Archives for July 2011

10 Ways to Avoid Bad Customer Service

 
Make a Good First Impression

A customer’s first contact with your company must be a positive experience, regardless of whether that contact occurs via the telephone, the internet, or in person. If clients generally call your company, make sure your receptionist interacts well with strangers and is knowledgeable about the business. And, whenever possible, avoid automated telephone recordings with confusing menus. If clients are likely to first encounter you via the internet, make sure your website is attractive, easy to navigate and, by all means, accurate. If you meet customers face-to-face, make sure they’re greeted with a smile and an immediate offer to provide assistance.

Shoot Straight

Although it may be uncomfortable delivering bad news, most clients appreciate getting honest, complete information upfront, free of sugar-coating or promises on which you can’t deliver. Misleading your customers or leaving them in the dark about important things will make you appear deceptive and untrustworthy.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Failure to show your clients the utmost level of respect could be detrimental to your professional relationship. For example, cancelling meetings at the last minute or appearing distracted when you talk to them could give the impression that you’re too busy and don’t respect them. Therefore, make sure to appear attentive to your customers’ needs and treat them how you would expect to be treated by someone else.

Return Messages Promptly

Whether you deal with customers in person, by phone, or via email, the cardinal rule of good customer service is to follow up when a customer contacts you. Delays in returning voicemails or neglected emails give the impression that the customer is not important to you.

Listen to Them and Hear What They Say

Just because you sit silently on the other line as clients discuss their concerns does not mean you’re a good listener. You must listen to what they say, but you must also take action if the circumstances demand it, and you should digest the information so you remember the conversation. If you fail to take the appropriate action in response to a conversation, or if you’ve totally forgotten what a client said the next time you speak, you’ll create the unfortunate impression that you don’t value their business.

Don’t Smother Them

While making customers know that you care is important, your attempts to convey that message should be tempered by professional courtesy. For example, phone calls should be kept to a reasonable level to avoid making clients feel harassed. Keep in mind that your clients are likely busy people and are paying you to take care of business. Don’t overburden them with details unless they specifically request it.

Exude Confidence

Have you ever met with a store clerk or spoken to a customer service representative on the phone and gotten the impression that they weren’t very familiar with their company’s products or services? That phenomenon occurs much more often than it should. To be fair, every employee in a company can’t be expected to have an immediate answer to every question about every product or service, but a simple “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer when dealing with customers. Instead, the customer should be given an explanation of why the information isn’t readily available and a promise that you’ll get back to them promptly after a little research. The customer shouldn’t be left with the impression that employees are uninformed or that the company’s failure to train has created an insecure workforce. In all levels of a company, from lower level employees to the executives, all representatives of a company should exude confidence in every interaction with clients.


The Customer is Always Right…Even When He’s Not.

If you’ve ever worked in a customer service position, then you know the old adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t accurate. We all have customers who are difficult or clients that make unreasonable demands. While you shouldn’t feel obligated to give in to every outrageous request a customer proposes, you should make every effort to calmly deal with dissatisfied patrons and tactfully address their concerns. Telling a customer that he’s dead wrong or calling him out for lying is never acceptable.

Money, Money, Money

Some customers may be willing to tolerate an unreturned phone call here or there, an occasionally rude receptionist, or a cancelled meeting once in a while, but no one will stand for you taking advantage of them financially. If you’ve quoted a price or a fee, stick to it. Honoring your financial commitments will go a long way in convincing your customers that you have integrity and that they can trust you. In contrast, hidden fees or surprise invoices will make you appear unreliable.

Work with Your Clients, Not Against Them

Companies that implement policies intended to force the customer’s hand will invariably experience customer dissention. Long-term service contracts, for example, often contain hefty termination fees and other fine print provisions stacked against the consumer. If your routine policies make the customer feel like you’ve trapped them or positioned them so you can milk them for fees, they’ll assume you don’t want a working relationship and they’ll likely search for a better alternative.

Growing Your Blog with Freelance Writers

Maintaining an active blog presence can be a lot of work. You have to write unique content on a regular schedule, respond to reader comments, promote your blog through social networking, and try to build traffic through links and keyword search ranking. When your blog is only a part of your business, and not the business itself, this can be a lot of extra work in addition to growing your business itself. Fortunately, there are many ways to help promote your blog with freelance writers. Here are a few tips for how to use this vast resource:

Finding Talent

You don’t have to pay high hourly wages for SEO content specialists or professional journalists. You can still find quality writers who are just getting started or who are looking to build up a portfolio of work. Many of these writers — students in college, recent graduates, those who have changed careers, or hobbyists — can produce quality copy, but can’t command the same high rates because they lack the experience. Many of these writers will work for far less. Some will even work for free in exchange for the exposure for their writing.

