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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business (Contribution from Keith Coppersmith)

The following post comes to us from Keith Coppersmith, an experienced business consultant who serves small businesses and startups.


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How to Master Customer Support for your Small Business

Did you know that 51% of customers stop doing business after just one negative experience? Research further shows that businesses lose over $62 billion every year on poor customer service.

Precisely because of that, wise small business owners don’t look at great customer support as a cost. For them, this is a chance to increase sales and boost brand loyalty.

Now, when it comes to providing spotless customer support, there is always room for improvement. Here are a few great tactics that will help you take your customer relationships to the next level.

Don’t Overcomplicate Customer Conversations

Providing customer support is not an opportunity for you to showcase your impressive industry knowledge. When reaching out to you, a customer expects to get a specific answer that solves their problem.

Using overly complex technical jargon may cause miscommunication issues and hurt user experience. It may even seem as if you yourself don’t know the answer to the question. To keep your customers happy, you need to speak their language. Simple and effective explanations will boost their satisfaction and motivate them to buy from you again.

Help your Customers Make Payments Faster

The flexibility of your services can get you a long way. Let’s take an example of invoicing, as this is one of the major problems businesses face. Stats say that 64% of businesses have unpaid invoices that have gone unpaid for at least 60 days.

Sure, in the short term, you need to find the right financing method to boost your bottom line. For example, you can improve cash flow with invoice finance. This financing option brings numerous benefits to small businesses and startups. First, invoice finance firms usually pay businesses about 80% of the total sum within 48 hours, meaning you’ll get your money fast. Second, unlike with bank loans, there are no high-interest rates. Finally, invoicing doesn’t hurt user experience and helps you maintain stronger client relationships.

Sure, these are all short-term solutions. To boost your cash flow in the long run, you need to manage your late payments strategically. Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your customer support:

  • Offer multiple payment options to boost their buying experience and encourage them to buy from you.
  • B2B businesses should also have a billing policy, where they would clearly state when and how you want to get paid and how you will handle late payments.
  • Send invoices on time to get customers to take them seriously.
  • Automate your rebilling process. With the help of the right software, your customers will be able to track their payments directly from an app, get informed about any failed payments, and get actionable tips to solve these problems faster.

Answer Customer Questions in Real-Time

The demands of a modern customer have changed. They now use multiple channels to communicate with brands. Unsurprisingly, they expect businesses to use these channels, too. Research says most customers expect to get an answer within 2 hours, while 84% of them don’t want to wait longer than a day.

Precisely because of that, you need to need to provide multichannel customer services. Update your contact information on your site regularly and get listed on all major business directories. You should also provide your email address, links to social media support profiles, and live chats. Multichannel communication increases user satisfaction and helps them resolve the problem faster.

Leverage the Power of Social Networks

Many brands have started seeing the value of social networks in building customer relationships. First, you can use AI-powered software like chatbots to provide customers with timely and relevant answers. Today’s chatbots are smart and they’re constantly learning from customer interactions to understand their intent and give relevant feedback.

You can also use social monitoring tools to track your brand/product mentions on social networks and participate in customers’ conversations instantly. These tools give you a great opportunity to identify customers experiencing problems with your products, help them fix these problems effectively, and turn them into brand advocates.

Collect Customer Feedback Regularly

There are numerous metrics you can track to assess your small business’ performance. And, one of the most important ones is customer satisfaction. You need to understand how your customers feel about your brand, what they like, appreciate, or hate about it.

Collecting customer feedback is one of the most significant aspects of customer support, given that 91% of unhappy customers won’t complain about poor experiences with your brand. They will simply leave you for your competitors.

There are numerous ways to do gather user feedback. I’ve already mentioned the importance of social listening and AI-powered chatbots. These tools let you see what questions your customers usually ask and what problems they experience.

You could also create a dedicated feedback form on your website and even reach out to a customer that abandoned the shopping cart. Live chat support can also be effective. Once a customer support agent helps a customer, they can send them feedback. Finally, you can always call a customer and ask them for their opinions directly.

Over to You

With the rise of sophisticated customer relationship management tools, providing subpar customer services are not acceptable anymore. You need to provide timely customer support, answer customer feedback professionally, and customize your customer services. This way, you will build stronger customer relationships and increase brand loyalty.

