Browsing Date

February 2014

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Give Your Customer Service a Checkup

By February 18, 2014 No Comments

Is your customer service up to par? Even if your business starts off with stellar service, it’s easy for your standards to slip as your business grows and you become less hands-on with all aspects of the company. Plus, consumers’ standards for service are higher than they’ve ever been,–and they have many options if your business doesn’t live up to their expectations.

How can you make sure your customer service stays stellar day in and day out? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is my website user-friendly? Can customers easily tell what to do when they visit your business website? Make sure key information, like your business’s phone number, hours, address and directions, are visible right near the top of the home page.
  • Stocksy_txpc1714160lD3000_Small_130635Is my physical location welcoming? A clearly-marked entrance; an inviting store window or lobby; and employees who make eye contact, smile and greet customers with a friendly welcome as they walk in the door all combine to kick the customer experience off on a positive note.
  • Are my employees empowered to give great service? If employees have to “get a manager” to make any exception to a rule, irate customers are likely to get even more annoyed. Set parameters, but within those guidelines, give your employees leeway to make their own decisions about how to satisfy a customer.
  • Are my employees educated about my product or service? These days, customers can instantly turn to the Internet on their smartphones to get a wealth of information about the products you sell—and the other companies that sell them. It’s crucial your employees know your wares thoroughly so they can answer questions, make suggestions and offer expert advice before customers turn to your competitors.
  • Do I listen as well as talk on social media? Social media is a great way to engage with customers, but make sure it’s not a one-way street. Don’t just share info about your business; also listen to what customers are saying about your business. If what they’re saying is negative or critical, or if a customer is asking for help, respond immediately and take steps to make changes.
  • Do I offer lots of customer service options? Customers today want choices in everything—even in how they communicate with your company. Offer as many options as possible for how you provide customer service—from in-person and by phone to email and live chat. If you have something for everyone, you’ll keep everyone happy. 
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Mondays with Mike: The Tier Method for Increasing Revenue

By February 17, 2014 No Comments

A disclaimer of sorts:  This method of boosting revenue is intended for entrepreneurs who own businesses that are already making a little money.  This strategy can help you look down the road if you’re just getting your business up and running, but the method I describe in this article is intended for established businesses, rather than those just starting out.

More money.  It’s an appealing prospect, but it’s not always easy to achieve.  One of the most versatile solutions I’ve ever found is the tier method, and it’s successful because it’s such an elegant and simple strategy. 

Here’s how it works:

Your business is established, and you have a good product, but you’re looking to increase sales.  The answer is simply to create additional, higher quality (and higher priced) offerings. 

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. ????????????????????????????????????????You own a restaurant, and you’ve found success with your weekday, prix-fixe menu.  Folks love coming in and selecting three courses for a set price.  How do you step it up?   Add on the option for wine pairings for each course (with an additional fee, of course.)  You’re adding an additional tier of services that will entice your existing customers.
  2. If you own a cleaning service and have regular customers, but need a way to get more from them, create tiers of service.  Your existing contracts – let’s call that your Silver Service – is offered at the current price.  You add Gold Service with additional services – periodic window cleaning or carpet shampooing, as well as Platinum Service – where you clean everything that doesn’t move.   You’ll inevitably find some clients who want to step up to a better plan, and your new clients are likely to settle for the option in the middle, so you’ll be starting them at the Gold Service – it’s your new default setting, complete with higher price tag.
  3. You sell original artwork, either online or in a brick and mortar store.  Your customers love your work, and you decide to offer additional options.  Your first tier is the watercolor painting – the work your clients know and love.  You offer one option of adding a frame, and a second option of high quality mats and a custom frame.  You’re adding tiers of service that save your clients the time they’d have to invest in selecting the perfect frame that shows off your valuable artwork.  

Why is the tier method so successful?  You’re starting with an established brand – a product or a service that your customers already trust and enjoy – and you’re offering a better version of that product.  We all want the best, and we’re conditioned to think of selecting the least expensive option as settling for less than the best.   Airlines make bank on pricier seats in first class.  People pay extra to buy iPhones with more memory than they’ll ever use.  If you offer your customers pricier options, it is inevitable that some of them will take you up on it.

The key here is to offer authentically better options.  We’re not talking about smoke and mirrors  — playing games with your clients is a tactic that can alienate loyal customers.  Rather, you want to develop tiers that are meaningful and offer additional value that’s appealing to your customers.  You’re finding a way to enhance your existing high quality offerings by creating options with added benefits to your clients and added revenue for your business. 

