Conversational - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 16
The roaring 20s might have passed you by, but you’re in the financial investing sweet spot right now: Your career is on track, you’re starting to save more money, and you’re focused on your future.
Maybe you’re dealing with pesky student loan debt, a hefty mortgage, and an ever-growing list of family expenses.
But time is on your side, and if you begin making smart financial choices and looking for ways to start investing now, you will reap the rewards later on.
Time Magazine said “Even small [investing] moves can make a huge difference long-term.”
So let’s get to it–here are 6 ways to start investing in your 30s.
How to Start Investing in Your 30s
A word of warning for those new to investing: Slow and steady wins the race. Excitement can drive new investors to put all their eggs in one (faulty) basket, burn out on investing, and miss major financial rewards. Starting slow and investing in small amounts over time will yield the highest rewards for new investors.
Check out the video from CNBC below for more details about investing incrementally in your 30s.
An alarming statistic for you to consider: Almost 40% of Generation Y say they will “never feel okay investing in stocks” after the financial crisis, according to MFS Investment Management. But portfolios mostly in stocks average gains of around 10.8% annually, while bonds average 4%.
Don’t let fear of losing money intimidate you from investing in the stock market. If you invest in a smart way, you only have money to gain. Time recommends that in your 30s, most of your portfolio should be in stocks (50% in US equities, ~30% in foreign equity).
Avoid cashing out
If a person leaves a job in their twenties, there’s more than a 50% chance they’ll choose to cash out their 401(k) to get the money right away. Smart, right? Not really.
Picture this: If your 401(k) had a $10,000 balance and you decided to cash out, you’d be left with around $7,000 once taxes and penalties were taken out. But roll that 401(k) into an IRA or your new employer’s plan (at a growth rate of about 6%), and you could see gains of more than $90,000 by the time you retire. That’s a nice little nest egg!
Just like having an accountability partner helps with losing weight, kicking addictions, and getting work done, it’s smart to have an accountability partner for investing. Choose a friend that knows what they’re doing and is committed to helping you succeed.
Check in with your accountability partner with updates on your portfolio and investments, and you’ll be less likely to start letting things slide or stop investing altogether.
Take a course
The more you personally know about investing, the better financial decisions you’ll make and the more in control you’ll feel. That’s why we recommend taking a course to teach you the basics and nuances of investing.
You can learn about stocks and bond investing with Stanford University’s free online course, offered here. Time Magazine recommends the Personal Financial Planning course found here.
Tackle small debts
It might seem counter-intuitive, but paying off small debts before tackling larger ones is a smart financial tactic. You could pay on some large debts for years before seeing real results; Start throwing money at a small debt, though, and watch it completely disappear.
That’s peace of mind for you, and solid ground to start investing on. Did you enjoy our 6 ways to start investing in your 30s? Anything we left out? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter @Conrecept and on Facebook!
VIDEO: Investors in Their 30s Should Start Slow, According to CNBC
Publish Date: March 1, 2016 5:00 AM
The Small Business Administration (SBA) uses the Table of Small Business Size Standards to assess and track small business size and loan qualification.
Determining whether or not your business fits under the small business umbrella is simple using their guide. Just look for your industry and read the details for determining business size.
In some industries, that size standard might contain numbers of employees. In others, it may contain average annual receipts as a measurement instead.
What is a Small Business Size Standard?
A Small Business Size Standard is the way the SBA measures your business to determine it’s qualifications for certain programs. The SBSS is usually found in one of two forms: The number of employees, or average annual receipts. These provide quantitative limits for the largest size that a business can be while still being classified as a small business.
Why is the Small Business Size Standard important?
The Small Business Size Standard is what the SBA will use to determine whether or not your business is qualified for certain programs, contracting opportunties, services, and/or loans. This is why it’s important that you know the status of your business before applying to or for any of these programs.
These Size Standards are from the Small Business Administration’s website.
SBA Small Business Size Standards by Industry
Industry | Sector
Utilities | Sector 22
- Hydroelectric power generation – 500 employees
- Fossil & nuclear electric power generation – 750 employees
- Renewable electric power generation – 250 employees
- Electric bulk power transmission & control – 500 employees
- Electric power distribution – 1,000 employees
- Natural gas distribution – 1,000 employees
- Other utilities – $15 million to $27.5 million in average annual receipts
Construction | Sector 23
- General building and heavy construction – $36.5 million in average annual receipts
- Special trade contractors – $15.0 million in average annual receipts
- Land subdivision – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Dredging and surface cleanup activities – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
Manufacturing | Sector 31-33
- Size standards for manufacturing industries range from 500 employees — 1,500 employees
- Approximately 27 percent – 500 employees
- Approximately 25 percent – 750 employees
- Approximately 25 percent – 1,000 employees
- Approximately 16 percent – 1,250 employees
- A small number (7%) – 1,500 employees
Wholesale Trade | Sector 42
- The size standard for SBA’s loan programs and most Federal programs (except procurement programs) range from 100 employees to 250 employees
- For Federal procurement programs — has 500 or fewer employees, and
- Delivers the product of a small business domestic manufacturer, processor, or producer as set forth in SBA’s nonmanufacturer rule
Retail Trade | Sector 44-45
- About one-third of the retail trade industries – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Grocery stores, department stores, used motor vehicle dealers, electrical appliance dealers have higher size standard, ranging from $11 million to $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- New car dealers – 200 employees
- Fuel dealers – 100 employees.
