Posts Tagged ‘business tips’


Tuesday Tip: Americans’ Top Customer Service Complaints

12-22 Customer Service trends smallWhat are customers' most common and biggest gripes about customer service? Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey to find out. Consumers were asked about their experiences with customer service in the past year and what complaints they had. Here are their top answers (customers were allowed to choose multiple options):

  • Can't get a person on the phone: 75 percent
  • Rude or condescending salesperson: 75 percent
  • Got disconnected: 74 percent
  • Got disconnected and could not reach same representative: 71 percent
  • Transferred to representative who can't help or is wrong: 70 percent
  • Company doesn't provide customer service phone number, or makes it difficult to find: 68 percent
  • Long wait on hold: 66 percent
  • Many phone steps needed: 66 percent
  • Repeatedly asked for same information: 66 percent
  • Proposed solution was useless: 65 percent
  • Unsure whether on hold or disconnected: 62 percent
  • Can't speak with a supervisor: 62 percent
  • Phone menu doesn't offer needed option: 61 percent
  • Voice-recognition system works poorly: 61 percent
  • Salesperson is too pushy/makes sales pitch for unrelated products or service: 60 percent

Consumers clearly have a lot of complaints. How can you eliminate these issues? Here are some suggestions.

  • Make sure customers can easily reach a live person for assistance, whether by phone or by online chat. If you don't have enough staff in-house for this, consider outsourcing customer service. Whatever you do, don't hide your company's customer service phone number, or require customers to fill out an online form on your website to get service.
  • Simplify your automated phone system as much as possible. Ideally, don't make customers go through more than one or two levels of number-punching to reach their destination. Avoid having customers input information such as their account number if you're just going to ask them for that information when they reach a rep; people hate to feel like they're doing something useless.
  • Empower your customer service employees. Creating an online knowledge base of company information that will help customer service reps resolve common issues is a great way to ensure that every rep has the information they need to do their jobs. Hold regular meetings with reps to go over tough issues they faced and how to solve them so that reps can learn from each other.
  • Always take a phone number from the customer when starting a customer service call. This way, the rep can call the customer back if they get disconnected. Before transferring a call, tell the customer who or what department they are being transferred to, and give them a direct number to reach that person or department if they get cut off during the transfer.

We've all been on the receiving end of poor customer service. Take a moment to think about what kind of experience you'd like to have when you call a company, and make sure you give your customers that same feeling.


Mondays with Mike: 3 Reasons Why Small Businesses are Better than Big

12-21 Small is better smallWe all know big businesses have a number of advantages.  They’re better capitalized, better known, and many of them have the benefit of years of history.  It’s easy to get caught in the trap of wondering if small companies will ever have a chance to catch up.  Here’s the good news:  Not only do small businesses have a shot at taking a piece of the market, but there are actually advantages to being the little guy.  What makes your small business better?

  1. Speed.  Say you decide your business needs to begin taking advantage of the positive exposure Twitter can give a company.  You can literally get started in a matter of minutes.  Your ability to make changes at lightning speed is a definite advantage over massive corporations that would take months to assess the problem, make recommendations to the powers-that-be, and maybe – sometime in 2016 – get around to setting up a Twitter account.  You’re able to take action right away.  Given the speed at which markets shift, being able to move quickly is more important then ever before.
  2. Efficient decision-making.  When Amazon started the Kindle Unlimited program last year, I decided right away I wanted to participate in order to get my books into as many readers’ hands as possible.  Big publishers – the kind that require analysis, market research, and the agreement of a committee – took far longer to make the decision, and that gave independent authors like me a big advantage.  Until the big guys got in the game, independent authors had the advantage of a large pool of readers with limited choices.  Getting into a new program or a new method of going to market early means far less competition – an advantage for those of us who can make decisions quickly and efficiently.  Again, efficiency makes you able to pivot at light speed, while big companies are like unwieldy ocean liners that require miles to change direction.
  3. The underdog role.  Don’t ever underestimate the public’s love for the little guy.  We root for small business, and the growing emphasis on shopping local benefits those of us who operate small companies.  Anything you can do to emphasize your role as the challenger, the underdog, will rally support for your brand.  Focus on your company’s relationship to your community, and make it clear that you’re in business for reasons other than just stacking up a bunch of cash so your CEO can get an 8 million dollar bonus. 

