIs this really good-bye? Check before you conclude the interaction

It’s the service professional’s responsibility to ask if anything additional is needed, and, if not, to graciously thank the customer before leaving her in the sanctuary of her bubble. This is an important final principle: the ‘‘closing’’ of service. Too many service interactions end with a cold and impersonal ‘‘Bye,’’ or ‘‘OK,’’ or, far too frequently, nothing at all. The closing of service is as important as the opening. It is the last touch point, and it needs to be handled properly. Again, this principle can be applied in a chat sequence, a series of emails, or on the phone, as well as, of course, in person.

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This is subtle stuff.  But its important stuff.  It needs to form a module of your training, with role-playing and reinforcement, and a significant part of your mindset when interacting with (or considering whether to interact with) your customers.


Nextiva Tuesday Tip: What Happens When Employees and Customers Clash?

???????????????????????????????????????????????Remember the classic scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High where Brad (actor Judge Reinhold), working at a fast-food joint, loses his temper at a rude customer, gets yelled at by his boss in front of the customer and gets fired? The customer may have been satisfied (temporarily), but the fast-food restaurant lost a good employee (check out this clip).

When an employee clashes with a customer, how should you handle it? If you don’t want to lose good employees or alienate good customers, the answer is “delicately.”

1. Separate the combatants. If an employee has blown his or her lid at a customer, your first step should be to remove the employee from the situation and deal with the customer yourself. Tell the customer you’re sorry for what happened and you will talk to the employee separately.

2. Get the customer’s side of the story. Take notes so you can remember clearly.

3. Make it right with the customer. Find out what the key issue is. For example, is the customer upset because he can’t get a refund? Or has the refund been given, but the customer feels the employee was rude during the process? Deal with the business issue first (i.e. the refund), then soothe the ruffled feelings.

4. Get the employee’s side of the story. Again, take notes. Go over what the customer said. Keep in mind both parties may not give you a full or correct account, but at least you’ll have a handle on what happened. If other employees were present, you may want to get their eyewitness accounts separately as well.

5. Assess the damage. Depending on what you learn, you’ll need to handle the situation in different ways. Did an employee with multiple behavioral issues admit to badmouthing a customer, with four eyewitnesses corroborating it? If so, you need to take disciplinary action. Was a stellar employee accused of something by an irate and seemingly irrational customer she and four eyewitnesses deny? If so, you may actually want to let that customer know you won’t tolerate their behavior.

6. Talk to the employee. Most situations fall somewhere between these extremes. In that case, talk to the employee to figure out how she could have handled the situation differently and better. The problem may lie in her responses, in which case you need to educate her about how she’s coming across and standards for interacting with customers. Or the problem may lie in your company’s systems—maybe you need clearer guidelines about returns or more empowerment for front-line workers to make their own decisions.

Ultimately, working through customer/employee clashes will let good employees know you support them, let good customers know you’re committed to providing standout service, and make your business better every day. 


Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Workers

I may not be Captain Kirk, but my extensive travel schedule makes it imperative that I meet my business responsibilities while remaining connected to my base.  Some of your employees may have the same needs.  Sales territories keep your reps far from your home office, but even local workers may need to work from home during inclement weather — or even just because they prefer wearing fuzzy slippers from 9 to 5.

Remote work can make sense, as long as your employees have the resources that they need to excel at their jobs wherever they are.  But it also takes disciplined workers and supportive managers.  Here are some tips on how to decide which employees will be effective remote workers and how to ensure that they provide professional representation for your company.

Identifying Good Remote Workers

If an employee that reminds you of Ferris Bueller or Dude Lebowski asks for the opportunity to work from home, just say no.  Self-motivated employees, on the other hand, are likely to be even more productive when they don’t spend time commuting to an office where distractions and interruptions typically exceed those that workers might find at home.

Still, employees who want to work from home need to show that they have an appropriate, interruption-free work area.  For example, they probably need to send the kids to daycare or hire a nanny.  But just as important, look for employees who already display dedication, as evidenced by the following traits:

  • They consistently meet or exceed deadlines, even if it means coming in early or staying late;
  • They take work home while still putting in a full workday, particularly when that work requires unfettered concentration;
  • They keep you informed of progress without the need to prompt them;
  • They are good problem-solvers on their own, but they know when to seek your help.

Remote Employees Must Maintain a Professional Image to the Outside World

No customer, vendor or other outside party should ever see the laundry basket in an employee’s living room and seeing the inside of a coffee shop is no better.  In other words, business contact must occur outside of the home in professional surroundings.