Agriculture | Sector 11
- Most agricultural industries (those in crops/animal production & aquaculture) – $750,000 in average annual receipts
- Remaining agricultural industries – $5.5 million to $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Logging has a 500 employee size standard
Mining | Sector 21
- Mining industries – 250 employees to 1,500 employees
- Support activities for mining – $7.5 million to $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Drilling of Oil & Gas Wells — 1,000 employees
Transportation & Warehousing | Sector 48-49
- Scheduled air transportation, nonscheduled chartered air, rail – 1,500 employees
- Other nonscheduled air transportation – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Water transportation – 500 employees to 1,500 employees
- Truck transportation – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Transit & ground passenger transportation – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Pipeline transportation of crude oil & refined petroleum products – 1,500 employees
- Pipeline transportation of natural gas – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- All other pipeline transportation – $37.5 million in average annual receipts
- Support activities for transportation – $7.5 million to $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Warehousing & storage – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
Information | Sector 51
- Publishing industries, including internet publishers – 500 employees to 1,500 employees
- Software publishing — $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Motion Picture & Sound Recording Industries – $7.5 million to $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Integrated Record Production/Distribution & Music Publishers – 1,250 employees & 750 employees
- Broadcasting – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Telecommunications (wired, wireless, and reselling, except satellite) – 1,500 employees
- Satellite and other telecommunication services – $32.5 million in average annual receipts
- Data Processing, Hosting, Related Services, & Other Info Services – $15 million-$32.5 million in average annual receipts
- Internet Publishing & Broadcasting & Web Search Portals – 1,000 employees
Finance & Insurance | Sector 52
- Depository institutions & credit card issuing companies – $550 million in average assets
- Most non-depository institutions – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Direct property and casualty insurance carriers – 1,500 employees
- Other direct insurance carriers – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Funds, trusts and other financial vehicles – $32.5 million in average annual receipts
Real Estate, Rental, & Leasing | Sector 53
- Lessors of real estate – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Leasing of building space to Federal Government by owners – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Offices of real estate agents and brokers – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Activities related to real estate – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Automotive equipment rental and leasing – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Commercial/industrial machinery & equipment rental & leasing – $32.5 million in average annual receipts
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services | Sector 54
- Legal services – $11 million in average annual receipts
- Accounting & related services – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
- Architectural services – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Engineering, surveying & mapping services – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Specialized design services – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Computer system design & related services – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Management, scientific & technical consulting services – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Advertising, public relations & related services – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Research & development in biotechnology – 1,000 employees
- Research & development in the physical, engineering and life sciences – 1,000 to 1,500 employees
- Research & development in social sciences and humanities – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
Management of Companies and Enterprises | Sector 55
- Banks and other holding companies – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
Admin Support, Waste Management & Remediation | Sector 56
- Employment services – $27.5 million in average annual receipts
- Business support services – $15 million in average annual receipts
- Travel arrangement & reservation services – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
- Investigation & security services – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
- Other support services – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
- Waste collection, treatment & disposal – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
- Remediation services – $20.5 million in average annual receipts
- Environmental remediation services – 500 employees
Health Care & Social Assistance | Sector 62
- Office of physicians – $11 million in average receipts
- Office of dentists – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Office of other health practitioners – $7.5 million in average annual receipts
- Hospitals – $38.5 million in average annual receipts
Publish Date: February 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Is it possible that just one of your employee’s could turn a customer’s experience from fine to ruined? It turns out that yes, just one employee can destroy a customer’s experience on their own. Most organizations would find this hard to believe and may think that the customer experience is as simple as the interaction at the cash register or during an appointment, but there are many more factors that go into the experience.
From the way your business is presented in cleanliness and ease of experience to the way your employees greet, assist, and show gratitude to your guests, there are many facets to a customer experience to consider. Are your customers receiving a uniform experience from each employee of yours when it comes to treatment, greetings, and information received?
Knowing the importance behind customer service is the first step, while learning consistency is what comes next. Take a look at why forgetting these things could just one of your team members to destroy a customer’s experience with your brand.
The importance of establishing great customer service
From the get-go, you understand that delivering great customer service is a must, but do you understand how far that spreads? It’s more than just a smile while purchasing a product from you or a polite voice on the phone when a customer calls in with a request. It’s the entire experience from how information is delivered online and through your staff to the customer to how your employees are treating guests on social media or to their face.
Unifying the team
Once you’ve established that customer service needs to be a priority, you need to find ways to make sure you have consistency with your brand and customer experience. This starts with putting out the same messages and mission out to the world online, in your store, and in all customer interactions.
Then you need to have your employees on the same page about what needs to happen when they interact with your guests and what information needs to match for each scenario. If you feel there is a cohesiveness that isn’t there with your team or online presence vs. real world, find the glue that will hold that together and present a consistent experience. If a customer works with eight different employees, the knowledge and answers provided to customers should be consistent among each of them.
How to build consistency
If you are struggling to find the glue that will bring consistency to the team, it may be time to ask yourself where differences are coming up. You want to build your business like you are building a house, in which you are building upon a solid foundation with time and attention put into each level of the house.
Build your customer experience in this way with a solid foundation, consistency, and a plan of action, while allowing the future to be the time that you allow for more flexibility and customized experiences.
Customers most want to be delivered correct and quick information more than anything else. People want a quick response to their inquiry or complaint more than anything else, but after this element, they would love a personalized experience, a chance to build a relationship, and then offers based on preferences.
On the other hand, the worst customer experiences are those that involve a slow response to a customer inquiry, followed by inaccurate or misleading responses about a product. You can take this information and improve your systems, with techniques such as having an easy system to access information quickly, having an organized system, and having regular team meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page in order to make sure your employees can deliver consistent information quickly to customers.
