Posts Tagged ‘Team Management’


Three Ways to Improve Your Business Messaging

All businesses need to communicate a consistent story that describes who they are, what they do and why customers need their products or services.  But even relatively small businesses count on a number of employees to deliver the story in everything from advertising to bids.  Add social media to the mix and your business can become victim to issues ranging from sales errors to serious legal concerns.  To avoid potential financial losses or hits to your company’s reputation, you need to take control over every aspect of your business messaging to keep it correct and consistent.

Here are three methods for ensuring that the public hears the message that you intend to send.

Provide a Single Source of Key Company Information

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When a newspaper ad shows a 20 percent discount until July while your website shows a 10 percent discount until May, you have to honor the better offer.  You also have to honor bids offered to customers by sales reps who quoted lower prices shortly after you increased prices across your entire product line.  These can be costly errors that you can control by developing a better communication system with your employees.

Everyone in your company needs to turn to a single source where they can find the up-to-date information that they need to do their jobs effectively and accurately.  Here are two of the most typical examples of systems that can be worth the initial effort:

  • Marketing information can be maintained in word processing documents on your company’s network.  With an easy-to-follow organization and identification system, your employees can copy and paste this content into their advertising or other business documents to deliver a consistent message to the public.  But to be effective, the content needs to be up-to-the minute, so make sure that timely updates are a number one priority for the individuals who are responsible for them.
  • Product pricing information can be easy to find if your sales staff members can use their smart phones to gain instant access to a secure online database.  If your company’s growth requires you to find a high-tech solution to help your sales reps, this type of system might be a good investment to consider.  But even if your young company is operating on a shoe string budget, your reps should make a quick phone call to confirm prices before handing a quote over to a customer.

Channel All Important Communications Through One Person for Review

No matter how many safeguards that you use to ensure consistency, the most current information may not always be available.  In fact, your employees may not even be aware of your plans to target new types of customers or change prices within the next few weeks.

This is why you need to select a very small group of inner-circle staff members to have signing authority for the release of important messaging,- even if that “small group” consists of just you! 

Reserve Social Media Messaging for Employees That You Trust

Even in the hands of experts, social media campaigns can unexpectedly go wrong, as was the case in 2012, when McDonald’s launched a Twitter campaign and customers decided to use it to post complaints.  But social media has become an important part of company marketing tools, especially for small businesses looking to get maximum return on their limited advertising dollars.

Twitter quickly becomes a double-edged sword in the hands of your employees, even if their intentions are honorable.  What would happen if a loyal employee decides to respond in kind when a customer tweets a rudely-worded complaint?  The original complaint will likely fade out in a short time.  But a snarky response issued under your company’s name can catch the attention of the news media, causing serious damage to your brand.

Rule of thumb:  Grant permission to only a few individuals to broadcast messages on social media accounts that bear the company name.  And, while you may not have control over their private activities, strongly encourage all employees to keep your company name out of their personal Tweets, as well.  Also, consider putting together a style and communications guide to minimize the potential for off-message posts.

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Clearly, the words that you broadcast to the world can make a tremendous difference to your company’s reputation and bottom line.  Taking control over your company’s message takes some effort, but it is a task that you should make a priority.


Are You Getting Everything You Should Be Out of Google Apps?

If you’re like many small businesses, you might be using Gmail for your company email addresses. Or maybe you rely on Google Calendar to alert you about meetings and events from any mobile device. But those are just the tip of the iceberg for Google Apps. There are tons more features that help you collaborate with your team, work away from your desktop, and hold more productive meetings, both in person and virtual.

Build a Smarter Team

The great thing about Google products is they work so well together, as well as individually, especially for teams. While I’ve written about the best apps small business owners need to thrive, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Google Drive. When you’re collaborating on documents, sharing them in the cloud makes it easy for multiple people to access the documents and make their changes, without all that crossover of emails with different versions of that doc.You can create word processing documents, spreadsheets, forms, and presentations, and share them with anyone you want to have access to them.