You work hard to develop a professional image for your business and your employees need to maintain it, no matter where they are.  I count on Regus (who, for disclosure is a client of mine, and whose services and locations I have used as a client of theirs for years), one of the largest providers of flexible workspaces in the world, for the professional image that I need. 

Using professional remote workspaces allows you to rent anything from office space to meeting rooms on an as-needed basis, but if you regularly provide remote workers with access to flexible facilities, a resource like Regus’s Businessworld card can help keep costs under control while providing a professional working environment.

Technology Creates a Bridge between Workers and Home Base

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Most remote workers use a computer in some capacity to do their jobs.  It doesn’t matter if 

they carry a company laptop back and forth between home and office or if they use their own computer — as long as they have access to the right functions.  But once you take employees out of the office, you often need additional technology such as the following to keep them connected:

  • A reliable Internet connection;
  • High-quality and secure access to your office computer network, including email, using collaboration suites like Office 365;
  • A quality phone system, like those provided by Nextiva;
  • The ability to attend interactive meetings and video conferences online.

Having appropriate technology makes it seamless for you to collaborate with your team or even your vendors from almost anywhere in the world.

Avoiding the Isolation of Remote Work Environments

I know someone who was forced to work from home during her first months with a new employer simply because her office computer did not work.  She would come in to the office for meetings, but she lamented that the delay in getting to know her co-workers made her feel alienated from the team.  Years later, after she formed a bond with the team, she started working from home several days a week.  She enjoyed her time at home, but she always felt a sense of renewal when she returned to the office.

All employees must feel a close connection to the company and their co-workers, and it is your job to make sure that happens.  By conducting regular one-on-one and department phone meetings, you provide them with vital information relevant to their daily activities, but face-to-face contact is incredibly valuable as well.  You should make it clear that you expect local employees to come to the office on a regular basis, and even workers on the other side of the country might be able to travel in for the quarterly company meeting or other major events.

Everyone would enjoy the chance to wear fuzzy slippers and PJs during their work day, but this is just one of many reasons why studies have shown remote workers to be generally happier and more productive.  Still, it is important to make sure that a remote workplace does not equate to a remote connection with the company team.  With your guidance, employees who receive this benefit will earn your trust every day — especially if those fuzzy slippers have your company logo embroidered on them.


Good, Better, Best: How to Be the Best Leader for Your Small Business

Stocksy_txp4741dc94fC8000_Small_17003Like it or not, as a small business owner, one of your primary roles (if you’ve got employees, that is), is that of leader. If you haven’t had a lot of experience in the past in leading people, you might need a few pointers for polishing your skills. Not to worry: even if you’re not a born leader, it’s something you can improve with a bit of effort and education. And don’t be afraid to sign up for a leadership course.

The Qualities of a Great Leader

While everyone’s got their own opinion about what makes for killer leadership skills, most can’t argue that the following are qualities that can help you manage others with grace:

  • Solid listening & communication skills
  • Striving to help employees succeed
  • Empowering employees to make decisions
  • Striving for self-improvement
  • Learning from mistakes

How many of these qualities do you possess? If you need a brush-up, here are tips for expanding your abilities on each point:

  • Listening & Communication: Let your employees speak without you interrupting them. Pause before responding, and really consider what they’ve said.
  • Help Employees Succeed: If an employee comes to you with a problem, don’t just listen; act. Show him that you keep your word by making change to help him overcome his obstacle.
  • Empower Employees: Show your staff that you trust them to make decisions without your constant approval. They’ll blossom if you let them.
  • Self-Improvement: Realize that good leaders never assume they’ve reached the top, and keep striving to better their skills.
  • Learn from Mistakes: Just like anyone, you’re fallible, so rather than try to deny your errors, take them as valuable lessons.

Why You Should Strive to Be a Great Leader

Do you really need to improve your leadership skills? If you care about keeping your staff happy (and at your company), you should care. As Eric Jackson quotes the old saying in this Forbes article, people quit their bosses, not their jobs. Do you really want to be the reason you keep losing good talent?

Your staff looks to you for guidance on how to conduct themselves, as well as how your company is run. A good leader inspires her staff, not makes them cower under their desks.