Test the team
Lastly, you may want to test your team to see if things are running smoothly. Bring a fake customer into the store to ask different team members for help on the same question to see if the answers come out the same. Have your fake customer call in, email, or use social media to see how the experience is similar or varies.
Ask the person you chose to play this role if the customer experience was pretty consistent, had some variations, or was completely different depending on who had helped him or her. You may learn that certain team members will take shortcuts, some don’t understand portions of the business, or that everyone is truly on the same page and doesn’t struggle to maintain consistency with each customer through al modes of communication.
Don’t get frustrated if inconsistencies arise as many times delivering the same customer experience is like playing a game of telephone in which your employees may have their own interpretations of how it’s supposed to happen.
Since it only takes one customer to mislead a customer, fail at offering a helpful experience, or to choose to treat the customer different from the expect consistent experience, it’s important that you are on top of your employees when it comes to performance, expectations, and what the consistent experience should look like.
Publish Date: February 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Google Chrome is the most popular internet browser. Millions of people use it everyday, but many people don’t take advantage of the extensions available for Chrome. Extensions are applications that run in your browser and take some type of action while you browse. There are extensions that can do pretty much anything under the sun–from highlighting NoFollow links to helping you save articles to read for later.
In this post, we’ll look at the best Google Chrome extensions for business and how you can use them to be more productive, stay organized, and be a better business owner.
Top 5 Chrome Extensions for Business
1. Pocket for Saving Articles
Save articles that interest you for later with Pocket. When you come across (or StumbleUpon) an article you’d like to read but don’t have the time to do it now, just click the Pocket extension to save the article to your queue. Later, you’ll be able to access it from any of your devices: Smart phone, tablet, or desktop computer. This extension lets you carry your reading material in your pocket.
2. OneTab for Compiling Open Tabs
How many tabs do you have open right now? Wait, don’t answer that (for me, it’s 6). If you’re anything like me and keep several tabs open at a time, it’s weighing your computer down and endlessly distracting you. That’s what OneTab is designed to combat.
Just open the OneTab extension to take all your open tabs and compile them into a list that you can access later on, when you’re a little less multitask-y.
3. SimpleBlocker for Blocking Distractions
It’s tough to get work done when Facebook is beckoning to you and cat videos exist. SimpleBlocker helps you block out distractions that keep you from getting work done so you can focus on your priorities.
SimpleBlocker lets you block access to domains that you specify for a period of time. You could choose to block Facebook and Twitter from 8am-1pm, for example. Think of how your productivity could soar if you blocked all your distractions!
4. Google Page Analytics for Tracking Your Website
This extension is really handy for the analytic nerds among us. You can view the segments and criteria you specify for every page on your website using this extension–all without visiting Google Analytics. A window appears at the top of your screen with information about the page you’re currently viewing.
Keep in mind, this extension only provides GA information about websites you’re already tracking with Google Analytics.
5. Chrome Remote Desktop for Accessing Files Remotely
Ever left an important file at work, or needed an image that was stored on a different desktop? Chrome Remote Desktop enables you to access files from any of your registered desktops and makes sharing a breeze. Just download the extension on any desktop you’ll need to access files from and you’re ready to start.
Now that you can gather the articles you want to read all in one place for later, block out distractions, track and analyze your website’s progress easily, and manage all your desktops remotely, you’re ready to get back to business. What other Chrome extensions for business should we know about? What extensions are you using right now? We’d love to hear your comments.
Tweet @conrecept with your favorite Chrome extensions for business and we’ll give you a shout out!
Publish Date: February 29, 2016 5:00 AM
What is a virtual receptionist? The industry has been in the media a lot recently, and it has many people wondering what a virtual receptionist does. That happens to be our specialty, so we created an infographic to answer your most burning questions about virtual receptionists (VRs).
Below, check out our infographic (made using Canva!) and share your thoughts. If it sounds like a virtual receptionist would be right for your business, be sure to check our Pricing page to compare our monthly plans. Right now, we’re offering a 21 day money back guarantee for new clients and our plans start at just $99/month.
What is a virtual receptionist?
Have any additional questions about virtual receptionists? We thought you might. We’ve answered the most common questions here in our Frequently Asked Questions, so check them out or feel free to get in touch on Twitter: @Conrecept!
Publish Date: February 26, 2016 5:00 AM
You’re here for the infographic, which is absolutely chock-full of great information about the perks of working from home. We know! First, we want to talk about the importance of the remote working movement and rise of the virtual office.
It’s no secret that we’re supporters of the remote working movement, and we think virtual offices for small businesses are a smart choice. Above the convenience, we think it’s the new direction the workforce is headed in, and that it has important implications for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Working from home instead of commuting to an office every day holds benefits for our environment, personal well-being, and wallets.
After you check out the infographic below, click over to our recent blog post about the reasons you should work from home. It might help you make the decision to start working from home.
Without further ado, here’s the infographic on the perks of working from home!
The Perks of Working From Home
Infographic by CarInsurance.org
The downside of working from home
There are certainly a lot of perks of working from home, but every concept has its’ pros and cons. Working from home provides a variety of benefits to entrepreneurs, small business owners, and freelancers. One issue some people complain about after working from home for a while is social isolation.
After working in an office or for another company, it can feel lonely, working from home, building your business. What can you do, other than return to the office or lease commercial property?
There are several steps you can take to minimize that feeling and get more social interaction as a remote business owner or freelancer. We outline those steps in our article Why You Should Consider Working From Home.
