Five Tips For a More Productive Team

Productive Team

According to Harvard Management Update, "high functioning teams are what makes high-performing companies click." If it seems like the team work you're trying to implement in your company isn't sticking, here are five tips that you can use to improve team productivity.

1.) Make time for the team to come together:
When you first have a team put together, hold an ‘ice-breaker', whether it is taking everyone out for lunch or making a Starbucks run in the middle of the day. Find a quiet place to talk, be open about personal lives and business experiences. It's important to establish a rapport with everyone. Teams have to trust each other otherwise there will be anarchy and you can't trust someone if you don't know them.

2.) Diversify your team:
There's nothing better in a team environment than the feeling of learning something new. That is, after all, part of the reason why teams should be encouraged. Working together requires you to put aside any old feelings between co-workers and to open your eyes to a new perspective. No two people have the same thought process, and if two heads are better than one then there's a pretty good chance that four heads are better than three.

3.) Establish duties:
Within diversity everyone has their own strengths. Encourage openness so that there can be an exchange of ideas and each person's strengths can be used to the fullest. Communication and ideas will flow because you have specific people in charge of specific parts of a functioning team. Use Dr. Meredith Belbin's team roles as a model for what kind of responsibilities need to be assigned.

4.) Share Past Successes
Ever thrown some stuff into a pot, heated it up, and waited for what came out? Teamwork is a lot like that, throwing these different styles and kinds of people into a group and telling them that they have to make something happen. Open up with each other and share any experiences or success that you think could be a positive contribution to the team. Even if you have a member who was recently hired or fresh out of college, they surely have something to contribute to your group. Take some time at the beginning of your first meeting together and share what you're good at.

5.) Be a Great Mentor
If you're a team leader this should be your cardinal rule. Think of that old cliché, "There is no poor question than the one that is not asked." As a mentor and developer you need to remember that. You should have a wide variety of age groups and experience levels on your team and remember that there was a time when you had to ask all the questions too. Be patient and understanding; remember that every question leads to a better answer and possibly a breakthrough.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

Encouraging Initiative in the Workplace

Initiative is a character trait highly prized by employers.  It's a good trait to have on your resume.  It's what separates the leaders from the doers.  If someone is lacking in initiative, that doesn't mean they are a bad employee, just a mediocre one.  Sometimes though, employees are too fearful or comfortable to show initiative or make big decisions.

An employee that won't speak up or follow their instincts can be detrimental to your business.  However, in a lot of cases you can encourage these employees to show initiative.  Managing "comfeartable" employees doesn't have to be an ordeal.  It can be a matter of shifting office culture, or simply encouraging one person.

A big step is to let your employees know that it's okay to show initiative, to make big decisions.  Some people hold back because they are afraid of consequences for mistakes.  We all know there are good and bad mistakes – "strong effort, weak results" -- but employees need to know that they won't be punished for the good mistakes.

Everyone has varying degrees of stage fright, and it's possible that someone doesn't speak up in meetings because of an audience.  If you tend to get great ideas from someone, but only in private, maybe their stage fright is getting in the way.  Make the next meeting they are in a conference call.  They won't have all those people looking at them and may feel freer to contribute.

Initiative takes courage.  Some people have courage, and some need encouragement for their courage to come out.  Speak to them in specifics and go into details on how they can step-up to a challenge, how best to meet it head on, and how they will be rewarded if they do.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

How Not to Do Customer Service

Bad Customer Service

In the midst of post holiday shopping, I've run into a few sourpuss customer service folks. It's kind of humorous to me that they are so disdainful of customers, especially when customers are scarce in this economy. If I was in retail, I'd be doing what a local retailer did at the mall this afternoon: they sent one of their employees outside with a coat and a tray of free samples of their candy to greet people in the parking lot. Sure, it seems a bit desperate, but it's also the time for Christmas gift returns, great bargains, and free treats. Vast amounts of people go to stores to enjoy these things, even if they don't plan to buy. However, one taste of those chocolates and I bought.

See, it worked!

But back to the sour puss folks who could barely contain their lack of energy when dealing with customers this year.

Above all, don't:

1. Treat your customers as if they are trying to cheat you. If a customer is returning items multiple times because the product continually breaks on first use, it's not because the person is trying to steal or cheat your company. And if an order showed up with all the wrong items in the box, that is your company's problem, not the customer's.

2. Act like it's a huge hassle that they are calling and communicating with you. Isn't that what customer service is for? To let your company know they didn't fulfill the conditions of the sale? Customers aren't really calling to shoot the breeze or find out that your customer service team is having a really terrible holiday season. It's not their fault your company can't complete a simple sales transaction without something going haywire. Perhaps that's why your sales are going down the drain.

3. Not offer them some sort of freebie or promo for their trouble. So, you ask the customer to wait thirty minutes on hold while you figure out what your company did wrong and don't even say "thank you, I'm sorry for the long wait" or "here's a 20% coupon toward your next purchase"? Why would they ever want to do business with you again?

4. Second-guess their request and continue to ask them the same questions several times. Just because a customer is asking you for help because they are confused about your return policy is no excuse to treat them like an idiot. And if they give you clear instructions about what they originally ordered, why are your customer service reps still asking "why," "what," and "when"?

5. Ignore their upset feelings and just act like an automaton with no feelings or empathy. If your customer is upset because your company messed up on their order, it is on your customer service rep to make that customer feel listened to, cared for, and supported. If you are callous and unfeeling, it is perfectly acceptable for your customers to leave and never do business with you again.

