Conversational - ContactCenterWorld.com Blog Page 8
Think you’re ready to take the first step of growing your business by hiring your first employee? Congratulations! You’re off to a great start if you’ve reached this important milestone in business growth. There are so many things to consider when you’re hiring your first employee, and keeping it all together can be a challenge.
That’s why we’ve put together a handy checklist for hiring your first employee – one that you can refer to each time you bring on a new hire, as well!
Find the checklist below and make sure you’re abiding by federal and state rules as you move forward with your first official hire.
The Checklist for Hiring Your First Employee
Stick to this list and you’ll have all your bases covered. Don’t forget to enthusiastically welcome your new employee and pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
Get your EIN.
Your Employer Identification Number (EIN) is used for tax purposes and IRS documents. Just fill out Form SS-4 to get yours. The form is available for download at IRS.gov, so print it out and send it in.
Register with the state Labor Department.
After hiring, you’ll be paying state unemployment compensation taxes and your company will need to be registered with the Labor Department to do so. Google your state and the words labor department.
Get worker’s compensation insurance.
If you’re employing people, you should have worker’s compensation insurance in case someone is injured on the job. In most states, it’s required, but there are some exceptions.
Set up payroll to withhold taxes.
Each paycheck your employee receives will need to have a portion of it withheld for tax payments. You may have to withhold state taxes as well. Look for IRS publication 15, Circular E: The Employer’s Tax Guide for more information (available online).
Have employees fill out IRS Form W-4.
Form W-4 is the Withholding Allowance Certificate and it’s only for your use, not the IRS. This will help you determine exactly how much tax to withhold from their checks.
Report to your state’s new hire agency.
You must report information on your new employee to your state’s hire reporting agency. This is to identify parents that owe child support. Check the State New Hire Reporting page for more information.
File IRS Form 940 every year
This form reports your federal unemployment tax. You must file it yearly during any year you paid an employee wages of more than $1,500 in any quarter during that year. The form is available online.
Develop an employee handbook.
Not required, but recommended. State your company mission, culture, policies, etc. in the handbook to ensure clarity and consistency. Check out Create Your Own Employee Handbook: A Legal & Practical Guide.
Set up employee benefits.
Establish an employee benefits program including health insurance, dental, 401(k), vacation time, sick days, sign-on bonuses, etc. This will encourage your employees to deliver the best possible work while feeling secure in their role.
Publish Date: June 30, 2016 5:00 AM
Is an online receptionist different from a virtual receptionist? Let’s dig into the origin of the titles before we answer that question.
Online (adj.) – Controlled by or connected to another computer or to a network; Connected to the Internet or World Wide Web.
Virtual (adj.) – Carried out, accessed, or stored by means of a computer, especially over a network; Not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.
Receptionist (noun) – A person employed in an office or other establishment to answer the telephone, deal with clients, and greet visitors.
According to these definitions, an online receptionist is ‘A person
employed in an office connected to the internet or World Wide Web to answer the telephone and deal with clients at an office.’
A virtual receptionist, then, is ‘A person employed in an office or other establishment to answer the telephone, deal with clients, and greet visitors – not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so.’
An online receptionist is the same thing as a virtual receptionist. They’re just different titles for the same role. What exactly does a virtual or online receptionist do? We’re so glad you asked.
The role of a virtual or online receptionist
An online receptionist works remotely, either from a virtual receptionist providers’ office or independently from their own home. Working remotely creates a few limitations for the receptionist position that is traditionally onsite. Here’s how online receptionists manage to cover an office’s reception area without physically being there.
Online receptionists run your reception area remotely
The office’s phone calls are automatically routed to the online receptionist, who answers the call before the third ring. She uses a customized greeting, approved by the business owner, when answering calls. Callers never need to know she isn’t working from your office.
Because you’ll fill out a company questionnaire when you start working with your online receptionist, she’ll have all the answers she needs to deliver basic customer service to callers, take messages and deliver them to the proper person, and do “warm transfers” when needed. Warm transfers involve announcing the caller and reason for the call to the person it’s being transferred to rather than just hitting a button to transfer the call.
Your online receptionist can also manage your appointments and scheduling. If you’re already using a scheduling software you like, just let Conversational’s team know and we’ll accommodate it. If a caller says they want to make an appointment sometime the following week, your online receptionist can check your schedule, confirm that the date and time is available, and schedule them without issue.
An online receptionist by any other name
It can be confusing to identify which titles describe which roles in the remote working industry. The industry is still relatively new and many businesses are still figuring out what these remote positions are used for. There are a host of names that all describe the virtual receptionist position. Here are a few examples:
- Virtual receptionist
- Online receptionist
- Virtual office receptionist
- Remote receptionist
- Virtual call answering specialist
- Telephone answering service
- Live receptionist
- Online secretary
Publish Date: June 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Lawyers work notoriously long hours at the office. Many attorneys report that they spend more than 60 hours working each week – the equivalent of holding both a full and part time job. But solo and small law firms have a unique option when it comes to finding office space – opting to open a virtual law firm rather than renting an office or building.
The Advantages of a Virtual Law Firm
A virtual law firm is different from a traditional law firm. There are 4 key differences.
First, with a virtual law firm, there is no need for physical “headquarters” to meet with clients – all interactions are done completely online.
Second, virtual law firms can operate with just one lawyer rather than a group of partners.
Third, virtual law firms capture the huge market of people searching for legal assistance online.
Finally, virtual law firms make use of outside tools or services to fill in the gaps left by going virtual. More details on each of these differences follows.
No need for physical headquarters
Lawyers can save a considerable sum by choosing to open a virtual law firm instead of renting a building or office space for their practice. Rent is one of the largest expenses a law firm incurs each month, so doing away with it increases your cash flow.
It’s not only cost effective, but also immensely appreciated by clients for other reasons.