More on working from home:
How Can You Be More Productive Working From Home?
FAQ: Live Receptionist for Your Home Office
Publish Date: February 26, 2016 5:00 AM
Have you ever put headphones on while working? Many people enjoy listening to music while performing repetitive or boring tasks, or in an especially noisy or quiet workplace, because the custom ‘soundtrack’ makes things more lively.
This is the same reason we recommend all businesses use hold music when they place callers on hold.
While some may feel that listening to music at work hampers productivity, the research overwhelmingly reports that under the right circumstances, listening to music can make you more productive. We’ll talk about those circumstances in more detail in this post.
So, how can music make you more productive at work?
It makes you happy
Studies have confirmed that the sound of music appeals to our brains, encouraging the release of dopamine just like eating a favorite food or smelling something pleasant would. Dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior, so when it’s released, we feel that we’ve been internally (intrinsically) rewarded.
Listening to music means more dopamine is released, and scientists believe that’s part of the reason our productivity rises when we listen to music while performing a task.
It can be an escape
In non-ideal conditions, like a very noisy or distracting workplace, listening to music can make you more productive by effectively removing those distractions and creating a more predictable environment that is conducive to productivity.
Using music at work to ‘escape’ your surroundings shouldn’t be a full-time fix, though. You need to be aware of your immediate surroundings and available to other coworkers and employees, should they need you. It can also be considered rude to use headphones during an entire shift.
It boosts creativity
You might say that productivity is one part creativity and one part tenacity. Listening to music of your own choice–and that part is important if you want to see any increase in productivity–can help boost creativity by providing an ambient, familiar background that stimulates the brain just enough to get the wheels turning, so to speak.
What kind of music works best?
The presence or absence of lyrics should be key in your music choices at work, at least most of the time. Those working on language-based tasks, like writing or editing, should skip music with lyrics because it provides the same type of distraction that a noisy office does: intelligible chatter, or words you can clearly hear and understand. That takes your brain’s focus away from the task at hand, rendering you less productive.
However, if you’re performing physical or non-language related tasks, lyrics in music can make you more productive. Research showed that workers listening to music with lyrics while performing repetitive tasks that didn’t include language components had a slightly higher increase in productivity than with music without lyrics.
Another important factor of the music you listen to while you work: The volume. Music at a moderate volume has the optimum effect on productivity, but if you cross that line and the music is too loud, productivity takes a sharp decline.
Finally, it’s important that the music be of the listener’s choice and not playing over speakers at the office. The rises in productivity did not occur in groups where music was played for everyone. It’s important for the listener to actually enjoy the music in order to experience the boost in productivity.
Will you try listening to music at work? Do you have any ideas of artists or music styles that would be beneficial to listen to while working?
Publish Date: February 26, 2016 5:00 AM
We don’t like to talk about it, but it happens more often than you’d think: Emotions run high, and a customer hurls an ugly, personal insult at you during a customer service interaction.
The insult hurts, it makes you feel angry, and it seems completely unwarranted. Even a usually level-headed person might feel unsure of what to do next or how to react.
When a customer insults you, there is a general plan to follow to ensure the interaction is kept as short as possible and can help ensure the incident doesn’t escalate.
In this post, we’ll talk about the actions you should take after a customer insults you to keep things under control.
What To Do If a Customer Insults You
Step 1: Try to ignore it
The first tool for dealing with customer insults in your customer service tool belt should be ignoring the insult. When you work with the public, it’s important to understand and remember that everyone can experience momentary lapses in control or can be subject to an angry outburst after a hard day.
Try to be understanding and let the insult pass ‘unnoticed’ by you.
Step 2: Get some perspective
Realize that the customers’ insult is not about you at all. You don’t know this person, and they don’t know you. You simply represent a company that your customer is currently frustrated or unhappy with. You are simply the main point of contact.
Get some perspective before you react to a customer’s insult–keep your own emotions out of it, remain as objective as you can, and you’ll feel much better.
Step 3: Always work toward diffusion
Even if the customer’s words have made you angry and you’d like to argue or exchange insults, don’t do it! Your goal during an interaction like this should always be diffusing the incident, not proving that you are right or making your personal opinion on something known.
You will be able to shorten the incident and increase the customer’s own satisfaction if you just work toward diffusing the situation. You can do this by sincerely apologizing, using active listening, and letting the customer know you understand.
Step 4: Stay positive
Ignoring insults, diffusing the situation, getting perspective–none of these include being negative or giving off an annoyed vibe to the customer. Even when a customer seems angry, you should stay positive and offer them support through the interaction.
If they personally insult you and it is impossible to remain positive after such an insult, simply refer to step 5.
Step 5: End the exchange
If your positive and diffusive tactics just aren’t working, you need to move toward ending the exchange. Be firm, but polite, never rude or dismissive.
You can say something like, “I understand how upset you are. I would like to transfer you to my supervisor to see if she can better assist you.”
Good customer service remains the most effective #marketing tool. Agreed? https://t.co/rIpPZ0suSi #customerservice #tools #smallbiz
— Conversational (@Conrecept) February 5, 2016
Publish Date: February 25, 2016 5:00 AM
While providing incredible customer service shouldn’t be hard for any company anymore, it still seems to be difficult for some. Really, all you need to do is copy the strategies from very successful companies in the customer service arena, such as JetBlue, Amazon or Zappos.
There’s a huge difference between simply responding to a customer and providing real customer service. Some companies don’t get this and they will be left behind if they don’t figure out how to provide a truly amazing customer experience. If you want to provide excellent customer service, you need to avoid specific errors and understand a few essentials to great customer service.
