Posts Tagged ‘Business Trends’

Buzz vs. Staying Power: Creating a Customer Experience They Want to Come Back To

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.


Buzz is a mysterious, magical substance. It's what gets customers to your establishment in the first place. 

Books have been written about this mysterious force. But not by me. 

boy looks in window of closed toy store / (c) 2014 Micah Solomon


Because buzz only gets you so far, and only for so long.  Literally speaking, it  only gets them to the front door, to try you that first time.

Far be it from me to say that buzz isn't important; Obviously, getting prospective customers interested in what you do is an important first step.  But it's not enough to build a business on, any more than building a business on Groupon discounts is a long-term strategy.

What you need is staying power.  Something that gives customers a desire to return. 

And the best model for this is a vision of home. 

Here’s what I mean: If you want your customers to return over and over, you need to consciously create an environment/product/process/service that “feels like home” to them.

Now, if you think about it, customers don’t actually want the place they do business with to “be like home”– the home of the typical adult, with dirty dishes in the sink, deferred maintenance up the yin yang.  So I use this “home” term advisedly and with some apprehension. 

At home as a typical adult, you are in control, but only on a self-serve basis. In your childhood home (optimally), it was a different sort of experience. Food appeared at mealtimes. You didn’t have to worry about shopping for personal items. When light bulbs blew out, new ones replaced them. When you left in the morning for school, your parents were genuinely saddened by your departure, and they looked forward to seeing you again. Your personal preferences were well known and were ‘’magically’’ taken into consideration.

So how does this apply to building staying power at your business?  Well, spend a lot of time greeting your customers enthusiastically when they return.  Pay attention to how you bid them good-bye when they leave. Make sure that what they typically order is already pre-selected for them and available without any—any—hassle at all. 

This builds an environment that a customer will choose to return to, over and over and over. Where they’re known.  Where they’re welcomed.  Where things work.  Where they not only can get what they want, but where you know what they want before they even have to ask for it.

This is the ultimate way to acknowledge a human being, in this case a customer.

© 2014 Micah Solomon

Nextiva Tuesday Tip: 5 Customer Service Trends You Need to Know About

In the pioneer days, customer service at the local general store meant a friendly greeting and wrapping a purchase in brown paper tied with string. Today, customers’ expectations have become far more sophisticated—and so has customer service. Here are some of the top customer service trends today, as identified by Forrester Research, and what they mean to your business.

  1. Customers want “pain-free” service. Basically, this means making it easy for customers to get the help they want, anytime, anywhere. For example, customers now expect to be able to use a variety of communications channels to get customer service. Voice is still the number-one channel used for customer service, but self-service, chat and email are all gaining in popularity. Moreover, customers expect the same level and quality of service, whether they’re using the phone or live chat. Finally, they expect to be able to start an interaction in one channel and seamlessly complete it in another.
  2. Stocksy_txp6f31b4d2H08000_Small_165665Customers are going mobile. Most customers expect to be able to interact with customer service on a mobile device. It’s important you don’t just present a smaller version of your desktop website on mobile; instead, use responsive design to ensure customers can view and interact with your site whether they’re on a tablet, desktop or smartphone. For mobile, your customer service interface should be simple, intuitive and easy to use.
  3. Customer service is getting proactive. One big trend Forrester noticed: Nearly one-third of bigger companies plan to invest in proactive outbound communications with customers this year. For your small business, that could be anything from calling customers to follow up after a sale, to randomly surveying customers about your service, to using shopping cart software that reaches out with an invitation to live chat when customers’ actions indicate confusion.
  4. Companies are moving customer service to the cloud. More companies are relying on cloud-based, SaaS solutions rather than installing software. This enables them to keep current on changes in customer service and maintain fluid databases with new knowledge about how to handle customer problems and inquiries.
  5. Companies are incorporating self-service. Forrester reports that 67 percent of consumers use web self-service knowledge to find answers to their questions. Savvy companies are looking to supplement their own knowledge bases with user-generated content, which enables customer service employees and customers alike to find answers to a wider range of questions and problems more quickly. 

7 Technologies to Ignore in 2014

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?

Why Big Leaps Are Dangerous to Your Business

??????????????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.” 

What is Your Small Business Health Score?

This is a good time of year to assess the health of your company. Review these 10 elements and score your business to find out where you stand.