Your ability to move quickly and make decisions independently allows you to interact with consumers efficiently and with a personal touch.  You’re not a faceless corporation shifting profits overseas; you’re a local employer whose roots make you just like the people your company serves.

Emphasize your independence.  Embrace it.  Let your customers know they matter far more to you than they ever could to a big, faceless business.  Make the advantages of being lean and agile work to your very best advantage.


Adding Revenue without Adding Costs (The Value of Past & Current Customers)

12-18 Value of Current Customers smallChances are, your company spends a significant amount of money to acquire new customers. The significant costs associated with acquiring new customers are a necessity because the revenue generated by these new customers allow your company to grow and succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

The good news is, there is a way to increase your revenue that is less expensive than new-customer acquisition. The answer is actually quite simple. As long as you are improving and adding to your product line, your company should be selling to both current and past customers.

Compared to acquiring a new customer, marketing to current customers is up to 10 times less expensive. The reason for the significant drop in marketing and selling costs is that you eliminate the capital spent on lead generation. You are selling to a customer who is already interested in your product line. You have an established relationship with past and current customers and, by leveraging your history, you can grow your revenue stream without investing a large amount of money.

Let’s explore three practices that will reignite sales from past customers and maximize your profitability:

Maintain a Communication Avenue

Maintaining communication with your customers is essential to building a strong relationship and will help you gauge interest of additional product offerings. The more you can communicate with your customers (e.g., via phone and email), the better your relationship will be. Customer relationship management (CRM) software, such as Salesforce, store customer’s information for later use, so you can identify upselling opportunities.

CRM software can also provide reminders to contact current customers once they reach certain milestones such as completing the onboarding process, using your service for a year, etc.  In some cases, while not as personable, you can automate the process with emails requesting feedback, sharing news of a new product, or thanking them for their continued support of your business. Also, it is important to check in with your customers to measure product satisfaction. Your customers are your best source of feedback for product and service improvement. The feedback will you help acquire more customers in the future. You can also use the feedback to see if there is interest in additional products/services from your company.

Sell Additional Value

Selling, without providing additional value, can have the opposite effect of what you wanted. Asking your customers to spend money on products that do not benefit them can leave a bad taste in their mouth and can cause you to lose that customer’s business forever.

Instead, you should sell products that will benefit your user. Whether its an additional product, a service that can work in conjunction with your current offering, or a new feature of your current offering, you need to demonstrate the value of your product and show how it will benefit the customer.

Leveraging your past relationship with a customer will grant you access to key decision makers who have the ability to purchase your product. If your customer is satisfied with your past products/services, they will be more inclined to listen to how your product can save them time, make them more money, or make them more competitive in the marketplace.

Referrals = Less Expensive Lead Generation

Word of mouth is the best form of marketing your company has; it is an extremely cost effective way to generate new sales. Compared to advertisements, consumers are more likely to consider purchasing products and services that their friends and colleagues recommend. Focusing on creating a superior customer experience builds trust with your customers. In return, they will be much more likely to recommend your product or service to their network. Offering some form of incentive for referrals, such as a discount on their next purchase, will further the effectiveness of this strategy.

While acquiring new customers is exhilirating, don't forget about those that are already loyal to you. They're your best (and cheapest) way to increase your revenue stream. 


How to Develop a Sales Process For Your Small Business

12-16 sales process smallHaving an organized sales process is key to building a sustainable small business. A sales process is an organized system to create an offer that persuades others to pay you in exchange for your product or service. In order to meet your monthly sales goals It’s best to develop an integrated sales process. That is a system that brings in sales based on repeatable actions that predicts conversions for each step in the process. It’s measurable and predictable.

