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Focus on New Horizons

“No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.”  Zora Neale Hurston

As the new year comes into focus, personal resolutions are made. Intentions are set to develop a healthier lifestyle, pursue further education, or spend more time with loved ones. Even as these various personal resolutions are made, business owners should make resolutions to improve their companies by increasing the health of the organization, increasing educational opportunities for leadership and employees, and designing new engagement opportunities for customers. Aligning business resolutions with personal goals can make it easier to achieve success.

It is recommended that we visit our primary care physicians for yearly wellness checks. Likewise, gather your leadership team for a yearly wellness check of the business. Annual reviews can be seen as cumbersome or time-consuming, but they are well worth the effort to realize the goals of the company. As a component of continuous improvement, take the time to examine your business from top to bottom, run some tests, and ask relevant questions. Start by pulling out the mission and vision statement of the organization. Are you still operating within the purview of the mission and vision? Have you strayed away and need to assess current practices? Or is it time to update the mission and vision? Is the organization operating with the most effective technology and business practices? Similar to improving personal health and wellness, start the year by assessing where you are versus where you want to be. Determine what’s holding you back and resolve to reach a new horizon.

In a previous blog post, we discussed the importance of continuing education as a tool for employee engagement. Even as business leaders are seeking to attend networking events, conferences, and possibly gain advanced degrees to make them more effective in their roles, employees are seeking the same. Employers who compensate employees for continuing education practices enjoy a higher retention rate. Supporting personal growth while providing a benefit during or after the education is complete will encourage staff to pursue advanced degrees and remain with your organization afterward. Improved employee retention rates provide stability within your organization and a strong foundation for future growth. Allow leaders as well as staff to pursue educational opportunities and reach a new horizon.

Fostering consumer engagement is a goal every business person must reach. Three pillars of consumer retention are partnering with customers, growing with customers, and appreciating customers. Just as we support our loved ones during good times and bad times, business personnel must learn to ride the waves of client satisfaction. Partnering with customers to appropriately celebrate life events demonstrates that each buyer is an individual not a dollar sign. Growing with clients includes offering what they need now even when it’s outside the scope of your business. Offering referrals to reputable third-parties builds trust and goodwill between you and your clients. Customer appreciation is as simple as saying ‘thank you’. Thank you for being a customer. Thank you for sharing feedback and suggestions. Thank you for allowing our company to come alongside you and reach a new horizon.

Focus on new horizons this year both personally and professionally. Go further and do more than you accomplished in previous years. Develop success strategies for leaders and personnel. Most importantly, remember that little can be accomplished alone. Form a team to support you with the physical tasks and provide emotional/spiritual encouragement as you move to reach a new horizon.

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Feedback is a Gift

Category : Blog

Customer complaints are the schoolbooks from which we learn. – Unknown

Constructive criticism. Positive feedback. Redirection. Appreciation. Whether it takes on a positive or negative tone; if it’s said in person or via Social Media, customers will continually express their feelings about your company. It is up to business managers to process the feedback and respond appropriately.

Processing feedback, even unsolicited comments, demonstrates maturity and willingness to change. Feedback can sometimes be difficult to digest but receive it with grace and take the time to consider the validity of the comment. Constructive criticism is not a personal attack, it is an attempt to suggest a different way of doing things; a way which may not have been considered before. It is intended to improve technical abilities, interpersonal skills, or the final product.

Customer feedback should guide and shape the offerings of your organization. Regularly soliciting feedback and actively responding to unsolicited feedback is a great way to keep customers engaged. Brands with longevity not only stay ahead of industry trends, they keep an eye on customers to make sure they’re hitting the correct cues. There is no sense in “changing with the times” if you lose your target market in the midst.

The commentary tells you what’s going right, what can be adjusted, and when your customer base changes. Your response indicates what your brand represents and what’s important to its leaders. Food producers are developing non-GMO, gluten free, and all-natural/organic options for buyers. Clothing manufacturers are going back to 100% cotton and incorporating sustainable fabrics to lessen negative impact on the environment. Advertisers are careful to produce multicultural, multigenerational, inclusive marketing campaigns. These trends are a reaction to what customers said, both criticism and praise.