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About the Author: Keith Coppersmith is an Adelaide based business consultant with a degree in Media Management. With experience in numerous small businesses and startups, he enjoys giving advice on all things marketing.

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31 Lessons from a 30-Something Entrepreneur

What I Learned as an Entrepreneur in my 30s

Tomorrow, December 18, I will turn 31 years old. Last year, as I entered this new decade of my life, I wrote about how I anticipated this new chapter to shift my entrepreneurial outlook and possibly my business model.

Compared to 12 months ago, I would say things feel pretty similar. I was given some unique opportunities to expand my business through new partnerships and into new markets in 2018. However, my core services remain the same, my passion and gratitude for what I do is ever-present and I plan to spend 2019 enjoying the fulfillment – and sometimes luxuries – of my career.

But what I can tell you has changed is the wisdom I carry with me into each client meeting, each presentation and with each email I send. By no means do I have it all figured out, but I have learned some pretty important lessons in the last 7+ years of running my public relations business.

So for my birthday this year, I spent some time reflecting on the advice I received along the way that continues to guide my choices to this day. In honor of turning 31, I’m going to share with you 31 pearls of wisdom that I hope you find as useful and thought-provoking as I have.

1. You have to want it. People can give you the what and the how, but you must be the who and you need to figure out your why.

2. Just because you can outsource something, doesn’t mean you should. If you’re more efficient at completing the task on your own, or it’s a critical part of your business strategy, it’s important to remain hands-on.

3. You will come across clients who aren’t a good fit for your product or services, and vice versa. Don’t chase after them and don’t force it. Listen to your instincts.

4. Your reputation will be the single best branding tool you will ever have. Don’t risk it for anything!

5. No matter your industry or business model, you will have competitors. Get to know them; befriend them. If you do this successfully, you’ll gain a valuable lead generator. There’s more than enough business to go around!

6. You can never overemphasize your thanks and appreciation for your vendors and subcontractors. They make you look good. Make sure they know this.

7. Always know what problem your business is solving. If you can’t easily identify what this is, it’s time to immediately rethink your model.

8. Don’t mourn the loss of a business relationship too hard. Time and time again life will prove that this space will be filled ten-fold, and with better opportunities.

9. Give everyone a second chance. Those who doubted your skills and talents previously, just might become a valuable client or lead generator for you.

10. The reward for good work is more work. To grow your business do good work. Yes, it’s that simple.

11. Just because someone else is doing it, doesn’t mean you should too. Don’t chase every new marketing trend or fad. You’ll waste a lot of time and money doing so. Carefully weigh the right strategies for your business.

12. Keep in mind that your target audience may not be your actual audience. If you’re aiming for one group, but attracting another, it’s time to rethink who you really want to reach.

13. Know how to say no. This world will stretch you way too thin if you’re not strategic about where you choose to invest your time and talent. Even if you know when you say no, knowing how can be a much larger challenge.

14. Find a reason to laugh daily. Even if this means you have to keep a file of memes, photos and funny memories. If life doesn’t get you a reason to laugh that day, create your own.

15. Ask for advice. Try as you might, you will never have all the answers, nor will the internet. Look to your peers for their collective knowledge on topics they know and you do not.

16. Anchor yourself with principles, values and beliefs that feed your soul. As a business owner or entrepreneur, it’s easy to get tossed in the waves of uncertainty without a strong core to keep you anchored.

17. Each of us has a point of diminishing returns when it comes to work and profit. Know when more money means, well…more problems. Don’t let greed or pressure push you beyond this point.

18. For most of us, technology is a necessary evil to do our jobs. However, we must, must be intentional about unplugging on a regular basis – for the sake of our relationships and health.

19. Have someone with whom you can share your failures and struggles. It’s hard to talk about these things and be vulnerable, but this is when we most need support. Have a few key people in your life who will always meet you where you are, and simply listen.

20. Consistency is half the battle with running a successful business. Don’t give up before you’ve barely left the shoreline. If I’m being honest, you need to buckle up and stick with this for at least 5 years before you can make any sort of educated decision about the viability of running your own business.

21. Reliability is the other half of the battle with running a successful business. So many people are simply unreliable. If you can show employers or clients that you are reliable, you already have a leg up on most.