“My clients come to me with sensitive subject matter. They have to reveal potentially embarrassing or difficult things to me in order for me to accurately represent their case, and that’s tough for them to do in person. It’s harder to look someone in the eye while relating the events leading up to a divorce or filing for bankruptcy. Once I went virtual with my law firm, I kept hearing from clients that they really appreciated being able to communicate with me in such a convenient way.” – Geoff C. Mueller, attorney at law
Operate alone or with a partner – your choice
One of the best parts of opening a virtual law firm is the total freedom you’ll have. You can choose whether you want to work alone as a legal consultant or partner with other attorneys to build a true law firm. Even if you choose to work with a partner, there’s no need to work side by side or even in the same building. You can both work from home if you have the right services and tools in place to handle the workload.
If you choose to work alone, make sure you plan some time to be social each day or week – it’s all too easy to drift into wearing pajama pants and slippers every day if you don’t guarantee yourself some time out of the house with other people.
Capture the huge market of people looking for legal help online
There’s a huge market of people looking for legal assistance online. Check out this graph from Google Trends, which tracks the world’s searches for the term ‘online attorney’ over time and you’ll see that it’s a very common search. People clearly want to find reputable virtual law firms, and if you can provide that for them, you’ll have guaranteed clients.
As mentioned above in the quote from Geoff Mueller, legal clients are often reluctant to approach a lawyer in person with difficult confessions, questions, and reports of past events. Removing the barrier of face-to-face interaction makes it easier for these clients to be comfortable with their lawyer and give accurate information.
Fill in the gaps with outside services and tools
You can’t decide to go virtual with putting some strategies and plans in place, first. Whether you’re already running your own practice and want to go virtual or you’re still in the planning stages of starting your virtual law firm, your first step should be covering the tasks that are traditionally handled onsite. That includes reception, accounting, and client meetings.
You can view our plans for both virtual legal receptionists (answer phones, take messages, manage appointments) and virtual legal assistants (all of the above, plus random tasks like research, documentation, planning, and more) to determine which is right for your virtual law firm.
Check out sites like Upwork to find a reliable freelancer or outsourcing agency to delegate your accounting responsibilities to. Design a plan for holding client meetings – sites like GoToMeeting.com and apps like Skype are common choices.
Publish Date: June 29, 2016 5:00 AM
Ask anyone who owns a business or manages a customer service department – failing at customer service is alarmingly easy to do. Even with the best intentions, offering sub-par customer service is the norm for many companies. If you’re uncertain whether or not your customer service strategy is working, it’s probably not. Great customer service elicits reactions from your customers, and they’ll let you know how much they appreciate it.
When’s the last time you received a compliment on the level of service your business provided? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some encouraging words from customers? Check out the 4 most common ways small businesses fail at customer service to check your strategy and get back on the right track. Shep Hyken shared these tips in his recent post, Five Reasons Your Company May Fail at Customer Service.
4 Ways Your Business is Failing at Customer Service
Your small business is probably failing at customer service in these 4 ways. Which of these mistakes do you recognize – and what steps will you take to correct them?
1. Lack of clarity in your strategy
You may have a general customer service strategy in place, but having an overly-general strategy is just as problematic as having no strategy. Without clarity, go-to processes, and preferred terminology in your strategy, your employees will struggle to provide the same level of customer service to each customer.
Clarify your strategy by elaborating on what’s already there and making things clear where they seem general. If your strategy is “Treat every customer like family,” that’s a great starting point, but it won’t translate into teaching your employees how to treat customers like family.
What does it mean to treat someone like family? Offer them additional help when they need it? Act delighted to hear from them? Never put them on hold? Whatever your definition is, make sure you clarify exactly how you expect yourself and your employees to uphold that strategy.
2. Too-brief training
Training, for many small businesses, is a short-term process that happens upon hiring an employee. If you subscribe to this belief, you’re probably failing at customer service. Ongoing training is necessary to keep everyone on the same page. It’s also a must if you want your employees to stick to your strategy and keep your goals in mind.
After training, the information learned can slowly diminish to the point where employees are making their own decisions about how to act and what to do when they interact with customers. You want your strategy and goals to determine your employees’ actions, not their individual ideas and whims. Continue training throughout your employees’ time with your company.
3. Limiting customer service to a department
Customer service, in order to be effective, has to be taken on by the entire organization, not just a department. Anyone who will come into contact with a customer needs to be trained and taught the basics of customer service. No matter how brief an employee’s interaction with a customer may be, it’s an opportunity to either support or negate your customer service strategy. Don’t let it be the latter!
Teach your other departments the importance of customer service and involve them in the continual training discussed in number 2. Make great customer service a business objective, not a sole department’s responsibility.
4. The wrong employees and attitudes
Even with a great strategy in place, adequate training, and cross-departmental involvement, failing at customer service can still happen. If you’ve got the wrong people in customer-facing positions, you’re fighting a losing battle. There are many excellent employees that simply don’t belong in customer service. You need to analyze your current staff and determine who’s fit for customer service and who isn’t.
Some personality traits and mindsets make it harder for people to deliver customer service effectively. With issues like these, the only fix is moving that person out of customer service and into a different, non-customer-facing role.
Customer service isn’t a theory. It’s not something you decide or just think. It’s something you do. And not just you – everyone at your business has to be on board to offer a truly great customer service experience. Clearly define your strategy, practice continual training, involve the whole organization, and make sure your employees are a good fit to avoid failing at customer service.
Publish Date: June 29, 2016 5:00 AM
As a virtual assistant provider, we get this question all the time: “What’s the difference between an administrative assistant and a virtual assistant?” At first, it can be unclear whether the duties an administrative assistant handles are any different from the duties a virtual assistant handles.
