Become a Member

Rules for Superb Customer Service

We’ve all heard the mantra that customer satisfaction is imperative when it comes to running a business. In fact, customers are the lifeblood of any business, large or small. That’s why maintaining and, in some cases, improving customer service is imperative to any company. Let’s review some rules for keeping your customers satisfied and loyal to your brand.

Most companies already have a customer service policy in order to maintain strong relationships with their customers, but a smart company will always ask the question, “What is good customer service?” This is especially true as touchpoints with clients and customers become more technology driven.

Deal with Complaints

We know it is no fun, but handling complaints head on is the best way to turn a disgruntled customer or client into one that may value your efforts to make things right again. This is critically important in our social media driven world where one post about a bad experience could spread like wildfire. Sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and other online review platforms should be monitored so you can make things right with a customer as soon as possible. Be sure that you respond online as well as through other more personal avenues to show others who are reading that you value your customers’ experiences and are trying to rectify the situation.

Know Your Product or Service

Honestly, every person who deals with clients or customers should know the intricacies of your product or services. When a customer has a question or problem, a customer service agent should be able to talk him/her through the issue easily. That means knowing the product forward and backward and being trained on potential issues that could arise. For service-related fields, agents should understand what the service entails and what it is limited to including a warranty policy.

The Ability to Read People

Reading a client’s emotional state is important to being able to successfully help them. If you are face-to-face, body language and eye contact should be fairly easy to pick up on. On the phone or even through an online chat, things get a little more complicated. Look and listen for subtle clues about the client’s current mood, patience level, and personality. This will help you go far in keeping your customer interactions positive.

Survey Your Customers

As your company grows and evolves, it may be worth your time to take a gauge of how well you are really doing in terms of customer service. A short survey could give you some insight into both what is working and what could use improvement.

Need more information on providing superb customer service? Check out our workshop on this topic September 20, 2019.

Customer Service in a Digital Age

We live in a time where more and more consumers are shopping around for the best prices and they expect exceptional customer service or they can easily take their business elsewhere. Add to this the fact that many consumers are shopping with their mobile devices at anytime, anywhere, and it means that ecommerce is at a critical crossroads.

Let’s look back for a second at shopping just a few decades ago. Traditionally, consumers would drive to a store to shop, purchase, and have personal interactions with employees in said store as well as at the registers. Many people got to know the owners of stores and would be loyal to people they knew best. In addition, unless you had a lot of time on your hands, driving from store to store wasn’t economical.

Today, all it takes is a few keystrokes to find hundreds of products and services. Comparing prices has never been easier. Shipping costs have never been lower. Online coupons, or product codes can reduce prices even further. Shopping alerts can tell consumers when items they have been looking for are on sale. And all of this can be done while riding the train to work or curled up in your jammies in bed at night on your smartphone.

So what might make a difference to a consumer now that online shopping is so easy? The answer is customer service!

Now that the rules of engagement have changed, customer service needs to step up its game as well. The first thing to realize is that consumers are on many channels and many different types of devices. Make sure that your website is responsive and is easy to navigate, no matter what type of device is in the hands of the buyer.

Secondly, realize that consumers will be interacting with your business in many ways. They may leave a message on social media with a question, they may need an online live chat for more immediate concerns, or they may still want that personal connection over the phone without having to jump through hoops before they get to an actual human.

Finally, realize that the hours of interaction are no longer the hours that your store is open. Shoppers can find your website at anytime of the night or day that is most convenient to them. That means you may want to have a way of connecting with your customers at varying hours or the day.

With that being said, businesses also need to be aware and responsive to online reviews such as Google Review, Yelp or other sites. Consumers who do not have a positive experience will be very quick to leave a scathing review or call out errors on social media sites. Be sure that you have a customer service rep who can quickly and patiently deal with these types of incidences so you can show that you want to do what is right and help the customer in the best way possible.

Succeeding in Business: Who is Your Audience?

Google search “marketing strategies” and you will find hundreds if not thousands of marketing tips, strategies, and ideas that could keep you reading for a lifetime. One thing you will find that all the sites have in common is a section on “getting to know your target audience.” Why? Because, fundamentally, every business owner should know their audience inside and out if they have any hope of succeeding in their field.

Knowing this, how exactly do you get to know your audience? What are some ways you can gather information about who is buying your product or using your services? Take a look at these methods that may help you connect with and retain loyal customers for years to come.

Do Market Research

Start getting to know the different demographics you want to target in your ads and marketing strategy by doing market research. A number of tools are available to help you here, some of which are free — like American FactFinder, which uses United States census information to help you find out key pieces of information about specific demographics.