22. Be present. It’s simply not possible for the human mind to truly multi-task. With work tasks, focus on one and see it through to completion, then move on. At home, be present with your family. Work will always be there, but those family moments are fleeting.

23. You might get some projects that are slightly outside the scope of your core services. So long as you’re being compensated for this time, do it anyway! You’re never above licking some envelopes or running to the printer to make copies for a client. And this good will goes a long way.

24. Don’t get paranoid about success. You worked hard. You deserve this. Don’t feel like it can’t last or it will be taken away from you. Enjoy it for what it is, and pay it forward.

25. Don’t get paranoid about failure. You worked hard. This is not a punishment. Don’t feel like it will last forever and can never be overcome. Appreciate it for what it’s teaching you and move forward.

26. Be a person who gives more than they consume – of time, money, material things and especially love and attention.

27. You don’t have to have it all figured out to still run a good business. I made the leap when I had very little experience both as an entrepreneur and in the field of PR. But I’m so glad I started when it did instead of waiting until I felt ready – or I would still be waiting.

28. Everyone will go through stressful or unfulfilling seasons of life. Give yourself grace, but do keep track of damaging patterns. If you’re stuck in a cycle, something has to change in order for you to move forward.

29. Never undervalue networking with your peers. Building the right amount of quality networking into your business development plan will open doors to connections and potential clients you would never meet otherwise. You have to put yourself out there!

30. There is no magic number of years in business or any particular age that determines a successful or established entrepreneur. It’s all relative to your industry, business model and how you define success.

31. The number one thing people want to feel is heard. Even more than liked or respected, if you can make someone feel heard, you will lay the foundation for effective communication.

And one to grow own…

Every entrepreneur’s journey is unique. You will never be able to compare two people’s situations apples-to-apples, so don’t let someone else’s story make you feel self-conscious or insecure. Most importantly, don’t let anyone else’s experience stop you from creating your own!

 

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Stop Making Project Management Complicated

Stop Making Project Management Complicated

As a business owner, project management is right at the top of the list of core services I provide to my clients. I ensure the deadlines we set any myriad of communication projects, are met and that at any given moment, I know the status of the project and who holds the ball to move things forward.

This might seem like a complicated process. When you consider I handle 30-50 different projects for clients any given month, you might assume I have a long list of sophisticated (and expensive) project management tools at my disposal that help me keep my head on straight.

But you would be quite wrong.

I’m not living under a rock. I’m well aware that technology has provided us with some great tools, especially those that aim to streamline and simplify project management. In fact, I’ve tried out many of these tools before. However, time and time again I’ve been disappointment to find that although they boast some pretty “cool” features, cool didn’t equate to simplicity. Rather, I found myself losing efficiency (and patience) as I tried to learn the ins and outs of these tools – all in an effort to complete tasks that were pretty simple to complete without this technology in the first place.

Maybe you’re found some tools that have become absolute lifesavers to your work organization and efficiency. That’s great – keep using it! But in this article, I want to examine how sometimes we can fall victim to using new technology just for the sake of using new technology.

In which case I say, let’s stop and be smart for a second.

If a boss or a client is asking you to use a special platform or task management system that is, well…whack, don’t be afraid to push back. Take a closer look at my own experience with project management tools and why I continue to use some of the simplest (as well as most cost-effective) tools out there – and how they work just fine when it comes to keeping a bustling business functioning with ease.

What I Don’t Use

Tools that take up more of my time. The first time I test out a new project management tool, it has to feel intuitive to me. I’m a quick judge of character (or in this case quality). If it feels clunky and complicated, or causes redundancy in my process, there’s no way I will continue to use it long-term.

Tools that charge more than a reasonable fee. With so many low-cost and no-cost tools available, a project management tool must really offer some cool features I can’t find elsewhere, if they expect me to pay for them. Only in rare instances has this occurred, and usually only when I know the efficiency I’ll gain will offset this expense exponentially.

Tools that clients don’t want to use. If I expect clients to use a project management tool, it better feel effortless. In the past, I have worked with a few contractors who tried to impose their project management tool on me and my clients. The result? We wouldn’t use the tool and would just email them. I know…I’m part of the problem. But really, the tools were clunky and sending an email was SO much easier…for everyone. The solution was obvious.