There are many outstanding customer service folks out there this holiday season. We've met them, spoken with them, and been helped by them. It's a shame that businesses let this behavior continue, especially when a little bit of customer service will go a very long way. Perhaps even gain you customers in a dire economy. Think about it. Why let one bad apple spoil your barrel?

Marketing Blunders to Avoid in 2009

We are at that magic tipping point of the year when we look back to the past year and look forward to the next year and often we wonder what we should do different (or for many of us, we already know). For businesses, this includes how we market and communicate with our customers. Wonder what you should be doing next year to market/communicate with client? Get some ideas from this list of blunders made in 2008 (explanations of each topic are mine).

Marketing

1. Failure to have an annual marketing plan. If your business is sitting there waiting for clients or customers to just walk through your door, you're looking for the wrong result. Customers will continually walk through your door, if you have a marketing plan in place for the entire year. This is what is called a marketing funnel. Get it? Customers funnel their way through your communications in order to buy from you.

2. Product/service will sell itself. Nope. Not anymore. You have to tell people what your product or service will do to make their life easier. They aren't going to know unless you tell them and they aren't going to care unless you tell them why they should.

3. Promoting products/services without tracking results. Right now, companies just want sales, but tracking how they make those sales may be the most vital of information. Keep an eye out for methods of making sales. Then rinse and repeat for the rest of the year.

4. Limiting marketing to email methods. Email is becoming one of the most least-trusted forms of marketing, because of the volume clients/customers receive and the percentage of spam mixed in with the real messages. What about direct mail? What about a blog? What about becoming the go-to person in your community for your product or service through other means? Read on.

5. Investing only in advertising. A simple advertising slogan won't do it. You have to back up your advertising promises with something solid people can count on. This can be your personal reputation for good work, to a specialization in a particular area in that your company is the only one that comes to mind when people are looking for a solution.

6. Ignoring social media outlets. Social media may be a boon for online companies, but don't disavow yourself from trying it out. Social media is now the way that millions of people communicate, purchase, review, critique, and rate services and products. You can't afford NOT to look into social media.

7. Slashing marketing budgets and programs. This is a bad idea. With the plethora of affordable and simple marketing programs out there, why not utilize at least one to your advantage. You don't have to hire a sales rep or recruit your entire staff to follow some marketing program mantra, but you can try a few simple methods that help you and your team realize what works to make money.

8. Failing to understand why people buy. Why do people buy your product or service? Because they want to look good, stay warm, be safe, be more productive, make more money? You need to know and you need to investigate every angle of why your customers and clients buy from you so that you can make better decisions about your focus in 2009 about how to market and communicate to them.

Larry Golden, co-CEO of RSVP Publications writes, “Avoiding these blunders can make for a healthier 2009 for most businesses. By targeting messages toward the right audience, monitoring and participating in social networks and measuring results after each campaign, businesses can demonstrate the all-important return on their marketing investment. And the level of investment in marketing may well be the deal maker or the deal breaker in such a tight economy.”

First Impressions Matter … Make the Most of Yours

In business, especially with the tumultuous economy, companies spend a lot of time weighing costs and benefits. Are the benefits to a particular venture more or less than the costs; and based on that, is it beneficial for your company to continue this relationship? This judgment is based on numbers but don't forget about human nature. If you're sitting there trying to figure out why you're hitting some roadblocks trying to develop your business relationships, remember this: The maintenance of relationships is based on how satisfied a person is with that particular relationship. If we feel as though a relationship is harming us in the long run, then we will not invest our time and energy into maintenance and cultivation.

Social exchange theory explains how economic principals can be applied to your everyday relationships. Sure, you presented to the best of your abilities, but was there something that stood out about you that might have dissuaded your potential business? Were you confident in speech and material? All of these factors are going to be applied to your "social exchange," which is based on three major assumptions:

  1. Relationships are a matter of subtracting costs from rewards and using that to determine the outcome.
  2. People want to make the most out of benefits while lessening costs (also called the maximum principal).
  3. Human beings are inherently selfish and are going to do whatever makes them happy.

Basically what this means that human beings are going to take the good, subtract the bad, and if the outcome of that is still something they want to nurture, then that relationship will continue. If not, the relationship will no longer be cultivated. While this may not seem like something that you would consider a factor when it comes to business relationships, you have to remember that it's theorized that this happens without our knowledge.

The next time you're trying to figure out why you didn't get the contract or why you didn't make the sale, ask yourself if you presented the absolute best version of yourself. Did you look or sound erratic? Did you dress appropriately for the types of clients to which you were presenting? This theory isn't related to just the physical and everything about you will be taken into consideration. Knowing this theory and being aware of it means even more on a conference call where you only have a couple of different ways to make an impression and to ensure that your rewards will outweigh your costs. Be sure that your presentation is in tip-top shape and that you're well prepared before you dial in and present.

Snap judgments are okay and remember its human nature to "judge the book by its cover," so don't feel offended if you know that's what is happening. A way to combat this when you're going in for a presentation is to know your audience. The most important thing in communication is going to be to know who you're speaking to and realize that your audience (whether it be one person or one hundred) is going to judge you. That's okay.

It's not personal, it's just business.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

What Customers Want

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).

Great Uses for AccuConference Toll Free

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.

How Communication Can Make You Money

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.

How Not To Communicate Change to Your Employees

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.

Turn Your 800 Forwarding Number Into a Filing System

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