And if your team isn’t in the office with you, Google Hangouts makes meetings easier. Up to 15 people can be on a call, and there are apps for mobile devices, so you’re not tethered to your desktop.

Google Calendar, too, is ideal when trying to schedule meetings for your team. You can share access of your calendar or see availability on others’ calendars, then send invites to your team. You can even include a video call in the invite (on Hangouts, of course!).

Taking it on the Go

There are compelling reasons for Google lovers to choose Android phones over Apple. They’re much more intuitive when it comes to using Google Apps, and many (like the Samsung S5) come standard with all of the apps built in. Sign in once and get access to your Hangouts, email, Drive, and calendar.

It’s the Little Things

Beyond these tools, there are plenty more. Like Google Vault, which helps you archive email and chats, making audits and legal research easy. Or Google Sites, a free tool with simple website templates. Groups let you channel your conversations into one place online, and Translate helps you understand foreign text.

Integrate What You’re Already Using

A little-known feature of Google Apps is its Marketplace (I myself didn’t even know about it until I did some digging). The apps here are from software and programs you’re likely already using, like CRM, workflow, and email marketing. Enabling your accounts to work within Google Apps streamlines the activity between the two.

For example, the Nimble app in the Marketplace gives Nimble users more functionality. It allows you to import contacts from your social stream with one click; link emails, tweets, tasks, and events to a profile; and allow your team to log into Nimble using their Google account.

You might even discover new tools, like the HelloFax app, which lets you fax documents from your Drive. Or QuoteRoller, which helps you build out quotes and proposals.

All This…at What Cost?

If you signed up for Google in 2012 or earlier, you’ve been grandfathered in to free services. But at only $50 a year (or $120 with unlimited storage and Vault), it remains an affordable option for any small business looking for easy productivity tools.

We’ve come to rely heavily on Google, and for good reason: the brand keeps providing useful tools that help us do more with our businesses.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Creating an Ergonomic Workspace for Your Employees

Stocksy_txp60acfecbxm9000_Small_302510In today’s business environment, employees work long hours, typically hunched over computer keyboards or, in a customer service environment, on the phone. Did you ever stop to think about whether your employees’ workspace is ergonomically sound? I didn’t either until years ago when one of my employees began suffering from repetitive-stress injuries and eventually had to have surgery.

Ergonomics, or the study of how to fit work systems to workers, doesn’t get a lot of press these days—which is ironic considering a new generation of employees are working in ways that can be harmful to their health. Over time, typing on a keyboard that’s not suited to them, holding their hands in the wrong position or sitting in an uncomfortable chair for long periods can lead to injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck problems or even tennis elbow (which is on the rise among iPad users). My doctor recently gave me an earful about my bad habit of spending hours slouched over my laptop on the couch.

Injured employees lead to worker’s compensation claims, lowered productivity and other problems for your business. An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure in this case! Here are some steps to make your office more ergonomic:

  • Buy adjustable chairs that offer back, neck and armrest support. If needed, invest in additional cushions to support lower backs.
  • Encourage employees to get up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour. There are many online apps that can pop up on their computers and remind them.
  • Provide headsets or cordless options for employees who spend long hours on the phone, such as customer service or salespeople.
  • Laptop keyboards are a big cause of repetitive stress injuries because they’re typically smaller and flatter than desktop keyboards. If employees use laptops for long periods, a simple search for “wireless ergonomic keyboards” will turn up many keyboards you can deploy with laptops.
  • Provide a selection of computer mice and let employees choose the one that feels best to them.
  • Make sure workspaces are properly lighted so employees don’t strain their eyes. Provide task lighting as needed—for example, desk lamps or under-shelf lighting for when employees need to work on paper.
  • Encourage employees to come to you when they’re feeling pain so you can get them treatment and adjust their workspace to resolve the issue. Repetitive stress injuries take time to build, but can appear quickly, so acting fast to treat the problem is key.

Check out OSHA’s guide to ergonomics and WebMD’s guide to ergonomic injuries


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.




 
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