We’re here to cut through the static and clarify the roles of an administrative assistant vs virtual assistant so you can determine which one you need.
Administrative Assistant vs Virtual Assistant
The differences between an administrative assistant and a virtual assistant are subtle, so pay attention! The main difference is the location where the work takes place.
Administrative assistant duties
An administrative assistant usually works onsite in their employers’ office or place of business. They may work from home on occasion. Administrative assistants are often employed on a full-time basis and receive legally-required benefits from their employers.
Duties an administrative assistant might take care of include:
- Answering phones
- Taking notes and memos
- Maintaining file organization
- Sending/receiving correspondence
- Greeting in-house clients or customers
- Bookkeeping and scheduling tasks
- Documentation and planning
There is no educational requirement to become an administrative assistant other than a high school diploma, though some specialized assistants may be required to have higher education.
Virtual assistant duties
A virtual assistant is everything an administrative assistant is – except full-time and onsite. Virtual assistants are simply part-time administrative assistants that work remotely, whether that’s from their own home or from a brick-and-mortar office or call center.
A virtual assistant may be employed full-time by a trusted virtual assistant provider, like Conversational, where you can then order their services by selecting a monthly plan. They may work independently on a contract basis with individual clients. You will sometimes hear virtual assistants referred to as VAs.
Virtual assistants handle the same duties as an administrative assistant, plus several more:
- Answering phones
- Taking notes and memos
- Maintaining file organization
- Sending/receiving correspondence
- Greeting in-house clients or customers
- Bookkeeping and scheduling tasks
- Documentation and planning
- Blog post management
- Editing and proofreading
- Social media management
- Online review management
- Bill payment and ordering stock
- Research and information collection
Hiring an administrative assistant vs virtual assistant
When you’re ready to hire an assistant, deciding between an administrative and virtual assistant will be difficult. Just consider your own needs as you make your decision.
Will you need help from your assistant full-time (40 hours per week), or just from 10 to 40 hours per month? Can you afford to provide an assistant with a full-time salary and the federally required benefits? Do you work from a business location or your home?
“I need a part-time assistant that only works when I have tasks that need to be done.” If you don’t need full-time help, you’re a prime candidate for hiring a virtual assistant. Click here to view our monthly plans.
“I need a full time assistant that works from my office.” If this is you, you’ll need an administrative assistant who doesn’t work remotely.
“I can afford to pay a low cost for a monthly plan, but not a full-time salary with benefits.” You need a virtual assistant, not one that requires a salary and benefits. Click here to view our monthly plans.
“I can afford to pay an assistant a full-time salary with benefits.” An administrative assistant or virtual assistant can help you in this case. Click here to view our monthly virtual assistant plans.
Publish Date: June 28, 2016 5:00 AM
Making a great first impression over the phone is a challenge, no matter what the context is. Without knowing anything about the person you’re speaking to and vice versa, you must somehow come across as a charming and capable person. It’s hard enough to do that with people that know you well! How are you supposed to make an outstanding first impression over the phone?
We’ve found some helpful tips through the years as virtual receptionist and virtual assistant providers. We’ll show you how to make a great first impression over the phone with 4 tips below.
How to Make an Outstanding First Impression Over the Phone
Making a great first impression over the phone is easy when you follow these 4 tips.
Pick it up
No, this isn’t a joke. Picking up the phone when it rings is the first step in making a great first impression.
Many small business owners find themselves unable to get to every call. By not answering a call that comes through, you send the message that you’re either too busy to take on more clients or simply uninterested. Both amount to a bad first impression.
Even if you answer the phone before they hang up, you’re not necessarily making a good first impression. People want you to pick up the phone quickly, and whether or not you do is the first part of managing the impression you make.
Put a smile in your voice
Being busy non-stop as a business owner can sour the mood of even the happiest person. If you’re manning the phones at your business, chances are, you could be a little friendlier to make a better first impression.
One way we teach our virtual receptionists to do this is by smiling while on the phone. It’s not an exercise in lunacy, believe it or not. Smiling actually changes your vocal inflection and tone, making you sound friendlier and happier to callers. Friendly, happy person answering the phone? Great first impression, check.
Be willing to dig for solutions
Now that you’ve greeted the caller in a fast and friendly manner, the way you handle the call is all that stands between you and a great first impression. One thing that turns callers off? An unwillingness to find and source creative solutions to problems.
Combat that by being willing to ‘dig’ for solutions. Show your caller how resourceful and creative you can be! By going above and beyond to find a fix, you say to them “You’re a special customer, so I’ll do extra to make sure you’re satisfied.”
Don’t let your voicemail make the impression
It’s not just how you answer the phone that matters – who answers it is important, too. Letting calls go to voicemail is a first impression killer. Sam Glover of Lawyerist.com said, “Most of my potential business clients are “shopping” for a lawyer, and the first impression matters a lot. If they get a voicemail message or me when I am not at my best, I could lose a client instead of gaining one.”
This is the reason virtual receptionist services like ours are increasing in popularity. Many industries in the small business sector would rather have a professional provider answer calls and transfer them to the right person than answer phones in a way that loses customers or misses out on opportunities.
If you’re in the market for a virtual receptionist to take your calls and help you make an outstanding first impression, click here to view our pricing plans.
Publish Date: June 23, 2016 5:00 AM
We’ve talked about the multitude of reasons to outsource, but this post is different. Outsourcing can be the best decision you’ve ever made for your business if you implement it in the right ways. If you’ve made the decision to start outsourcing, you can do it two ways: The right way or the wrong way. The wrong way – the outsourcing don’ts – are the focus of this post.
Learn about the biggest outsourcing don’ts and how you can avoid making these mistakes below.
The 10 Biggest Outsourcing Don’ts
- Don’t go with the first provider you find on Google. Do your research before settling on a provider to outsource your work to!