Owning Your Leadership Style

If you’ve been to business school or any kind of leadership training, you might be familiar with Lewin’s Three Leadership Styles. These date back to 1939, and while others have been identified since then, these styles of leadership still ring true today:

  • Autocratic: You make decisions on your own without the input of your team, and your word is law. You’re not open to suggestions from your staff, which may make them fearful of you, and may cause employees to be difficult to motivate or keep on board.
  • Democratic: You involve staff members in key decisions, though you still have the final word. Employees feel more vested in the company when they are encouraged by you to provide input.
  • Laissez-faire: This style of leadership isn’t always effective. You put the responsibility of decision-making in the hands of your employees, which may cause your team to feel confused and without strong guidance, since that’s not a laissez-faire leader’s strong suit.

Each of these leadership types (as well as others) has its benefits and drawbacks. The key is understanding which comes naturally to you, as well as which your staff responds best to. For example, if you identify with the autocratic style, but your staff seems afraid to come to you with ideas or issues, try on the democratic hat for a week or two and see if results change. It’s better to align yourself with your staff’s needs than stick to what’s easiest for you.

The better the leader you are, the happier your employees will be. And a small business with happy employees makes for a successful company.


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.


Should salespeople be doing customer service?

Prosser BlogThis is a question of great importance to companies with 20 to 50 employees. While there are exceptions, companies with only a few employees don’t have the resources to allocate separate people to sales and customer service. Larger companies tend to divide up these roles, providing different training and compensation plans for employees that do sales and customer service. But, there is not necessarily a clear path for companies in the 20 to 50 employee range. Here is why my former company decided not to separate these functions at first, and then went with a hybrid solution in which certain types of support were done by specialists.

My former company was in an industry with a really bad reputation (ten years ago). The industry was known for high-pressure sales tactics and shady practices. Our company was different.  We wanted to create a reputation for outstanding customer service, instead of pushy sales people.

We believed that having the sales professionals handle responsibilities for both closing the sale and dealing with any communications that occurred afterwards would dramatically change the way they approached selling. It would encourage them to do a good job setting expectations and educating customers prior to closing the sale. If they didn’t, the salespeople might have to deal with unhappy customers later on.

This approach was “mostly” successful, however, it did create some problems:

  1. Great salespeople tended to dislike this system and felt they were undercompensated. Some left the company, because they could make more in a “pure” sales job where they wouldn’t have to devote time to customer service.
  2. Many of our customer service oriented salespeople did not make any effort to close sales.
  3. Resolving certain types of customer service issues like a hard technical support question, sometimes took a while.

Before I discuss how we dealt with these challenges, I would like to emphasize that combining these functions did achieve the intended goal. Our company received very high marks for customer service, and established a reputation as having more integrity than our competitors.

Great salespeople want to both be recognized and rewarded for their skills. The key to both is tracking their performance. We heavily relied on our CRM system to see how different salespeople were performing.  We measured both their performance on the sales side (new leads that opened accounts) and customer service side (how many interactions they had with existing customers, and how frequently they were able to resolve the customer’s issue).  This information was used both for performance reviews and in making decisions regarding bonuses. While salespeople may not have been able to devote all their time to closing, they received praise and financial compensation for bringing new business.

It should be stated that we did not pay salespeople a commission, but a base salary and a quarterly bonus based on both the company’s and their personal performance. We believed that providing commission based compensation would lead to poor customer service.

We did lose some good salespeople, but many good salespeople liked the customer friendly environment.

The bigger problem was getting customer service focused employees to close sales. Surprisingly, the solution to this problem turned out to be “social” pressure. While these employees earned 0 or smaller bonuses, this did not seem to motivate them.  After a few warnings about putting more effort into sales, the company had to let a few of them go. However, there was a better solution that we found only years later. When we put the sales numbers of each employee on public whiteboards, there was a dramatic cultural change, and we saw an improvement in their performance. Because bonuses were based on personal and group performance, the weaker salespeople and their colleagues were suddenly aware of how these people were hurting their own compensation.

As the company grew, we did start separating certain customer support functions. The first area was technical support. Instead of having a general salesperson be the client’s point of contact in handling difficult tech issues, the company created technical support specialists which only dealt with technology related issues. This enabled tech support issues to be resolved more quickly.

Bottom Line: Keeping sales and customer support together sends a message to employees that customer support is not a second class job, but integral to the company’s success. On the other hand, it makes it harder to keep sales stars happy, and can create motivational issues for less sales driven employees. Combining sales and customer services puts more pressure on management and in the short-run can hurt sales.

Marc Prosser is the publisher of Fit Small Business.




 
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