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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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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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Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

descriptIf you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well: this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot — of convenience, affordability and accuracy—that makes it practical to use it more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes!

  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go — e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”. These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is… @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods) so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar — but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on auto pilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.

The old ways of doing things — whether it’s with a keyboard or pen — still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity — well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

This article is originally published by Descript.

 

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How To Make Your Startup Business More Efficient Now (Guest Blog by Kiley Martin)

The following post comes to us from Kiley Martin, a Philadelphia-based freelance writer, editor and blogger.


TimeIncreasing the efficiency of operations should be a primary goal of all business owners . However, enhancing business productivity often falls by the wayside when workload increases. People push things off and get stuck in the same old routines.

You might be worried about the need to spend money in order to make your business more streamlined. Especially in the startup world, it’s unavoidable. You’re introducing things for the first time and it will cost time and even perhaps a new position. You’re building something that wasn’t there before.

But spending money doesn’t mean inefficiency. In fact it often means the opposite, especially if you’re investing in the future of the business. If you spend $5,000 to save $5 every time you do a repetitive process, you’ll make your money back in no time.

With that in mind, here are some ways you can make your startup business more efficient.

Invest strategically to reduce costs

When a startup is founded, business owners choose not to invest in a lot of technology or equipment because it may initially increase costs. For instance, you may choose to use a manual fax machine instead of buying an electronic one with Bluetooth access.

However, if sending and receiving faxes are a critical part of your daily operations, using an electronic fax machine would save you time, paper costs, and the hassle of manning the machine when waiting on an important document. So, even though you may have to spend some money and invest in a good machine initially, it will make things easier later on by increasing your time and cost efficiency.

Cost benefit analyses like this are very useful for when you’re setting up your business as they can help you in the long run. Focus on strategic investments that impact your most important operations.

Automate your tasks. Focus on your specialties

As an entrepreneur, you will quickly become aware that just because you own a business, this doesn’t mean you are equally good at managing all aspects of it. You could be well versed in the nuances of how to sell an app, but you might not be familiar with the specifics of app development or coding. This paves the way for task delegation.

Foremost, you need to learn to identify which tasks you can do best and which need to be delegated to other employees so they can do it best.

This concept also applies to menial tasks. Even though you are a business owner looking to cut down costs, taking a full burden of responsibilities will not help your situation. If you spend three hours manually sending invoices to clients, you are spending way less time overlooking the state of affairs for your business.

It would be prudent to get software that takes care of your invoicing so you can pay attention to other tasks that demand your attention.

In the same way, menial jobs like sending receipts or overseeing the delivery of documents could take up mental space, time and energy. Hiring an employee to take care of these tasks or using a computer program can not only make things easier for you, but also streamline your business processes in the long run.

It will also free up most of your work hours so you can focus on other tasks that require your attention.

Furthermore, if you have a website, which you should, don’t spend too much time running it if you’re a website amateur. Allow a hosting service to take the reigns. You’re running a business, not a website or an AP department. You need to invest in these processes so they don’t eat away all your time.

Give feedback and encourage employees

Your responsibility does not end at hiring personnel. The reason why most startups fail is because they are unsuccessful at retaining talent. The employees may feel useless in terms of contribution to the overall venture if they are not encouraged regularly.

Sometimes business owners will stick to brief comments and words of appreciation that mean nothing to the employee. Without proper feedback, they can stagnate their progress.

Therefore, it is important that as a business owner, you develop a keen eye for the work of your subordinates, providing ample constructive feedback where necessary. This will develop your rapport with the staff and provide work fulfillment so they can keep working with you.

Plan your schedule and focus on one thing at a time

Most startup owners work long hours and sacrifice sleep for work. Yet, they always have tasks on their to-do list that still need to be considered. For them, the work never ends.

This does not mean that other startup owners have it considerably easier than you do. It just means that other business owners have learned to manage their time and their tasks.

But how do you end up going about that ridiculous pile of work on your desk? Well, the first thing is to list everything you need to do. Then, list the time you have in a day that you will dedicate to the tasks, and plan accordingly. Do not attempt to take on more work than you know you can do.

The same goes for your employees. Encourage them to direct their focus on single tasks, rather than multitasking. Intense concentration will produce better results and take less of a mental toll, resulting in quality and efficiency.

Do you have a tip for helping a business to run more efficiently? Share your advice by leaving a comment!

