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Lesson #19: Believe In Internet Phone Service

28 May

Few things are as terrifying as bad phone service…

Okay, maybe chainsaw wielding maniacs and midget zombies are scarier, but if your business phone goes out it can be a huge inconvenience (if you’re lucky) or a major setback (if you have zombie luck). There are tons of better options than the traditional phone companies – services that offer a whole bunch of extras plus incredible reliability for prices that will reduce costs. Change plans and you can even greet your chainsaw wielding maniacs by name.

Lesson #18: Customize Your Business

21 May

Lots of successful businesses build customer loyalty with personalized service. No, not like this.

The more personal you can be with your patrons, the more likely they are to come back. Do you think Norm would have kept going back to Cheers if nobody knew his name? The bar would have needed a whole new theme song! Now, you don’t need to memorize names and faces like some kind of Jason-Bourne-super-spy, but the more information about your clients you have on hand, the better. Try a handy dandy phone or computer service that can do that work for you, and create your own business full of Norms.

Lesson #17: Think Outside the Box. But Not Too Far Outside.

14 May

Boy, businesses sure don’t want to be inside that proverbial box, huh?

Creativity is incredibly important in business. But there’s a difference between diverging from your competition to gain an advantage, and being different for different’s sake. In fact, it’s pretty likely that there are aspects of your competitors’ businesses that you can imitate to improve your service (if you’re into the sincerest form of flattery).

You can only think of ways to be different once you figure out where to be different. Go through basics like location, products and technology, and then the boundaries of your box might just open up.

Lesson #16: Rules Are Meant To Be Broken

9 May

We talk a lot here about fundamental customer service strategies. So let’s talk about them some more.

The fact is, there’s no unimpeachable book of rules for business. Sometimes going against the grain is a great way to stand out from the crowd: the key is knowing your customers and what they’ll respond to. If you can succeed by breaking every single rule we talk about (note from our lawyers: that’s rule, not law), we encourage you to do it.

However, for most of us it’s best to stick to the basics that Mr. Newton talks about in the video above: be nice, take your time, and be homo sapiens. That, plus a little help from our friends, will go a long way.

Lesson #15: Treat Every Customer The Same

7 May

You know the guy who said not to judge a book by its cover (if you don’t, you should get more well-versed in cliches)? Well, he probably didn’t work in customer service.

After a while interacting with customers, you’re sometimes able to know them right when they walk through the door – their mood, what they want, if you can help them, etc. However, if you want to really excel at customer service you should treat every person as a blank slate waiting to be helped. It’ll help you solidify your service procedures and principles, and – if you do it right – also help with customer satisfaction. Just about everyone will appreciate a friendly, bright-eyed welcome from your rep, so even if you can’t help them maybe they’ll come back another time.

It’s easy to get jaded and make assumptions in customer service, but if you can avoid and offer efficient and effective service, it will help your business grow.

Lesson #10: Learn About The Cloud

18 Apr

Cloud computing is so hot right now. But it’s kind of a nebulous term (get it? nebulous?).

For the uninitiated, in its simplest terms the cloud is a way of storing data and offering business services over a network (usually the internet, though an in-house network can work, too). It’s becoming more and more useful, with over half of all US businesses taking advantage of cloud-based services. So don’t fret if you used to take a nap during environmental science like I did (sorry, Dr. Tobin). The cloud is easy to use and can help you streamline, or even upgrade, your business tools.

Lesson #8: Don’t Believe the Ads

11 Apr

The TV ads for phone companies always seem like they’re offering just a little too much.

It doesn’t make sense to me. Why is there an introductory rate? Can’t the rate just be the rate? Why is it cheaper if I bundle it with cable service? I know it’s all just an advertising ploy to get as much business as they can, but sometimes they seem no better than the late night infomercial shysters selling electric ab machines and hair plugs.

You can learn from their mistakes, and make your own advertising open and honest. Having a sale is fine, but things like introductory rates can come back to bite you. The most important thing is to have customer service representatives that are professional and friendly – that will help more than any gimmicky ads. You can also help yourself by signing up for a phone service that will help you get and keep clients, with a personalized answering service and lots of other powerful tools.

Remember, unless you’re shilling Shamwows, keep your ads and your customer service simple.

Lesson #7: Time to Choose – Landline vs. Cloud

9 Apr

Thinking of switching to a cloud-based service? Need a cultural touchstone to help you make the decision?

You probably remember those Mac vs. PC ads that framed the computer debate as young and cool versus stodgy and outdated. Those ads were specifically targeted to a hip, artistic crowd that would make use of the Apple’s creative possibilities. But if you only use your computer for business – sales, accounting, inventory, etc. – they probably didn’t mean much to you.

The debate between landlines and the cloud is different. Cloud-based service has all the hip, cool benefits – flexible, innovative, consumer-oriented – while also topping the price and practicality of traditional phone companies. Think of your cloud-based phone as the best of both worlds – it looks like Ryan Gosling, but has the brain of Stephen Hawking and the work ethic of Margaret Thatcher.

Actually, I just kind of weirded myself out with that image, so maybe just think of it this way: a cost-effective upgrade for your business.

Lesson #6: Service That Sucks In Real Life Also Sucks On The Phone

4 Apr

Let’s pretend that your phone system is a real person, shall we?

Not a pretty sight. As this strange yo-yo looking thing says, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. However, when your customer calls and you answer with a subpar system, you do get lots of chances to make a bad impression. You would never be okay with bad service from real employees, so why accept it from your computerized ones?

The easiest, most effective path to customer satisfaction is personalization. I’m not talking about monogrammed handkerchiefs or custom-embroidered shirts (that can go wrong too easily). It’s simpler than that. While you might not be able to remember the name of every person who gives you a call, now there are flexible online services that can. Keep your customers coming back to a place where everybody (or at least the computer) knows their name.

Lesson #5: Follow The Ten Commandments… Of Customer Service

2 Apr

Sometimes the old ways are best.

There are plenty of sites out there espousing tips and tricks for great customer service, but when it comes down to it, the old ways really are the most effective. Be nice to your customers. Pay attention to their needs, and try to deal with them in a timely manner. Don’t contribute to their personal tragedies. Duh.

That doesn’t mean you should always stick with tradition, though. If that were true, you’d still be working on Ten Commandments style tablets, instead of iPad style tablets. Bringing your technology and business practices into the 21st century will keep your business relevant, and be more profitable in the long run. Whether it’s your computer system, your phone service, or anything else your business relies on, embracing the future can only help. Just don’t forget the old ways when you’re succeeding with the new.