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Jun
20
2008
Does Your Customer Service Measure Up? Maranda Gibson

Measure Up

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article by business coach Maureen Moriarty provide a nice "next action" list for companies seeking improved customer service marks from their customers and their own employees.

"Many companies espouse that they provide great customer service, but few deliver. The inconsistency often stems from a failure to model it internally. The quality of customer service that co-workers provide to each other invariably shows up with outside customers.
Sadly, not all co-workers treat each other with the same kind of respect and care that they treat their customers. Perhaps you've heard the relationship advice of, 'Treat your spouse/partner as if they were a guest in your home.' With co-workers (not unlike spouses), there are times we forget we are all rowing for the same team!"
Customer Strategy talks about research released by the Ken Blanchard group that reports that good customer service and developing good customer loyalty are not high priorities for businesses in the UK.

"Despite the fact good customer service could provide an all-important competitive edge in the current economic climate, when asked about their key employee development concerns in Blanchard's annual Corporate Issues Survey, only 10% of businesses identified it as their top management challenge for 2008. Overall, only 38% recognised it as any kind of priority at all, a 10% drop on 2007 survey responses.

Peter Brent, who overseas Blanchard's 'Legendary Service' customer service training in the UK described the figures as shocking."

And the Chicago Tribune talks about Zappos.com's newest effort to weed out uncommitted workers to improve their customer service experience.

"It's called 'the offer,' and here's how it works: About one week into a training program that every headquarters employee cycles through, someone steps into the room and asks the group about their experience so far.

'Is this living up to your expectations?' the trainer asks. 'Is this the right place for you? Because if it's not, we definitely have something for you, it's an early-resignation offer. We'll pay your time so far, plus a bonus.'

Zappos offers $1,500 to anyone who wants to quit, up from the $100 offer when it started the practice three years ago. Between 2 percent and 3 percent take the money and run."

I thought these articles were very insightful, especially in light of several customer service situations I experienced this week. One was stellar, establishing me as a very satisfied return customer, and the other? Not so much.

It got me to thinking, do we as small business owners (or even employees of larger companies) really know what it takes to retain our clients and customer? And do we realize how important retaining satisfied customers will be to us in the long run? Especially during this season of reduced economic growth?

What do you think?

Jun
19
2008
The Downside of Upgrading Maranda Gibson

8.3 million. That's how many times the new version of Firefox was downloaded yesterday. We were part of the 8.3 mil. Probably millions downgraded - we did (5 out of 5 in our office). Why?

We use Firefox for the extensions. Without the extensions, we might as well be using Netscape 1.0 or IE. We'll gladly upgrade to 3.0, but only when the extensions catch up, if they ever do. We have to have our tab options! This seems eerily similar....does anyone remember the Vista upgrade headaches? We still have issues. Why can't UPS send us a Vista compatible version of their shipping program?

So who's to blame? The original developer (like Mozilla or Microsoft) by not sending out dev kits in time? Or 3rd party developers who haven't yet caught up with the platform? Or is everyone to blame? …for simply not hopping on a conference call to talk about it.

Before definitively pointing the finger, let's keep in mind "What makes a browser great?" Compatibility (ALL Types: Site, Application, Plug-in, & Platform) and Speed. In that order. Some users might wonder if Mozilla could include a ‘fatter' version of the browser with a certain level of compatibility with old extensions. Maybe simply warn about stability or security issues until extensions are updated.

From the Mozilla website: "When you install Firefox 3 all of your Extensions and Themes will be disabled until Firefox 3 determines that either a) they are compatible with the Firefox 3 release or b) there are newer versions available that are compatible."

This can't be the best policy.

Individual extension developers are usually not paid. Maybe they make some AdWords cash, but they are donating to the community and bring the biggest piece of the value pie. Is there more Mozilla can do to cater to these developers? Could they further open up what is being developed to the public domain and stay competitive? Trust in users could generate more brand loyalty and give 3rd party developers more reaction time. People love the name; dare we say they are as positive of a brand as Google. How is the beta/RC program working out? How soon DO developers get information? Is that soon enough or do unpaid extension developers simply ignore the idea of updating their code until they hear from users in their inbox.

