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August 2013

10 Must-Have Amazing Customer Service Apps

By August 23, 2013 No Comments

Recent additions in technology make this the new age of golden age of customer service. It’s as simple as getting the right apps to serve your customers.

  1. Brandify – Customers are talking about your company right now. This solution monitors your company’s online assets and reputation to make sure you hear all the good and bad things your customers are saying about your brand.
  1. Schedule Max – Customers don’t want to call you to schedule appointments and then wait on hold. Now they can do it online on any mobile or desktop device. It will even send them reminders of upcoming appointments. Starts at $15 a month.
  1. Live Chat – Customers often surf your website and have questions. Use this embedded chat window to know which page your customers are on and to talk to them directly when they need help. Starts at $39 per agent per month.
  1. Sage One – Manage customer projects so you know the status of each of them at a press of a button when customers ask. Starts at $29 a month.
  1. Click With Me Now – In order to offer the best customer service, you often need to share the customer’s screen. This solution does it in one click without downloading any software or registering for an account. Call it the best form of social shopping! Request a demo to get pricing.
  1. Parature for Facebook – Customers talk to you through Facebook. Parature’s cloud-based software lets you integrate a customer service center into your company’s Facebook page. This can include a self-service knowledge base, a ticket customer support system and chat. Ask for a free trial.
  1. Desk.com – The explosion of communication channels has made it more difficult to monitor all the ways customers want to talk to you. From Salesforce.com, this solution sets up one universal inbox for a multichannel strategy including Twitter, Facebook, phone, email, and chat. Prices start at $3 a month per agent.
  1. Get Satisfaction – With the Internet, other loyal customers can provide support answers to current customers (and it’s free). This solution enables you to create a customer support community where customers can share problems. Your team and other customers contribute answers to create a user-generated knowledge base. Starts at $425 a month.
  1. Help Scout – Responding to customers over and over again for the same issues can be time consuming and tedious. This solution makes it easy for the support center reps to focus online customer engagement through customizable email templates and  automated responses. Free for up to 3 users.
  1. Nextiva – A phone system used to be simple to buy since all your employees were in one location. Now with virtual employees working from home and other mobile locations, Nextiva provides a unified communication solution so your customers think you are right next door. Starts at $20 a month.

What is a customer service app that your company can’t do without?

Customer-Service

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Guidelines for Giving it Away in Business

By August 22, 2013 No Comments

Free-tagsWith the bad economy, rampant competition, and more products and services than consumers could ever possibly want or need available today, getting customers to know who you are, let alone purchase your offerings, can be nearly impossible.  In an attempt to get more customers, business owners often give away their products or services for free.  This can be a great tactic if it’s used in the appropriate ways, but it can also be the downfall of your business. So, here are some guidelines to know if and when it is appropriate to give your offerings away.

Practice Makes Perfect

I often advocate for entrepreneurs to get plenty of education, practice and experience prior to starting their own businesses to have the best shot at success. This can be done through internships, taking a part-time job in their industry of choice, or even reading business books. So, if you are giving away your products or services in this same spirit- to garner knowledge, feedback, references and experience (especially when first starting your business or launching a new endeavor), this can be a really beneficial tactic.

For example, if you are starting a tutoring business, it may make sense to take on a few customers for free at the beginning to test out your teaching methods before you take on paying customers.  If you are opening a new nightclub, it may make sense to do a free soft open before your official opening to increase the word of mouth and work out the bugs in your new establishment. If you are a video game developer, you may want to give away a few copies of your game before you launch to gain valuable feedback about possible problems or issues.

Practice makes perfect, so giving your offerings away, such as in the above scenarios, can really be a great tactic, as long as this is just a temporary strategy. The important aspect here is to set a limit on the amount of “free” that you give away. You can adjust this if you need more time to develop your offerings, but if you give away too much, you will be out of business before you can really even start! 