- Don’t discard a possibility just because their current plans aren’t a good fit. Ask for a custom plan and you’ll be surprised at how often providers will adapt to your needs.
- Don’t prioritize cheap over cost-effective. Cheap services do cheap work. Cost-effective services cost what they’re worth and trust us – paying a little more will be worth it.
- Don’t outsource too much too soon! It’s tempting, but the best way to start outsourcing is by getting your toes wet, outsourcing a few tasks and analyzing the returns and results.
- Don’t keep paying for too much office space if outsourcing enables you to cut down on your on-site staff or tasks. Move to a smaller space, or try a home office to save more money.
- Don’t pay for additional services you may not need simply because they’re offered at a low cost or the provider representative does a great job “selling” them to you.
- Don’t expect automatic efficiency and cost savings when you start outsourcing. Be critical and evaluate the returns and results you get from your provider.
- Don’t skip the online reviews when you’re shopping for a provider to outsource to. Other business owners’ opinions are one of the best indicators of how effective an outsourcing service will be.
- Don’t micro-manage your outsourcing provider. Do your homework before you begin the working relationship. Get all your priorities and requirements out in the open so there are no surprises.
- Don’t work with freelancers when you’re outsourcing unless they have stellar credentials and references. When possible, outsource to a provider or agency. There’s more protection for your business this way.
More outsourcing resources
Looking for more tips on what to avoid and what to look for when you start outsourcing? Check out these great resources to learn more about outsourcing effectively.
- How to Outsource: 12 Do’s and Don’ts
- The 7 Biggest Outsourcing Mistakes to Avoid
- Top 12 Mistakes to Avoid When Outsourcing
- Outsource Your Way to Success
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Outsourcing
Publish Date: June 21, 2016 5:00 AM
Small businesses vary a lot depending on their size and industry. As a virtual receptionist and virtual assistant provider, we wanted to find out how entrepreneurs in different industries manage the phone calls to their business. We asked business owners one question: “Who answers your business phone?”
Small business owners – who answers your business phone?
These are the responses we got from 6 business owners that receive at least one business call daily.
“If the phone is ringing, I pick it up!” – James Kerr, Founder & Chief Geek of SuperGeeks
“If the phone is ringing, I pick it up! One time I was in the office on a Sunday. We were closed. But the phone rang and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity…turned out it was someone from the State wanting a $12K database. She was probably thinking no one would be in and would just leave a message. But I answered and closed the deal!”
Bottom line is: You can’t answer the phones yourself all the time because you must focus on other things. However, it is good to pick up the phone from time to time. It gives you a good sense for what’s happening in the trenches…plus clients always love getting the boss.”
“I had to hire a virtual receptionist when call volume went up.” – Jennifer Lendey, owner of chiropractic clinic
“I used to answer the phone at my clinic when I wasn’t with a client, but once my clinic took off and started drawing in more clients, I couldn’t get to all the phone calls. I had to hire a virtual receptionist when call volume went up. I didn’t feel that hiring a full-time receptionist was necessary since my office is so small.
I found a virtual receptionist provider that offers a 30 day free trial and figured I’d try it out with nothing to lose. I’ve now been working with that provider for 3 months and I won’t ever go back to answering my own business phone again.”
“I answer my own phone.” – Arjan Yspeert, independent marketing consultant
“Currently I work alone [solopreneur] as a marketing consultant for SMEs. I work for just a few clients (8,) and I answer my own phone. I guess I get about 10–15 calls a day, 5 of them by clients.
I have had medium sized businesses in the past with partners. We had a girl answering calls on the landline, but the bulk would go directly to the cellphones of the staff we employed. I have also worked alone with many different clients, and in those cases I have used answering services.”
“As your business grows, have someone else answer the calls.” – Tim Lau, entrepreneur specializing in eCommerce and online marketing
“Initially you have to answer your own calls if you don’t have any employees. As your business grows you will want to have someone else answer the calls and only direct the calls to you when necessary since you want to spend your time on the most important things in your business.”
“I use a service that transfers calls.” Thespy Alfred, social care entrepreneur
“I do! I use a service that transfers calls from my office land line to my mobile. Or, if I want, will send the voice recording or transcription via email.”
“I answer if I’m around and not busy – my VR answers any other time.” – Ben Waddis, owner of accounting firm
“Depends on how busy I am. I answer if I’m around and not busy – my VR answers any other time. She has a list of callers and numbers that should be transferred to me, and for anyone else not on that list, she either answers their question or directs them to my voicemail so I can get back to them when I get a chance. I miss too many calls to answer them all myself. This works better for me.”
Publish Date: June 17, 2016 5:00 AM
Outsourcing is to small businesses what babysitters are to parents – lifesavers. As a business owner, you love your company, your mission, and the work you do. Well, most of it anyway.
Just like parents understandably get exhausted caring for their children all day, every day, business owners get exhausted from taking care of business.
When parents need a night out or some time off, they call a babysitter. When you want to buy some of your time back and start focusing on the things that have the most value for your company, you start outsourcing.
If you’re having trouble convincing yourself it’s worth it, here are 15 practical reasons to start outsourcing.
15 Practical Reasons to Start Outsourcing
1. You cringe at the thought or dread doing certain tasks to the point where you consistently avoid it or procrastinate.
2. You’re spending less time with your family and friends, and they’ve noticed that you always seem to be busy with work.
3. Your time is stretched thin and you don’t have the amount of time it would take to properly complete certain tasks, like balancing the books or answering phone calls.
4. You’re stuck doing something that you aren’t skilled at, like writing blog posts or delivering customer service, and you know someone else could do it better.
5. You specialize in higher-level tasks, so completing day-to-day or administrative duties are not good investments of your time.
6. It costs less to outsource than it does to hire someone full time, so you can get extra help without breaking the bank.