Acting on customer feedback is a critical factor within the feedback loop. First, acknowledge their time and thought in generating feedback. Issue thank you notes, email discount coupons, or invite certain clients to participate in an upcoming focus group after receiving their response. Next, take the data you’ve gathered, meet with your team, and decide how the company can implement the ideas that align with mission and vision. Last, don’t employ customer generated changes in silence; hoping someone will take notice. Send an email, write a blog post, or release a Social Media statement sharing what specific changes caused by client commentary.

Feedback is a gift you can’t afford to leave unopened.

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Proactive vs Reactive Business Practices

Being proactive is the art and science of designing a reaction to a situation that has yet to occur. Proactive individuals strategically anticipate problems, complications, unforeseen circumstances and seek to develop a contingency plan for these scenarios. These leaders take the time to see the possible obstacles on their roadmap to success. Today we’ll look at proactive versus reactive business practices.
Maintain the Advantage
Proactive organizations maintain an advantage over their competitors by taking the initiative during the planning and preparation stage. Proactive teams build space into the project planning timeline to strategize for failure. Preparing for a piece of equipment to go down, anticipating a critical software failure, or projecting a change in public opinion is key to risk management and successful contingency planning. Reactive companies, on the other hand, scramble to respond to shifts in the industry. They go into project planning ill-equipped to deal with the unexpected and often function in a crisis mode. Reactive organizations are often fighting to create a workaround for issues or struggling to keep a project on the correct timeline. This heightens stress and leaves employees feeling insecure.
Improved Customer Experience
Proactive organizations position themselves to continually move toward better customer service. They apply a strategy that will assist them in achieving their customer satisfaction goals. A hotel manager might have staff check guest satisfaction by asking how their stay is or whether they are in need of anything. This question can be asked unobtrusively as the guest passes through the lobby. An independent contractor can keep an updated list of previous customers who have given permission to be used as references. In this way, the list is handy and accessible when a potential client requests references. Reactive businesses are often found waiting to respond to a complaint from a guest or request for information. The time required to develop an appropriate response to such inquiries can be the difference in a repeat customer or a negative review.
Employee Relations
Proactive companies utilize the depth of their talent pool to create and implement positive processes and procedures. Leveraging suggestions, communicating expectations clearly and inviting feedback keeps proactive companies relevant to both their clients and employees. Like clients, 21st Century employees are exposed to diverse training and experience, they may well have an innovative idea that will move the company forward. Traditional top-down management issuing outdated protocols can undermine the ingenuity of core personnel. A constant feeling of not being heard by management, being bogged down with fighting fires, and not having an appropriate response to complaints from customers can eventually lead to a high employee turnover rate.
Admittedly, creating a contingency plan for every single issue that might possibly occur is not only unrealistic, but also time-consuming. Nevertheless, preparing for as many issues as may arise provides the business with an added sense of confidence when executing on the plan. Give your business a better chance of success by taking a proactive approach to your business strategies, human resources department, and project planning. Contact At Your Service Consulting for more on ideas on how to create a proactive environment in your organization.

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Connecting With Customers

Category : Blog

Similar to dating, sales requires wooing customers into buying from you. “People buy from people they like and can relate to,” says Adrian Miller, a premiere sales trainer in New York. Successful business owners develop relationships with their customers before attempting to sell anything. Given more ways than ever to connect (email, social media, trade shows, common interest groups, etc.) entrepreneurs are tasked with making each customer interaction meaningful. The first step to noteworthy customer communication is determining how your customers wish to hear from you.

A timeless tool for data acquisition is a survey made accessible at the site of your store, online, or both. A quick survey of what communication method, how often, and content interest will exponentially reduce the amount of energy you spend following up with customers to keep them engaged. With this information in hand, create segmented groups based on preferred communication method and content. Deliverable content should include a blend of trending industry-related topics; a new (or old) tool/product your company offers related to the trend; and an anecdote that allows new customer to get to know you and your organization. Segmentation allows exclusive discounts and offers to be appropriately targeted. General newsletters are a comprehensive way to release broad information and updates. These can be sent to the entire contact group as an opportunity to engage in other areas as their needs, interests, and lifestyles change.

