5 Ways to Improve Your Customer Service

It’s the little things that add up to make an exceptional experience for your customers. Here are 5 “little things” you can add to your services to create an exponentially memorable connection with your customers.

Generosity

Add a little extra something to the products or services you offer. It could be a piece of chocolate, a handwritten thank you note, a bottle of water. It could even be a coupon for their next visit.

These little additions pack a huge wallop for the customer experience. And none of them cost a lot to implement (unless you eat all of the chocolate yourself). Think of what you can add to your customer experience so that the customer sees you as generous and caring.

Speed

Many customers value their time, and adding speed to your service will be appreciated. When customers call in or email you for a service question, how fast do you respond?

Set response time goals for you and your employees to respond to customer issues and questions. You might choose one minute, 4 hours, or one day for response time, depending on your business. Make sure customer emails are answered before other emails, and have someone monitoring the phone during business hours.

Track your results and reward your speediest employees.

Acknowledge and Apologize

Sometimes things go wrong, and an apology to the customer is in order. In most cases, customers simply want to be heard.Your listening skills may be your best asset in that moment.

As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. Even though it might not have been your fault, it’s sometimes a good idea to simply apologize in the sincerest way possible. If there’s something that needs to be done to make it right, go overboard. Give the refund, take the loss, and let the customer win.

Positive Communications

How you word things can make all the difference. Which sounds nicer?

“That item is out of stock and won’t be in for six weeks.”

Or…

“We will have that item in stock in six weeks.”

The first sentence has two negatives (out of stock and won’t), while the second sentence is positive. It avoids the negative wording.

It’s a small but powerful change in the customer experience. Think about how you can word your communications so that there are more positive words and fewer negative words when speaking with customers.

Your Full Attention

Although you want to respond to customer issues with speed as mentioned above, while you are working with the customer, take time to slow down and really engage with the person. Our world is so fast, and some companies even reward multi-tasking. However, no customer appreciates interruptions when being helped.

When you are with a customer, even on a phone call, be with the customer. Avoid interruptions and distractions, and give them your full attention. It’s the most powerful thing on this list. Treat them as a real person, not just another figure, and the customer will notice.

Try one or more of these 5 customer service boosts to take your customer service experience to the next level!

 

8 Ways to Increase Your Profits

Increasing your profits might sound like it’s an unattainable dream just out of your reach. But there are a number of ways that profits can be increased. Once you understand what they are, you’ll have clarity on how to best reach your goals.

There are 2 primary ways to increase profits:

• Raise revenue
• Lower expenses

That’s not particularly enlightening or instructional, is it? Let’s look at the 4 ways you can increase revenues and the 4 ways you can reduce expenses to get clearer on what actions we can take.

4 Ways to Increase Revenue

1. Raise prices

The easiest way to raise revenue is to simply raise prices. However, this is not foolproof and assumes you’ll be able to maintain the volume of sales you’ve achieved in the past.

This method is also limited by market demand – what your customers are willing to pay.

2. Add new customers

Adding new customers is what most entrepreneurs think about when raising revenue. Increasing your marketing or adding new marketing methods is typically the way to add new customers.

Another related option is to work hard to keep the customers you already have. You can also potentially contact the customers you lost and ask them to come back.

3. Introduce new products or services

For some companies, your products and services are changing every year. For others, not so much. To increase revenue, consider adding new products or services that will bring in an additional revenue stream that you didn’t have before.

Even if your products are changing every year, you can consider adding something completely different that your customer base would love. For example, a hair salon could add a nail desk, a clothing store could add handbags or shoes, a grocery store could add a coffee bar, a restaurant could add catering, and so on.

4. Acquisition

The final way a business can increase revenue is to acquire another business in a merger or acquisition.

4 Ways to Reduce Expenses

1. Negotiate for a better deal with vendors

If you’ve been working with a vendor for a while, you may be able to re-negotiate your contract with them. This is especially common with telecom companies. Call your phone provider and ask them for the latest deal. They always favor new customers over long term customers, but they don’t want to lose customers either. Just calling them usually yields a better price than what you are paying now.

2. Change vendors

If a vendor has gotten too expensive, it might be time to look for a new vendor. Insurance usually falls into this category. Often, changing providers will lower your costs.

3. Cut headcount

If there is not enough work to support your employees or not enough cash flow to pay them, then it might be time for a layoff or restructuring. You might also consider outsourcing a function that you previously did in-house.

4. Cut expenses or reduce services

It might be your business no longer needs to spend money on an expense. Perhaps this expense has been automated. In this case, it’s an easy decision to cut the expense out entirely.

Those are the 8 ways to increase profits. Which one makes the most sense in your business? Create a plan around these 8 ideas to boost your profit in 2017, and let us know if we can help.

Death of the Annual Performance Review

If you have employees, you probably also have a process to help them understand how they are doing on their job performance. There’s a new trend in large companies to kill the annual performance review and replace it with continuous, instant feedback as well as a tool called an after-action review.