  1. Cash flow. Having a cash flow positive company is critical for success. This means the business has more cash at the end of the month than the beginning. How to score: Add 2 points for cash flow positive. Subtract 2 points for cash flow negative (less cash at the end of the month).
  2. Quick ratio. This simple balance sheet formula divides current assets minus current liabilities.  Ratios greater than one mean the company has enough current assets to pay its current bills. How to score: Add 2 points if the company's quick radio is above one. Subtract 2 points if it is below one. Note that a healthy quick ratio number will vary by industry.
  3. Customer annuities. This means repeat customers pay the company automatically every month. How to score: Add 2 points if this is true. Subtract 1 point if the company needs to recreate its revenue and find new customers every month.
  4. Fixed overhead expenses. High fixed overhead expenses do not give companies flexibility as sales and profit changes. How to score: Add 1 point if most of the company's expenses are variable. Subtract 1 point if most expenses are fixed or they are high compared to sales.
  5. Management team. Strong companies are not about their owners, but their team leaders. How to score: Add 2 points for a truly collaborative organization. Subtract 1 point if the CEO makes all the top down decisions.
  6. Employee turnover. Loyal employees generate more profit for companies than those with high turnover. How to score: Add 2 points if the company retains employees for at least 5 years. Add 1 point for 3-5 years. Subtract 1 point if employees stay 2 years or less.
  7. Strategic and focused plan. Companies that have a written plan about where they are going and employees that are clear about the company's direction succeed. How to score: Add 1 point if every company employee can articulate the plan. Subtract 1 point if they can't.
  8. keyboard_stethoscopeSystematic sales and marketing plan. Many small businesses only market when they have no sales, but immediately stop when they do. How to score: Add 2 points if the company has an ongoing systematic plan including social media. Subtract 2 points if sales and marketing is mostly improvisational.
  9. Infrastructure. Growing companies need to have an infrastructure that supports them. Nextiva uses the integration of tool from Marketo, SalesForce, and NuviApp (social) to deliver reliable communications solutions to their business clients. How to score: Add 1 point if the company has integrated systems that can be effectively  used by employees and customers. Subtract 2 points if each system is independent from each other or does work effectively.
  10. Outside advisors. Small business owners need to ask for help. How to score: Add 1 point if the owner has a formal advisory board. Subtract 1 point if the owner is insulated and never asks anyone outside the company for advice.

Scoring totals:

Above 10:  Congratulations! Your small business is healthy and well positioned for 2014. Look at improving any area where the score was negative to increase your strength.

0 to 9: At risk! Key parts of your small business need to be improved in 2014. You are vulnerably to changes inside and outside the company. Pay attention to the elements  where your score was negative.

Below 0: Danger! Too many parts of your business are unhealthy and your company risks going bankrupt this year. Seek help immediately!

What is your score?

10 Startups to Watch in 2014

Here are 10 startups launched in 2013 that are ready to rock the world next year:

Collegefeed has a noble mission to help every college student and new grad get hired. The service has already grown to tens of thousands of users, over 1,200 schools and hundreds of employers. It was created by Google's former product chief Sanjeev Agrawal who has turned all of his passion to using technology to solve the job crisis for millennials. Students are facing skyrocketing tuition, massive loan debt and nearly 50% can't get jobs that use their degree. Users have been hired using the tool from Morgan Stanley to Facebook.

Rockbot is an out-of-home music service disrupting the billion dollar market dominated by Muzak. Many bars, restaurants and airports stream music. This service lets customers vote on the playlist and request songs. It’s the modern day jukebox from the customer’s smartphone. They recently announced their newest customer, JetBlue in their JFK terminal.

Cover is a restaurant payment application that changes the way people pay at restaurants. Using an Uber-style experience, it lets diners leave without ever "paying" the check. The app lets people prepay it or split it among diners.  The product is live at about 30 top-tier restaurants in New York.

startupKONO was inspired and created by culinary genius, Rossano Boscolo. It has over 130 locations in countries throughout world where it offers consumers an entirely new pizza experience with its cone-shaped crust filled with fresh Italian ingredients. Launched in August 2013, KONO USA has over 15 units in its development pipeline.

Sense Health helps providers create, deliver and monitor interactive patient support plans called ‘scripts’. Providers simply answer three assessment questions about their patient: their specific condition, their goals for the month and barriers that might be hindering their ability to accomplish them. Through their proprietary algorithm, Sense Health automatically creates a 28 day script which consist of daily text messages delivered automatically. Scripts are comprised of reminders, educational, motivational and interactive text messages. Providers have a dashboard which alert them when a patient asks a question or are non-compliant.

Touchcast is an innovative video platform that brings interactivity of the web into an online TV viewing experience so users can engage with Twitter, web pages, maps, and polls inside the video without interrupting playback. It has been nominated by AdWeek as Hottest Startup in their Hot List. The company saw record downloads since launching in June.

Tok is a new social opinion network that turns online commenting into discussions and users into communities. Its networked, visual conversation interface creates a richer experience that brings people together and will offer companies with an audience an effective way to share targeted, dynamic, interactive content.

3Dagogo is an online marketplace of certified 3D designs to “print” consumer products at home. The company crowdsources “proven-to-print” designs and has an intuitive search interface that allows users to search for designs that work with their home 3D printer, materials, and skill level.

Simply Insured is a way for small businesses to find and buy health insurance online. With the problems on, many companies will be facing different requirements and options for health insurance. This company helps small businesses navigate the changing health insurance landscape, using their technology to make it transparent and easy to understand.