As users, we can love extension developers and show gratitude for their time. Please let them know they are appreciated!

As platform developers, we can take some more time out of the busy rush to "release". Although this might "cost" the company, it would be invaluable. Imagine a "no-name developer" receiving a phone call or an email double checking about compatibility.

As third party developers we can bask in the billions of dollars being made from AdWords; or just continue taking pride in persistence. A job well done!

Jun
19
2008
Old Gas Pump Maranda Gibson

Gas Pump

This pump, which maxes at $3.99, is being replaced. In the mean time, it's a deal at Eagle Mountain, Texas. Photo Taken from www.flickr.com by a guy name Ken

Jun
17
2008
IM Etiquette Maranda Gibson

Instant Messenger

So, last week, PC World reported a study from Ohio State and University of California, Irvine (joint study, I presume) that instant messaging actually improved people's productivity during the day.

The reasoning is that instant messaging (IM) is less obtrusive than a phone call or even “a knock on the side of your cubicle” because like email you can choose when to respond. I wasn't sure about that claim, because I have had multiple experiences in the past week that were exactly the opposite.

A coworker who wanted to know if I could talk on the phone right then. A vendor needed me to provide him with a proof of purchase so he could make sure I actually purchased software from him. A friend sent a YouTube link and then asked how I liked it.

But IM can improve productivity if used correctly.

Here's a few survival tips:

  1. Only turn on IM when you're actually available or willing to talk. See those nifty little away messages? Use them. Especially if you're busy. That way, people will wait until you're available, or if they send you a message anyway, won't expect an immediate answer.
  2. Be careful who you let on your friends list. This is key. If you're college buddies only want to send YouTube videos all day, and want to chat about your friend who made a fool of himself while he was intoxicated at Saturday night's party and you have work to do, perhaps they should be removed from your work IM and added to your personal IM.
  3. Don't bug your friends or your coworkers. Are you the one sending out YouTube links all day? I would guarantee your productivity has slowed as a result. And the one rule of IM is simple: treat others as you'd like to be treated.
  4. IM on a work computer is not private. Those all-knowing guys down in IT know what you're doing, so watch out. The same goes for how long you sit on YouTube.com. You might, however, be allowed to take breaks and surf the Internet, thus see How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead for help convincing the powers that be to allow breaks to surf Facebook.
  5. Impress your boss and use IM to actually save time and be more productive. Ask a quick question, send info to someone, invite a friend to lunch, and you'll improve your ability to multitask and accomplish more than you thought you could today.

Jun
16
2008
How To Use Word More Effectively Maranda Gibson

Most people groan and complain about Word and how buggy it is and how it never does exactly what we want, when we want, and how we want.

C'mon people. Word is a powerful tool for business owners and once that power is harnessed to make your life easier, you'll be singing a different tune.

  1. Word has a spreadsheet feature built in. No need to run back out to your desktop to open a spreadsheet when with one click you can build a table right into the screen you're working on. Don't know how? Look on the menu for Table > Insert. Then choose Formula from that same menu. Voila. It's that easy.
  2. Track Changes isn't that scary. It's helpful, especially when multiple people are making changes on an important document. Just choose Tools in menu at the top of your Word screen and toggle it on. Now play with it on an old document. Delete a few words. Want to view the original text? There's a toolbar you can view (go to View > Toolbars > Reviewing) that has a dropdown menu. First choice is Final Showing Markup. But you can also view Final (which removes all the Track Changes marks), Original Showing Markup, and Original (with no Track Changes). To turn off Track Changes, toggle again in the Tools menu. Or to accept changes, make sure your Reviewing toolbar is still available and check out the buttons. Just press one! Again, play with it. You might be surprised how easy it really is.
  3. Add a custom dictionary. The Word spellchecker is worthless sometimes. It really only spellchecks certain words and for industry-specific terms, it misses them altogether (especially legal, medical/pharma, and science/tech). You can buy add-on spellchecking programs that will turn Word into a powerful editing machine. For medical, Stedman's sells a nice add on. For legal, check out Bouvier's Law Dictionary and Legal Speller, and for science/tech, try Spellex.
  4. Learn to master Word styles. It's easier than you think. For most of us users, Word applies its own formatting without being asked, which makes our blood boil. There is a way to conquer the automatic stylist in Word and to make it do what you want. For an overview (better than I could explain it), check Help > Styles and Reusing Formatting. (Also, if you go to Help > Microsoft Word Help and type in styles, you'll get more information than you need.) Once you learn a few things about styles, it's fun, very satisfying, and you'll wow clients and employers/employees.