7. You can pick specific individuals or companies to outsource your tasks to based on their level of skill and experience, enabling you to pick someone who has the strengths you lack.
8. It enables you to handle the core business functions and strategies while knowing the day-to-day “mundane” tasks will be taken care of.
9. Outsourcing lets you tap into others’ experience and expertise – the people and companies you outsource tasks to might know something you don’t that nets results like you’ve never seen before.
10. It also makes it possible to re-allocate any hiring budget you had for the positions you decided to outsource toward other, more pressing expenses.
11. When you outsource, you aren’t employing anyone so the cost to your business is deeply reduced – unlike hiring full time, when you outsource, you don’t have to pay a minimum wage, provide benefits, give up office space, etc.
12. You save time creating strategies and plans for tasks you’re unsure how to approach – outsourcing agencies and individuals already have a plan and will put it into action for you when you work together.
13. It helps you control risk for your company by featuring much lower costs, no long term contracts, no federal or state employment or benefit requirements, etc.
14. Outsourcing can allow you to free up your employees’ time to pursue higher-level tasks – for example, if you employ a content manager who writes blog posts, schedules social media posts, and arranges content partnerships, you could outsource the scheduling of social media posts to a virtual assistant, giving your employee more time to write blog posts and arrange content partnerships.
15. Finally, outsourcing can help you expand sooner by allowing you to take on a larger volume of work without hiring several new employees to do it.
Publish Date: June 16, 2016 5:00 AM
Angry customers are inevitable in business. But dealing with angry customers is a science, not an art.
Knowing how to balance your understanding and attention while protecting your company and reputation isn’t something that happens spontaneously – you have to train yourself in how to react when the situation arises.
When you’ve created a product or service that you are proud of and a customer is angry with you over it, it makes you feel bad. Whatever you do, don’t let your own disappointment or feelings cause you to respond angrily to a customer (yes, even a screaming customer).
From the customer’s perspective, hard-earned money was spent on a product or service from that is not meeting the promised expectations. It doesn’t take much to turn what would have been a patient customer into one that is irate.
Take a look at 8 things you should never say to an angry customer if you want your business to last.
Top 8 Things You Should Never Say to an Angry Customer
Take a look at 8 things you should never say to an angry customer if you want your business to last.
1. “Calm down”
You may be tempted to address an interaction with your customer by telling this angry customer to “calm down.” Believe it or not, this is one of the easiest ways to make your customer do just the opposite. No angry person wants to be told to calm down because it’s implying that their emotion is not justified.
Rather than telling someone this, try the phrase “I really want to understand and help you in any way I can.” This shows the customer genuine concern and proves that you take the situation seriously. Phrases like this are likely to diffuse the situation and bring quicker resolve. It’s better to use language that would imply you appreciate the customer and their situation than language that downplays their frustration.
2. “It’s not our fault”
You may be tempted to go on the defensive and remind your customer that you aren’t to be blamed. When you do this, you simply show the customer that you are distancing yourself from the situation because you feel no responsibility. That’s the last thing a customer needs when coming to you with their problem. Instead, show that you are empathetic by offering a phrase like “let me see what I can do.”
3. “I’ll be brutally honest here…”
Sometimes people will say “to be brutally honest…” which implies to your customer that you haven’t been honest as of yet. This phrase will make everything you said up to that point lack credibility. Instead, avoid this phrase and opt for honest communication that builds trust with the customer.
4. “According to our policy…”
Sometimes you may be tempted to refer to your handbook and company policies to get you out of trouble. That may work for you as a customer service rep, but your customer is going to feel that they aren’t worth thinking outside of the box for. If it’s something that really can’t be helped, try saying “Due to legal reasons…” or “Due to security reasons…” instead.
Sometimes mistakes happen and a customer isn’t going to be pleased to hear that you are hiding your mistakes behind company policies. Sometimes policies are too strict to get around, but make sure you get that across to your customer in a relatable way.
5. “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?”
You don’t want to say anything to your customer that shows you are helpless. Avoid saying things like “so what do you want me to do.” Try a phrase that shows you are coming up with a solution for your customer such as “what do you think of…” This shows you are trying to compromise while finding out what the customer’s goal is for a resolution.
6. “I’m going to put you on hold”
The longer a customer has to wait, the angrier they will get. Make sure you don’t say anything like “can you wait a minute” because they have already waited to get a resolution to their problem that should have been done right the first time. If there’s no way to get around placing a customer on hold, try saying something like, “It’s very important to me that we get this issue resolved today. May I place you on a brief hold while I…”
7. “Sorry, but…”
Avoid the word sorry and try “I apologize for…” Telling a customer you are “sorry, but…” shows that the problem is not getting resolved. Apologizing to a customer shows that you are sincere and that you want to fix it right away.
8. “I’m transferring you to __”
Be sure to avoid saying anything like “I’m transferring you to my manager.” Transferring to a manager forces your angry customer to explain the problem all over again, adds to their frustration, and conveys that you aren’t competent enough to handle things from your support department. Adequate training is the best way to avoid this issue.
Instead, say something you can do to give the customer some options and reassert your ability to handle the situation: “I can waive that charge from last month for you” or “We can offer this free add-on to say thank you for your patience with us.”
Watch out for these 8 phrases that could get you into more trouble with an angry customer! Stick to non-emotionally charged words and phrases (I apologize instead of Sorry) to protect your company’s reputation and make sure even angry customers end up with a working solution.
Publish Date: June 16, 2016 5:00 AM
How much money do you have to spend on a receptionist for your small business? If your hiring budget is looking a little slim, your first plan might be to cut a few corners where possible, avoid or pause hiring for a while, and start trimming your expenses.