Here is how to develop an integrated sales process:

Develop a Sales Strategy: A sales strategy is best laid out in a sales plan. It is your roadmap for generating leads and closing sales. It should include revenue goals such as how much money you plan to generate on an annual, quarterly, and monthly basis. It should explain exactly where your leads are going to come from. It also defines the sale messages you will share with target customers. Don’t struggle to build the plan include team members, especially your salespeople.

Build the Pipeline: You must always be working on generating leads, and sometimes those leads are existing customers. You need to have a process for building a sales pipeline and tracking customer contacts. Set sales goals for a given week, month, or quarter. As you understand your sales cycle, you may need to nurture a relationship six to 12 months until a new budget cycle creates an opportunity or an existing vendor makes a mistake. We call these trigger events.

Track Your Sales Leads: Your sales plan can be tracked in a spreadsheet or CRM system, such as Insightly. The key is to monitor your lead conversion ratios against your revenue goals. If you create a data-driven sales culture, you will be able to add additional salespeople with ease. It’s important to understand how many leads must you generate to meet your monthly sales goals.

Automate the Sales Process: There are several software tools, such as, Salesforce, HubSpot, and Infusionsoft that make automating the sales process easy. Track ongoing sales activities and lead traffic channels–referrals, networking, upselling, cross-selling, direct mail, paid search, organic search, social media, exhibitions, PR, and response to website promotions. You should track open rates, and test sales messages with your target customers. If you use automation to create a predictable sales process, you can guarantee sales will grow.

Sell, Sell, Sell: In order to make a sale, you must ask for the business. You must make an offer to a customer willing to buy to make a sale. You must build offers into your sales process. Cross-selling is the art of getting existing customers to spend a little more money with you. Amazon is one the best I’ve seen at this. They always let you know what customers like you also purchased. And it doesn’t take a whole lot to upsell. It could be something as simple as a “Buy one, get a second item half-off” deal.

Thank Customers: No one owes you business. Be sure to thank your customers for their business. Showing gratitude with a personal call or note of thanks can go a log way. Over deliver if you can. Surprise a customer with an early delivery of their products. If you build a relationship and constantly add value to the relationship you will have customer for life.

Building an integrated sales process is the best thing you can do to generate and watch your revenue grow.


Mondays with Mike: 6 Sure-Fire Tips for Better Flying

Crying babies.  Delayed flights.  Uncomfortable seats.  There’s a lot to hate about flying, but it’s a fact of life for many entrepreneurs.  The global marketplace means I have clients all over the world, and since I typically rack up about 100,000 miles every year, I know a thing or two about making it less painful.  Here’s my list of top strategies for getting from here to there without losing your mind.

  1. Use TSA PreCheck.  You know those lines at security that raise your blood pressure as you stress about making your flight?  Yeah, you can just skip those.  TSA PreCheck lets you take the fast lane past the crowds, and you can also leave your laptop in your bag and your shoes on your feet.  The $85 every five years is more than worth it to breeze through security.
  2. BYOB and BYOF (food).  Now, the disclaimer is that airlines don’t want you bringing your own booze on the plane, but the TSA doesn’t stop you.  Bringing your own 50ml bottles lets you have a cocktail for way less money, and if you stop by a local sandwich joint before your flight, you can get a meal to go (condiments on the side so it stays fresh,) rather than starving on the plane.  Don’t get stuck on the runway without provisions.
  3. Get up.  I always choose an aisle seat, and I get on my feet every chance I get.  Sitting not only compounds the physical discomfort of flying, but it also measurably shortens your life span.  As soon as that fasten seatbelt light goes off, I’m standing in the aisle, Kindle in hand.  I always feel better after a flight if I’ve spent some time standing.
  4. Let the music play.  Screaming kids?  No problem.  Loud talker behind you?  No worries.  I rotate a couple of flight playlists – one for sleep, one for energy – and the flight goes by in a flash.  Bonus:  a number of new planes now have power outlets at each seat, so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice on a long flight.
  5. Ask for a new seat right away.  If you’re uncomfortable – whether it’s a large passenger spilling over into your space or a couple of squirming toddlers, ask a flight attendant immediately if there are open seats you can take.  Asking ASAP improves your chances of getting the available seat, and there’s simply no good reason for you to be uncomfortable if there’s another option.
  6. Join an airport club.  Whether you get access via frequent flier miles or you have to pay an annual fee, it’s so worth it to have a place of refuge in a busy airport.  I typically arrive at the airport hours before I have to just to settle into the lounge, use the free wifi, take advantage of the snacks, and get some work done.  My memberships are worth their weight in gold.