The Customer is Always Right
While this may not be 100% accurate, companies providing great customer service believe it, preach it and live it. Not only is the customer always right, but they always have a valid request that should be heard. Until proven otherwise, you should always assume the customer is right and their satisfaction should always come first.
Customer Service Personnel Need Authority
There is nothing more annoying than calling up a company’s customer service line only to find out you need to go through a manager and then another manager to get anything done. When the customer service staff can’t do much more than ask for your name and account information, it’s useless.
Customers should be able to have their requests heard and dealt with when it’s considered a standard request. Needing to escalate the request to a manager level is often a waste of time when the customer service worker could have easily handled the issue. Giving your staff the authority to handle customer issues is one of the best ways to streamline your customer service.
Provide the Fastest Possible Response
When a customer needs help, the fastest response is necessary. This helps to give the customer reassurance that you are on the ball and will help with their issues. Responding quickly shows you value the customer’s time, and this has been shown to be very important to consumers.
Speak the Right Language
Providing great customer service is nearly impossible if your support staff doesn’t speak the right language. It’s very important to ensure the customer service representative and the customer speak the same language. Using an offshore call center may cause issues, even with email or online chat support.
When an offshore worker provides support from a standard script, it makes the customer feel like just another number. They don’t feel cared for or understood at all.
Take Action Quickly
As soon as a customer service rep has enough information to move forward with the issue, they should. Collecting additional information shouldn’t be necessary if they can fix the issue with what they already have. Most customers become annoyed when they have to fill out a form or answer automated questions online, and then have to do it again with a live person.
If additional details are needed to complete the service request, they can be gathered once the issue has been resolved. This will help to keep your customers satisfied and happy.
Go the Extra Mile
Customer service reps should never do the minimum requested by the customer. They should aim to surprise each customer with excellent service. Whether over the phone, through online chat or through email, every customer should end up feeling like the customer service rep they dealt with went above and beyond. Leaving your customers smiling and satisfied will go a long way to creating loyalty.
These are just a few of the main key differences between real customer service and simply responding. Professional customer service reps should know how to provide an excellent experience for each and every customer they work with. From responding quickly to actually fixing the issue, they should be equipped to go the extra mile for every customer.
If your company struggles to provide great customer service, it’s time to get it together. With about 70% of customers deciding to buy based on how they feel they have been treated (according to the moment of truth in customer service from McKinsey), you cannot mess up the customer service experience. If you do, you may send another customer to your competition.
Publish Date: February 25, 2016 5:00 AM
Technology has made it possible to start your business at home and run it online. Entrepreneurs often take advantage of the ability to work from a ‘virtual office,’ which could be your home, a quiet park or library, or rented office space at a coworking agency.
After all, with many businesses’ operations taking place entirely or mostly online, it only makes sense to set up shop virtually and begin making money without leasing commercial office space. But is there a stigma around a business that only operates online and has no brick and mortar location? Can you realistically handle your business and technology needs from home or a remote location?
These are all questions we will consider as we compare the two: The virtual office vs. the traditional office.
Virtual offices vs. Traditional offices
Virtual Office: The Pros
More cost efficient
It certainly costs less to work from a virtual office vs. a traditional office space. Without the added cost of leasing commercial property, you can concentrate your finances where you need them most.
And if a virtual office seems right for you now but you suspect you’ll want to move into a physical location down the road, it’s a great way to save some money while you work on growing your business. Then, when the time comes to move into a physical location, you’ll be ready!
Things are more flexible when you work from a virtual office. Like the A/C turned all the way down to 59 degrees? That’s fine. Want to eat leftover garlic shrimp for lunch–with pesto pasta on the side? No problem. And if you need to go without a certain resource for a week or two, a virtual office enables you to do it without affecting others in the office.
You can sleep in or start early, whenever you choose. When you work from a virtual office, there is no commute, so you can say goodbye to the wasted hour and half you’d spend just being on your way to or from work. Use it to get more sleep or get an early jump on work each day!
Easier on the environment
Without the hour and a half commute you eliminate the gas and oil required to get you there and back and the wear and tear on your car. Also, no physical location means no additional garbage from other employees, less paper, and more. Working from a virtual office is a lot easier on the environment than working from a traditional office.
Traditional Office: The Pros
Physical location=Customer trust
Customers may be more likely to trust businesses that have a physical location, although the condition, location, and style of the location may be the most important factors in deciding whether a traditional location can be trusted.
Seeing a physical address on your website can help customers feel more comfortable with your business, and it’s possible to rent a business address from a co-working agency or similar company.
Built-in place to meet with clients
You won’t have to worry about scheduling time at a rented meeting space or hold your meeting in a noisy restaurant. Traditional offices include meeting space within them, making your interactions with clients seem more professional and giving them a look at your business from the inside.
Virtual Office: The Cons
No physical location
Not having a physical location is a con for a couple reasons: No address, no place to store your work-related things, no place to meet with clients other than restaurants.
However, you could rent a meeting space from a co-working business near you. You could deliver a professional experience to your client without having to invite them into your home.
Your home might work well for being productive, handling clients, and running your business in general, but if you aren’t set up to handle the amount of work you’re doing from there, you will quickly run into issues.
Something as simple as having too many things plugged into one outlet could cause problems for both your home and your business.
Lack of social contact
Having a virtual office might mean you don’t get to talk to and see others as much as you used to or would with a physical office location. For some, this is a welcome change, but for others, social contact is a necessary and enjoyable part of work.
