Browsing Date

June 2014

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: How to Stop Wasting Time With Meetings

By June 24, 2014 No Comments

Are you and your employees spending too much time in meetings? In-person meetings can be the best way to get everyone on the same page, brainstorm new ideas or inspire teamwork. But meetings can easily spiral out of control and start devouring your workday, preventing you and your team from actually accomplishing all the stuff you’ve been meeting about.

Here are five ways to keep your team meetings manageable and productive.

  1. Stop the status meetings. Many businesses set up a weekly “status meeting” for everyone to check in and let the rest of the team know how their projects are going. Typically, this information could be just as easily conveyed by sending a status report everyone can read in 10 minutes.
  2. Keep it short. You’ve heard the saying “Work expands to fill the time available,” and the same is true of meetings. Always have a firm start and end time for your meetings—ideally, no longer than half an hour. This keeps everyone focused. Start wrapping up five minutes before closing time.
  3. Meet on the move. Try holding meetings with everyone standing up or meetings walking outside (obviously, the latter works better with a small team). Attendees will feel more energized, which makes standing meetings a great way to announce companywide changes or other news you want everyone to be excited about.
  4. Ban device use. Smartphones can make meetings take longer as people distracted by their devices miss key information and have to be brought up to speed. If your meetings are half an hour or shorter, it shouldn’t be a problem for everyone to put their phones face down on the table and focus. For longer meetings, set hourly breaks when people can grab refreshments, use the restroom and check phones and tablets.
  5. Be tough. Whoever’s in charge of the meeting needs to be tactful, but strict about keeping conversations on topic, managing “meeting hogs,” ensuring the meeting ends on time and clarifying next steps. If you can’t do this, appoint someone who can. 

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Mondays with Mike: Great Meetings In 4 Simple Steps

By June 23, 2014 No Comments

We’ve all had to sit through them – big old snoozefests of meetings full of buzzwords and BS.  Hell, I think I even conducted a few of those before I figured out how to get the most out of the times when I bring my staff together.  Meetings shouldn’t be a chore; they are an opportunity to share ideas, devise solutions, and inspire better performance from your whole staff – but only if you run those meetings right.  Here’s how it’s done:

  • Outline objective as a group.  My meetings start with a blank whiteboard.  I kick things off by establishing the reason for the meeting, and then every member of the group contributes an objective they want to accomplish in that meeting.  I write the objective down or designate another staff member to record our objectives, and the amazing benefit is that every single person is immediately engaged.  They have a stake in the meeting, and they know their priorities matter.  Don’t worry if you have more objectives than time … you’re about to refine and focus your list.
  • Consolidate your objectives.  Combine and condense your list of objectives into a manageable number – three to five is a perfect number for a brief meeting – and list those goals for everyone to see.  Tackle each objective – collect information, collaborate to find a solution, and move on through your list.
  • Confirm that you’ve achieved each objective.  Not only does this step ensure that you’ve accomplished the meeting’s goals, but you’re also modeling a thoughtful, efficient approach to problem solving.  Focusing on measurable progress sets a good example.

Not every problem needs a major meeting, and my next and final step lets you address smaller issues by holding a meeting with an appropriate scope.  These micro meetings can be held on short notice and should only involve the essential staff. 

  • ???????????????????????????????????Hold a stand-up meeting.  When you sit folks down for a meeting, they tend to settle in.  There’s no hurry, and there’s little excitement in a room full of people looking at their watches.  I like the stand-up meeting, and I keep ‘em brief.  We use raised tables for standing note-taking, and I always appoint a timekeeper, with instructions to cut the meeting off at fifteen minutes.  Giving yourself a brief window means that you have to prioritize your objectives, and you’re eliminating unnecessary fluff.  You have to be prepared, and you must be efficient.  Training yourself and your staff to stay on topic in these quickie meetings will pay dividends when you discover how much you can accomplish in a relatively short period of time.

A meeting should always, always be the means to an end.  The point of holding a meeting is to accomplish an objective, not to appear to be busy and engaged.  If you’re meeting just to have a meeting, you’re doing it wrong.  If you see your staff propping up their eyelids to stay awake in your meeting, then you need to examine and improve your meeting protocol.   Your objective should be efficient, effective, goal-oriented gatherings.  

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Coaxing Great Service Behavior from your Employees

By June 20, 2014 No Comments

About this series: This series of articles from Nextiva will help you grasp of the essentials of customer service: the principles and guidelines that will serve you well in any era, regardless of trends, changing technology, and a constantly evolving customer base. Our guide is Micah Solomon, customer service and customer experience consultant, author, and speaker. 