Airplane travel doesn’t have to be miserable.  Sure, you can’t control flights cancelled due to lousy weather or mechanical difficulties, but planning ahead can certainly make your flight more pleasant.


Best “No Tech” Business Holiday Gifts under $25

12-11 Customer Gifts smallIt is important to send gifts to your customers to show how thankful you are for them this time of year. Anyone can spend hundreds of dollars on lavish gifts. But, how do you show you care when the budget is under $25? 

  1. A Flock of Chickens. Heifer is an organization that gives food, animals and clean water to developing countries. With this gift, you can honor a customer and give food to people that are less fortunate. $20.
  2. iRoller. The dirtiest place in the world in your smartphone screen. A few swipes with the sticky gift and any touchscreen will be smudge free. The material was originally invented by a plastic surgeon. $20.
  3. Merlot Infused Coffee. An all in one gift, it doesn’t force the choice between another glass of wine and a cup of coffee. This gift comes from aging the beans in oak wine barrels. $20.
  4. Marital Bliss. A personal favorite! My wife and I used this after my youngest son went to college. This romantic competition challenges spouses and partners with rewards for sweet behavior. It sends them on secret missions to carry groceries, cook dinner, and more to accumulate points. $20.
  5. Table Topics. With all the technology, people have forgotten how to talk to each other. This gift has 135 conversation starters to get everyone thinking and talking for meaningful social time. You will be surprised what you can learn! $25.
  6. Super Magnetic Putty. Every customer needs more things to play with on their desk to quell the urge to multitask. This gift is moldable and magnetic at the same time. $15.
  7. Flavor Infused Water Bottle. Do away with disposable water bottles. Put fruit and any other flavor in this handy bottle and make water a lot more interesting. $15.
  8. Password Reminder Book. Decidedly low tech,  this helps remember all those passwords instead of losing that important scrap of paper. The "Open Sesame!" password reminder book is an alphabetized journal designed specifically for account name, username, and a password hint. $13.
  9. Random Acts of Kindness Kit. With all the conflict around the world, this may be exactly the gift that is needed. These 26 cards will find you picking up someone else's tab at a restaurant, writing a letter to someone who inspired you, or picking up the trash on your street. They can create a chain reaction of secret kindness throughout your company. $10.
  10. “F” This Test. The perfect pick me up for the customer having a bad day. It’s a collection of completely terrible test answers such as “What is a meteor? Answer: An animal that eats meat.” $10.

What gifts will you be giving to customers this year?


How to Leverage Facebook Ads to Grow Your Small Business

12-9 Facebook Ads smallFacebook has grown from a purely social networking site to a marketing machine. Fortune 500 corporations and small businesses alike have realized the potential of the website’s reach. The social networking site boasts an astonishing 1.44 billion users of which 65 percent are daily. If you previously ruled out Facebook’s marketing tools, it’s time you took another look and research what it can do for your small business. With a budget as low as 5 dollars, small business owners can launch a Facebook Ads campaign.

