Archives for June 2011

Does Your Customer Service Stink?

You have great expectations for your business. Your product is super and you’ve sold a few but customers aren’t returning like they should and what’s more, they aren’t giving you feedback. You’ve already checked to see if adjustments need to be made to the sales page, price, emails and promotions but they aren’t the problem. What on earth is wrong? I can hear you groaning now. Here’s a question for you. Does your customer service stink?

Let’s face it; you probably get more feedback from customers when there is a problem than when everything is going smoothly. If you really want repeat buyers, you better make sure your customer support is head and shoulders above the competition. This is the point when you can change a customer’s poor opinion into a glowing recommendation.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of things. What do you want your customers to feel after they’ve contacted customer service? If you simply said you want them to feel good, you aren’t putting enough thought into it. I’ll help you out a little with a few ideas.

Customers should feel:

  • Relieved that you have helped them solve a problem.
  • Reassured that they’ve done the right thing in contacting you and that you will “fix” things.
  • Satisfied with the product, the customer service, solution, and the attention they receive.
  • Valued and what they think matters. If they feel that they are just a sale or a problem, you’ve lost them. Customers should feel that their choice to buy from you is appreciated.
  • Enlightened by your answers and explanations. Customers should leave knowing more than when they initially contacted your support center.
  • Encouraged that they did something right concerning the problem and that they can get results simply by asking for help.
  • Safe that their personal information and customer service conversations will be kept private.

The more of these feelings that your customers have, the greater the chance that they will be loyal to your brand, repeat buyers, and supporters. So how can you make sure they have the maximum “feel good” thoughts? It begins with your policies and shines through your customer service representatives. If you have an unfair or unrealistic policy, there is almost no way to come out smelling like a rose.

Everyone is not cut out to handle customer service. Many solo entrepreneurs discover this the hard way. Just like everything else, you need to do what you do best! If you don’t have exceptional people and problem solving skills, you are not doing yourself any favors by handling customer support yourself.

Yes, I know. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have until you can do better. This is when you ask a friend with the appropriate characteristics and skills to handle support. If this isn’t an option, you may be able to trade services/products with someone who can take over your customer support duties. The key is to get someone in there who can get the results you need.

No matter who is taking care of your customer support, there are several qualities and skills they should have. If they already work well with people, have good problem solving skills, plus possess a majority of these skills, qualities, and attitudes, customer service is almost second nature to them. So what should you look for in customer service reps? Here are just a few things to look for and why.

Customer Service Reps should be:

  • Cheerful – When reps have a cheerful outlook, they aren’t easily rattled by angry customers. In fact, like a smile, the upbeat attitude often rubs off on the customers.
  • Communication experts – Since most small business customer service centers communicate through email or support tickets, support representatives should have a superior command of the written word. You should also have at least one person on staff who is willing to do phone support when it’s needed.
  • Consistent and fair – Nothing confuses customers more than change. Your customer service team should be aware of the rules and stick to them. For example, if you say that a coupon expires at a certain time, every team member should adhere to that time. Not only does this keep your customers from procrastinating and on the ball but when exceptions are made, the customer appreciates them more. After all, would Macy’s honor an expired sale price because the customer forgot to come in? I think not.
  • Courteous – Being polite can take you a long way in life and business. As many southern women know, it’s possible to insult someone and have them thank you for your comment. Ok, that’s not quite what you want to do but you get the picture. The fact is that your support team should know how to deliver bad news so that it doesn’t anger the customer. They should also be the first to say “thank you.”
  • Empathetic – Are your team members able to relate to your customers’ feelings? If not, your customer may often get the impression that the rep and your business just doesn’t care. That’s the wrong impression to convey!
  • Firm – Unfortunately, there are customers who try to intimidate your representative in order to get what they want. These bulldozers need a firm hand. When reps are being intimidated, they need to know that you will back their decisions. If they don’t feel that you support them, they can’t take the firm approach needed to deal with these pushy customers. What’s more, they feel that they don’t matter to you as much as a sale does. Just as you expect your customer support team to be polite, you should expect the same from your customers.
  • Helpful – You’d think this is a given but I’ve seen some support people give “I don’t know,” answers and nothing else. Customers should always be given a real answer. If your reps can’t answer a question, they should always suggest a place where the customer can find the answer.
  • Knowledgeable – The people on your support team should know about your products and services, as well as any changes that may affect customers. Keep them in the loop! They can’t do their job effectively if you don’t do yours.
  • Timely – Customers should receive answers or responses in a timely manner. Business owners who are ill-suited for customer support often drop the ball here and just ignore questions. New support team members may be slow to respond due to poor training. Either instance can cause customers to abandon ship and go to your competition. Optimally, customers should receive a reply within 2 days but sooner if at all possible.
  • Patient – Above all, the people who handle your customer support should be patient. When customers feel that they are being hurried along, it leads them to believe that your company was just after the sale and you don’t really care about their needs.