For this reason, some prefer working from co-working centers among other entrepreneurs, freelancers, and enterprise teams.
Traditional Office: The Cons
The location can turn people off
The best locations aren’t cheap, and the best of the best are very expensive. If you can’t afford to be in a great location, you risk looking unprofessional or out of your audience’s preferred brand type. It’s better to be in a virtual office until you can afford a location that will make your business look good.
Might not be necessary
Some industries don’t make sense in physical locations, while others don’t seem to be right for virtual-only offices. For example, when we see a physical location for an eBay store, it’s strange because we’re used to seeing things related to eBay only online.
If your business isn’t expected to be in a physical location, it might be an unnecessary expense.
The cost to lease commercial property is only increasing, and getting into a location that reflects positively on your business and is in a respected neighborhood will ensure you’re paying a high price to have a traditional office.
Running a business from home is much different from running a traditional office. With a traditional space, you’re more likely to need to hire in house help, and the little things about running an office can be a headache (don’t forget to order more paperclips and K-cups!).
And the winner is…
A virtual office is the best option for any business that wants to save money while concentrating on growth and planning for the future.
Traditional offices may be best for some industries that appeal to markets that don’t frequently use the internet, but for the most part, virtual offices provide the solutions small businesses need to give their customers and clients a satisfactory and professional experience.
What’s your take on the battle between a virtual office and traditional office? Which do you think provides more benefits for the average small business?
We’d love to hear your answers on Twitter! Find us @conrecept.
#Tip 21: Test your #customerservice by calling in with a common problem. https://t.co/JBdd2zvtqS #checklist #customers #UX
— Conversational (@Conrecept) February 19, 2016
Publish Date: February 24, 2016 5:00 AM
“Satisfaction is a rating. Loyalty is a brand.” -Shep Hyken
Customer loyalty can be easily misunderstood as customer satisfaction. If your business is doing a good job, it should be satisfying nearly every customer. But realistically, only some of those customers will become loyal to your business.
Customer loyalty raises a lot of questions for small business owners, so in this post we’ll talk about why customer loyalty is important to your business and how you can change your plan of action to better build it.
Why is customer loyalty important to your business?
Did you know that loyal customers spend an average of $6,000-$8,000 more each year than other segments of customers? Additionally, loyal customer segments have been shown to raise annual profit margins.
Here’s what you can expect a loyal customer to do for your business:
- Spend more money
- Buy more types of your products
- Buy value add/bonus services
- Doesn’t need product instruction
- Don’t require sales support
- Find your products on their own
- Refer others to your business
As you can see, the case for gathering more loyal customers to grow your business is strong. Loyal customers spend more, market your business for you, cost less for you to get and keep, and become valuable brand ambassadors.
How can you manage customer loyalty?
Your business can manage customer loyalty by observing, analyzing, and testing/experimenting. A plan of action is important when you plan to manage customer loyalty because not every customer is of equal value to your business. That’s what a customer loyalty migration plan is for.
To create a customer loyalty migration plan, you will:
- Ask for customer input (through surveys, questionnaires, contests, etc.)
- Identify the most valuable customers
- Set goals for getting more of these customers
- Make improvements based on input from your valuable customers
Creating surveys and questionnaires for your business is simple and free in many cases. It’s one great and economical way to get opinions and input from your customers. Here’s an example of a survey we’re doing (and we’d love it if you’d answer the 10 quick questions).
You should be keeping track of how much each customer costs you to acquire. What’s your ROI? How much do you spend to get customers in different segments?
And most importantly, what can you do to start moving–migrating–those customers into the most valuable, or loyal, customer segment without upsetting or changing what your current loyal customers like about your business?
You can add more resources that are optional but available to customers who want them, like downloadable guides or eBooks, to appeal to a different segment of customer. Be careful to provide the right amount of resources and not go overboard. Losing money to get more loyal customers won’t benefit your business.
Keep in touch
Above all, one of the most important things a business can do to track and manage customer loyalty is keep in touch with customers. Ask for their input on a regular but well-spaced basis, or offer special incentives to answer surveys to select customers.
By listening to the input your customers have, including the good and the bad, you will learn more about your business. And if you’re open to taking advice and making changes based on answers you receive from customers, you’ll reap the rewards.
Publish Date: February 24, 2016 5:00 AM
Do you think the time you spend working could be used more efficiently? Do you feel guilty about taking breaks when there’s so much to be done? It might be the ambitious entrepreneur in you, but studies have shown that the more little breaks you take throughout the work day, the happier and more productive you will be.
That’s right–taking regular breaks makes you more productive, not less. Guilt no more, friends–the doctor orders that you take more productivity breaks throughout the day.
Not really sure what to do when you take these so-called productivity breaks? Here are some ideas that have been proven to boost your productivity.
You don’t have to actually jump around for this one, just get moving somehow. If you’re working at a desk most of the time and don’t get enough exercise (hey, we’re all guilty), you’re considered sedentary. Sitting for long periods impedes your blood flow, mood, and even digestion.
That’s why taking a break to ‘jump around,’ or simply stand up and stretch for a minute or two, can do wonders for your productivity at work.
We loved some of the tips Donna Kuper had on the Salesforce blog for taking more active productivity breaks at work:
- Do a series of neck rolls and shoulder shrugs
- Instead of calling or emailing a colleague, get up and walk to his or her office
- Take the stairs
- Walk on your lunch break
- Schedule walking meetings to discuss strategies for a new client or project
- Make a habit of standing while taking conference calls — or better, invest in a standing desk
- Swap your desk chair for a fitness ball a few hours each day to promote strength and balance
Be more social
At work, you do a lot of talking for business purposes, which is different than talking for social reasons. There’s a big difference between the two: Being social and interacting with friends or colleagues on your breaks boosts productivity, while communicating business tasks and work-related things does not.
