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Dec
01
2008
What Customers Want Maranda Gibson

What do customers want? The answers are not hard to guess at, but if your company makes these customer wishes a priority, you'll sail through the ongoing economic storm with ease. You'll stay on target for your company goals and end up following a nice straight line through the roughest of conditions. Interested? Read on.

1. Company transparency. Clients and customers are weary of corporate greed. In other words, the bank CEOS that took taxpayer money to attend a resort to “rest up” from the exhaustion of having to be bailed out aren't real popular right now with customers. If your company shows a commitment to your clients and customers in that you consider their satisfaction with your product or service the most important issue you deal with on a daily basis, well, that's what they're looking for right now. So show it off, be completely transparent, be honest, be thoughtful and respectful, and above all, make sure your clients and customers are satisfied. If you aren't sure, ask.

2. Customer service. When your phone rings, who answers it? How do they answer? Do they have the information your customers want? Are they helpful? My pressing customer service issue was answered above and beyond this past week (yes, the day before Thanksgiving) by a very thoughtful, polite customer service rep and I was happy to take the time to call his supervisor and get a kudos note put in his file. I will purchase again from this company. I feel completely confident that everything will be done exactly as promised and I have no qualms about recommending this company to my entire neighborhood at the upcoming Christmas party. It's all the result of amazing customer service. Does your company offer it? Start now.

3. Communication. After someone buys something from you, do you follow up and make sure the service or product worked? Did it solve the original problem or issue? Did it work like you said it would? Did they have any issues with the item or service? The easiest step is a customer comment card or quick follow-up phone call to make sure everything was as ordered. Don't immediately try to sell something else. Just make sure what you sold them works. And let it go for now. You can always send a marketing message later on. Harassing a happy customer with a follow-up sale just makes you appear desperate.

4. Accessibility. Can they find you when they need you the next time? Your marketing message should have your customer service number, your web site, and your mailing address every time. Use those marketing message opportunities to offer a coupon or special promotion that does not expire. People save coupons. Be helpful by providing your contact information and leave it at that. Send regular follow-up messages with sale offers and special promotions, but don't be pesky.

5. Long-term memory. A company I order from regularly has all my orders under my name from four years ago. I can trust that they have every single order on record and will always be able to look up past orders by a quick search of my name. It's rather impressive to know that a company service rep can tell me the details of an order from 2005 so that I don't have to dig through past records to find it myself. It also is comforting to know that they care that much to make sure they keep track of my buying patterns. Plus, they offer me promos based on my buying patterns. Call it the Amazon.com effect. Hey, it works!

Anything you can implement right now in your business? Your customers will thank you (and will probably give you their business for years to come).

Nov
21
2008
Great Uses for AccuConference Toll Free Maranda Gibson

Documentation could be the single most important word in business right now. Who did you talk to? What did you talk about? What conclusions did you come to and how did you reach those? Web and video conferencing haven't just increased in popularity and power due to the struggling economy and increased travel expenses., A lot of corporations have turned to conference calling as a means of being able to document. Pretty much every company offers call recording, and a recording is a document to prove what happened in a conference call. When you're not having a conference call but still need documentation of a conversation, you can do that through your AccuConference Toll Free number. By using it as a fax machine, you can keep PDFs of incoming faxes stored in your email inbox. Listed below are some situations where this would be a great tool for you to use, both for personal and business uses.

  1. One of the first things that came to mind was how this could be useful with online bill pay, which most of us use. When you pay online, you receive a confirmation number, which companies rely on you to write down. It's a good system but it doesn't always work, and as I've said before, having a back-up plan is one of the smartest things you can do. These confirmation numbers are stored in the companies' databases, and many companies are nice enough to fax you a copy of the confirmation if you ask. By using your AccuConference Toll Free number as the fax, you're going to get that confirmation into your email inbox as a PDF. If you follow the steps here, you can label them and file them away so that you always have a copy - . Not just the number you wrote down on the invoice but the actual fax that is dated and has their companies fax number on it. That way if you ever did have a problem with the payment posting or being correctly applied to the account, you have an almost foolproof back-up just a click or two away.
  2. If you're already using the call notes feature to keep your toll free accounts organized, then email notification is a great supplement for storing information coming from clients. If you have a client who's faxing you agreements or proposals, you can create a folder for that client and change the name of the subject line to (for example) “Steve, Proposal for Company X” and file it away under the “Steve” folder.
  3. If those client agreements are ever changed, create subfolders in these main folders for changes like “Steve, Company X, 11/15/08, price changed”. Using this feature allows you to have the most updated agreement, quote, or whatever is being discussed in the one place you're sure to find it: your email.
  4. Fax yourself. Sounds crazy doesn't it? It's really not. Send yourself important documents that one of these days might face the fury of moving, age, water, you name it. Send yourself your birth certificates, wedding licenses, social security cards, driver's licenses, or anything you think could be useful. In the event that these originals got burned, destroyed, ripped, whatever, at least you would have a place to start.
  5. Lawyers love paperwork, we all know that. Renaming subject lines not only works for the lawyers, but also you as a client. If you're buying a piece of property, there is going to be a lot of papers flying around and you're going to want to keep it all. So have it faxed to you, and again, rename it and file it. If you are handling multiple projects at once create folders to store each set of documents. As a law professional, you can do this for your clients who are sending in wills, settlements, subpoenas, and even payment agreements.