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Delegation Tips for Delegation Haters

By February 14, 2014 No Comments

Generally speaking, small business owners aren’t the biggest fans of delegating. And it is easy to understand why. Most of them built their companies from the ground up and worry that the addition of a new person may disrupt their business environment and possibly scare away clients. But as Roberta Matuson, HR consultant and author of the new book Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best, explains, delegation is essential to building a business.

“You will never succeed as a business owner unless you let go,” she says. Here are a few of her top delegation tips for business owners who hate to delegate.

Tap into your network

Talk to fellow businesspeople in your area to get the names of possible candidates. If you are new to your city, Matuson recommends joining the local Chamber of Commerce or contacting a nearby college and posting ads on an alumni job board.

Start with small tasks

Now that you’ve hired your first employee (or contract assistant), it is time to give him or her a few job assignments. “Start by giving them tasks that you are confident they can accomplish,” she recommends. “And allow them to do those tasks the way they want. Accept the fact that your way may not be the best way in all situations.”

?????????????????????????????????????????????Focus on training

Don’t expect your new hire to know how to do everything, even if he or she has a lot of experience. You may do things differently in your business, so it is important to provide specific training.  “Give them what they need,” recommends Matuson. “You can’t throw something into someone’s lap and expect them to learn how to do it by osmosis. Give them the tools and then get out of their way.”

Be careful what you delegate

You may want to hold on to major tasks like entertaining a new client at a dinner or attending a conference call that helps close a sale. “Delegate the things that are weighing you down so you can be free to do what you need to grow you business,” she says. “An important meeting may better be suited for you, not your assistant.”

Don’t micromanage

Many of us have had experiences working for micromanagers—experiences that most likely didn’t last long (because you quit). Stop yourself from being too overbearing with your new employee by checking in semi-frequently. “There isn’t a rule of thumb for how often you should check in, but I’d say it is best to see how they are doing once per week,” says Matuson. “Every day can be a bit much.” 

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Why Big Leaps Are Dangerous to Your Business

By February 13, 2014 No Comments

??????????????Most small business owners think they have to take giant risks to be successful. They reason that the greater the risk, the bigger the reward. This is common wisdom since when a success story gets publicized, no one hears about all the interim steps that were taken to get to the final result. No one sees the up, down, and sideways paths it took to reach that goal.

Forget the giant risks. It is much safer and ultimately more effective to make a small decision, examine its result, and learn what you can from it. Then make another decision based on that outcome. Think of each small decision as another piece of completing a puzzle. Never pin the future of a company on one decision, action, or resource. “Go big or go home” or “playing for all the marbles” may make a good slogan, but it has no real place in business.

Here is what to do get the most out of each new opportunity:

A huge customer: Downsize expectations. Start with small sales goals. No matter how big the opportunity or how famous the brand, keep the excitement in check. While you may not want to treat them like just another customer, assume sales will build very slowly over a longer period of time.

The next employee: Be realistic. On any team, a new player can have an impact, but typically this takes time. Before hiring, find out if the prospective employee truly has demonstrated what they can do in the job. Having previous experience at a competitor or a large brand-name company may not translate to success at your business.

The next product line: What have the initial customers said about the product? How can it be rolled out to a small release to ensure it works as expected? Have these initial customers paid for the product, and what real results have they accrued as a result? Most products take time to be adapted by the marketplace. This also usually only happens when supported by a substantial marketing budget.

The next consultant: No matter how good their experience is, one person cannot make a huge impact immediately. Start the consultant with a small scoped project with stated goals. At the project’s completion, match the goal against the actual results. If the outcome is positive, do a second project and build scale from there.

The next market change: Test, test, and test. Do this before a large investment is made in project development or a big marketing expense rollout. Have you really identified a pain in the market from people who can pay to fill it? This is only demonstrated by paying repeat customers (and referrals) and not with what prospects say when you survey them. Many people will say yes when surveyed, but few will say yes when you actually ask them for money.

The next competitor: What a customer substitutes for one product is constantly changing, so it’s difficult to keep up. Know everything customers do with the same money they use to buy your products or services. Keep up to date on all these competitors, and track where they are making their largest investments. As Chinese general Sun Tzu said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” 

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Nextiva Tuesday Tip: Perfecting the “Dreaded” Employee Review

By February 11, 2014 No Comments

Stocksy_txp17ae6739N13000_Small_143559Few small business owners relish reviewing employees, but regular reviews are crucial to making your staff the best it can be. Follow these steps for effective reviews:

Be consistent. Use the same review form for each employee in the same capacity—such as all your hourly employees, all your customer service employees, etc. Check out the forms at DocStoc or Microsoft Office templates.