If you can’t leave the office, that’s no problem. Socialize with your coworkers and colleagues during your breaks. Not only will it help you become more productive (studies have shown that the workplaces where people socialize the most are more productive), but it will also help boost your colleagues’ productivity as well. That’s a win-win!
Calling a friend or family member has a similar effect on productivity. So next time you take a quick break at work, give your best friend a call in the name of productivity!
Time for coffee
Oh, coffee–we start and punctuate our days with you. That sweet, bold elixir that coaxes even the tiredest, most grumpy person into a productive creativity factory (okay, maybe we’re exaggerating). But research has shown that drinking moderate amounts of coffee boosts productivity, and that’s a good reason to take a quick coffee break at work.
>>Are you a serious coffee drinker? Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about coffee.
Keep a Keurig in your office, or better yet, take up donations and get one for the office kitchen so everyone can use it. Ask a friend or colleague to join you at a coffee shop for a cup. Take a quick break from work to walk to a coffee shop and get your favorite brew; or just brew some up in the office and socialize while you drink it for a double boost of productivity.
Start being mindful
Even in your busy office or in a crowded park, it’s possible to find peace through a method of meditation and thought called mindfulness. Being mindful is often equated to ‘being present,’ though there’s more to it than that. Taking productivity breaks to be mindful will give you a deep sense of peace and can make you feel happier.
To be mindful, first focus on your breath. The idea is to fade away from outside distractions at first, only experiencing what it ‘feels’ like to be. Take note of the way you feel physically and your current mental state. Do you feel happy? Worried? Anxious? Excited? Learn to name the feelings you have, then let them go as you exhale.
If you’re taking a walk, focus on each step and the way your foot interacts with the ground. If possible, slip your shoes off and feel grass under your feet. It can be helpful to keep a journal and write down your feelings before and after mindfulness meditation. Taking a break to be mindful can make you more productive at work.
Publish Date: February 23, 2016 5:00 AM
Thinking about hiring full time employees? It’s important to consider the benefits you’re required by law to provide. Employee benefits are a major factor in their consideration of working for your company.
Two jobs that offer the same salary and a similar commute could hinge on the deciding factor of which employer provides better benefits.
Employee benefits fit under two categories: Those required by law, and those provided by the employer that are not required by law.
In this post, we will talk about the different benefits that are required by law when you hire full time employees and what you need to do to ensure you’re business is operating legally.
Social Security Taxes
If you hire full time employees, you have to pay Social Security taxes. You must match the rate your employees pay out of their paychecks.
Helpful resources from the Small Business Administration:
- Information and Resources for Employers
- Instructions for Hiring Employees Not Covered by Social Security
Depending on the state your business is located in, you might be required to pay unemployment insurance taxes when you hire full time employees. If you’re in a state that requires it, you’ll need to register with your state’s workforce agency.
Find your state workforce agency here.
Disability insurance is only required in certain states. The purpose of this type of insurance is to provide partial wages to eligible employees who are dealing with non-work related sickness, conditions, or injuries.
The states and U.S. territories that require disability insurance are as follows:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rhode Island
Family and Medical Leave Benefits
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires employers with 50 or more employees and all public employers to provide leave for the following scenarios:
- Birth and care of a child; Placement for adoption or foster care
- Care of an immediate family member (parent, spouse, or child) with a serious health condition
- Care of employee’s own serious health condition
FMLA requires that you allow for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for any of these scenarios on the condition that the employees’ job will still be there when they return. It also requires that you keep up group health coverage during that time as if the employee did not take leave.
Other leave benefits are optional for employers to provide, but not required by law. These include:
- Holiday/vacation leave
- Jury duty
- Personal leave
- Sick leave
- Funeral/bereavement leave
If you hire full time employees, you must have Worker’s Compensation Insurance. You can obtain this type of insurance from your state’s Worker’s Compensation Insurance program, by self-insuring, or through a commercial insurance carrier.
Feeling overwhelmed by these benefits?
If it seems overwhelming to pay for these required benefits, you should look into hiring freelancers or contractors to outsource your tasks to. Our company provides virtual receptionist and live chat services. Other companies provide accounting services, content writing, and more. You can save a lot of money on taxes and benefits by outsourcing instead of hiring full time.
Publish Date: February 23, 2016 5:00 AM
With customer expectations changing, small and medium-sized businesses need to understand what’s expected. Customer service has become one of the most important parts of any business, especially if you want to create excellent customer loyalty.
Some specific statistics show the direction customer service is headed. Here are some of the most important statistics every business owners should know about customer service.
- 62% of consumers across the globe stated they have stopped doing business with an organization or brand after a poor customer service experience, according to the 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report.
- 60% of consumers surveyed stated their expectations for customer service are higher now than they were just one year ago, according to the 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report.
- According to the 2015 Aspect Consumer Experience Survey, 76% of consumers believe the customer service they received shows how the company values them as a customer.
- Only 14% of consumes believe inadequate technology is an obstacle when it comes to the customer experience. However, 45% of consumers believe the biggest obstacle to an ideal customer experience is a lack of interest from the company. Both these statistics are according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Creating a Seamless Customer Experience Report.
- 47% of consumers stated that the speed of the response they receive when making a complaint or inquiry is a vital element in the overall customer experience, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit Creating a Seamless Customer Experience Report.