Quality Control

Sometimes you get what you pay for, so if you find someone willing to write for you for free or next to nothing, you might not be getting high quality writing. Be sure that you review samples of the work of any writer you consider hiring. Look for published samples with a byline attached so you can be sure of the authorship. You can also consider administering a writing test or requesting a sample article based on your specifications.

Setting Expectations

In order to ensure a beneficial working relationship, make sure you clearly define your expectations. Do you want SEO researched posts? Will all content be exclusive to your blog? Will the writer need to use a pseudonym? Make sure you articulate exactly what you expect in the content you get back, the working relationship you have, and the rights of both parties. Don’t let there be any assumptions on your part or the part of the writer.

Limiting Content

If you aren’t comfortable giving over the reins of your blog content to another writer, consider limiting what work you will outsource. For example, if you are hiring a writer, consider only assigning posts that provide informational content, rather than opinion pieces or posts that offer tips or advice. If you aren’t comfortable with outsourcing any of the writing, consider hiring a freelancer to work on blog promotion, which can include social networking, link building, and writing guest posts for other blogs under a pseudonym.

There are many ways that you can use freelancers to outsource work to your blog and help grow traffic without having to put in all the work yourself. No matter who does the work, you are still ultimately responsible for quality control, so be sure that you choose freelancers who you can trust and that you delegate work that will help develop your blog.

3 Places to Look for Content Ideas

Content has become a large part of marketing, especially online. Inbound marketing tactics such as article marketing, blogging, and social media marketing have all proven to be very effective. As opposed to “interruption marketing”, inbound marketing is a technique that attracts the attention of a target audience member that is already looking for information on products or services that you provide. It’s a way to join the conversation with a prospect, which is more effective than starting it. The success of these marketing tactics largely depends on the quality of the content that is being distributed. If it’s sloppy or looks like it was thrown together in ten minutes, a prospect will notice that and won’t take you very seriously. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of content marketing is coming up with quality topics to discuss on a regular basis. Writer’s block happens frequently in the online content marketing world.

If your content marketing is ever stuck, here are 3 places to find inspiration:

The Customer Service Manager

The customer service department of any company is the one that has the most contact with the customers. They spend their days answering customer questions and listening to their comments and concerns via telephone, email, social media, and online chat. They are most in tune with the current needs and frustrations of the customers. Ask the customer service department head to provide you with the most discussed customer questions and concerns. This is clearly information that people want to receive and they make great topics for articles and blog and social media posts.

Other Department Managers

Find out what each department does on a daily basis that helps to contribute to the bottom line. If you’re in marketing, chances are pretty good that you don’t know or understand all of the nitty-gritty details of what everyone else in the company does. Some potential clients or customers may find this information interesting. Analyze every department, feature, and benefit of the product or service that your company provides.

The FAQ Page

Many companies include an FAQ page on their website to address common questions that current and potential clients and customers have. Depending on the nature of the company, the answers tend to be basic. They address the concern, but don’t go into that much depth. Take the time to provide further information that relates to each question in a blog post or an article.

While these strategies will work best for companies that actually have customer service managers and various departments, the concept is still the same for small businesses. Talk to other employees to find out what their day-to-day tasks are, what their strategy is for completing them, and discuss any customer interaction that they may have. This information will be beneficial to your target audience and you might learn something in the process as well!

911 Branding

Ed RoachWhen it comes to branding – small businesses in general assume a lot. They more or less figure that if money is coming in the door then everything must be alright. But is it? Do you have that nagging in your gut, that you simply aren’t performing to your potential? Maybe you’re not getting your fair share. Are you aware of what your brand actually stands for in the mind of your stake holders? What are you doing to distinguish your brand? Are your sales staff motivated and moving your brand higher? If you don’t know where your brand is right now or what it stands for, at least investigate what you can do about it.

911 Branding is my proprietary process that immediately addresses your brand anxiety. Working with a branding team comprising of your stake holders we determine your brand values, which are the foundation blocks of your brand and the brand personality which is the soul of your brand. Identifying these two attributes is the initial characteristics of any brand. Identifying them sets the tone in brand development.