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

The waiter with no peripheral vision

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

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

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

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

What makes the difference?  Stay tuned…

Purpose vs. Function

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

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

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

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

(c) Micah Solomon

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

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

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

Of course, its not quite that easy.

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

What else helps?

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

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

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

© 2014, Micah Solomon

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3 Ways to Prepare for a Trade Show

By June 20, 2014 No Comments

DS2_8820-maWhen we plan events as part of our marketing strategy, there typically 2 primary goals: lead generation and brand awareness, with leads being the most important. There are, of course other reasons to exhibit and sponsor events, such as partner relationship development, meeting with multiple current customers in one location, and even hiring new employees. However, these are generally secondary objectives.

It's no secret that events are quite costly. In fact, they can quickly command 20-30% of your marketing budget with just a few events each year. So, it pays to do it right.

Here are a few tips that can make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.

1. Start early. With planning, promoting and logistics – it is never too soon to start the process. From ordering onsite services to designing your theme, message as well as promotional and educational materials – event dates are hard deadlines. The show must go on, as they say, so it’s better to be prepared and have all of your information ready with a consistent look and feel, and of course, content.

​Here’s why:

  • Discounts are often available if you order onsite services early.
  • Shipping costs less if you can send ground and use the event transportation company.
  • Avoid rush charges on graphic production and material printing.

2. Prospect pre-event. Tell your customers, prospects, previous event leads and potential partners which events you will be participating in and what you’ll be doing at each one. Share your role in the event; let them know if you are exhibiting, speaking, sponsoring or hosting a custom event. Spread the message across multiple channels and sources so you can attract as many targeted attendees as possible.

Here’s why:

  • The audience is already spending the time and money to get there.
  • Meeting with so many people in the same place reduces your travel budget.
  • Filter through the primary prospects from the “just kicking the tires” so you can focus your follow-up activities on your best opportunities.

3. Create a fun, engaging experience at the event. Background banners and a literature stand with hand sanitizer as your give-away (granted, a much needed item at events, but not the reason people attend) in a 10×10 booth are common place. Be different. Do something fun! Make people want to seek out your booth, event, activity, etc. You are spending a lot of money to produce an event (even with a 10×10 booth) so create a memorable experience that people talk about well after the event ends.

Here’s why:

  • An extra dollar or two (yes, that’s all it takes) on your give-away can stand out as something people remember – and use.
  • Your fun theme will stick with people and help them remember your brand as one they associate with smart and creative people.
  • The last thing you want is to throw money away. And that’s what happens when your give-away is cheap or not memorable.
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Nextiva Customer Success Story: Fanology Social

By June 19, 2014 No Comments

The vibrant team at Fanology Social spends their days helping their clients form one-to-one relationships with fans across social media platforms. The award-winning digital content agency works with celebrities and big brands across the country including Toyota, Mini Cooper, Ashley Tisdale, Waka Flocka Flame, and Shay Mitchell.

We met with Richard Janes, CEO of Fanology Social in Los Angeles, to learn about how his company uses their phone system on a day-to-day basis.

“We’re in social media, so the biggest thing for us is talking to people and having those conversations,” explained Richard. “So if your phones don’t work and they’re crackly…we’re in trouble.”

Once a small team of only 3 employees, their only work phones were their mobile devices. Now at 16 employees and growing, they knew they had to transition to a more reliable communications solution.

When searching for new VoIP service, Richard’s first priority was to find a provider who could provide great customer service. After reading reviews and narrowing down his choices with a few phone calls, he chose Nextiva.

When asking Richard why he picked Nextiva out of all the VoIP providers available, he explained: “They took an interest in our business and about how we could best utilize their toolset. And obviously there were some things that we’re applicable to us, but there were some things that I hadn’t thought about that immediately made total sense when it was explained, because they had the expertise.”