After-Action Review

An after-action review (AAR) is a fantastic process to help you look back at a project or period of your business to see what, why, and how things occurred and how they can be improved for the future. Taking a profit-focused view will help you get the most out of the idea.

The AAR provides you with a bit more formal process than a passing “hmm, how did we do on that project last month?” conversation in the hall. For example, if you planned your client retention rate to be 90 percent and your rate was 85 percent, you may want to take a look at why that happened. Doing exit interviews or a survey with discontinuing clients can help to explain the five percent variation.

Continuing the example, once you have done the interviews, you may have some ideas for improvement. It might be to automate some communication, increase response time, add more time for explanations, or something else. Let’s say you got sick last year and lost some clients because your response time during that time was not good. This year, you can put a sick plan in place to call on a peer to help you out so your service does not suffer.

The AAR requires an open mind and you will need to accept responsibility. One of the key benefits of the AAR is increased accountability. The core questions to ask yourself and your team include:

• What was supposed to happen?
• What did happen?
• What worked? What should we keep doing?
• What didn’t work? What are some improvements?
• What advice would you give yourself at the beginning of the year? (Or project?)
• What personal lessons did you learn?

You can use the AAR to improve your business by using it after each large project, to measure goals, or for a specific time-frame. Look at your first quarter performance this year. Are you on track to reach your annual goals? What improvements do you need to make for next quarter that you can work on over the summer and fall?

Some opportunities to use the AAR include:

• Technology changes / additions or training
• Staffing changes
• Hiring process changes
• Marketing changes / additions or training
• Operations changes / additions or training
• New service or product development / new niches
• Changes in your existing services or products
• Customer retention
• Sales cycle changes or development
• Pricing evaluations
• Client surveys / communications / service level changes

The good thing about the AAR is you can make it as formal or informal as you want. You can invite your team or do it yourself, although you’re going to need an open, unbiased mind. Try it in your business, and let us know if we can help.

5 Online Marketing Trends That Will Get You More Customers

Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses. There are countless aspects of online marketing that you could implement. Here are just 5 for your consideration.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is huge! It consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from. It is education-based marketing.

You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service. With content marketing, your focus should be on providing value  – not just selling a product.

Video

Video has become incredibly important. It’s no longer enough to generate text. Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.

The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore. A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage. Many businesses do very well with live Facebook videos shot on their iPhone.

Directories

It’s no longer enough to simply have a website. Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility. Some common directories for small business include:

• Yelp
• Angie’s List
• Manta
• Better Business Bureau
• Yellow Pages (online version)
• Thumbtack
• Your local Chamber of Commerce
• Craigslist
• Google for Business (Google Places)

Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews. Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.

Social Media

Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today. Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.

If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representations of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.

Public Relations

Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.

Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.

Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends. Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business in the current digital world.

How to use Hootsuite to streamline your social media

Social media is an awesome marketing tool, but it can also be a huge time drain. If you post regularly, or want to post regularly, and use multiple social media platforms, then an app like Hootsuite can save you a tremendous amount of time.

Hootsuite allows you to schedule social media updates or posts across multiple platforms. If you normally post in real time, logging on several times a day, then Hootsuite can save you a lot of time. You can enter tweets, posts, or updates ahead of time and tell Hootsuite when to post them. You can also enter one post to be posted on multiple platforms all at once.

All you need to do is write your posts ahead of time. Once you have a week’s worth, you can log in to Hootsuite, enter them, and let Hootsuite know when and where to post them.

One of the biggest benefits of Hootsuite is that it allows you to become far more consistent with social media. You can decide ahead of time if you want to post once a day, three times a day, or ten times a day. Then, you can write your posts all at once. If you want to post three times a day, then you’ll need to write 15 posts a week. Plan to write them on Friday morning, and schedule them for the coming week. You’ll be all set with your social media until next Friday.

Writing a post and using it on multiple platforms can also save time. There is little need to create separate posts for each platform. With Hootsuite, you can schedule your post to your LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ accounts all at the same time. In addition to those platforms, Hootsuite also integrates with WordPress, YouTube, and Instagram.

Even if you still log into your social media platforms every day to increase your engagement, you can still automate your posts to save time. Hootsuite is free for customers who have three or fewer social media profiles connected. Even the Professional plan at $19/month for 10 profiles is a great deal when you consider your time saved. Check it out at Hootsuite.com.

5 Numbers You Should Know About Your 2016 Performance

Before we get too far into 2017, let’s take a look back at 2016 results. There are 5 meaningful numbers you may want to examine about your business’s performance. To start, grab your 2016 income statement and let’s dig in!

Revenue per Employee

This number measures a company’s productivity with regard to its employees and is relevant and meaningful for all industries. If you have part-time employees, compute a full-time equivalent total and use that as your denominator.

Compare this number to prior years to see if your company is getting more or less productive. Also, compare this number to businesses in your same industry to see how your company compares to peer companies.