One sure-fire way to motivate employees and especially sales staff is to give them reason to crow about your business. Many times, sales staff are tired of the same old marketing lines and don’t really believe that you need one more hook to get leads. They need to be the leader in their markets. The last thing you or sales people want is to solely compete on price. You want doors to open because of your strong brand perception not because you’re the cheap guy. 911 Branding’s advanced deliverable is the positioning strategy. Compete based on a leadership perspective. An effective positioning strategy’s sole aim is to resonate with your audience and to differentiate your brand. It is not a broad brush approach but a targeted one.

As an example of what I mean, take three of my clients’ positioning lines. Great Northern Hydroponics: “The ONLY tomatoes tested for taste”, Guardog Skate Guards: “Original Guardog – Anything else is a mutt” and Suntrition: “The LEADER in small-batch, oral-dose manufacturing”. In each case the positioning speaks directly to its target audience. Each is taking the high ground and boasting about it. Although bold, these statements reflect a real advantage that each of the businesses own. Their claims are genuine and defendable. A brand must be genuine to be of any use. Now your sales staff has a story to tell. NOW they can sell from a position of strength.

Validation of the results above is carried out by speaking directly with stake holders and getting their perceptions of the brand and see if they agree with our discoveries so far. This bit of research is key to being sure your brand is authentic. It tells us that we are headed in the true direction.

Rounding out 911 Branding, is an analysis of the competitions brand including their image and positions they hold. We also do a brand image audit of your company to see how consistent your brand image is. We are looking for inconsistencies that can cause your brand damage and cost you money. We wrap up the process establishing a proper brand standard that is adhered to by all stakeholders. 911 Branding also intends on establishing image elements that you can own and use as memorable brand icons such as colour. Much like UPS owns the colour brown.

911 Branding is my most comprehensive approach to branding and delivers in a big way. It gives you a clear perspective of where your corporate brand sits today and how it will move forward with a position of leadership that resonates with your customers. It delivers a knowledge and confidence that brings clarity to your brand.

Exhibiting Your Small Business – Why Exhibition Stands Make Sense

Why should a small business invest in an exhibition stand? The costs can seem prohibitive. However, those businesses that present themselves to the public not only earn back everything they put into the exhibition stand, but they generate tremendous amounts of potential revenue. In any business, retaining customers is essential, but creating new ones is equally vital.

In many ways, an exhibition stand functions as one of the most cost-effective methods of advertising and promotion. By securing a physical locale at a trade show or venue, a business can literally attract people who are interested in a particular product or service. By exchanging information with them at the stand, these businesses quickly build a base of people with which they can send product announcements or service launches. This highly targeted approach enables a company to create new customers at a much faster rate than with more blind avenues of advertising.

Meeting people in person is also highly underrated in an age where many transactions occur virtually. Small businesses may or may not have a large number of walk-in customers. In some cases, small businesses do not even have the facilities for a traditional reception area. An exhibition stand functions as a temporary reception area in a region swarming with likely customers. By being able to physically shake hands, hold a conversation, and generally communicate about interests, ideas, and requests, a small business can grow its sales. This is partially because people enjoy the human aspect of communication, and are more likely to buy a product from someone they feel they “know” than a company which has no human representation.

In this way, exhibition stands offer a competitive advantage against businesses that do not exhibit. This can be especially useful in “virtual” industries such as computer software or gaming. A product display, even if it is as simple as being able to view a function on a computer screen, is far more effective in person than in isolation. Generally speaking, exhibition stands should be staffed by highly genial, friendly members of the small business. If the small business owner does not choose to work the stand, he should send his most affable sales representative to do so.

By creating a positive impression in people’s minds, positive word of mouth invariably follows. Exhibition stands excel in this regard, especially if people feel welcome and informed. If a visitor to the stand meets a friendly representative of the company and is given a short but informative tour of the product or service, that visitor will ultimately describe her experience in positive terms to anyone else she meets. This kind of personal recommendation is invaluable, and will only aid in the acquisition of more new customers.

Small businesses should research local events, gatherings and other business oriented locales to determine the best time and place for their exhibition stand. The question is not whether or not to invest in a stand, but rather whether to do so now, or a few weeks from now.

Resource:

Find out more about exhibition stands at the the Nimlok website.