That might not be necessary – if your small business is in any of the following industries (listed below), or if you work from home, a virtual small business receptionist can take care of all the duties an in-house receptionist would without requiring a desk, lunch breaks, salary, or benefits.
At a starting cost of only $1,639/year*, hiring a virtual receptionist through Conversational is the most cost-effective option for handling your phone calls, messages, and appointments.
The following industries report the most success when working with a virtual receptionist:
Industries that use virtual receptionists
- Health and Medical Offices – This type of business needs to be able to set appointments throughout the week without missing any calls. Virtual receptionists allow patients to call nearly all day and guarantee no calls are missed.
- Legal Firms & Practices – Whether it’s a full-fledged law firm with several partners or a solo law practice, a virtual receptionist removes the need to hire a full-time receptionist. Legal clients can be assisted with basic customer service, directed to voicemail, or scheduled for appointments through a virtual receptionist.
- Beauty & Aesthetics – Beauty salons, barber shops, nail salons, waxing clinics, and more can benefit from letting a virtual receptionist take the incoming calls, schedule appointments, and take/deliver messages.
- Real Estate Agents – Since real estate professionals are always out showing homes and working outside of the office, a virtual receptionist makes perfect sense.
- Service Providers – From landscapers to plumbers, those providing a service in the area can certainly benefit from a virtual receptionist. This type of service needs after-hour emergency call capabilities and a virtual receptionist service provides this type of service.
- Home-Based Businesses – Any type of business based out of a home may want to use a virtual receptionist to appear more professional.
- Non-Profit Organizations – Since non-profits try to keep the list of full-time employees to the absolute minimum, a virtual receptionist service may help.
- Online Retail Stores – Online stores need to provide customer service all throughout the week. This can be difficult without a full support staff. A virtual receptionist may eliminate the need for a support staff.
The price of a small business receptionist
Please note: This information applies to Conversational virtual receptionists only. Unlike Conversational, other virtual receptionist providers may not offer appointment and booking services, can charge up to $2.39/minute, and may require you to enter legal contracts to use their services.
How much you pay for your virtual small business receptionist depends on the cost per minute, how much availability you’ll need, and the provider you select.
Industry research shows that Conversational offers the lowest per-minute pricing of any provider in the industry, with per-minute cost as low as $1.25. Conversational also offers a 30 day free trial, earning you a free month of service with up to 1000 minutes included in the first month.
If your business has:
- Low or unpredictable call volume – go for the Starter plan (100 minutes/month)
- Low to medium call volume – check out the Professional plan (200 minutes/month)
- Medium to high call volume – you need the Enterprise plan (500 minutes/month)
Based on the plan you select, you will pay just $1,639 – $6,875 per year for your virtual receptionist. Compare that to the $33,000/year average salary for in-house receptionists and there really is no contest. Virtual receptionists are more cost-effective and offer a host of other benefits, too.
How to get started
Thinking a virtual small business receptionist might be the perfect solution for your business? Visit our Pricing Plans page to take a detailed look at the per-minute cost, features, and included tasks of our virtual receptionist services.
Ready to hit the ground running? Click the chat bubble below to start your 30 day free trial now!
* Price estimation based on Starter plan and includes free 30 day trial
Publish Date: June 16, 2016 5:00 AM
If you’re running email marketing campaigns for your business, creating email subject lines is only part of what you do. You’ve got the content in the body of the message, the selection of graphics or photos, color, formatting, and font choices, optimized send times, A/B testing, list segmentation and more to worry about.
It’s easy for the subject line to become a last-minute effort, but when that’s the case, it’s obvious both in your audience’s lack of response and your diminished or lower-than-average open rates.
Convince & Convert found that 33% of email recipients decide whether or not they’ll open emails based on whether or not they have compelling email subject lines. Beyond that, 69% of recipients report email as spam based solely on the subject line.
Most of the brands and businesses sending the emails that are reported as spam based on the subject line are not intentionally sending spam to their subscriber lists. In fact, they may have worked diligently to put together an informative newsletter, recommended product curation, company announcement, or email promotion for the customer, but made the mistake of making the subject line an afterthought.
You can avoid getting marked as spam or simply ignored by your subscribers when you follow the best practices for email subject lines.
4 Proven Tactics to Create Compelling Email Subject Lines
By putting the following 4 simple tactics into action, you can create compelling email subject lines that increase email open and click rates.
1. Value clear over clever
Sometimes, you come up with a pun or funny subject line for your email. You consider using it and think your audience will enjoy it, too. But your subscribers would rather see an email subject line that clearly describes what they’ll see when they open the email. If it’s an offer, it should say so. If you’re announcing something, you don’t have to reveal the surprise in the subject line, but you should allude to it.
Many studies have shown that open rates are significantly higher – 541% in one study – when the email recipients clearly understood the subject and were able to make a decision on whether or not to open the email. People won’t click it to find out what you meant – they’ll just scroll past, mark it as spam, or delete it.
2. Come up with a new subject line every time
The subject line is the method recipients have to evaluate and judge the merit of your email before deciding whether or not to open it. If you use the same line over and over, even slightly modified versions of it, you alienate anyone who didn’t respond to that subject line in the first place and desensitize those who did.
The best practice is to create an entirely unique subject line for every email, even if it’s a weekly or monthly newsletter. Including information about what will be included in the body of the email helps recipients identify whether or not the content inside will interest them. While you might get lower open rates in general, your click through rates might increase because smaller numbers of a better-targeted audience are clicking and following links from your email.
3. Consider emojis for certain B2C markets
Compelling email subject lines can get an advantage over the other thousands of emails pouring into the average user’s inbox in a day by standing out with emojis. A smiley face, wrapped gift, sunglasses, stars – lots of big brands and retailers use emojis in their subject lines to draw visual attention to the email and increase the chances of the email getting opened.
