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Odds are if you’re wondering whether it’s time for a new computer or phone system, yours is already out of date.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.

In Social Media We Trust

10 May

Turns out we’re not the only ones hyping the internet these days. Even a little, tiny publication like Forbes Magazine is talking about how important the web is to small businesses.

Social media is no longer just a clever marketing tool: It’s also a fast-growing channel for customer service. Over half of consumers now use social media to directly reach out to companies to report satisfaction, lodge complaints, and ask questions, says Nielsen’s 2012 Social Media Report. And one in three social media users now prefer social care to contacting a company by phone. Small businesses should move beyond marketing, and find ways to use social media to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Forbes

Listen to Forbes, dogg. (source: unsimilar.com)

Way to rip off my ideas, guys!

I know what you’re thinking: sure they say all that stuff, but is Forbes really a trustworthy name? The answer is no… Trusty J. Honestman is an trustworthy name. Unfortunately, I just made that name up. But luckily, Forbes isn’t the only name you have to trust on this –  you probably noticed in the previous paragraph that Forbes is reporting on a survey by the Nielsen Company. You’ve likely heard of Nielsen from their TV ratings system, and I say if you can’t trust the people who keep Two and a Half Men on the air, who can you trust?

Trusty Old Man

Trusty J. Honestman, Esq. (source: illinoisgenweb.org)

Forbes also has some tips on how you can improve your service through social media.

Respond Quickly

Small businesses should understand the growing expectation among social media users for a rapid response to their social media interactions. Over half of Twitter users expect a response within two hours of tweeting about a customer service issue, while 51% of Facebook users expect a 24-hour response, according to a 2012 Oracle report.

That “meep meep” you just heard was your competitors zooming past you to respond to complaints, like zippy Roadrunner. Meanwhile, like poor ol’ Coyote, you’re still ordering dynamite out of a catalog (or something). Your company might not have the resources to monitor Twitter/Facebook 24 hours a day, but even a small social media presence can help expedite your service.

Wile E. Coyote

Don’t be him. (source: theawesomer.com)

Be proactive

If you have a known service issue, don’t wait for the complaints to roll in. Be proactive in letting customers know what happened – and how you plan to fix it. For small businesses, a widely broadcast social media message will also save time and resources in answering individual questions and complaints during a crisis.

The great thing about social media is its accessibility. Hopefully your business always hums along without any disruption. But if something does force you to close up for a day or two, there’s no way you’re going to be able to call every customer. You can, however, very easily whip up 140 characters for a tweet and something a little longer for a Facebook post or e-blast to minimize communication issues.

Dedicate Resources

Don’t treat customer service as a marketing responsibility. While marketers typically focus on pushing out information, it’s important to dedicate resources to listening and responding to what customers have to say. Set expectations by letting customers know when you will have someone online to answer questions.

This idea is more universal than social media – you can apply it to your in-person sales, and even the way you work with your employees. Listening is incredibly simple, but so easy to overlook. The best way to solve a problem is to avoid it in the first place, and a lot of problems can be anticipated through gathering information from everyone who has any part in your business. Social media is simply one part of a healthy business – just like a good product, or making sure your technology is up to date.

If you don’t think I’m telling the truth, just pretend my name is Trusty.

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.

Business Networking Simplified

8 May

businessnetworkingsimplified

Business networking can be done in many ways but some are more effective than others. Why not try joining relevant social media outlets or branching out to find new opportunities? Networking can help generate more referrals, increasing your visibility. It is said that word of mouth is responsible for about seventy percent of new business.

Follow up with those you have spoken with with RingByName’s calling logs. It automatically logs all of your company’s incoming and outgoing phone calls. Quickly see who’s called, what calls have been missed and which customers are waiting to be called back. Team members can see what calls have been missed by their department and can quickly act to avoid missing a business opportunity. Learn to network better and your business will reap the benefits.

 

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.

A Portrait of Facebook and Twitter Users

6 May

averageuser

Companies currently spend 8.4% of their marketing budgets on social media, and that’s expected to grow to 21.6% in the next five years. Understanding what people do on different social networks is central to effectively using those networks for marketing your business. Having a great relationship with your customers are vital can create success for your business. Do this by using a efficient phone system that integrates with the Twitter and other social media as your channel of communication.

Check out RingByName, a phone service that integrates with all leading business CRM and social networking tools along with other cool features. 

Lesson #14: Go Mobile

2 May

People without cell phones are essentially the contemporary equivalent of lepers.

So unless you’re “unclean,” you probably have the capability to make your business mobile. In a market made all the more competitive by the weak economy, you need to outdo the competition, and one way you can do that is by creating an app. That may seem like a massive undertaking, but it’s actually simpler than it appears. Whether you take a stab yourself or hire someone else to do it for you, you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain by staking your place in the app market. Apps make it easier for customers to find information about you – they’re like the phone book x 1000. Likewise, your business partners probably have apps that make things easier for you.

Get on board with mobile, unless you want to risk ending up in a cell phone lazaretto.