Moving beyond this first method of communication, it is a good idea to have a personal touch option for customers. That could be anything from a phone call to a personalized postcard on their birthdays to meeting for lunch. The corporate culture and industry dynamics will determine what is most appropriate. Making a point to engage directly with individual customers demonstrates a value for that customer and appreciation of their business relationship with your company.

Social media is a great platform for continually introducing yourself to your customers. It is also a great tool for learning about them. Develop a social media team within your organization that will respond to feedback on your company’s page, but also stay up-to-date on related trends and customer needs. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and to some degree, Instagram are good for customer-focused brands. However, B2B organizations should also build a presence on LinkedIn. Companies targeting millennials should include Snapchat in their social media toolbox, 60% of Snapchat users are under 24.

The numerous options for customer communication platforms can make one’s head spin. However, the most important thing is to release timely, targeted, and telling communications. Twenty-first century business is a two-way relationship. Business owners want to get to know their customers and customers want to get to know business owners. Present communication with customers as a conversation – you speak then they speak. Are customers listening to your end of the conversation? And what are they saying in response?

For more on effectively connecting with customers, contact At Your Service Consulting.

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Customer Service Trends

Category : Blog

Customer service is a key business component in any industry. Anticipating and meeting customer’s needs before they express them is a valuable tactic employed by businesses across the world. While it may not look like it, customer service is improving across the board. To be fair, trendsetting organizations are setting the bar fairly high. But that doesn’t mean that every business can’t exceed the expectations of its customer base. This ideal is so essential that many companies are rebranding this area of focus as “customer experience”. A 2017 article in Harvard Business Review declared that customer experience is vital to the success of today’s businesses. Customer considerations of a personalized, interactive experience and perceived value of the product generally trump cost. In other words, consumers will pay more when they feel they’ve gotten a full-bodied experience. In this way, independent retailers may find they have an edge over big box stores through their ability to create an individualized experience tailored toward each customer; particularly return sales.

Driven by self-servicing consumers, companies turn to emerging and improving technologies like chatbots; voice activated assistants (i.e. Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, etc); and on-demand service options, paving the way for live agents to respond only to higher level issues. Most customers are happy to surf through FAQs, use online or downloaded apps, or check balances and basic account information via automated systems. Human contact is still preferred for issues such as complaints, refund requests, and major account changes like closures or moving to a different service category. When live agents are required they would do well to be prepared to offer polite and courteous service, be empowered to make decisions leading to resolutions, and be willing to go an extra mile to retain the contract.

Improving customer experience in today’s ever-changing, fast-paced culture demands that companies be prepared to provide real-time results for clients. Customers are zipping from commitment to commitment and need service that fits into their schedule. If a customer has taken the time to call a helpline, they are expecting an agent who has a right-now resolution. Employers seeking to improve and maintain customer experience often choose between on-site workshops, webinars, and pre-recorded video lessons to provide training for employees. These tools provide a balance between cost, effectiveness and efficiency.

For more ideas on how you can move from customer service to customer experience, contact At Your Service Consulting.

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Employee Development: It’s Worth Your Time (and Money)

Professional development training provides a three-fold benefit for your company. First, it can work as an added benefit for hourly employees examining the pros of working for your business. Second, it creates a pool of in-house talent when promotions become available. Third, professional development is an employee retention tool that should not be overlooked.

Training opportunities attract motivated, career oriented candidates to your organization. A culture of ongoing learning serves as an added benefit for hourly employees whose benefits package differs from that of salaried employees. The opportunity to receive training, attend seminars, or offset the cost of additional education is a positive factor for candidates seeking to grow professionally. Including your company’s commitment to employee development in job postings and during interviews serves to highlight the value you place on employees. Making a commitment to their learning demonstrates your support of their career goals.