A general rule to follow when considering emojis: If you’re a B2B company, avoid it. If you’re a B2C company marketing to a younger demographic, it’s worth it to give it a try and measure your results.
4. Write shorter subject lines
Most of your email recipients are on mobile screens when they check their inbox. Mobile email inboxes show fewer characters of the subject line than desktops or laptops – on average, just 20-30 characters compared to 50. Research shows that the most compelling email subject lines have less than 30 characters.
This sentence is thirty characters
Email subject lines with 30 or fewer characters have above average open rates. The highest open rates are among emails with one to two word subject lines, like “For you” or “Surprise!” You really can’t go too short when it comes to subject lines, so experiment with shorter subjects to get higher open rates!
Publish Date: June 14, 2016 5:00 AM
When you run an online business, you can’t count on your customers to stop into your business and handle a question or concern. You must provide other avenues by which your customers can reach you for assistance, whether that’s by phone or through online customer service.
The good news is that it’s becoming more and more common for customers to interact with an online business and that making a complaint or seeking out help is common online.
Online businesses are often found through eCommerce sites that are becoming streamlined and easier than ever to shop and do business through.
Shopping interactions online can end up feeling less personal and cause businesses to struggle with gaining customer loyalty, but you can fix that by getting active on social media, reaching out to your customers before they have to reach out to you, and taking responsibility for a problem.
4 Ways to Be More Available in Online Customer Service
Here’s a look at 4 ways you can be more available in online customer service and ensure you are offering the best customer service solutions possible.
1. Be everywhere your customers are
Rather than just relying on the phone for your customers to reach you, it’s important that you make yourself accessible in other ways.
Instant chat, email, and social media are other great ways to be available to your customers.
Live chat – When your customer can click on a web chat with one of your customer service reps, the problem is likely to get resolved in a matter of minutes online.
Email – The first online method of communication, email is still a great way to send in the problem and check for a response later.
Social media – Your customers can easily post a message to your page to let you know they are unhappy and your customer base can publicly see how you handled the problem in a fast and thoughtful way.
Be available on different channels of support to accommodate customers that have different preferences for contacting you. Online customer support should not be incomplete. They all expect constant access to your company’s services which will be easier for both parties if there are multiple channels to do so.
2. Don’t keep them waiting online
It’s important that you don’t keep your customers waiting because a slow response can do a lot of damage to your relationships.
Social media encourages instant results and it’s important that your customers know that a customer service rep is always available. Even email, a slower online communication method, is expected to be quick.
In a recent post we published containing 45 game-changing customer service statistics, we found that most customers expect a response via email within 6 hours of sending the email. That’s in contrast to the 24-48 hours most companies take to respond.
That attests to the quick timeline users assign to online interactions – things just move faster in the world of online customer service.
Just like your customer doesn’t want to be on hold over the phone, they also don’t want to wait for a response to their social media complaints, their email, or their text message. Make sure you have a rep immediately respond to your customer’s inquiries to avoid making a complaint into a negative reputation for yourself.
3. Take responsibility & give solutions
When you do interact with an unhappy customer, it’s important that you not only take responsibility but you provide solutions. Customers choose to do business with someone and they want to be treated as a partner and friend.
If a customer isn’t happy and shares that with you, they want you to recognize that something is wrong and do your best to correct it. If they didn’t, they’d have avoided getting in touch with customer service in the first place. It’s your duty to provide the best solution possible for them.
When you sincerely apologize and provide a solution, your customer loyalty improves because they know that you handled the problem well and want to retain them as a customer. The trust is there and the likelihood of returning is better.
4. Go mobile to continue growing
Be sure to consider making your business available to the mobile market. Most customers are using their smart devices to check out websites, shop online, and play on social media.
If you’re available on mobile devices, you are more likely to see more customers shopping with you whether that’s a new customer or a returning customer.
They want the convenience of buying something from you right on their phone without much delay in their day. Mobile is going to continue to grow and you’d be smart to get on board to make sure customers can do business with you right from the device in their pocket. Being available online in the first place is a great step to take to become more proficient in online customer service.
Use these tips to be the best online business you can be by showing that you’re committed to providing the best online customer service in your industry.
Publish Date: June 13, 2016 5:00 AM
Your music genre preferences are not accidental.
Countless psychological studies and surveys have shown that there is an undeniable link between a person’s musical preferences and their personality. You can use that finding and your own musical preferences to find the right style of music to boost your productivity.
How to Find the Right Style of Music to Boost Your Productivity
When it comes to using the right music to boost your productivity, you shouldn’t necessarily look to your favorite music genre – sometimes, the best mix for productivity is a genre you enjoy but don’t love.
Before reading further, it’s helpful to grab a sheet of paper or open up a new document and write down your music genre preferences. Be honest! You only get accurate results if you put in accurate information.
What you’ll be doing is writing down the music genres and how much you like or dislike them – use a scale of 1-5 to make it easier. Below, we’ll show you which music genres will boost your productivity based on your preferences.
For reference, here are the included music genres: Country, classical, alternative, rock, heavy metal, jazz, hip hop, rap, blues, soul, funk, dance, electronica, soundtracks, religious contemporary, gospel, punk, pop
If you’d like to take a quick quiz that determines your music genre and personality preferences for you, we recommend the Do-Re-Mi’s of Personality Test from the University of Texas at Austin. You can find the quiz here – just make sure to leave this tab open so you can make sense of the results you get!
Quick note about the research
Jason Rentfrow of the University of Texas at Austin and Samuel Gosling, PhD, collected data on the music listening preferences of several thousand people using a new scale: the Short Test of Music Preferences (STOMP).