As you can see, this is just a place to start. Even if you're not a lawyer, a habitual online bill payer, or a salesman, just keeping important documents on file is a great idea. You never know when someone's going to ask you to see a birth certificate or when that new puppy is going to go exploring while you're at work and find that folder full of documents.

But there would be a lot of really nice confetti to celebrate the fact that you were smart enough to store the documents in your email.

Nov
20
2008
How Communication Can Make You Money Maranda Gibson

Social media. It's the buzzword for 2008. Bloggers with book deals, Twitter recaps of presidential debates and appearances, Facebook groups set up to discuss a particular product launch, teleconferences by marketing gurus discussing that latest sales strategy. It's all a form of communication that could be very effective for your business. So how do you use any of it to make money?

1. Are you trying to build a buzz? If you're an author, a blog discussing your writing career might work. You can get a fan page on Facebook, where people can ask you questions and talk about your book. Stephenie Meyer's book Twilight (the movie hits theaters this month) has 343,643 fans right now. The page boasts interviews with Meyer and the cast of the movie, discussion forums, and trailers, movie pictures and promos, you name it.

2. Are you an expert trying to build a platform? A teleconference can be a great place to meet potential clients and to give away some great teaser content, such as marketing in a slow economy, how to sell more effectively, even tips on becoming a career coach. You can advertise your conference using Facebook or Twitter, allow people to twitter your call, and then post a recording for download in exchange for email addresses.

3. Do you want to broadcast your expertise into different social media worlds? Your blog can be a great vehicle to showcase your knowledge base. Also link your blog to Facebook so that when you update with a new post, it automatically is updated on Facebook. Start a Facebook group and ask readers of your blog to join. Group members can join a discussion forum to talk about issues you've posted about. One writer currently hosts an Atlanta-based blog on finding good deals and her Facebook group has garnered her hundreds of new readers. She posts deals on her Twitter feed, Facebook status, and on her blog.

4. Do you want to complement your publicity department's work on your product? Any of these tools can work for you. A teleconference where you discuss your newest launch, a blog where you can upload YouTube Videos, or Facebook can host and remind people of upcoming events you'll be at, and Twitter can become a blaster of quick spurts of information as things come up.

5. Do you have doubts about social media? It is pretty new, and yet we've seen evidence that it can invigorate campaigns quite effectively. President-elect Barack Obama harnessed the power of social media to his advantage this year. Voters on both sides used Facebook to remind people to vote, debated policy ideas via Twitter, and even live-blogged the debates. If you're not sure where to start, try one thing at a time. It's fun and you just might surprise yourself at what you can create.

Nov
18
2008
How Not To Communicate Change to Your Employees Maranda Gibson

The layoffs and the bankruptcies are clogging the national and local news these days. It's affecting more and more people as real estate, construction, and retail markets tighten for this final quarter of the year and move into an unknown 2009.

As a business owner, how do you communicate these changes to your employees? If you find yourself doing one of these things, it's time to shape up your communication skills.

1. You don't really talk about the economy, as there's work to be done. Nope. That's not a great approach. Sticking your head in the sand doesn't leave you with much to see. Your employees are looking to you to decide their future and the least you could do is to keep up on current happenings in your industry and run some numbers with your accounting department. Then call a meeting and talk about it.

2. You keep promising that nothing drastic will happen, but you just laid someone off this week. It definitely shakes the faith of your employees and it may affect your relationships with key client/customers. If you say one thing and do another, your employees may start to disregard everything you say. Far better to communicate change as a process your employees (and your clients) can track with.

3. No one knows what will happen next year, so we'll just wait it out and see. Again, why aren't you strategizing and putting forward possible plans and scenarios in case things get bigger or smaller, the economy stops completely or regains its footing? Isn't that a leader's job? If you communicate that you're thinking about these issues, wouldn't that be better all around?