Examine Your Competitors

Doing your research on the audience you hope to reach is important, but so is examining your competitors. Check out the social media, blogs, digital marketing, and print media of your closest competitors. Who are they targeting in their email lists? Who are they aiming to appeal to in their print and digital ads? Are they missing a group or do they have a group that you have forgotten? This extra layer of research can help you stay on track and know your audience compared to your competition.

Get to Know Your Consumers

If you have a storefront or visit clients often, get to know them personally. Find out what they like, and dislike about your products or services. Go the extra mile by trying to address their concerns. These personal insights may help you adjust your marketing to appeal to their needs or wants.

Monitor Reviews and Customer Feedback

The way to really get to know your audience is to listen to what they are saying on surveys, in reviews, and even to your face during interactions. Check out your company on Yelp, Google Reviews, and other online sites to know what clients think about your company. Adjust your marketing, products, and services accordingly.

Do you need help getting to know your audience? Check out our seminar called, “What is Your Business, and What Will It take to Succeed?” It is being offered on June 5 from 8:30 to 10:30 am. Check out our website for more details.

 

Assembling a Great Management Team

If you have seen the Marvel Avengers franchise’s latest installment, End Game, (and, let’s face it, millions of you have seen it) then you know what a powerful, efficient, and productive team looks like. Your business team may not have Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk or any of the other members of the Avengers, but you probably have just as diverse a group that you are trying to mold into a great management team. Let’s take a look at some of the methods and qualities you will want to encourage in your management team.

Focus on Roles

One of the first things a small or medium-sized business owner may want to do is to define which positions are needed for a business to thrive. Make it a goal to hire with those specific needs in mind. Each person should have a particular specialty instead of just a general business resume. Look for someone who will fill a particular need and add a little something extra to your team, like fitting the pieces of the jigsaw together. Just like each member of the Avengers has special gifts or powers, your management team should be stacked with people who have something unique or specialized about them as well.

Excellent Communication

For a team to work well together, there should be multiple channels of communication, depending upon the project or work being done. For example, team members should be able to communicate on an informal level on channels such as Slack, or in more formal ways such as during presentations, client meetings, or emails. Look for team members who possess excellent communication skills and, if you are lucky, you may find people who communicate so well that they can intrinsically coordinate with other team members and anticipate needs.

Goal Seekers

Management teams should always be striving toward a goal, whether it is long-term or short-term. Arrange regular check-ins and meetings to determine whether goals are being met or if they need to be adjusted in any way. This will go hand-in-hand with communication between your team members.

 

Build Rapport

Teams don’t just come together and work seamlessly in unison. It takes time and nurturing for teams to hit their stride – even Captain America and Iron Man haven’t always seen eye-to-eye! Create a culture in your office where team members can get to know one another on different levels. Help them celebrate successes and milestones together, either business or personal. And when there is a failure, talk about it as a team without laying blame on any one person’s feet. The culture you create can help your team grow and learn together. If you are lucky, they will support each other to take calculated risks or get creative when the need arises.

Want to know more about building a great management team one that will rival the Avengers (ok not really)? Consider attending some of our seminars such as, “What Do You Need for a Management Team to Be Successful?”

How to Promote your Business without a PR Department

If you’re a business owner, prospective or current, you may be asking how you can promote your business without a PR department. Promoting your business is essential to gaining new customers and keeping old ones coming back. Business promotion is two-fold. The first part is to actively let consumers know about your business, services, and/or products. Don’t rely on word-of-mouth, as it’s not reliable. Anyway, people are more inclined to talk about how bad a service or product was for them than they are to rave about how great it was. The second part is to set a budget. It doesn’t have to be an expensive business operation either. Here are a few low-cost/free ideas for effective business promotion:

  • Promote in Communications – Sure, you may have business cards with the name, address, and phone number of your company, but this isn’t enough. Your emails should have an automatic signature featuring the same information, and any physical paper documents you send out should have a letterhead with this information.
  • Vehicle-Turned-Billboard – During your commute to and from work, or even while just enjoying the open road, how many vehicles advertising businesses do you see? Probably quite a few. There’s a reason they’re so popular – because it’s an effective advertising tool! Think about it, it’s the best way to get people to actually look at your company and the products/services you provide. Vehicle wraps are the way to go in the advertising world.
  • Blogging and Social Media – Does your company have active and engaging social media accounts across various platforms? What about a regularly updated blog on your website? One of the most effective advertising schemes in our newfangled digital world is to be active on social media and keep current with blog posts. You should aim to post at least a couple times a week on social media across various platforms. For blogs, you should upload at least one post a week. You can even promote a new blog post within a social media post, with a link to your site’s blog.