This support also comes in the form of employee advancement within the organization. In-house promotions create a culture of loyalty, decreases turnover rate, and improves the reputation of the company. Hiring from within lowers the loss of productivity and revenue associated with bringing in an outsider. Offering development training ensures that employees remain knowledgeable about their jobs and industry trends. A company that known for having knowledgeable, skilled, well-trained employees is an asset for clients. Your employees can be trusted to offer sound, reliable advice and excellent customer service. Providing opportunities for staff to take on added responsibility keeps them engaged over time.

In any economy, the option of a long-term career with prospects of advancement is a key to employee retention rate. Demonstrating value through offering tools for professional, and even personal, growth will cause employees to refer skilled peers for open positions strengthening your organization. Motivated employees require less supervision and form a strong workforce within any industry.

Employee development proactively prepares executive leadership for future growth and change. Are there current employees who are on track to becoming future senior managers? Investing in those individuals through training and development prepares your company to remain intact after the transition of current senior leaders and directors. Ongoing training reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each employee allowing managers to effectively build their teams. Executives can utilize this insight when considering the future leaders of the company.

Offering access to professional seminars, reimbursing for required licenses or paying a part of tuition costs are great ways to show employees that you care about their future. The financial cost of offering trainings will inevitably be offset by the return on investment gained from a loyal employee who can grow as your company grows. To increase retention, promote longevity, and decrease transition times support the career goals of employees. Investing in your employees is investing in your company. Valued employees are loyal employees.

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Maximize Your Summer Hiring

According to a new survey by CareerBuilder, 49% of employers are planning to hire summer employees. Of those, 79% said they would consider summer staff for long-term positions. For business owners taking the long view, the employee onboarding and training process is even more crucial.

By providing a more extensive training at time of hire, those summer employees who stay on will already be prepped and able to make a seamless transition. It is also a more cost-effective solution as it prevents internal or external personnel from conducting two training sessions within three month of each other. The 2016 Training Industry Report indicates that, on average, the training budget for small business was $236,270. The average cost per employee was $1,052.

As we shared in the November blog on holiday hiring, the training and onboarding of short-term staff is just as critical as that of year round employees. No matter how long a new hire intends to be with the company, every day they represent the values your company stands for. By providing more care during the training process, employees are more likely to treat your customers with the care they have come to expect from your organization.

New employee training should include more than just internal procedures and introduction to software. Your employee training should also include the mission and vision of the company and the foundational values of your organization. Effective training balances the company’s employment need with the client’s need in a way that enhances the skill set of each trainee.

A summer employee is more than just a warm body to fill a slot. They represent your company, your brand in front of your clients. With the right training and onboarding experience they could very well become a long term asset.

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Attracting and Retaining New Customers

Attracting new customers is as easy as defining your target market. Keeping them comes down to delivering out of the ordinary results in the area of customer service.

Defining your target market is the first step to attracting new customers. Simply stating “men aged 30-40” is a good place to begin, but identifying your customer does not end there. Be as specific as possible. Become clear on their habits, their enjoyments, consider where they do business currently. Narrow your focus using well-developed segments. Include those things that make them happy, sad, excited, etc. With your target market identified, create a plan to reach your potential customers.

While most businesses opt for a direct marketing strategy, both startups and young businesses could benefit from “host-beneficiary” marketing. This strategy involves reaching out to other businesses whose customer database includes your target market. Present the established business (host) with the idea of offering their customer a gift or complimentary service from your company as a loyalty reward. The host company benefits by having a new thank you gift for customers that costs them no money and little effort. Your company (the beneficiary) gains exposure to an established database of potential new customers. This strategy generates a win-win. Utilize this strategy with as many host companies as you can handle when averaging a 10-20% response rate from their customer base.

A clear plan of action for receiving and retaining new customers is imperative. The customer service focus of your staff encourages new clients to become loyal patrons. Prepare staff for the expected increase in customers, remind them of your company’s values and customer service models. Prompt staff to gently encourage impulse buys or future service requests. Above all, remember to follow up with each new contact you receive through your host-beneficiary marketing. This closes the loop in your marketing strategy and brings solidity to the newly-formed relationship.

Contact At Your Service Consulting for more tips on retaining customers through improved customer service.