4. You walk around bemoaning the loss of sales, but don't communicate how it can be fixed. Employees will wonder why the company isn't doing a major sales push or why you seem immobilized by the situation and can't move forward. Employees will begin to second-guess your leadership. It would be better to gather teams and prepare to combat lack of sales with extreme effort from everyone, most importantly, you.

5. You repeat everything the media squawks from television, radio, and Internet.
Your job is to communicate your company's message and goals at all times. If you only repeat what you hear from a media who can only spell out doom and gloom, your communication plans have been vanquished. Don't waste time repeating others' predictions. Make your own, inspire your team, and get to work.

Nov
14
2008
Turn Your 800 Forwarding Number Into a Filing System Maranda Gibson

Talking about lean management last week was just a brief overview. Part of being lean is about eliminating clutter. We all know the cliché "out of sight and out of mind," and what is more out of sight than the file cabinets in your office. Have you looked in them lately? Some people are completely dedicated to keep those cabinets organized and well taken care of and some offices…well, let's just say you would have better luck trying to figure out what the original content of that plastic container in the back of the refrigerator is.

One of the best ways to clear up some of this clutter is to e-file your documents rather than printing them out and putting them in files. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take your 800 forwarding number and incorporate it into all of your daily activities. Not only can you forward that number to another, but you can also use it as a fax machine. The program will recognize what's a fax and what's a phone call and route it accordingly.

You will get an email notification that you have received an incoming fax, with that fax attached as a PDF file. If you're one of those people who opens the PDF and presses the print key automatically, slow down and rethink what you're doing. Old habits die hard, I understand, but technology is one of those things that can live forever if you embrace it.

What does all this 800 forwarding/email notification mumbo jumbo mean to you? Well, here's the thing: by changing the subject lines in those email notifications, you can help keep faxes organized and eliminate that big file cabinet. Wouldn't that be nice?

So how do you do it?

  1. When you get an email fax notification, double-click it to open it.
  2. Highlight the subject text.
  3. Type in what you would like it to say
  4. Close the email and click "Yes" when prompted if you would like to save the file.
  5. Your new subject line will now be displayed.

When you're trying to go leaner and greener in your office, this is a great tool. By defining the subject lines and creating subfolders for storage, you can not only e-store all the new information coming in, but actually fax existing paper copied information to your 800 number and store those in your email as well.

There are some other added benefits to treating your faxes this way. By storing them in your email you, in essence, have an original copy always ready to go. It's going to have the date and time on it as well as the inbound number that it was faxed from. There's always a copy that is not going to be damaged, torn, ripped, turning yellow and peeling up at the edges from age. Also, the US EPA states that the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper a year, so imagine the amount of money your office will save by making this an office mandate and not just a personal choice.

PS: Did you know that your 800 forwarding number is already a fax machine? Print your 800 number on your business cards as a fax number with no additional steps required.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

Nov
07
2008
Five Steps to a Leaner Company Maranda Gibson

If you sat down at a five-star steakhouse and ordered the best T-Bone available, and it came out with big thick layers of fat around the edges, what would your reaction be? Sure, it's still a good steak on the inside but now there's a bunch of extra work you need to do to get to the end result, which is an expensive and delicious melt-in-your-mouth T-Bone that you've been looking forward to for weeks.

Now imagine if they had trimmed the fat off before it got to you, it's still the same steak but there's a lot more time for you to enjoy it. It feels like less work and you're able to enjoy the end result (the steak) a lot sooner and with out all the work to get to the steak, you're going to enjoy it just a little more. Now, if only you could do this in the business world.

Lean Management

Oh, wait, you can.

In the 1990s, the Toyota Production System was developed by Japanese auto maker Toyota and is commonly known in the American business realm as lean manufacturing. The heart of TPS is based around Henry Ford, a pioneer in the automobile industry, who developed efficient assembly line structures that cut his total costs and ultimately raised his overall profit. In short… he cut the fat off his assembly line. Lean management focuses on the types of cuts that can be made across the entire spectrum, for example, a company that is truly lean also examines the number of steps it takes to complete a particular task. If the company is burning too much human energy they might modify the process the employee must take so that every step they make is the most efficient.

You're probably wondering how lean management can affect you and your business if you don't run an assembly line or a manufacturing facility. You can apply lean management in ways that don't require Sigma Six certified professionals to come in and completely revamp your business.

First of all, apply 5S to your office or building. 5S is a method of organization that helps not only to trim the fat from workspaces but to also maintain the organization that is created.