Tools that take more effort to explain than use. The last thing I need to add to my inbox is an influx of emails from clients who can’t figure out how to use a tool or technology I’m asking them to use for a project. I’d rather just have them email me their question or piece of the work – it would be a lot more seamless that way. If a tool adds extra steps or induces more questions, I can certainly do without it.

Tools that could potentially backfire or cause more harm than good. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t blindly trust technology. You can ask nearly any business owner and they will have a horror story of how some type of technology they were using either broke, malfunctioned or exposed sensitive data to the world. For this reason alone, I like my simple tools that really can’t mess things up, even for clients who you might swear are trying very, very hard to do so. I like resilient technology, and yes, sometimes this equates to the more simple technology.

What I Do Use

  • Google Docs – For collaboration and sharing.
  • Google VoiceGoogle Voice – For free phone lines in different area codes, and customized voicemails all from one cell phone.
  • Gmail – For email that is clean, simple and intuitive.
  • Boomerang – For scheduling emails to go out at a later date, so I don’t have to remember everything.
  • Doodle – For scheduling a meeting with multiple people – and busy schedules.
  • Microsoft Sticky Notes – For easy and accessible list making that doesn’t require yet one more login, or internet access.
  • QuickBooks – For the sanity of my tax attorney. But really QB makes sure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • DropBox – For file keeping and sharing. I’ve been using it since day 1 of starting my business.
  • Hootsuite – For the most reasonably priced social media scheduling and monitoring platform that allows me to post on behalf of all my clients, even when I’m on vacation.
  • FreeConferenceCall.com – For a free, dedicated conference call line that makes me look like a boss….even when I’m calling in from my couch.

Yes…that’s really it. And I pay about $250 per year for everything.

The bottom line is that you need to find out what works for you. There’s no harm in exploring new technology and other options that might offer you something additional that you need beyond these free or low-cost resources. However, when it comes to the type of tools you use for project management, don’t be a sheep. Just because someone else suggested it or another company is using it, doesn’t mean it will be of equal help to you. Always do your own research and come to your own conclusion.

What type of tools have you found most useful for organization and project management? Are they fancy and sophisticated or simple and low-cost?

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Business, Entrepreneurship, Life

 

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A No Is As Good As a Yes

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


No Word Showing Denial Panic And NegativityThink for a moment how many questions you ask in a single day. There are the simple questions like asking your child what they’d like for breakfast or asking your spouse what time they’ll be home from work. There are then the more complex questions like asking your boss to clarify your responsibilities on a project or asking a potential client if they’d like to move forward with your services. For simple questions, an answer is usually easy to obtain. But for the more complex and sometimes controversial questions, a quick and straightforward answer is harder to extract.

Anyone who has asked enough questions knows exactly what I’m talking about. So often we avoid providing someone with an answer because we think it will upset them or strain our relationship. The interesting reality is that the lack of an answer is more frustrating, and potentially more damaging, than providing a yes or no because it demonstrates a lack of respect for someone’s time.

In business, I often compare waiting for an answer to being in progress purgatory. It’s terrible to have your hands tied and be forced to bring work to a halt while you wait for a response from a client or co-worker. There are certainly instances where a delayed response is understandable. Life has been known to throw curve balls. But when an answer can be provided, it should be provided—as quickly and clearly as possible. Otherwise you may be costing someone else their time and energy as they wait for an answer and put effort into following-up.

I’m sure we can all bring a few examples to mind, maybe even one we’re dealing with right now. It’s that email that hasn’t been answered in over a week or that voice mail message that’s still waiting on a call back. It shows a lack of respect for someone else’s time when such questions or requests go unanswered and it can all be avoided with some simple communication. Immediate responses aren’t always possible or expected, but even when you can’t provide a response, you can provide the communication that you are seeking one. I know I always appreciate a message acknowledging my question and letting me know when to expect follow-up.

The bottom line is that you’re not doing anyone any favors by leaving them hanging. If the answer you have isn’t the one they’d prefer, you likely still have a good reason for choosing that answer. Explain this reasoning as simply as possible and give them the answer straight-up. Even if you can’t give someone the response they want, you can at least give them the ability to move forward and seek a different solution or opportunity. And at the end of the day, that’s a lot better than being stuck in progress purgatory!