Find out why telephones are not something that Richard has to worry about anymore:

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7 Technologies to Ignore in 2014

By June 19, 2014 No Comments

New technologies are released every day. For those small business owners that have shiny object syndromes (SOS), they can be hard to resist. Many are pushed to thinking that in order to have a competitive edge, they need to offer their customers the latest technology. However, for the good of their company, here are seven that need to be ignored in the next 12 months:

  1. Smartphone Watch. Wearable technology is a hot topic, but unless your product is related to getting data directly from consumer movements, pass on this technology now. Let’s be realistic; do you really need to look at a watch for an incoming message or call instead of pulling out your smartphone? It’s uber cool (in a Dick Tracy kind of way), but the productivity factor so far is missing.
  2. 3-D Printers. Need one for the office? Probably not unless there is a physical part you sell that can be created from it, instead of ordering from a supplier. For $500 to $2,000 (supplies not included), you can probably fulfill the need some way else.
  3. QR Codes. This is a technology that had a lot of promise, but has never been really accepted by the consumer. Most will not go to their scanning app to retrieve the web site location referred by the QR Code. Sit this one out and use a web or social media address on your products.
  4. Big Data. Analyzing your company with data is a good thing, but small businesses need to forget about going big. The reason is that most owners don’t look at even the simplest information. Do the analysis of your financial statements and your customers’ buying habits before you even think big data.
  5. Snapchat-LogoTemporary Social Media. This has been a big hit in many teen circles where pictures and messages self-destruct after a period of time. Small business owners should run their companies as if every message sent or posted will last forever. This is the best way to measure company values and actions.
  6. Google Glass. While this technology has many exciting possibilities, it does not fit into the critical path for servicing your customer. Until Google brings down the price to $500, it will remain only for the leading edge techie and curiosity seeker.
  7. Bitcoin. Ever since Mt. Gox default disaster, this virtual currency has been derailed. Your customers won’t be paying in bitcoins anytime soon. Easy mobile and online payments should be your only focus

Someday, these technologies may be useful to a every small business, but not today. What technologies are you putting off implementing?

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How to Make Great Hires in Your Small Business

By June 18, 2014 No Comments

Stocksy_txp9a65d8f63x6000_Small_34724As your small business grows, you begin to consider hiring help to take some of the workload and stress off of you. After all, if you can delegate some of the work that isn’t required to be done by you, you free yourself up to work on tasks that generate revenue. These tasks include things such as developing your company’s overall strategy, scheduling pitch meetings or being the face people see when they walk in your door.

That being said, moving into the land of becoming an employer is far from easy. Turnover in industries like restaurants can be shockingly high, at around 60%, and every time you hire an employee that will leave after a few short months, you’ve got to invest more time and money in finding a replacement.

These tips will alleviate some of these headaches and help you make great hires in your small business.

1. Know What You’re Looking For

The more specific you are in your hiring needs, the better you will be able to find it. Start by determining whether you even need a full-time employee. Possibly you only need a little help, which can be fixed by hiring a part-timer or a freelancer or agency who can take on project work like writing or design.

Then, decide what skills and experience you need. This will help you write a concise job description that will only attract the people that are qualified for the role you’re seeking to hire. Consider:

  • Any special skills that will make the job easier
  • Experience you want in a given industry
  • Job history working in similar positions

Obviously, if you’re hiring an ice cream scooper for the summer, the requirements will be lower than if you are hiring a marketing manager, but it’s still important to determine the qualities the person should have. Ideally, you want people who are hard workers and are committed to your company, who are looking for a job they can grow from over a long period of time.

2. Look in the Right Places

Job boards are the easy (and rather lazy) choice for employers to find employees, but fewer employees are finding value in the masses of unqualified resumes they get as a result. Many call job boards a “cattle call.”

Did you realize 92% of companies use social media for recruiting? Social media may be the right place to begin your search if you’re looking for professionals specializing in marketing or business services.

And don’t overlook your own local network. You may know people who can refer the perfect candidate to you, and since referrals tend to retain employees longer (46% after one year compared to only 22% from job boards), your golfing buddy might be your ticket to finding an employee who will stick with you.

You can also work with a recruiter, especially if you’re seeking to hire a professional with highly-specific skills. While a recruiter will take a bite out of your budget, it may take him less time to find the best talent for the job than it would you.

3. Make Your Company Enticing

Remember: job candidates will be interviewing you just as much as you them. And with unemployment less of a threat than it was a few years ago, they can often afford to be picky about where they work. Make sure your company is positioned to appeal to them.

You can’t expect someone accepting an entry-level position to want to stay in that role for years, so ensure that you have a clear path to growth so that when they’re ready to move up the ladder, they don’t have to leave your company to do so.

Also look at your employee benefits offerings. Are you competitive against what other local businesses provide their staff? Health insurance, vacation time, and other perks should be included in your hiring budget and plan, and should be appealing enough to make anyone clamor to work for you.

Part of finding and keeping good employees is doing your best to clearly identify what you’re looking for in a hire. The rest comes from solid management and providing that employee every reason to want to continue working for you.

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