  1. Sort: Go through and keep only essential items on hand while storing or throwing away everything that isn't needed right away.
  2. Straighten: Arrange equipment in the most efficient order. For example if you have someone in your office who is mainly responsible for sending faxes, it would make the most sense to have the max machine set up right beside his or her desk.
  3. Shining: This basically means to be systematic in cleaning the area. Once it's cleaned, it should remain that way. At the end of each shift, the area should be cleaned away of clutter or when you're dealing with individual desks, each person needs to be responsible for cleaning up their own space. Maintaining organization should be a part of everyone's assigned set of tasks.
  4. Standardize: Everyone knows what their responsibilities are. There isn't a need to have two people doing a job that would only take one, and each person should know exactly what they need to do during their work day.
  5. Sustain: Once the first 4 S's are implemented, they need to become the new way to operate. Maintain the new way that things are done without allowing any of the old practices that have been dealt away with to creep back in.

You can cut the fat in other ways as well. Feel like you're spending too much on company travel? Don't travel anymore. Use a video conferencing or audio conferencing service to lower your travel costs and be more time efficient. Think of it like this: a video or audio conference isn't going to run late, get delayed, lose baggage, or get caught in traffic. It's available when you need it and however you need it, so it eliminates the need to make grand plans to get everyone together for a discussion. Conference calls are only the distance from you to a phone or computer, so imagine the energy, time, and money you're saving by just picking up the phone.

Oct
31
2008
Communicating with Style Maranda Gibson

While knowing your audience is the most important part of being a good presenter, knowing yourself is just as important. Presenting is all about making sure that your best is on display and that people feel comfortable. Participants in your conference are going to feel comfortable if that's what you feel (remember the non-verbal importance).So, it's important to know what kind of communicator you are.

According to Scranton University there are four types of communication styles: process, action, people, and idea. Each style will reflect a different kind of presentation comfort zone. Some people are all business when it comes to their conferences, and others are more free-thinking. What makes each type of communicator feel in control of their presentation, and why is it important?

  1. Process (PR) Oriented:
    A process oriented communicator is someone who focuses on the steps from start to completion with a particular plan of action. These are communicators who understand and focus on the steps it takes to reach the end result. Think of it as "how" and "why”. Process oriented individuals want to make sure the "how" is understood and believes that if the steps are followed accurately, the "why" will follow naturally. These communicators are precise and focus on the facts. They also may establish alternate plans.
  2. Action (A) Oriented:
    Action focused communicators are short-winded. Action is a verb and these types of communicators want to see something done quickly. They want to know that their audience was motivated to move. If you're action oriented, you should always use a visual aid, like a slide presentation, to focus on the result of the coming actions, i.e, "If we complete project X as a team, our profits are going to grow." Action communicators want their audience to know and understand what the result of their provisions, so they can be motivated to reach the end result.
  3. People (PE) Oriented:
    When a presenter has a communication style that is person oriented, they tend to focus more on the relationship between the idea being presented and the people it is going to affect, whether clients or employees. When you're this type of communicator, you should be focusing on how the idea has worked in the past, be informal, and allow time for small talk. A lot on times on conferences, you have a group of people who either work closely together or don't get to spend a lot of time in the same room. So, you need to allow for the people taking part in the conference to chit chat with each other. Allowing time to for this gets everyone comfortable and able to hit the ground running with whatever ideas they have.
  4. Idea (I) Oriented:
    Idea oriented communicators tend to lean towards more open types of meetings. They encourage open discussion and the sharing of ideas. When scheduling a conference, idea oriented communicators should factor in extra time so that they can allow for this open share of ideas. When you're an idea focused person, you have a tendency to let your ideas flow out loud as well. So before your conference, be sure to create an outline, starting with an overall statement, and then narrow your ideas down slowly and to keep yourself on task. Allow for open discussion at the end of the conference so that the creative flow does not have to be interrupted.

(In case you're curious, I am an action communicator.)

The long and short of it is that the best communicators are going to have elements of all these kinds of styles. Getting feedback from your conference participants is going to give great insight into what changes can make you more effective. Are your conferences all over the place with no true plan of action? You should focus on being more process oriented the next time you hold a conference. Do people think your presentations are boring? Try being more people oriented. Making little tweaks in how you present is going to have a lasting impression on the outcome of your conferences.

PS: Nothing is more important than knowing yourself when you're in front of a group. Remember that when you start tweaking your communication style. How you sound is just as important as what you say.