Do you agree that a no is as good as a yes compared to not receiving an answer at all? What role in this scenario do you usually play—the one waiting for the response or the one evading the response? Share your insights and input by commenting below!

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Moment versus Momentum: Learning to Harness Fleeting Inspiration

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


this is the signWhile pursuing a career in the uncharted territory of entrepreneurship, I frequently encounter other entrepreneurs along my journey. Some are decades ahead of where I am (and hope to be) and others are merely minutes into their decision to take the leap.

Among this group of individuals, the veteran entrepreneurs always seem to have at least one quality in common regardless of industry or age—they have momentum. For the greener entrepreneurs, I struggle to assess whether they possess this same momentum or whether their inspiration is merely a fleeting moment. The difference in the meaning of these two words – and the effect they have on the success or failure of a dream – is far more profound than two little letters. Rather this “um” holds the inspiration, the drive and the courage to turn a single moment into a momentous career.

Is your dream a mere moment or does it carry momentum?

Among your friends and acquaintances, think about those who you would consider a dreamer or an entrepreneurial spirit. Chances are you have a variety. These people are likely different, each with their own qualities that earn them a spot in this category. Now think about those in this group who have taken a goal or idea and are in the active process of taking it to the next level. Chances are this no longer applies to everyone you originally thought of. Maybe those that don’t fit this description more accurately fit the description of coming up with brilliant and creative ideas one day, but then you never hear or see anything more about it.

This is the truest differentiation I can illustrate for you between moment and momentum. I, too, have contacts that I would consider entrepreneurs at heart, but this doesn’t mean every one of them has become a real life entrepreneur. Instead, there are those who think of innovative ideas all the time, but I’ve learned to not get too excited for they’re just having “a moment.” By the next month or even the next day, the big plan for a life change has already been forgotten as quickly as it was conceived.

How do we harness this moment of inspiration and turn it into momentum?

At the root of this problem are the differing qualities of each individual. Not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur, just like not everyone is meant to be a doctor or a rocket scientist. We all have different strengths and for some, this is taking an idea from conception to completion. For others – this is a weakness. But just like how you were told when you were little that, “you can be anything you want when you grow up,” you CAN become an entrepreneur and find your inner momentum regardless of prior failed attempts. You have at least two options to better harness your moments of inspiration and turn them into something more substantial.

First, you can commit to making a personal effort to stop the bad habits that have led to loss of momentum in the past. This includes procrastination, lack of confidence, fear of hard work or fear of failure. Just as you would commit to quit smoking or lose weight, changing any existing habit takes energy and effort. Pick a single, well-defined goal and create a timeline of specific actions. When I knew I wanted to begin my own business, I defined all the steps I had to take to reach the point of leaving my former job. I knew I needed a functional web site, enough clients to pay the bills and to register myself as an official business with the government. And so I added these to my timeline and was specific in the actions I had to take to achieve them. Every day I would assign myself one immediate thing I could do to further this timeline, whether it was sending an email to a prospective client or creating a blog. These immediate action items prevented me from falling victim to procrastination or overwhelm because they kept me on track and made me feel accomplished each and every day. Over the course of a week and then a month, these actions ultimately came together to achieve my bigger goal. I still use this tactic when I’m in a phase of business growth.

If you’ve tried or are trying to change your habits to become a person of momentum, but it just isn’t picking up as quickly as you’d like – it might be time to consider the second option. You can team up with another person or group of people who will provide complimentary skills to help turn an idea into reality. Not every business is a sole proprietorship and that’s because sometimes working together is the only way to achieve a goal of a certain scope or size.  If you have an idea for a product, but have no knowledge or direction on where to start with manufacturing it; find a partner who can provide expertise and connections in this area. A partner or team will also keep you accountable to your ideas and actions. It’s not so easy to let a dream fade if the dream is shared by many different people.

In talking with even the most successful entrepreneur, I would be shocked to hear that they never once had a failed idea or fleeting inspiration prior to their current business. To find our true calling, we must allow our mind to wander as creatively as it chooses without feeling pressured to turn every idea into reality. But when you do dream up an idea that you can envision changing your world, or the world of many others, you must find a way to harness this inspiration and keep it moving. Sometimes all it takes to turn a moment into momentum is the willingness to change yourself or team up with others…and of course a little “um!”