There are many more ways to promote your business for little-to-no money at all. Some strategies may work better than others, so research effective methods for your area of business. And don’t forget to come to The Enterprise Center at Salem State University on December 14 for a special presentation by PR Consultant, Robin Samora, beginning at 8:30 am.

The Steps to Take to Protect your Customers’ PII (Personally Identifiable Information)

If you have a company, chances are you keep a log of your customers’ personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc… which is readily available to perform business functions. If such is the case, what steps do you take to protect all this sensitive data? It is important to keep this information private and secure, otherwise it could end up in the hands of people who wish to do harm, whether it be financial, cyber, or another form. Leaving this information unprotected and susceptible to thieves and/or hackers could mean the loss of loyal customers and their trust, and possibly even a lawsuit. Keeping sensitive information protected and out of the hands of would-be thieves not only protects you and your customers, but it’s a good business practice as well. Let’s take a look at some steps you can take to protect this information:

 

  • Inventory – The first step to protecting this information is to know what information you have and where it is located. In our current digital age, the majority of this information is probably on your computer. To this effect, inventory any and all electronics which store data. The next step in this process is to identify: who sends information, how your company receives and processes it, the kind of information you collect and where it is kept and, finally, who has access to it. You should focus most of your attention on personally identifiable information, as thieves will mostly use this to commit fraud and/or identity theft.
  • Minimize – The next step to take in protecting information is to really consider if your business needs to keep it in the first place. If not, make adjustments to the electronics which receive information and dispose of the information securely and properly. If, however, you find the need to keep this information, only keep it for as long as necessary.
  • Keeping it Secure – Once you determine the information you need to keep, be sure you have a proper procedure for doing so safely and securely. This can be done in one of the following four ways: physical security, electronic security, employee training, and the security protocols used by contractors and service providers. Whichever you choose, be sure to store the information properly and securely, keeping up-to-date with any modifications or updates on the best practices of storing information.
  • Proper Disposal – When you’ve decided to get rid of data, what do you do? How do you get rid of it? You can dispose of physical paper records by shredding, burning, or pulverizing. If you’re looking to dispose of electronics which contain sensitive client information, use software to clean out the hard drives and disks where this information is stored. Be sure all employees follow the same procedures.

 

  • Plan for the Future – Security breaches are a threat to any company and its clients. Implement an effective security plan to combat any security attack or breach. In the case of a compromised computer, the first step should be to disconnect it from the network. If a security incident does occur, investigate it immediately to determine and close up threats and vulnerabilities. Lastly, know whom to notify both inside and outside the company in the case of a security breach. This may include customers, law enforcement, and/or credit bureaus . Consult your attorney as well, as a number of states have laws and regulations in place to properly address data breaches.

Optimizing Communication with Customers

How does your company communicate with clients? Email, text, video conferencing, snail mail, or in-person contact are a few of the ways to do it. But are you doing it right and at the proper times? Business communication specialists recommend optimizing all the ways that you communicate so that clients have a positive experience regardless of the method. Let’s take a closer look at communicating with your consumers.

 

  • Email is a great communication tool because it allows the viewer to look at the communication when it is right for them, versus the need to reply to a phone call or instant message immediately. The urgency is lower with emails and they also allow for communication that can reach several parties, thus keeping everyone in the loop. One negative aspect of email is the vast amount of messages that most business people receive on a daily basis.
  • Phone – Sometimes when an issue needs close attention and immediate feedback, it is best to just pick up the phone. It allows for human contact and tells your client that you are handling the problem as you speak.
  • Newsletters – Whether done electronically or in paper form, these are still worthy of creating if you want to reach a
  • broad audience and hope to keep everyone on the same page or make announcements about new products or news.
  • Virtual Conferencing – Regardless of the platform you use, whether it is Google Hangout or Skype, seeing your client can take away all the guesswork of reading the mood and reception to an issue or problem. These conference calls are great with remote clients or clients in several locations.
  • Texting – If you need a quick answer that can be done in a few characters this may be the way to go, especially if you have just had contact with the client and you are already on the same page.

 

Regardless of which method you use to optimize communication with your clients, try to be aware of the positives and negatives of each method.

Communication: Best Business Practices

Communication is the life of any company whether it is communicating with employees or clients. Business leaders are expected to be able to effectively and clearly communicate with stakeholders, customers and employees. While many business leaders have found their own unique skill of communicating through years of practice, there are some common strategies that they all seem to master. Let’s take a look at the best practices of communicating skills. 