Oct
28
2008
Be Big but Think Small Maranda Gibson

Unless you've been on vacation for a couple months in a remote mountain cabin, you'll know all about the failures of the huge corporations that make up most of our economy and the governmental money to help them keep going. For whatever reason, these corporations did the things they did, and when the course was run or the market shifted, it all came crashing down.

Other than sales, budget, and number of employees, what's the difference between a small company and a large one? For one thing, if a 35 employee business is in trouble, they won't get a call from the government, other than perhaps one from the IRS to kick them while they are down. There are two main reasons for this: This small company failing will only hurt the employees. If a big corporation goes down, it can damage the economy and America. Second, the government budget won't notice the loss of tax revenue from the little company.

Seth Godin of Seth's Blog has a simple piece of advice for these huge companies: Think and act like a small business. For example, is there any legitimate reason not to have simple, transparent accounting practices? Being able to make the numbers look like you want them can be beneficial if trying to put one over on stockholders, but how does that help the managers of the company?

At what point of a company's growth does it no longer need good customer service? It's vital for small businesses, but large corporations don't seem to have it a priority. In fact, when a big company does have good customer service, it becomes a major selling point and a way to distinguish itself from its competitors.

Like customer service, there are many things that a big corporation leaves behind when it becomes, well big. They may seem inconsequential, but as recent events show, the "ittle" things never stopped being important.

Oct
24
2008
How Often Do You Check Your Email Maranda Gibson

Time management experts estimate that over 50% of businesspeople check their email compulsively. More and more, people walk around (or try and drive) while checking their Blackberries or iPhones. As more and more email is exchanged in the business world, the urge to keep up with the latest news is insistent. So how often do you check your email? Instantly as it arrives, twice a day (once in the morning, once in the afternoon), or whenever everything else gets done?

If you picked any of those options, you're in good company. Here are a few tips to deal with the overflow of email:

1. Delegate or send along any email you don't need to deal with personally. This is something that managers and CEOs must learn. You should not be answering every email that comes into the sales or customer service department. There are other people that can do it.

2. Create different email accounts. If you receive gobs of email from clients, vendors, colleagues, and so on, parse them out and redirect the email flow into multiple accounts. That way, when you check a particular email account, you can expect all the emails to be from clients, not a conglomeration of emails from colleagues, clients, and people trying to sell you something.

3. The Four-Hour Workweek guru, Tim Ferriss, makes it a habit to only check email once a day. He set up an auto-response message, which states, "I check e-mail once per day, often in the evening. If you need a response before tomorrow, please call me on my cell."

4. Give email its due in the evening when the day's work is done and you can focus. Lots of CEOs run around all day putting out little fires and then get back to work in their home offices after 9 P.M. to see the day's messages.  Often the inbox is really full. However, an A.M. work shift may be just the thing (for prime working tips specific to night owls, see The A.M. CEO).

5. Time management guru Julie Morgenstern has a book, Never Check Email In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Work Life Work. Her advice is right in the title. She points out that email takes over the best part of the day (the morning) when most managers and CEOs are at their best. She recommends postponing email until later.

6. Prioritize your email. If you can send off quick replies one right after the other and save the longer, thoughtful replies for later, you might find yourself getting through your inbox faster.

Oct
23
2008
Micro Communications Maranda Gibson

For those of you who don't know, Twitter is a cross between a blog, RSS feed, and stream of consciousness. Basically, you post very short messages about where you are, what you're doing, and what you're thinking. Your "followers" read what's going on about you, and you can read what others are up to. It's like a conference call that's always running in the background; you can hear other's comments and reply if you wish. The beauty of Twitter, what sets it apart, is the quick bursts of information that somewhat replaces emails or blog entries.

In an article on Businessweek, there is a debate on the beneficial nature of Twitter in business. On the con side, personal interactions suffer the most from this instant communication. The example given is a lunch meeting. If you are twittering about your lunch, while you are at lunch with someone, then you are basically having lunch alone. If at a business conference, why worry about updating your followers, when there are live people in front of you with which to interact with.

The pro arguments seem to embrace the intended nature of Twitter. It is highly useful as an information source. For example, if you twitter that you are looking for a better chair, anyone following you can instantly reply with good suggestions. These suggestions would probably never come up in normal conversation. At the business convention, a Twitter search allows you to see which other Twitters are there, facilitating networking. For a company, Twitter is another way to connect with customers and potential customers, much like what is done through a blog. For example, check out the AccuConference Twitter!

Both sides have great arguments, but the answer lies in not black or white, but grey. Using Twitter to get closer to people is a great idea, but have some common sense. Eat your lunch; don't twitter it!

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