STOMP includes 4 categories of music listening preferences:
Reflective and complex – Classical, jazz, blues, folk
Intense and rebellious – Alternative, rock, heavy metal, punk
Upbeat and conventional – Country, religious, soundtracks, theme music, pop
Energetic and rhythmic – Dance, electronica, funk, hip hop, rap, soul
If your music genre preferences are mostly reflective and complex, you can benefit from a productivity boost when listening to upbeat and conventional music, like country, pop, soundtracks, religious contemporary, or theme songs.
That might seem counter-intuitive, but that’s why it works! Listen to non-preferred genres of music to boost your productivity. Your brain is used to melancholy, serious, or finely-tuned classical sounds. Switching things up by playing pop or your favorite movie soundtrack will help you work more efficiently.
Don’t like reflective and complex music genres much? People with low R&C music preferences tend to be:
- Physically active
- Traditional, conservative
- Prefer straightforward to complex
- Enjoy sitcoms, comedies, action, children’s movies
People that enjoy the edgy and aggressive music genres like alternative, heavy metal, rock, and punk are risk-takers and pleasure-seekers. Edgy and aggressive music lovers tend to be:
- Dominant, independent
- Imaginative, creative
- Energetic, prone to excitement
- Politically liberal
- Enjoy action, sci-fi, fantasy, horror movies
If edgy and aggressive music genres are your favorite, your productivity fuel is Energetic and Rhythmic music. Your own pre-disposal to excitement and action will make you vibe along with music from the E&R genres: Dance, hip hop, funk, soul, etc.
Don’t like Edgy and Aggressive music? People with low E&A preferences tend to be:
- Prefer rules and facts
- Low-energy, homebodies
- Critical thinkers, logical
- Politically conservative
Fun and simple music genres include Pop, Religious, Country, and Soundtrack music. If these are your preference, researchers predict your personality has these traits:
- Extravert tendencies
- Conventional, social
- Conservative values
- Enjoy comedies, romance, documentaries, action
Your productivity-boosting music genre is Reflective and Complex. Classical, jazz, blues, and folk music will provide a non-distracting background noise for you to listen to while getting work done. If you try listening to your own favorite music style, you may well find yourself distracted (and singing along). The R&C genres will help you focus.
Don’t like Fun and Simple music genres? These descriptors may apply to you:
- Introvert tendencies
- Unconventional, artistic
- Liberal values
- Enjoy suspense, cult movies, foreign films
People that prefer Energetic and Upbeat music genres tend to enjoy Hip-hop, Rap, Funk, Soul, and Electronic music. Other personality traits E&U lovers often show:
- Big picture oriented
- Politically liberal
For productivity boosts, try listening to Edgy and Aggressive music genres, like alternative, rock, punk, or heavy metal. Because they are not your preferred musical genres, these music styles will appeal to your brain in a way that makes it easier for you to focus and get work done.
Don’t like Energetic and Upbeat music genres? People that don’t like these genres tend to be:
- Detail oriented
- Practical and ambitious
- Enjoy romance, classic films, westerns
Publish Date: June 13, 2016 5:00 AM
Do you know how to measure the dollar value of loyal customers? There’s a lot of buzz online about small business customer loyalty – how to create it, mistakes that destroy it, how much it’s worth to a business, and even the psychology behind it.
We know we want loyal customers, but we aren’t really sure how much.
Measuring and tracking customer loyalty has become a task that many small business owners recognize the value of, but either aren’t sure how to do, or believe it’s more time consuming than it really is.
Measuring the value of loyal customers can get really complex, really fast – especially when you start bringing in outside factors like the customer lifetime value formula does:
It’s possible to get an accurate read of the dollar value of loyal customers without inputting numerical values into complicated formulas if you rely on statistical averages and historical data in the small business sector.
The First Purchase Rule predicts value of loyal customers
Harris Interactive partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to complete a study of 1,409 small business owners and executives with an annual company income of less than $25 million. The results give a clear solution for determining the actual dollar value of loyal customers.
The study found that on average, loyal customers are worth up to 10 times the dollar amount of their first purchase.
Exceptions to the rule
Simple enough, right? Let’s look at a few examples to determine the value of loyal customers in different buying scenarios.
- If a customer that will become loyal spends $60 on their first purchase, how much would the loyal customer be worth over the customer relationship lifetime?
We know that on average, a loyal customer is worth up to 10 times the dollar amount of their first purchase – not necessarily that amount, but it will give a ballpark estimate that is still useful for your calculations.
If the first purchase is $60, just multiply that number by ten to get the estimated MAXIMUM dollar value of the loyal customer – in this case, the customer value would be up to $600.
Important: While using the maximum dollar value of loyal customers might feel good while you’re calculating profit projections, don’t make that mistake. Some of your loyal customers will translate to their maximum calculated value, yes, but most of your loyal customers won’t, even if they do come very close. Remember to rely on these calculations only for broad estimations and not true projections.
2. A customer who will become loyal spends a large amount on their first purchase – an above ground swimming pool, filtration system, pool vacuum, weighted pool steps, a variety of floats and pool toys, and a 5 year warranty. Would the ‘first purchase rule’ be applicable here? Why or why not?
Considering that the average above ground pool purchase, installation, and setup costs about $3,000, if we include all the extras the customer bought, we estimate this first purchase at $4,000. Using the ‘first purchase rule,” that would mean this customer would be worth up to $40,000 over the course of the relationship.
That’s a little too good to be true, isn’t it? Yes. There’s an exception to every rule, and if you were looking for the exception to this one, you found it. There’s something different about this purchase from the purchase in Example 1. Once this customer makes it out of the pool and spa store, they won’t need to return for a long time.
While they may never visit a competing pool and spa store, they also may not ever visit this store again. If they do, it will likely be to purchase small items like pool toys, chemicals, or patio furniture. A large purchase like this is not indicative of a customer’s lifetime value.
Customer Experience Impact Report by Harris Interactive
Publish Date: June 10, 2016 5:00 AM