Jun
13
2008
Keep On Marketing Maranda Gibson

If you're feeling the crunch of the economy, you're not alone. Everyone I've talked to, from clients to fellow small business owners, feels some pain. Many have asked me for advice (I'm not a small business guru, but I always have advice, it seems) and my reply is like a broken record: focus on marketing.

It may seem counterproductive to spend money now. Especially if your bottom line is not that great and the money you would spend on marketing could be better used as padding for the coffers.

Resist the urge to hide. This is the time to market. Yes, people are tightening their belts, but really, people are looking for a good reason to part with their money. Provide it to them.

  1. Video testimonials can provide that "good reason." Consumers are really into YouTube videos. Why not use that technology to prove how much better your product or service is? You can use free video capture (Camtasia) software and post the videos on your web site’s main page. Or create a testimonial page and do more than a few. The idea is to get the satisfied customers to say how your product or service made a difference to them. Don't have them speak in your terms, have them use their own terminology (see #2).
  2. A customer's terminology has to do with benefits. I tell clients at least once a day that their sales material is not going to make an impression as written. It's filled with features: "13 years in business, member of BNI" and this does not matter to someone who's looking at your photography services for their wedding. They want to know what’s in it for them. Will you capture the most important moments of their day? Are you easy to work with? And then you've got to prove it. "Award-winning photographer offers free consultation, 25 free pictures if you buy the gold package, and black and white or sepia options for any photographs, you choose." See what I mean?
  3. Give something worthwhile to customers for free. This doesn't have to be 25 free frames, as in the photography example above, but it must be worth something. Usually product business offer something extra, "if you order today, you get a free shipping," and services business offer information, "free white paper on marketing if you sign up now." And don’t think about the monetary value to you, but think about the monetary value to your customers. If I received a free white paper on marketing from a company I was considering, especially if it gave me good actionable ideas, I'd be much more likely to use their services. And I often order from a vendor to get free shipping, as that's a huge draw for me.

Try marketing today. It may surprise you how a small effort reaps big rewards.

Jun
13
2008
How To Keep Up . . . And Get Ahead Maranda Gibson

Productivity is always a concern for business owners, especially during this time with rising gas and food prices, consumers tightening their belts, and the need to maintain a profit.

A few stories lately have discussed productivity and once again, the ideas aren't what you'd expect.

CNN talks about our "sleep-deprived nation" and points out that American employees work more than they sleep - a disturbing trend.

"One-third of those surveyed for the National Sleep Foundation's annual 'Sleep in America' poll had fallen asleep or become sleepy at work in the past month. The telephone survey questioned 1,000 adults in the continental United States and was conducted between September 25, 2007, and November 19, 2007.

The poll also found that Americans are working more and sleeping less. The average amount of sleep was six hours and 40 minutes a night. The average workday? Nine hours and 28 minutes."

The Chicago Tribune approaches productivity in a similar way.

"'To be honest, employers may not be aware of the impact the physical environment has on individuals,'" said Steve Schiavo, a Wellesley College psychology professor who has presented papers at the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA). 'Employers may only think of financial compensation as contributing to morale, but clearly there's more than that.'"

PCWorld suggests that letting employees take breaks (even if only to view Facebook) can improve productivity.