- According to the Economist Intelligence Unit Creating a Seamless Customer Experience Report, 63% of company executives believe one of the major problem with improving the customer service experiences come from silos within the company and a lack of integrated information systems.
- The Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report stated that 53% of professionals in customer service believe analytics will have the most influence on customer service over the next five years.
- The Forrester Research North American Consumer Techngraphics Customer Life Cycle Survey stated that more consumers are now using web self-service over assisted service. The survey showed that the use of web self-service has increased by 17% from 2012 (67%) to 2015 (84%).d
- 90% of consumers actually expect a company to offer some type of self-service customer support portal and 605 actually view the brand in a favorable way, if they offer a self-service option that is mobile-responsive, according to the 2015 Global State of Multichannel Customer Service Report.
- 75% of companies believe customer service is a way to differentiate from the competition, according to the
Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report. This is up 18% from the report done just two years ago.
- 80% of customer service professionals responding to the Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report stated they believe their current customer service system won’t meet the needs of future customers.
- According to the Gartner Predicts 2015: Weak Mobile Customer Service Is Harming Customer Engagement, by 2018, half of agent interactions will be influenced in some way by real-time analytics.
- By the end of 2018, according to Gartner Predicts 2016: CRM Customer Service and Support, one-fourth of the customer support and service operations will include a VCA or virtual customer assistant across all channels of communication.
- According to Gartner Research, Knowledge Management will Transform CRM Customer Service, rapid retrieval and creation of relevant content will become a key attribute for leading enterprises by 2018.
- Six Billion connected things are expected to request support by 2018, according to Gartner Predicts 2016: CRM Customer Service and Support.
What do these Customer Service Stats Mean?
After looking over these statistics about customer service, it may seem a bit confusing. However, it’s pretty easy to see how important the customer experience has become. With many consumers making it very clear that they will not remain loyal to a brand after a bad customer service experience, it’s more important than ever to provide exactly what they want.
It’s impossible to eliminate all customer complaints and never make a mistake. However, putting the right systems in place, including a VCA, is a huge step in the right direction. Customer service has become one of the most determining factors for customers and one of the ways small and medium-sized businesses can compete with larger companies. Offering excellent customer service and support gives you the ability to set yourself apart.
It’s clear that businesses are going to need to take a good hard look at how they provide support and service for their customers. Offering some type of online, mobile-ready self-service option will only become more important. Whether it’s offering a way for a customer to troubleshoot an issue themselves, or offering an online chat for those needing assistance, customer service is evolving.
Businesses must provide the very best service and support or they will lose customers to the competition. Make sure you have the right systems in place for online, over the phone and in person support and service. If you don’t, you may find your business struggling to keep up and compete very soon.
Publish Date: February 23, 2016 5:00 AM
“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
You’ve probably heard that passion is a key ingredient of any successful small business or startup. Maybe you know it first-hand. But what happens if you lose your passion for your small business? Does that mean it’s time to part ways with your business and pursue a new path? Or does it just mean it’s time to make a change?
What if you lose your passion for your small business?
If your business is doing well but no longer excites you, it’s time to make a change. That doesn’t mean you need to start a new business or completely dismantle your current operations. It could be a small change, but any changes you make need to reflect what it is that you’re passionate about. What made you start this business in the first place? What used to excite you about it? What have you learned since then? What do you find yourself getting excited about instead?
You can use these questions to better define what you feel is missing from your small business and determine what kinds of changes you can make to bring back the spark.
Remember the beginning
What made you start this venture? Why were you excited about your business in the beginning? Remembering what made you passionate about it in the first place can help you rekindle some of that passion today. Did you start out with a mission to help a certain demographic? Did your business idea arise out of a frustrating or less-than-perfect experience you’ve had in the past? Look back on what made your business exciting in the beginning to rekindle your passion.
Take some time off
We have a clearer perspective after we’ve had time to ourselves to think things over. The problem might not be a loss of passion for your business, but instead could be due to overworking yourself and dealing with stress. Take some time off to think, but don’t spend the whole time worrying about your business. Use the time to recharge, enjoy yourself, and take a break from your business.
>>Take a vacation from your business to clear your mind.
When you return, it could be with new ideas to make things more exciting for you, or a new direction you want to take the company in. Even if you don’t come up with any changes you’d like to make, your time off will help you focus better and get more clarity.
Delegate what you hate
Yes, life is full of things we don’t want to do, and sometimes, there’s just no way around it. But if you’re a small business owner, you don’t have to keep doing the work you hate. If certain tasks are especially distasteful for you, delegate them to someone else. If you’ve been a solo-preneur up to this point, consider outsourcing some tasks, like receptionist duties, to make your job that much easier and more enjoyable.
>>Afraid to delegate? Read our post about getting comfortable with delegation here.
Disrupt your own business
Maybe you’ve gotten a little too comfortable with the way you do things. You can awaken your passion for your small business by disrupting your own business and making a major, innovative change. Ask yourself, “What would make my work more exciting?” Brainstorm a few ideas, rank them, and implement what sounds best.
We recently wrote a post about falling in love with the problem your business is trying to solve instead of falling in love with your business (the biggest mistake startup founders and small business owners make). Take a big picture look at your company, who you serve, and what you do. What can you change to shake things up in a way that pays off for your business?
Read next: 6 Quick Quizzes for Entrepreneurs That Teach You Something About Your Business
6 Interesting & Unique Quizzes for Entrepreneurs
Publish Date: February 22, 2016 5:00 AM