So, does your customer support stink? Finding out is not always a quick process. However, now that you know what customers should feel and what qualities your support representatives should have, you know where to start sniffing out the answer. If you do find a few things that need to change, make the changes as soon as possible so your business and reputation will wind up smelling like a rose.

Can you already identify areas you need to check? Which ones? Have you implemented some of these suggestions? Did it work out for you? We’d love to know what you think. Share your experiences below.

Translation Services For Small Business

In today’s global economy, you may be missing out on multiple market segments by not using a professional translation service. You might think targeting an international audience is only essential to big businesses. In fact, it’s even more important for smaller companies to break into the global marketplace.

If you wish to expand your business, you’ll need to ensure that your branding efforts reach beyond local and national boundaries. Spreading your message to the rest of the world requires clear communication in a multitude of languages.

This is where a professional translation service comes in. Don’t be tempted to rely on translation software when crafting important documents or your company’s website. Software only translates word for word in very literal terms.

Only a human well-versed in translation can pick up on the subtle nuances and colloquialisms that are sure to appear. Translation software may also be unable to comprehend and translate industry-specific terms. It’s easy to see how this could be a problem for many companies.

While interpreters are required for person-to-person bilingual conversations, a professional translation service is invaluable in the creation of catalogues, correspondence, contracts and marketing plans. The right translation consultant may even be able to advise your business on whether a contract is culturally suitable for a particular marketplace.

Assistance with business documents is key, but a well-crafted globally-oriented website is of equal importance. What better way to reach an international marketplace than a site that can be viewed in multiple languages? Anyone who leaves your website because it’s unavailable in his or her native tongue is a potential customer lost.

A website available in several languages will impress English speakers as well. Although a business needn’t be large to offer multiple languages, it conveys diversity and the appearance of a multinational company. No one needs to know that your business isn’t a corporate giant…yet.

It’s easy to see why hiring a professional translation service is well worth the investment. Experienced, certified translators are well-equipped to handle complex documents, sometimes even in obscure languages. A team of seasoned professionals should understand not only the words to be translated, but the cultural differences between them.

Myriad examples of poor translation can be found across the Internet. Often, companies buy translation software in a bid to save money. The results are disastrous, with glaring grammatical errors or missed nuances that completely alter the original meaning.

Don’t make the mistake of cutting corners by hiring an inexperienced freelance translator. Being multilingual doesn’t necessarily equate to an adequately thorough understanding of the target language. Such a lapse in hiring judgment can jeopardize your company’s hard-won reputation.

The initial expense of hiring a professional translation service may seem high, but the cost of creating a solid international presence is well worth the investment. Hiring an experienced team of professionals pays off in the form of increased business, maximisation of your marketing budget and a boost to your company’s sterling reputation.

Resource:
You can find out more about how translation services can benefit your business at Codex Global Limited.

Getting Web Traffic For Free – Top Questions Answered

Getting web traffic to your site isn’t what it used to be anymore. Especially free tactics. We can lament all we want but the smart thing to do really is to adapt and keep forging ahead.

Sadly though, there are tons and tons of really bad tools out there that could give you a temporary traffic boost at best. There’s also a lot of people still dishing out old advice.

Rush Hour

Which is why I was really curious when I received an email from Jimmy D Brown about an hour long video presentation about free traffic. I was curious because I wanted to know what he had to say about getting web traffic for free in today’s framework. And also because I always pay attention to Jimmy because he always manages to give a new twist to things and leave me wondering, now why didn’t I think of that… even on the stuff that you may think you already know.

I sat through this video and here’s quick summary for you.