"Feeling guilty about checking out Facebook when you should be working? Well, don't -- because according to PopCap Games research, taking a 10-minute break to surf the Net will reduce stress and sharpen your mind.

The games manufacturer claims 'electronic breaks' actually increase staff efficiency and morale, warning that by stopping workers surfing the web, businesses are contributing to a loss to of productivity worth up to US$8 billion every year.

The research will come as a blow to companies that have banned access to social networking sites. According to employment law firm Peninsula, seven out of 10 companies already prohibit workers from visiting sites such as Facebook and are even considering banning personal Internet access altogether."

I know. You're thinking why in this economy would I let my employees look at Facebook, sleep, or enjoy their surroundings?

Because it works. Productivity was up in the first quarter of 2008, even as companies cut jobs. Many industry analysts point out that our services-oriented workforce is more resilient to economic highs and lows than we were in the 1970s. And why not make a few tweaks geared toward the comfort of your employees? If productivity continues to keep up and surge ahead, the resulting strong economy will take care of high prices and job losses.

Jun
11
2008
Orange Sky Maranda Gibson

Orange Sky

Jun
10
2008
Abandoned Shipping Containers – Another way to go Green Maranda Gibson

We have been following the recent stories of ways people are finding to go green. One of the most interesting is the way some builders and companies are using abandoned shipping containers to assemble structures ranging from homes to skyscrapers.

You've probably seen shipping containers before. They’re big boxes that look like the trailers the big rigs pull across our interstates, but they don't have any wheels. They come in varying colors and have different logos on them. They’re used by manufacturers to ship their good from overseas to the United States or anywhere else in the world. They’re stacked onboard huge ships then, once they arrive in port, they’re emptied and left abandoned.

Some ingenious minds have looked at these shipping containers and seen their real potential. It seems they can be used to construct single family homes that are strong, cost-effective, durable, and weather resistant. I thought this would look much like a mobile home until I saw one being built. Done by a knowledgeable builder, they look like normal fixed-based houses. It's remarkable what can be done. It’s recycling at its finest and it doesn’t stop there.

A European company FREITAG sells bags made from recycled tarps (a whole other issue), found that they could construct their office building using abandoned shipping containers. They’re unique way of producing their bags suggested that leaving the containers exposed and unchanged would make a one-of-a-kind office building. All of the containers are their original colors and show their company logos, but stacking and permanently joining them created a structurally sound and visually stimulating office building. They’re also very inexpensive.

FREITAG

What a great way to take unwanted objects and turning them into something beautiful and functional! It just takes someone with vision to see their true potential and bringing it to life.

Jun
09
2008
Manners Matter in Virtual Team Teleconferences Maranda Gibson

Even though you can't see the people in your meeting with a teleconference doesn't mean that there aren't certain rules of etiquette that you should follow. In fact for teleconferences, meeting etiquette in certain areas is even more important than in a face-to-face situations.

Here are a few tips to help you to have the best teleconference possible:

  1. Make sure to send your agenda before the meeting so people may be properly prepared. You may want to send it out more than several hours ahead. Depending on the nature of the call, you may need to send your agenda several days to a week ahead of your planned call.
  2. Include your starting and expected ending time. Use Outlook to schedule your meetings electronically and ask for participation approval automatically. Let your participants clear their calendar to allocate you the time you need.
  3. Make sure you have communicated your expectations clearly to all participants. This will help to keep your meeting on-track and allow you to have metrics for which to measure your teleconference meeting success.
  4. If you have had previous problems with attendees putting your call on hold and sharing their canned hold music or promotional message with the group, consider discussing the issue privately with the party before your next call. If you cannot identify the person clearly, send with your agenda a gentle teleconference protocol reminder listing this item specifically to help your team get and stay on track.
  5. Keep your message short, concise, and closely follow your agenda. Doing so, will keep attendance high and keep participants focused.
  6. Follow-up in writing your plan of action and who has been tasked to perform which activities. Good follow-up assures that the plans you have discussed will be implemented and that team members can be accountable for specific tasks.
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