TestRocker brings together premier academic tutors with the best technology to make quality private tutoring available to students around the world whenever and wherever they desire. Launched by two sisters, the company's first two programs are SAT and ACT prep. Within one year of launch, TestRocker had students in 14 different countries studying on its platform.

What startups are you watching in 2014?

Top 10 Small Business Trends of the Past Decade

businessDecadeThe nature of small business has changed radically over the past decade. Once an outlier of employment, small business has become a significant engine of America. In fact, the entrepreneur’s dream is the stuff movies like “The Social Network” are now made from. So what have been the most significant trends for small business in the last decade that have pushed it to the forefront of American business?

  1. The internet means geographic independent customers. For most businesses, a company and its consumers can now be anywhere in the world. While this breaks down geographic barriers to entry, it also opens up a worldwide marketplace to every small company.
  2. Working anywhere at any time.  For many businesses, the office is wherever their smartphone or computer is. Work has become place independent. This also means that small businesses can find the best and most cost effective employees anywhere in the world!
  3. Merging of work and home. Many people no longer go to work at 8:00am and leave work at 5:00pm. Home looks more like work and work like home. As a result, most small business owners work a lot more hours than they did a decade ago. This mashup also keeps productivity down.
  4. Easy to keep a broader network. Ongoing connection with customers and prospects has never been easier through Facebook and other social media. Doing business together no longer requires face to face meetings.
  5. Size no longer matters. It is typically impossible to tell the size of a company. Technology like Nextiva's cloud-based phone service enables small companies to look big and large companies want to look small and personal.
  6. Customer service is the new marketing. Online reputations are now driven by peer recommendations on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp or YouTube. Technology makes this the new age of customer service with easy customization, big data, cookies, self-service and customer chat.
  7. Less credit, more cash. Businesses are financing their own start up or growth through personal savings, family or friends. Banks have more limitations imposed by the FDIC on how they give loans. As result, small businesses are being forced to manage their cash more efficiently.
  8. Less benefits, higher deductibles. An employer paying 100% of a health care premium is a thing of the past. Employees now pay a larger share with a higher deductible supplemented with health savings accounts.
  9. A new class of employee appears. It used to be that a person was either employed or unemployed. Now, many people are underemployed. They are either working only part time or not getting paid what they had been before.
  10. Personal branding. Working for one company for a long period of time died in the 90’s. In order to find employment, people now form loose collaborations to accomplish a task for a single or multiple clients. Since these form and change frequently, the only brand that is promoted long term is “you”.

What do you think the most important small business trends of the past decade have been?

Mondays with Mike: Brussel Sprouts Are Back

How can you use the trend "everything old becomes new again" to help your business? Author and entrepreneur Mike Michalowicz explains how to monitor and predict business trends.

5 Customer Service Trends to Watch in 2014

The death of amazing service is greatly exaggerated. For most small business, amazing service now can be the brand differentiator.

Here are 5 trends to watch for on the coming year that will impact your business:

  1. Technology everywhere. The Internet now allows any product to be shipped to any customer anywhere in the world at anytime. This makes customer service the only sustainable competitive advantage for every small business. The powerful combination of mobility, the cloud, social media and big data now makes it easy to give customers personalized service. Consumerization from companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Zappos set the expectation bar very high for every small business. Customers can even customize their own product solution. Technology now enables them to receive their product the same day (instead of the standard two day free shipping.). Customers can even “try their clothes on” by uploading their image to the Internet instead of having to shop in person.
  2. Self Service. Technology has come along way since the automat and the ATM. Now customers are more likely to communicate with your company via an automated tool like the web, social media and kiosks. In fact, according to Zendesk, 91% of customers would rather use a computer knowledgebase to solve their needs than talk to a live person! This allows the educated customer to get the solutions to their queries much more quickly. They increasingly demand to have full visibility inside of your company.
  3. Customers talk more. The explosion of communication alternatives makes it easier to talk to your customers, but also makes it more difficult for your staff to keep up with this multichannel communication strategy. Customers are always more likely to complain than to give a compliment. However, satisfied customers can become an unstoppable marketing machine for your company and give the feedback necessary to make even more successful products and services.
  4. Proactive support. Companies are no longer waiting for customers to reach out to them to solve problems. They now proactively communicate with customers on an ongoing basis to see how they can help before problems occur. For example, the team at Sage North America  routinely calls its customers and business partners before the busy tax season to see how they can help.
  5. 24/7. Forget 9 to 5. Most customers now expect to get answers to their questions 24 hours a day. This can be done through an automated computer interface or a staff taking care of customers that are employed remotely in different time zones around the world.

Requirements for offering amazing service have never been higher, but the opportunity to differentiate your brand by doing outstanding work in this area has never been greater.

What trends are you seeing in your business for next year?


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