The video is formatted as a classic Q&A where Jimmy answers the top 10 questions his readers asked and these questions are:

  1. Is Article Marketing still a good and reliable strategy?
  2. Isn’t paid traffic better than free traffic?
  3. What should be included in a great free offer that can be used to drive traffic?
  4. How to ensure traffic you get from free sources are qualified buyers and not useless traffic?
  5. Do viral e-books still work?
  6. How much effort should you put into SEO?
  7. What percentage of people on Jimmy’s list have been obtained from free traffic methods?
  8. How do you drive traffic to a squeeze page?
  9. What is the BEST way to get free traffic?
  10. How do you get A-listers to email for you when you are starting out?

In answering those, Jimmy emphasized several things that he is not a fan nor a proponent of temporary tactics and tools. What he is after is long-lasting traffic. Traffic where:

  • You only have to do work once or at least minimal work in the beginning and keeps drawing people again and and again
  • Once it is set on the loose, cannot be turned off

Now that I like – don’t you?

There are also other things that stuck out for me and they were:

  • Getting others to distribute your content
  • Source of traffic is key whether paid or free

These just happened to stand out for me because of where I am right now. I’m confident you will likely find something extremely valuable that’s applicable for your business. Watch it today – Jimmy did not mention when this will be pulled. Better watch it before it is gone.

Photo by Tim Arai

The Vancouver Brand

Recently when the Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins, several thousand “fans” went nuts in Vancouver’s downtown outside the stadium. It shocked the entire country, and has led many to ask the question, “Will this hurt Vancouver and by extension – Canada’s pristine brand’s world image.” Depending on how they handle this, I don’t think it will.

Like any of us know in business, brand damage from an unfortunate event has everything to do with with how you handle the problem. Done correctly and swiftly, this event will be brushed aside. Running and hiding will exasperate the problem and harm the brand. Perception is reality – right? So, handling it correctly, can make a negative, a huge opportunity for Vancouver. It can come out of this stronger and better.

I’d like to ask the readership here at Small Business Branding, if you believe that this sports riot will harm the brands of Vancouver and Canada for years to come. Is it even on your radar?

The cost of illegal software

Illegal software has many tempting features. Fully purchased programmes, particularly those in specialist niches, can cost an incendiary fee and licensing agreements may not cater for the amount of IT equipment a purchaser may have wished to install the software on. However, the cost of being caught far outweighs this; the result could be civil or even criminal proceedings from the company who owns the software’s copyrights. This is worrying as, a lot of the time, a company may not be aware if they are in accidental breach of their software license and may accidentally, and perhaps unjustly, end up with huge fines or criminal charges against them.

The chances of being caught using illegal software can be quite high too as one of the most diligent watchdogs currently operating is the Business Software Alliance (BSA); their members include Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Macromedia, Symantec, Veritos, Dell, IBM and more. It probably takes little imagination to conceive how powerful this alliance is and how seriously it takes licensing breaches.

The BSA, as an organization, regularly communicates with corporations, governments and other important bodies but, as well as an obvious degree of influence, they also spend a fair amount of time collating data and information regarding suspected pirates. The BSA regularly performs audits on companies and administers fines where necessary. If a company are unable to provide correct licensing proof they are susceptible to fines even though in many instances they would have to actively volunteer information for the auditors who may not be legally entitled to see it.

If, for whatever reason, a company has found themselves in breach of the law, intentionally or otherwise, there are some actions that can be undertaken to combat any potential trouble they may find themselves in. The first is retrospective purchases of the appropriate licensing which will keep away any legal problems in the future. However, it may be wise, instead of doing this, to undertake some pre-emptive action to make sure a business never finds itself on the wrong side of the law.

One way of doing this is through an Asset Management service which is designed to carry out audits on all computers connected to a network. For obvious reasons it is better that the audit is carried out by such a service rather than the BSA. Although it may cost a reasonable fee to have a specialist consultant carry out this task, and then to implement all suggested changes, this cost is by some degree better than receiving a criminal or civil offense warning. Similarly, savings could be made as a consultant would be able to review all existing agreements, their value for money and recommend perhaps better options.

Due to the huge fines that can be accrued it is imperative to have an effective Software Asset Management scheme in place. The development of such a scheme allows for companies to develop and implement procedures and policies which will help optimize software assets as well as monitoring when a company’s agreement may expire and when they are eligible for new upgrades. The scheme also helps maximize money invested by highlighting the costs and benefits that come with the software utilized.