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March Momentum

Category : Blog

March is an important turning point on our calendar. It marks the beginning of the Spring season, we “Spring Forward” and lose one hour of sleep, college basketball fans are poised to witness the outcome of March Madness, many celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and business owners will prepare for the end of the first fiscal quarter. By the end of the month we’ve probably laughed, cried, and celebrated multiple times. With all of these variables in play how can you prepare your business to maintain the momentum you’ve built this quarter?

Once you build momentum, nurture it. Be active and deliberate in capitalizing on the fanfare and recognition your business is getting. Keep track of what you’ve done successfully and what marketing ideas could use improvement. Entering the second business quarter is a great time to launch a new product, open in a new marketplace or enter new territory. There’s a popular saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Rather, if it’s working well use it to your advantage. Review the next step in your expansion plan and put it into play.

Continually resetting the bar will keep you and your team from becoming complacent. In business, as in sports, momentum can shift in an instant.  How many times have we seen an odd’s on favorite fall to a lower-ranked opponent because the underrated team played with more passion? Momentum was built because you desired it, you planned for it, and you worked for it. Once you’ve hit your goal, go after your next, greater goal.

A note of caution, balance raising the bar with the time needed to recuperate from the previous effort. Allow yourself, your team, and even your customers a moment to breathe between campaigns. You don’t want any of your major players to burn out in the middle. The key is to focus on reenergizing for the next push, not relaxing and losing pace.

Whether your March has come in like a lion or a lamb, your annual SMART goals will keep you positioned to maintain the momentum you’ve gained. You worked hard to gain market share, expand brand recognition, and improve customer relations. Take a moment to reward yourself for a job well done, then get after it again with renewed excitement and motivation.


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Loving Unlovable Customers

We’ve all heard the phrases “Kill ‘em with kindness” and “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar”. But how do we put that into play during an interaction with a customer that is not easy to work with? These simple tips on how to show love to your customers (during positive and not so positive interactions) will help you and your service team keep the love flowing all year round.

  • Service with a smile. A warm and friendly smile speaks volumes. A smile conveys openness, approachability and a willingness to assist. It is the first of many ice breakers your clients may need to turn their day around and leave in a better mood. A smile even carries across phone lines. When you smile your tone of voice and disposition changes. A genuine smile will help to ease any tension from the client.
  • Don’t take it personal. We’ve all had stressful days when everything seemed to be against us and we felt as though we couldn’t catch a break. When you find yourself with a customer who seems to be a Negative Ned/Nancy, remain calm and professional in your body language and tone of voice. Remember, if your customer does become rude or disrespectful it is appropriate to turn the interaction over to a colleague or manager after doing all you can to diffuse the situation, per company protocol.
  • Try to make it better, but don’t force it. One of your greatest assets as a customer service professional is people skills. Your ability to read people and intuitively interpret how best to approach them is what will cause you to stand out in your field. Once you’ve gotten a sense of your customer’s disposition consider adding an approved bonus for their purchase or interest in your service. Unexpected freebies are a great way to show appreciation and brighten someone’s day.
  • Mind your P’s ad Qs. Please and thank you seem to have gone away with the introduction of emojis and texting. Common courtesy and good manners will go a long way in the journey to show love to your customers. A simple greeting of Hello, Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening; using Sir or Ma’am; and making eye contact will show your client the respect they deserve as a voluntary patron of your establishment. When making a request for information from your client include please and say thank you. At the end of your service, thank them for coming to the store or calling the customer service line. Wish them a good day.
  • Become interested in what they’re interested in. Spend time getting to know your customers who come in on a regular basis. Listen to their stories, find out about their lives outside of their time at your business. If they’re having something special coming up remember to ask them about it when you see them again. If their grandkids are interested in a sport or hobby, consider taking time to find out about local venues or upcoming events. Sharing this information with your customer will show that you are listening and you care.

Working in customer service can be a demanding position, but most often it is rewarding. There will be days when we have to create those opportunities for reward by our actions and responses to customers. Taking the time to show that you love them in spite of their crabby attitudes will leave a lasting impression. In the end, one old adage remains true treat others the way you would like to be treated.