1. Targeted Ads

Mari Smith, “Queen of Facebook,” said set aside a practical budget for a Facebook Ads campaign, calling it “the most targeted traffic your money can buy.” Facebook Ads enables you to target your marketing down to the slightest, most precise details. You can target your ads to other Facebook users by their precise location, basic demographics and even based on what type of device they are accessing Facebook on. The feature’s “advanced targeting” techniques also allow you to remarket to people who previously visited your website and can generate “lookalike audiences” of Facebook users who exhibit similar behavior and interests as those who “like” your Fan Page or visit your website.

2. Drive Traffic

Facebook ads “hide” cleverly in plain sight in a user’s newsfeed. While company ads were once completely located down the easily avoidable and camouflaged sidebar, the ads now appear directly in front of them as they are scrolling through their news. The ads appear to be shared by another user as original content and by clicking on them, the user is taken directly to the advertiser’s website which is quite often a page where the item is purchased.

3. Reporting Tools

Facebook Ads makes it incredibly easy for you to tweak your campaign to reach optimal results. Once you move forward with a Facebook Ad campaign, Facebook keeps you updated with how well (or how poorly) the ad is performing. The customary reports are so detailed and thorough you will easily be able to find out how the reach and engagement of your campaign did. The reports give you insight into what is, and is not, working in your current campaign. You can then go in and make changes to your current marketing efforts in order to yield better results from Facebook Ads.

4. Boost a post

Marketing strategies aren’t always catered around raising interest in a product or brand with an ad. Depending on the type of content you produce you might want to utilize the boost a post feature. With boosts, you can increase content views by increasing where on Facebook the ad is featured. Your budget is the only thing that will affect the potential reach of your ads. You can use this to promote your page overall, increase conversions on your website and even increase the engagement

The ads are more than just practical – they’re effective and budget-friendly. If you have a good idea of who your target audience is, Facebook Ads can get you to them. 


Can Your Business Benefit from its Own Apps?

From crushing candy to streaming video, anyone who has a smart phone probably has a sizeable collection of entertaining apps. But many apps add convenience to daily lives. People can pre-order restaurant meals, compare prices on the fly, or check in at the airport.

The real question is whether or not it is time for your small business to consider adding its own custom app to your customers' phones. Technology can certainly help your business keep up with the competition. But, considering that even a small app can be more costly than expected and require more attention than you anticipate, you need to ask some important questions — and make sure that you like the answers — before you move forward.

Is the App a Win-Win for You and Your Customers?

If you have an app idea that your customers will use on a daily basis, you probably have a win-win for your customers and your business. It's all about solving common problems. So, a customer who has a few extra minutes available for a haircut or even a medical visit might welcome the ability to grab a quick appointment from your online appointment app. Similarly, clients who can monitor the progress of custom projects gain better control over their own plans.

Of course, the customer's perspective is only half of the picture. For a company like Uber, the app is a major part of the business, so continuous tweaks and expansions are clearly justified. Unless your business is app-based like Uber, however, you have to decide if an app would sufficiently increase your customer base, encourage existing customer loyalty and promote recognition of your brand. Some service businesses may decide that an app that puts them right in their customers' pockets 24/7 justifies the expense and techy details.

Do the Benefits Justify the Costs?

You might spend big bucks by hiring your own programmer to design and develop a custom app. On the other hand, there are many app development services available with flexible pricing arrangements that make them affordable to many small businesses.

Still, determining affordability can be highly subjective. Even if you decide that an app will pay itself back within a year (a common benchmark for measuring app effectiveness), what does that really mean? Let's assume that most businesses would decide to take the risk if they know that an app will increase their customer base. An app that provides enough direct benefits to the customer, perhaps by making it more convenient to choose your business over your competitors, can provide obvious payback through increased sales.

You need to look at the full range of costs and benefits. If the ultimate benefits justify the costs of developing and maintaining the app, then go for it.

Does App Development Require Technical Knowledge?