Upping Your Status

Another time when giving it away may make sense is if you gain some kind of status, credibility or can leverage the opportunity in a meaningful way. In other words, you are giving something away, but are deriving some other kind of value from it.  For example, you might give away your products or offer up your time to a well-known and established company because being associated with them will up your status or provide major exposure for your business.  You can further increase the value that you get out of this tactic by asking for something easy and specific in reciprocity for your help. The easier and clearer you make this ask, the more likely they are to go along with it.

For example, if you are giving away products to a company, ask if they can advertise your business on their website, social media pages or even in their newsletters.  If you are helping out at an event, ask if you can sell your products there or put up a banner. And to really get the most out of your efforts, you should also advertise the collaboration in your own media too.

This strategy can be helpful in getting your foot in the door, which can lead to building long term paying relationships with companies, but be very careful when you use this tactic. Make sure that the exposure or clout that you will get is really worth your time and offerings.  A lot of businesses will reach out to you for freebies with the carrot of exposure as your payment, but don’t really have much exposure to give you. You won’t benefit much from a business with a website that gets 10 hits a month, so do your research before agreeing to give it away.

Introductions and Bonuses

People are resistant to change, so they are more apt to try a new product/service if they are given a free sample. This is another method that can work to your advantage, especially if you are launching a new offering or just opening shop. This serves as an introduction in the hopes that the customer will like your offering and purchase it in the future. For example, grocery stores and cosmetic companies do this by giving away free samples of new products all of the time. 

This tactic can also be employed as a bonus of sorts- giving away a product, service or something of value for free when you purchase something else. This works as a great alternative to having a sale, and works even better if what you give away is of little or no cost to you. For example, if you have written a book, you can offer to autograph it for free when someone purchases it. Or if you have a magazine, you could offer a free online subscription when the print version is purchased.

The main thing to keep in mind when using this tactic is that the ultimate goal is to get customers to purchase from you. So, don’t give away too much or the same thing repeatedly, since it’s hard to get customers to purchase what know that they can get for free.

It’s easy to give too much away, so always keep in mind that your real goals should be focused on garnering paying customers.  Set specific benchmarks, timelines and milestones with each give-away, so that you don’t ultimately give your business away!

Do you know another guideline for give-aways in business? Please share them below.

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Should Your Next Hire Be a Temp?

By August 20, 2013 No Comments

Are you itching to hire new employees to handle the growing workload at your small business, but nervous about bringing on full-time, permanent workers you might have to lay off if business slows down again? Consider hiring temporary workers. Newly popular in the recovering economy, temporary employees can be a good solution if:

  • You need specialized workers who are hard to find in your area. These days, temporary workers aren’t just for filing and answering phones. You can get temporary employees who specialize in everything from accounting to manufacturing to IT and healthcare. You can even hire temporary CFOs, CMOs and CEOs.
  • You’re in a hurry. Sometimes new business develops unexpectedly and you don’t have time to go through the usual search for a job candidate. Temporary agencies can save the day, enabling you to fill that last-minute order or meet a rush deadline. Keep in mind, however, that the time to look for a temporary agency is before you need one. Start now to research agencies and find one that provides access to the types of workers you’re likely to need. That way, when you’re in a rush, you’ll be able to contact them and get the jobs filled fast.
  • You want to “test drive” possible employees. Many temporary workers are actually seeking full-time work. If you’re looking to hire a permanent employee, contact agencies that offer temporary-to-permanent placements. They can connect you with temps who are open to permanent jobs. You can hire the temps, see how they fit in with your company culture, and then offer to hire the one/s that are the right fit.
  • You don’t want to deal with paperwork and benefits. The temporary agency employs the temporary workers, which means it, not you, provides their benefits and handles their payroll and other paperwork. This saves you both time and money.

To get the most from the temporary employee relationship:

  • Look for a temporary agency that will be responsive to your needs. How fast can the agency find a replacement if a temp doesn’t work out (or doesn’t show up)?
  • Understand the contract. Review your agreement with the agency carefully. What costs are you responsible for, and what costs does the agency handle?
  • Get recommendations. Ask other business owners for referrals, and read online reviews to get a sense of how well the agency works with small businesses like yours. 