Kiley MartinKiley Martin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger from Philadelphia, PA. She has worked with several popular blogs and magazines. She recently graduated from Drexel University. She also enjoys mentoring and connecting with others on new technologies in web development and programming. Feel free to contact her at KileyAMartin@gmail.com

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2017 in Business & Success, Guest Blogger

 

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Why You Should Become A Lifelong Learner

Head in sand ostrich

It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand, but to remain competitive in the marketplace, we must take our education into our own hands.

The first 22 or so years of our lives are consumed by education. Our full time job is to learn as much as we can about the world around us and narrow our focus on a specific area that we hopefully will turn into a career. But once we’re launched into the real world, this commitment to continuing our education seems to wane. As we spend more and more time applying the knowledge we have, we have less and less time for seeking out additional education. Slowly but surely, our wealth of knowledge begins to depreciate as it becomes outdated and incomplete.

With the types of resources we have available right at our fingertips, this should never be the case. We always have the opportunity to better ourselves through lifelong learning even if we feel we have no time or money to do so. It’s possible – and paramount – to developing both our career and our character. Here are a few critical questions we must first ask ourselves if we want to assume the mindset of a lifelong learner.

When did we decide to stop learning?

Doesn’t it seem unbalanced that we rely upon the education we gain during the first quarter of our lives to last us for the other three-quarters? This is a common idea that society has made acceptable. Maybe it’s because we’re so overloaded with school, classes, exams and essays that when we earn a degree we want to wash our hands of this part of our life completely – never wanting to return to the anxiety and challenge that often accompanies it. The shame is that this is such a small part of what learning truly is. Learning need not be defined by a classroom, diploma or grades. The decision to start learning again doesn’t mean having to enroll in a graduate program. The options for how we can do so are virtually limitless, but first we must change our definition of learning.

How do we change our definition of learning?

It doesn’t require a classroom setting to enhance your education. In fact, most of what we’ve learned throughout our lives was from observing other people or through trial and error. So throw away the notion that night classes are the only way to re-educate yourself. Technology has also drastically changed the learning opportunities available to us for free and from home. College-level courses are available at all hours of the day and in increments that can fit into any schedule. This type of learning may not earn you a formal degree, but unless your career field has a proven return on investment for additional degrees, don’t take on that unnecessary debt. Rather, informal and free courses are just as effective at achieving the ultimate goal…a lifelong education.

Will lifelong learning really make a difference?

Yes. Making the commitment to learn throughout all quarters of your life – not just your first – will have a great impact on both your career and your character. It will keep you competitive in today’s job market. With the ever-changing face of technology, we don’t have the luxury of relying on what we learned decades ago to get us through the job we have now. Even more mind boggling is that for many of us, the job we will have 5 years from now likely doesn’t even exist yet! If you want to increase your value as an employee (and secure your job for the future), lifelong learning is a must. Also, the more you know the more interesting you tend to be. Did you ever know someone who could start a conversation with just about anyone? It’s likely that this person was well-educated and continued his education throughout his life. You want to be that person, too. Finally, lifelong learning will make you independent. The more you know how to do on your own, the less you will feel inferior or helpless. You will be able to trouble-shoot your own problems and work more efficiently as a result. There’s many more compelling reasons why each of us should become a lifelong learner, but I think I’ve made my point.

To end, I will leave you with this interesting quote from Robert Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Resources for lifelong learning:

Coursera. Coursera works with top universities from around the world to offer classes online for free.

OpenStudy. OpenStudy is a social learning network that allows you to connect with individuals who have the same learning goals as you.

edX. Harvard University and MIT partnered together to create interactive, free online courses. The same world-renowned professors that teach at Harvard and MIT have created the courses on edX.

Udacity. More college level classes taught online for free.

CreativeLive. CreativeLive lets you stream live courses being taught for free (if you want to view the course later there is a fee). The courses focus on more creative and business subjects.

TED. TED compiles speeches and lectures from professors as well as interesting people from many different walks of life. This is a staple for lifelong learners! (And they tend to be far more interesting and entertaining that the college lectures you remember)

iTunes U. iTunes U has thousands of free downloadable podcast lectures taught by the best professors from around the world. Learn while you exercise or on a long road trip.

YouTube EDU. Addicted to YouTube? Put it to good use by enriching your mind with thousands of videos that cover a variety of topics.

 
 

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