Technical knowledge never hurts, of course, but all you really need is imagination and vision. There are many app-creation services that provide amazing services that turn your idea into an app , help you get it into app stores and promote it — at reasonable rates. You can certainly hire a programmer, but a number of services let you create your own app by entering specs into a basic template and testing it online. You pay for human assistance only when you need it.

What Can Go Wrong?

Regardless of the significant potential benefits, developing an app involves any number of issues. You need to expect — and plan for — many concerns before you decide to take the leap.

First, expect that the time from original concept to implementation is likely to take longer than anticipated. Even after you have a test version ready for testing, it may not look anything like the app you pictured. In a perfect world, it will be better than you ever imagined, but it's probably just as likely that even you won't be able to use it easily enough to pass it on to your customers.

Assuming that it passes the usability test, can you guarantee its accuracy? Even skilled testing experts cannot predict every conceivable error that can happen, not to mention glitches that cause the app (or even the entire server) to crash. Without adequate testing, you could end up under-charging for your products due to pricing errors or frustrating the customers who are looking for convenience.

Getting a great-working app on the market takes money, time and effort. Think long and hard before introducing an app that can easily draw your attention away from your core business. No app is worth it if it forces you to ignore your daily bread and butter. If you believe customers will clamor for an app that resolves common complaints or adds value to their relationship with your company, however, it might be time to take the technology leap.


Mondays with Mike: 5 Steps to Winning Back a Client

12-7 winning back a client smallNo matter how good you are at what you do, it’s going to happen.  You’re going to lose a big client.  It might not even be your fault; clients are seduced by promises of lower cost, better quality, or faster turnaround.  Whatever the client’s reason for leaving, don’t despair.  You may still have a chance to win that business back.  Want to learn how?

  1. Be gracious and grateful.  When clients tell me they’re moving on, I always take the time to offer a sincere thank you for the business they’ve given me.  My goal is to be the most composed, gracious, classy guy they’ve ever fired, and I do that for a couple of reasons.  First, your client has probably agonized over the decision, and there’s no sense in adding more guilt to the mix.  Second, it’s just the right thing to do (and sometimes, doing the right thing pays dividends.)  Here’s the key part of this step, though:  after you say thank you, ask if you can keep in touch.  It may feel strange the first time you ask a client who’s just fired you, but trust me.  I’ve never been turned down.
  2. Maintain the relationship.  Once your client has moved on, it’s critical that you keep communication lines open, because you never know what the future holds.  I typically check in once each quarter just to say hello and ask how business is going.  If I see their business mentioned, I may send them a Tweet, or even cut a print article out of the paper and send them a copy – a particularly memorable tactic since few people use snail mail anymore.  Your goal here is simply to stay in touch.
  3. Make the transition easy.  I learned this lesson by example, both good and bad.  The first time I moved my accounting business from one CPA to another, it was a nightmare.  I guess the accountant wasn’t happy about my departure, and he made the transition just awful, hanging on to documents and making everything harder than it needed to be.  When I moved on from my second accountant to a third, the transition couldn’t have been smoother.  My second accountant was a class act, and when I needed to move on a third time, who do you think I chose?  It sure wasn’t the first guy, the one who’d thrown up roadblocks.  I went back to my second accountant – the one I’m with to this day.
  4. Conduct an exit interview.  Now, depending on how closely you have worked with your departing client, you may want to designate another staff member for this task, since you want your client to be honest.  The goal here is to find out why your client is leaving and what you can do to improve your service.  Take the criticism from your client, and make your company better, both for your existing customers and for ones you land in the future.
  5. Never say “I told you so.”  When a client returns to you, don’t ever make them feel guilty for having left, and don’t ever act smug.  Simply be grateful for the chance to offer your services again, and move on.  We all want to feel good about our decisions, and rubbing clients’ return in their faces isn’t smart.

In the big picture, the key to winning and keeping clients is to constantly keep improving on the service you provide.  With all the price shoppers around, customer loyalty is at an all time low, and the only companies who get that loyalty are the ones who earn it.




 
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