Protecting Credit Card Information

Large companies have lost large amounts of money lately due to hacker activity. Sony suffered a hiccup when somebody infiltrated their PlayStation 3 database and got hold of their users’ credit card numbers. Sony repaired the error and gave customers 2 free games to download online. Citigroup was also a target for hacking attacks, but unlike Sony, company directors decided to withhold this information from consumers for 3 weeks.

In a world where online purchases are becoming the norm, security is key. You can offer your customers any perk you want, but nobody is going to spend their hard-earned money where strangers can come in and steal their credit card information. Merchants have several choices when it comes to payment applications, so it is always a good idea to go back to the SANS Institute’s list of validated payment applications.

In a PBS Frontline interview, Richard Power, Editorial Director of the Computer Security Institute, says that Visa International only recently came up with a set of guidelines for merchants to follow when doing online transactions. These new regulations focus on unloading more responsibility on the merchant when it comes to customer protection. By industry standards, saving data from credit cards’ magnetic stripes is not allowed.

These are the main steps to ensure customer data security.

  • No saving of sensitive data after the transaction has been authorized. This data includes card verification code, full magnetic stripe, and PIN block data.
  • Protecting cardholder data by masking PIN numbers and have software vendors inform customers of data purging processes.
  • Generation of strong cryptographic keys. Encrypting all information is vital to make it inaccessible to others. The cryptographic material used by previous versions of the payment application must be rendered irretrievable.
  • Provide secure authentication features, such as unique user IDs for each user, and authentication via password, secret question, biometric, or token or smart card.
  • To make passwords more effective, they should be at least 7 characters long, include numbers and letters, and should be changed every 90 days.
  • Limit repeated access attempts by locking out the account after a certain amount of login attempts. For added security, automatically log out users after they have been idle for 15 minutes.
  • Log payment application activity to keep track of transactions and make sure that there is no suspicious activity.
  • Never store cardholder data on a server that’s connected to the internet.

Much of the legislation dealing with Internet traffic and online transactions is still in the process of being created. User guidelines evolve together with the development of new technology. As new glitches are discovered, so are new fixes. By keeping up with the latest in credit card usage and payment applications, consumers and businesses can interact safely.

Small Business Project Management Software

Small business owners frequently believe that their particular industry or field is far too specialised to benefit from project management software. However, project management software can be enormously beneficial for small business, despite its perceived high cost. This is because the software, once properly configured, enables small business owners to quickly manage large quantities of data that would otherwise take significantly longer not only to process, but to frame in context.

As an example, any small business must invariably generate revenue statements detailing the progress in a particular quarter or year. By having project management software already in place, a slew of potentially difficult to find information is contained in one place. For a small manufacturing firm, the number of hours spent on a particular project or process is readily accessible, and often broken down by employee. Those employees who thrive at a particular task or process can be quickly identified; likewise, those who are not thriving in one area can be moved to another project where they can potentially contribute far more.

Departments that are chronically behind or understaffed also are much easier to evaluate with project management software than by using a traditional survey. This is because numbers convey factual data in a far more unsparing manner. Project managers frequently are consumed with the details of day to day operations, and are unable to provide more than a hastily arranged version of the overall progress of their department. Project management software provides answers when they are needed, in a form that is easily understood.

Although some forms of project management software can seem somewhat expensive, especially on the lean budget of a small business, they ultimately generate far more in profit and efficiency than the initial expenditure. This is because they can help a small business owner understand precisely what he is spending his money on. Overhead costs, profits, losses, and other forms of cash flow become immediately obvious when analyzed with the aid of software.

Additionally, project management software enables the automation of certain time-consuming tasks, such as the arrangement of meetings, the cataloguing of ideas, and other essential but occasionally tedious duties. Project managers are freed from having to micro-manage the progress of their particular task, and can instead focus on incorporating new procedures or innovative methods of motivating the workforce. Frequently, the difference between a successful, on-deadline project and a meandering, financially disastrous one is how effectively the project manager is able to guide his team. Shepherding a large project in a time-efficient manner requires a streamlined and clearly actionable process, which project management software can easily provide.

Additionally, project management software enables different levels of permission and access controls, which correspondingly allow employees to involve themselves in the project without compromising any levels of information privilege. This engenders a greater sense of participation, and correspondingly boosts enthusiasm across the board. In this way, project management software is a great aid to small business by forming a more integrated community and regulated exchange of information.

Resource:

IRIS Project Solutions has more info about project management software.

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