 

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7 Tips for Productive Conference Calls

7 Tips for Productive Conference Calls

Conference calls sound like a great idea. For a lot of reasons, in-person meetings just don’t work. People’s schedules and locations can make it virtually impossible to get together face-to-face. However, conference calls are far from a perfect solution.

Having participated in countless conference calls, I can confirm that just about everything that happens in this following video has been my experience. Even if you’ve already seen this video, you know how good it is. Watch it (again).

So what is the solution to overcoming the many hurdles surrounding unproductive, awkward conference calls? Mostly it’s organization. When I’m tasked with leading a conference call, I follow these seven simple rules to make the most of everyone’s time – and accomplish the goal of the call.

  1. Create a calendar invitation.

Simple, yet so often forgotten. When a group of people agree on a conference call date and time, someone needs to take the lead to send a calendar invitation to everyone. Why? Because people can’t be trusted to take this step on their own. Inevitably, it will slip their mind and they’ll either forget the call entirely or be scrambling to find the phone number and passcode. Reduce the number of “Hey I can’t find the conference call information, can you resend it to me?” emails you’ll have to answer by letting your online calendar serve as a reminder.

  1. Send reminder emails.

Speaking of reminders, yes you’ll need to do this at least twice leading up to the call. I’ve found that I can greatly increase conference call attendance (especially for large groups of people) by combining the calendar invitation with reminder emails. Key times to remind people are a few days before the call. For example, if it’s a Monday morning conference call, send a reminder email on Friday before everyone mentally clocks out for the weekend. For an afternoon conference call, I’ll remind people that morning so they include this obligation on their list of to-do’s for the day. If you really have a busy/forgetful group, send a final reminder within the hour of the call taking place. That way the call information is right in front of them and they have time to wrap up that other work project that may have gotten in the way.

  1. Have an agenda.

I’ll say it again, organization is the key to running a productive conference call. This starts with a focused agenda. Make sure someone is tasked with creating an agenda for the call and circulate this agenda with each of your reminder emails. When participants can follow along with the discussion items, this keeps them engaged and prevents the conversation from drifting all over the place (mostly). Most importantly, you won’t forget to cover an important item, reducing the number of follow-up calls or emails you’ll need to have.

  1. Designate a note-taker.

With an agenda, note taking is easy. However, the biggest mistake people make is not designating who will take the notes and send these notes to the group after the conference call. The designated note-taker should not be the same person leading the agenda. You want to pick someone who doesn’t need to speak a lot during the call. Also, the note-taker should be someone who pays attention and is detail oriented. It’s easy to miss things on a conference call if you’re not paying close attention and asking for clarification, when needed.

  1. Be mindful of time.

Just because you have an agenda to follow doesn’t mean you can let discussions go on and on and on. Set an expectation for the duration of the conference call. Most commonly this is one hour. Schedule it as such on your calendar invitation so everyone blocks off the appropriate amount of time. Next, stick to that time. If you’re a half hour into the call but only on your first agenda item, you need to wrap up discussion or make the decision to quickly move through your other agenda items. Long, drawn-out conference calls are likely to have attendees drop off or find reasons to avoid future calls. Keep things short and focused.

  1. Set a date for your next call.

Before you adjourn the meeting, be sure to set the date and time of your next call (if needed). Not doing so while everyone is on the call is a huge missed opportunity. This way you can quickly get everyone’s input on availability and avoid the dreaded “reply all” emails of everyone hashing out their schedules. Additionally, you can prompt everyone to add the next conference call to their calendars and you can include the reminder in your meeting recap email.

  1. Email a meeting recap with action items.

Finally there is the meeting recap email. This is possibly the most critical piece of a productive conference call. It’s convenient for the note-taker to be the one responsible for sending out the meeting recap email. This should include a really boiled down summary of the call notes. I strongly recommend assigning names to action items and making this font bold and red. People will clearly see what’s assigned to them. Give these action items a deadline. Finally, remind people of the date and time of the next call.