Be prepared. Reviews should be based on specifics, not on your general feeling as to how the person has done in the last three weeks. Document the employee’s performance during the year, both positive and negative, so you can refer to specific examples during the review.

Get input from the employee. Have the employee complete a self-evaluation before the review and give yourself time to read it thoroughly. This will tell you if the employee’s opinion of his or her performance is accurate or way off base.

Provide a balance of positive and negative feedback. Even the best employees need some ideas for how to stretch or improve, or they will become bored. Conversely, even the worst performers need some positive strokes in order not to be completely demoralized. Find something positive and constructive to say so that the review isn’t all lopsided.

Look back and ahead. In addition to reviewing the person’s performance since the last review, look ahead to what the outcomes will be if the person takes (or doesn’t) the steps you’ll recommend during the review. Will he or she be in line for a promotion, or at risk of termination?

Get feedback. It’s easy for the employer to do all the talking, especially in a review that is strongly negative or positive. But be sure you give the employee time to speak so he or she can clarify any issues that may arise. If you ask employees to share ideas for how they can improve, they are more likely to be invested in the outcome.

Clarify next steps.

  • If the employee got a good review, perhaps he or she is getting a promotion and/or a raise. Let the person know the new title, new wage or salary and when both will take effect.
  • If the person got a poor review, you’ll need to specify what remedial actions have to be taken by what date, and what will happen if the person does or does not achieve these milestones.

Codify the discussion. After the review, complete the form, making sure it’s accurate and that you fill in any details that arose during the review. Have the employee sign and date the review form, and add it to the personnel file.

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Mondays with Mike: The Secret to Doing More, Faster

By February 10, 2014 No Comments

fast_expressions_idiomsWe’re all concerned about productivity – measuring it, boosting it, evaluating it.  Don’t believe me?  If you enter “productivity” as a search term on Amazon, you’ll have access to over 172,000 products.  We have apps that are supposed to make us more productive, and we tend to evaluate new technology based on its potential to help us do more in less time. 

I’m not immune to the siren song of products that consolidate tasks and let me work smarter and achieve better results for my clients, but I have found that sometimes the very best solution can be a low-tech approach.  My primary productivity booster is a two-fold approach.

First of all you must unplug.  Don’t panic – I don’t mean completely.  I’m talking about unplugging from the biggest timewasters while you’re working.  If you take the simple steps of closing Facebook, Twitter, and the dozens of other popular apps, your productivity will increase more than you can imagine.  Don’t believe me?  YouTube reports that more than two billion videos are watched on their site each day.  Two billion.  Let that sink in.  You don’t actually need to see Miley Cyrus’ new video during business hours, and the single best way to eliminate the temptation to meander through social media and similar distractions is to close those apps.  Period. 

Even your email account can be a distraction that inhibits, rather than fosters productivity.  If you can resolve to check email periodically, rather than constantly, you will discover that you can work more quickly and effectively as a result of the focus you can achieve when you eliminate distractions.

We’re going to go really old school for the second part of my approach.   Dig out those archaic tools – pen, paper, and a highlighter – and try my method for organizing and prioritizing your workflow.

Step One:  Divide the piece of paper into two columns:  A narrow column labeled TYPE and a wide column labeled TASK.  In the wide column, list all of the things you need to accomplish.  As new tasks occur to you throughout the day, add them right away, rather than wasting energy on trying to remember them.

Step Two:  Go down your list of tasks and in the TYPE column, put a $ next to each task that will bring in revenue in the next thirty days.  Put a smiley face next to each task that’s for an established client.  You’re going to use these symbols to help you prioritize your workload.

Step Three:  You’ll notice that most of your tasks neither generate revenue nor serve an existing client – these duties are going to be sorted to the bottom of your to-do list.  Work your way through the list, beginning with the tasks that have both the $ and the smiley face:  jobs for established customers that produce revenue are your priority.  Next, work on the tasks for existing customers – the smileys.  Third priority is the revenue producing tasks for new clients, and fourth – only when you’ve taken care of your existing clients and generated some revenue, do you attack the chores that are left on the list.

Step Four:  One of the key elements of this strategy is the way you manage your list throughout the work day.  When you start on a task, highlight that line.  That way, when you’re interrupted by a phone call or an urgent matter, you don’t have to waste time recalling where you were when you get back to your list.  When the task is complete, cross it off your list (so satisfying!) and highlight the next task.  You’ll have a concrete plan to help you work through your day and get the most out of your time.

Real productivity isn’t about the latest app or management buzzwords.  It’s about disconnecting from distractions and focusing your energy on the tasks that best reward your time and energy.   

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