‚Äčhiring

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Best Practices: Buying a Business Phone System

By August 20, 2013 No Comments

Your company is looking to buy a new phone system and you aren’t sure where to start. I recently wrote about how to choose an online vendor for The Huffington Post, and will incorporate those tips (and add more) in this piece to help business executives looking to switch to a modern business phone service.

First, embrace the cloudguy-on-desk-phone

Gone are the days of traditional landline phone systems. Cloud-based solutions allow companies the flexibility to seamlessly forward calls to cell phones, integrate offices (without having to cross physical phone lines) and apply fixes instantaneously (no more waiting until a storm passes to get your phone service back up and running).

Establish your goals

What do you love and hate about your current phone system? What do you wish it included? Phone systems are critically important to business operations and, although it may seem like an internal problem to solve, your phone service is something that impacts all of your customers so it pays to dedicate time to choosing the right vendor for your business.

Sit down with your management team and draw up a wish list for your next phone service provider.

Research providers

There are many cloud-based phone service providers out there, so it is important to talk with your network and research the best service for your company. Try narrowing your search to two or three providers and then calling them individually. Discuss offerings with customer service agents and ask every question that comes into your head. Good customer service employees will not rush you through the call, even if you don’t intend on making a purchase.

Check references

When talking with a customer service agent, ask for the names and phone numbers of three or four clients with comparable businesses to your own. Prepare questions and ring each one. Ask technical and non-technical questions such as:

  • How long was your set up process with this vendor?
  • How is the customer service?
  • How reliable is the phone service? Could you give examples?
  • When you run into problems, how are they handled?
  • What service/package did your company purchase?

Go with your gut

After speaking with several vendors and hearing testimonials of like-minded small business owners, you will likely know which service to choose. Strongly weigh a company’s customer service practices, then go with your gut and move forward. 

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Two-Step Guide to Successful Crisis Communication

By August 16, 2013 No Comments

Author Charles R. Swindoll famously once said, “Life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.” This quote is especially powerful when applied to a business in crisis. As Steven B. Fink, president and CEO of Lexicon Communications Corp. and author of Crisis Communications: The Definitive Guide to Managing the Message, explains, every entrepreneur should expect to experience a crisis at some point.

“Crisis is inevitable; it’s a question of when not if,” he says.

Here, Fink offers steps to successfully handle any crisis that comes your way.

Step 1: Identify potential problems & build a crisis management team

Business owners are smart to spend time trying to identify the roots of potential problems before they arise. Fink recommends doing this by creating a dedicated crisis management team of four to five people in the company. The team should be based on position, not specific employee (for example, the director of public relations and COO will always sit on the team).

Once a team is established, task them in talking with employees about problems they’ve come across. Maybe a few staffers have received complaints about customer service, or a product has been returned more than once. Instruct your crisis management team to meet at least once a month to discuss these problems and how to solve them before they escalate into something larger, suggests Fink.

In addition, this team should be tasked with developing a plan when/if a full-blown crisis happens and communicate those steps to employees on a regular basis.

Step 2: Break the story honestly & first

“Be honest, candid and forthcoming with all of your constituents—your customers, stakeholders and your investors,” Fink recommends. “The worst thing a company can do is stonewall or not offer a comment or lie.”

It can be hard to admit the truth at times, especially when the problem is embarrassing or potentially damaging to your business. But, as Fink points out, customers will be much more forgiving if a company owns up to its mistakes than if it hides under a rug.

Importantly, Fink suggests business owners should immediately make public (via channels most used by customers—TV, email, Twitter, newspapers, Facebook, LinkedIn) the crisis, even before the media gets wind of it, if possible. This is critically important because as the breaker of the news you will be in control of the discussion, not put on the defensive.

“If you don’t come forth right away, the vacuum you create by a lack of informed response will allow your opposition to spread what tales they want to about you,” he says.

When announcing/breaking the news of your crisis, state the facts of the situation and the measures you and your company are taking to solve the problem. Circle back with an update when the issue has been resolved.

crisis_communication

 

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