By doing each of these seven things, you are far more likely to run a productive conference call in which people will willingly participate. Best of all, you’ll actually get things done, rather than spinning your wheels and wasting hours of your work day!

When you participate in a conference call, how highly would you rate productivity on average? Share your favorite tips for making business conference calls more efficient and productive by leaving a comment below!

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 9, 2018 in Business & Success

 

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Revealing Character Through Communication

The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!


textingDuring the steps along my career path, I’ve encountered some truly great communicators who were friendly, organized and a pleasure to work with. As with any balance to life, I have also encountered a memorable few who were quite the opposite – impatient, rude and condescending. I used to take negative communication very personally, wondering what I could have done to make it a more pleasant experience, but have since reconciled that it had little to do with me. I wasn’t giving the person the answer they wanted (maybe I wasn’t the right contact to address their request or maybe it simply couldn’t be done). And because of this, they felt as though they could treat me with less respect or professionalism than someone who could offer them immediate solutions.

I continue to encounter similar styles of communication from time to time and it really grates on me. I believe that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Therefore, these incidences are a reflection of a character flaw that many people may be unaware they exhibit. I’m sure I am not exempt from this – a lapse in my communication may have left someone else feeling brushed off or belittled at one point or another. In an effort to put an end to unprofessional communication, I want to examine the following key points to shed light on why this is such a critical problem:

The importance of always being professional

It’s a small world. We all know the meaning of this phrase as we have likely had the experience of running into contacts again and again through similar circles or completely unrelated circumstances. This is a reminder to me every day that my reputation is my most valuable business asset. Whether you live in a big city or a small town, you can’t afford to burn bridges if you want to be successful in your career. Nothing slows down business growth faster. The importance of always being professional when communicating with customers or vendors is realizing that you may very likely have to deal with them again. Don’t ignore this important lesson! Most of the unprofessional communicators I’ve had to deal with have popped up in my life again, needing information or services from me – often with their tail tucked between their legs.

Identifying the subtle negatives

Sometimes the worst communication experiences are hard to identify because they’re subtle, yet leave you with an overall feeling of hurt, frustration or anger. It may be hard to pinpoint the exact reasons the conversation was so unpleasant, but the feeling it leaves you with is real nonetheless. The subtle negatives I’ve most often identified have involved someone exerting their power or position to make me feel dumb or incorrect about an answer I have provided. Another common subtle negative is someone being bossy or aggressive in their tone and in the type of services they demand. In less subtle situations, I’ve had people outright yell at me, hang up the phone or threaten me in various ways (chalk this up to some good old political campaign experience). Most often negative communication can be identified in someone’s tone and word choice. Even if you have something negative you must communicate – and this does happen – there are various ways to still make it a positive communication experience overall. There’s no excuse.

Letting someone know when they’re being unprofessional

This is a difficult subject to breach. No one wants to directly confront someone else about their attitude or negativity because it can be, well…scary. We’re more willing to put up with the unprofessionalism and belittlement than we are willing to tell someone they’re just being rude. The risk is that we end up looking rude in return or that we anger them even more and the communication further declines. If the negative communication is subtle and you’re not sure if they even know they’re coming across this way, it’s important to handle the situation softly, but directly. Let them know that it’s how they’re making you feel rather than accusing them of being outright mean. No one can argue with how you feel and hopefully even if they don’t want to recognize that their actions are causing this, they will at least be professional enough to make an effort to change. On the other extreme, if someone is being unprofessional to the point of yelling or insulting you, then you must also address this directly, but more firmly. Identify specific examples in which their communication is unacceptable (swearing, yelling and hanging up a phone are never acceptable in my mind) and let them know that you will have to cut off further communication if they can’t approach the situation more professionally. Hopefully such instances are rare, but it’s important to know how to speak up to put and end to it.

They key concept worth taking away from all of this is that character is best demonstrated by how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Negativity is never acceptable even if you realize you’re “only” dealing with an office administrator, assistant or intern. Most often, these are the gatekeepers for who you really want to be talking to. As I said before, it’s a small world, so be sure to be kind and professional to everyone you encounter. It truly takes no more (maybe even less) effort than it does to be rude and when the world connects you with them again you’ll be glad you have a friend, not a burnt bridge, to work with.

 

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