The benefits include being able to see when software is being paid for but not used, allows for a more solid business base as business functions will not be undertook by unlicensed or illegal software, and ensures that there is no accidental duplication of software.

8 features of great small business websites (part 1)

Only a few years ago small business owners with a website were ahead of the pack. If they had a CMS that ran the website they were seriously ‘out there’. Trust me, I’ve been building CMS-based sites for 5 years and in the early days we didn’t even tell people they were able to update their own sites because they didn’t want to know about it.

A lot has changed since those days. Systems like Joomla and WordPress are now mainstream, business owners are pretty tech savvy and most serious business owners know that its easy (and cheap) to have a dynamic CMS-based website. But all websites are not equal and these days you need to do something more than just ‘reserve your place’ online. So what separates an average small business website from a great one?

In my next 2 articles I’ll present 8 features I have discovered over the years that you’ll see on great small business websites. Here are the first 4 features.

Feature 1 – They are easy on the eye

Most people can appreciate good design – something that looks good. And I’m sure you will agree that having something that looks great and is effective at representing your brand consistently and professionally online is important. Bad designs turn people off your business and good designs aren’t that hard to achieve. Great small business websites look good. They start with a clean, professional logo and slick images and from there it’s easy to design a nice looking site. They have consistent colors, lots of white space and a modern and professional style.

Tip – If your logo and images are old and out of date replace them before re-designing your site. Fiverr.com or 99designs.com can be cheap and useful for the logo and professional royalty free stock photos are cheap and plentiful (try sxc.hu, istockphoto.com or dreamstime.com).

Feature 2 – They are designed around a goal that is measured

Steve Jobs knows about design. He said “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”. Every great small business website has a purpose or a goal. This goal goes far beyond the elements of design but it starts with the design.

It’s common these days to fill up a homepage with all sorts of stuff – a banner, a slider, a menu (or 3), some news items, a twitter feed, a welcome message, testimonials etc). But from a design point of view what stands out? Is it clear what you want your customer to do?

The Xero.com site is a great example of designing around a goal.

  • There is a lot of info on the homepage but the most important part up at the top is clean, clear, and has plenty of free space / not much text.
  • The goal is obvious – ‘Try the world’s easiest accounting software for free’ which stands out as the call to action.
  • The goal is supported by images that showcase what it is, some brief text that explains why it’s different and an alternative course of action for people who aren’t quite ready yet (which will ultimately lead back to the goal).
  • In addition there are testimonials from real people (with photos) that re-enforce their message.

And of course having the goal is only the first step. Measuring it is critical and enables great website owners to know whether they are on track. Google Analytics is the tool of choice for small business owners when it comes to measuring website goals.

Feature 3 – They are easy to maintain and get support

Search engines and humans both love new and authentic content. It’s no longer effective to hire a web developer to change the content on your site. Great websites are updated regularly by the owner
and they can be extended and modified easily with 3rd party extensions. But not all content management systems are equal. Great small business websites give the owner freedom and control over:

  1. Adding / editing content
  2. Installing plugins or extensions
  3. Upgrading the system to the latest version when necessary
  4. Choosing support services like hosting and web development

A system like WordPress does all of this. It’s very easy to use, upgrade, maintain and extend. Everyone knows about it, help is easy to find and it’s free. It’s pretty hard to argue with that.

Feature 4 – They engage visitors

At the core of all small business marketing activities is the desire to land a customer. So it’s common for people to talk about ‘conversions’. However generating a customer is generally a long process and only a
small amount of visitors to your site can be converted right away. For this reason, great small business websites don’t just try to convert every customer. They try to get visitors to:

  • Consume and share content by creating compelling resources, text, video, PDF downloads etc.
  • Connect by opting in by signing up for a newsletter, following on Twitter, or ‘liking’ on Facebook.
  • Convert by buying something or sending through an enquiry once their trust has been gained through the first 2 steps.

Put simply they give away great information for free, they encourage people to share it and they build trust during the process while encouraging people to opt-in. This makes them effective at engaging most of their website visitors instead of just the ones that are ready to buy at that particular time.

Conclusion

Having a website is not enough these days but the good news is having a great website is not that hard once you know what to do. Start with a nice design, a purpose (which is tracked), a decent CMS which gives you the control you need and some great content and tools to share / opt-in and you are well on the way.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. In my next post I’ll go through the final 4 features of great small business websites.

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