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.

The Growth of Mobile Use

20 May

howusecellphones

American consumers are rapidly embracing applications on their mobile devices. The spread of mobile use is changing the way we interact in  our everyday life. With so many potential uses for your phone applications, why not use it to better your business?

RingByName includes a powerful mobile app that gives you all the great features and productivity of our desktop application. This means that when you leave the office you still have the ability to see who is calling, make notes and transfer calls to the right person.

One Simple Fix For Broken Service

17 May
Ice Cube

“I wish there was more comprehensive data about my consumer base, G.” (source: rollingstone.com)

The wise man pitctured aboce once told us to “chiggity check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Sage advice from a dude named after frozen water. And yet, for some reason many business do not check themselves. Is the problem that they do not know they’re going to wreck themselves?

Our friends at Forbes think that might be part of the issue when it comes to bad customer service (note: I say “our friends at Forbes” in the same way I might say “my friend Mick’s band is on a 50th anniversary tour”), and they’re also pointing out a solution:

You’ve probably seen this survey question before, as loads of big companies use it: “How likely would you be to recommend this company to a friend or colleague?” You’re asked to rate that likelihood on a 1-10 score …The magic comes in how you evaluate and follow up on the scores you get.

You can use this single question to derive a figure known as your Net Promoter Score, a concept developed by Satmetrix, loyalty expert Fred Reichheld, and consulting firm Bain & Company.

I was surprised to see that this kind of tool is so easily accessible to small business owners, so you might be, too. Even without the resources of a huge, Golitahan service team (yes, Goliathan is a word, I just looked it up), it’s easy to find out exactly how psyched or de-psyched (I’ll admit this one is not a word) your customers are about your brand.

Goliathan

David vs. Goliathan (source: siliconangle.com)

[The] 1-10 scale is broken out into three categories — customers who responded with a 1-6 are considered detractors of your brand who will actively trash you to their friends, while 7-8 responders are considered passive or neutral. Only 9 and 10 scores are considered “promoters.”

To find out how you rate in customer service, you subtract the number of detractors from the number of promoters. The result is your Net Promoter Score.

I know, I know. All this talk of subtraction and the numbers 1 through 10 is pretty math heavy. Let’s make it simple: in layman’s terms, the product of the equation is a comprehensive numerical representation of your company’s satisfaction ratio.

Wait, I think I did that backwards. Moving on.

For small businesses, many owners get feedback from customers one on one when they start out. But as the customer base grows, it becomes harder to have those personal conversations.

From there, often customer service devolves into a fire-fighting activity, where most energy is put toward dealing with angry customers and service disasters. Instead, focusing on improving your Net Promoter Score puts the focus on creating a better customer-service culture for the future that will eliminate the need for fire-fighting.

Think about how many more resources you can put towards improving your business if you’re not constantly dealing with angry customers. That’s not to say the act of gathering information about customer satisfaction will solve problems all by itself, but it certainly could shed light on where your going wrong. From there, you can improve loyalty, which will in turn improve your culture and your profitability.

Even if you’re not interested in having your employees (or maybe your extremely cool automated phone system) gather this specific information in this specific way, you should be thinking about ways you can mine your customers for information. If you can find a good one, you might even end up with more devoted consumers than my friend Mick.

Mick Jagger

Data! (source: askmen.com

Reader Question: When Is It Time To Upgrade?

16 May

The reader questions are pouring in faster than those times when I forget I just filled my Brita pitcher and the top comes off. It’s an imperfect analogy, but there’s no time for a better one! Not when I spent all day digging through piles of reader mail (plus let’s face it, Brita pitchers are hilarious)!

Today’s question comes from Larry in Bethesda, Maryland (home not only to Larry, but also a globetrotting pair of pants).

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Larry’s the one with the hair. (source: fanpop.com)

Anyway, Larry’s got a pretty common problem:

How do I know when it’s time to upgrade my work computer? What I have works fine for now, but I’m trying to grow my business and would eventually like to have more capabilities. Is it better to be ready for that growth, or wait until I actually need something new?

Tricky question, Larry. The answer really depends on the time frame and scale of growth you’re hoping for. Technology will help you grow, but if you upgrade too soon you run the risk of your shiny new computer system becoming obsolete before your company has even caught up to it.

That said, I lean toward upgrading sooner. I was never a boy scout, but Tom Lehrer taught me it’s better to be prepared.

Be Prepared

Patches were cutting edge technology when the Boy Scouts started. (source: abovethelaw.com/)

Odds are if you’re wondering whether it’s time for a new computer or phone system, yours is already out of date. Even if it’s not a huge problem yet, you wouldn’t be asking the question if there wasn’t some kind of need. A lot of technology – especially cloud-based services – can save you money in the short term while also preparing you for the long term, so there’s not much downside to an immediate switch.

In addition, you can never really anticipate your business’s future; projections are all well and good, but what happens if someone walks in tomorrow with a great opportunity, and you can’t take advantage because you don’t have the infrastructure? You can either turn them down, or say yes and put yourself in a situation equivalent to this.

If you still can’t decide, business2community.com shares a couple of signs that it’s really time to upgrade:

Your employees are unable to work remotely: You decide to experiment by having a couple of employees work from home, but soon realize your existing system can’t handle it. Collaborating with vendors, contractors or other employees shouldn’t require physical proximity. For small businesses, virtual collaboration tools can be highly beneficial by helping to increase communication efficiency while also offering savings and convenience.

Your infrastructure can’t support the best tools for your business: In some cases, a business needs a major computing upgrade, but often, it’s the small things that cause the most problems. Relying on a relatively slow DSL Internet connection, for example, will hamper your productivity, especially when it comes to using current online services. Running cloud-based programs that require a lot of bandwidth could crash the company’s entire system if their infrastructure is outdated.

Dial Up

What a cute, technologically inept dog. (source: chzbgr.com)

While your business can probably get by for a while longer with the technology you have (unless you’re using dial-up, in which case it’s a miracle you even loaded this page), it could also be hampering your growth. Anticipating the future of your business is key, and – to make a profound, yet incredibly redundant statement – technology is the future.

Follow Up: Why Persistence Pays Off

15 May

followup

People in business may hope to make a sale the first time they meet a potential customer. But studies show that’s usually not the case. More sales are made when the business has contact with the prospect for the fifth or twelfth time. Persistence is key and it looks like it pays off. If you follow up correctly and at the right times, you are more likely to convince the buyer that you are a trustworthy business that cares about their experience.

For your phone service needs, check out RingByName. Their system makes it possible to know who called every time. What’s more, it enables you to return calls instantly. As a bonus, callers get a ‘we know we’ve missed your call’ email for yet another reassuring customer touch point. Meaningful communication is crucial for your business to succeed, so make sure to follow-up!

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.

Tips for Customer Communication

13 May

communicatebetter

Communication is a valuable trait that every business can benefit from. You may have the perfect product or service, but without effective communication, you may not reach all of your potential customers. If  you only view your customers as strangers, you lose a valuable opportunity to make a welcoming impression. Knowing your customers and their needs can strengthen their interest in your business and pay off in the long run.

Make your customer a priority with your phone service. Using RingByName, you’ll always know who is calling. Plus, you can see a detailed call history of each caller so you and your authorized staff gain a huge advantage on how to manage the caller.