  • Be Clear – If an employee leaves a staff meeting not quite sure what you mean then you are not being clear enough in your speech. When speaking and giving directives to employees give clear and precise points. Many successful business leaders find that being repetitive about goals, work habits, and projects can help employees understand what they need to accomplish.
  • Be Approachable – As a business leader, you want clients, employees and business partners to feel that they can come to you for clarification about an issue without feeling like they are in trouble or bothering you. Be open and understand that clarification can only mean that they are trying to give you what you are asking for.
  • Use Many Communication Formats – While it may seem that everyone is on technology these days, communication should come in all different forms from: emails, inter-office communication, newsletters, phone calls and in-person visits. Different personalities respond better to varying forms of communication.
  • Be Present and Timely – When clients, employees or others need to talk with you, be present with them instead of trying to juggle multiple activities at once. In addition to being present, respond in a timely to questions or issues whether it is via email or in person.
  • Listen and Ask – One of the most important parts of communicating is not talking, but rather listening and asking questions to find out the heart of the matter.

Managing your Reputation Online

What is your company’s online reputation?  If you Google yourself or your brand name what is it that you find? Do you see positive comments on social sites or negative comments on review sites like: RipOffOnline, Yelp or the Better Business Bureau? Worse yet, is your knowledge limited of what customers, clients, vendors and employees are saying about you? Here is a quick guide to help you and your brand manage your online reputation.

In the past few years having an online presence has changed drastically. What used to be static sites and little user interaction has blossomed into daily interactions and comments on social sites and review sites. These types of sites are easily accessible to the public and can show up on a general search for your company, name or brand. No matter the size of your business, people are talking about you. If it is positive, then great. But if it is negative, you better have a way to take control of your reputation. Using Online Reputation Management Tools is probably the best way to go for busy business owners.

According to research and tutorials from Neil Patel at QuickSprout online, there are several steps to taking control of your online reputation. Most of them are fairly simple and will save you money in the long run.

Google Yourself

The first step is to Google yourself. Literally type in your name, brand or email address and see what comes up. There should be social media profiles, your web page and all the good stuff that you want potential customers to see about your and your brand. This is the information you can control.

Manage your Reviews – 

One great tool that’s free is called “Me on the Web” by Google. What you want to do is log into your Google account and your Google dashboard and then click on “Me on the Web.” The main features of this tool allows you to search for yourself and most importantly get alerts when your name is mentioned on the web. This includes your name, email, business name or brand. 

One of the most important things you want to be alerted to is if there are any negative mentions or reviews of you or your brand so you can respond quickly and professionally. There are so many review sites out there like Yelp, RipOffOnline, BBB and a host of others. You can choose to go to each, individually, to view what is being said about you, or you can get help with an online tool such as  Go Fish Digital or Mention.net. Sites such as these can search all the complaint sites at once or alert you by email if it has found your name mentioned. Being proactive can save you time and money. Companies who have not reacted quickly have seen consumers react in powerful ways such as taking their business elsewhere or even escalating negative reviews.  

 

Tips for First Time Managers

Are you about to be promoted to a leadership position in your company, or have you just gained employment in your first management position? First of all, congratulations! Being in charge of a team is exciting and requires juggling many things at once. If you have never been in a leadership position you may be a bit intimidated at the thought of being a leader and having team members look to you for answers and directions. There are, however,  a few things that you can do to make the transition to leader/manager a little easier. Here are a few tips from management experts and human resources professionals.

  • Know Your Stuff – In other words, know the business inside and out.  This may take time to study, research and ask tons of questions but the more you actually know the more you will be respected and seen as a source of information. This also goes for knowing what each member of your team does. Spend time with senior leaders as well as team members and ask questions. The more you know, the more you can help your team focus.
  • Delegate – A common problem with new leaders is that they tend to take on too much and get overwhelmed. Realize that you can not be everywhere at once  or do everything alone. Create an environment where you are actively relying on others to help carry projects. You will still be informed, but you need to let others lead so they can grow their abilities and perspective.
  • Create Priorities – As a team leader or manager, there will be lot on your plate.  Start by prioritizing what needs to be done and communicating that to your team.  The more they understand what is important to you the better they can work.
  • Find a Mentor – Whether it is senior leadership or someone in your field, find someone you can trust to be a sounding board in tough times. This person should be someone you are not in direct competition with but has a vested interest in seeing the company and you succeed.
  • Be a Role Model – As a leader, you are probably the inspiration and model for your team members. Your employees are going to look to you to gauge how they should act and how to persevere through workplace challenges. Be a role model and lead by example.  Allow for give and take and learning opportunities. Remember, you are still learning too.