You may also want to compute other revenue calculations, such as revenue by geography, revenue by product line, or average sale: revenue by customer, if you feel these may be meaningful to your business.

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

How much does it cost your business to acquire a new customer? That is the customer acquisition cost. It’s made up of marketing and selling costs, including marketing and selling labor. You’ll need the number of new customers acquired during 2016 in order to calculate this number.

Compare this number to prior years as well as industry peers. You can potentially do a lot to lower this number by boosting your marketing skills and implementing lower cost marketing channels.

Overhead Costs

Overhead costs are costs that are not directly attributable to producing or selling your products and services. They include items such as rent, telephone, insurance, legal expenses, and executive salaries. Although it’s not standard practice to break out overhead expenses from other expenses on an income statement, it’s valuable to know the numbers for performance purposes.

Compare your overhead costs to prior years and industry averages. You can actively manage your overhead cost by re-negotiating with vendors on a regular basis and trimming where it makes sense.

Profit Margins

Your profit margin can help you determine which division of your business is most profitable. If you sell more than one product or service, you can compute a gross or net margin by product or service. You can also compute margins by geography, sales rep, employee, customer, or any other meaningful segment of your business.

Your accounting system may be able to generate an income statement by division if everything has been coded correctly and overhead has been allocated appropriately. Reach out if you’d like us to help you with this.

Seeing which service or product is most profitable can help you decide if you want to try to refocus marketing efforts, change prices, discontinue items, fire employees, attract a different type of customer, or any number of other important decisions for your business.

Breakeven Point

Do you know how many units you need to sell in order to start generating a profit? If not, the breakeven calculation can help you learn this information. The formula is Fixed Costs / (Sales Price per Unit – Variable Costs per Unit) which results in the number of units you need to sell in order to “break even” or cover your overhead costs.

The breakeven point helps you plan the amount of volume you need in order to ensure that you have healthy profits and plenty of cash flow in your business.

These five numbers can help you interpret your business performance on a deeper level so you can make better decisions that will lead to increased success in your business. If we can help with any of them, please give us a call any time.

Understanding Payment Terms

If there is a period of time between when your customers receive your goods or services and when they pay for them, then several things are true:

• You have a balance in Accounts Receivable on your balance sheet that represents how much customers owe you
• You have an invoice process that you follow
• You have granted credit to customers
• You may have some that don’t pay as quickly as you’d like them to

Each invoice you send should have payment terms listed. A payment term is the period of time you expect the invoice to be paid by the customer. Your payment terms should be set by you, not your customers!

Payment terms are always measured from the invoice date and define when the payment should be received. Here are some common payment terms in accounting terminology, and then in English.

Net 30

Payment is due 30 days from the invoice date.

2/10 Net 30

Payment is due 30 days from the invoice date. If you pay the invoice in 10 days, you can take a 2% discount off the total amount of the invoice as an early pay discount incentive.

Due Upon Receipt

Payment is due immediately

If you use Net 30 or Due Upon Receipt, then you may want to change your terms to get paid faster. When people see Due Upon Receipt, sometimes they translate it into “I can take my time.” A more specific term spelled out such as Net 7 or Net 10 will actually get you your money faster than Due Upon Receipt.

Do you have issues with people paying you late? If so, you might want to set consequences. Consider adding a line on your invoice that provides interest charges if the payment is late. Utility companies do it, and so do many businesses. A common percentage to charge is 1% – 2%, however, some states have laws that limit you to 10% or another percentage.

The wording would be something like this:
“Accounts not paid within __ days of the date of the invoice are subject to a __% monthly finance charge.”

You will also need to make sure your accounting system can automatically compute these fees.

If you have questions about payment terms, your invoicing process, or your accounts receivable, please reach out.

Using Positive Pay to Protect Yourself From Fraud

Positive Pay is a service offered by banks that is designed to reduce fraudulent check-cashing against your account. If you are writing checks on your bank account (as opposed to using ACH transactions), then the positive pay service, which usually has an extra charge, may be beneficial.

When you activate positive pay, you must send a file of checks that you have written to the bank. The bank will not cash those checks against your account unless they match by check number, dollar amount, and account number. Your file may also include the date of the check and sometimes the payee. Some banks are also able to match payee, but not all of them, so be sure to ask about this.

If there is a mismatch among checks presented for payment, the check will be treated as an exception item and your company will be notified. A representative of your company will let the bank know whether to pay or exclude the exception check.

Positive pay helps to deter a couple of types of fraud:

• Checks where someone has changed the amount
• Stolen blank check stock, even if you don’t know about it being stolen

Positive pay is not designed to prevent the type of fraud that occurs when checks are written to a ghost vendor and erroneously approved by management.

Ideally, you should separate the file creation process from the person who actually writes and/or signs the checks. This will give you better internal control.

The main challenge is making sure the bank receives the file of checks before they are presented for payment. This including any manual checks written. Another issue is the extra cost, although some banks offer this service at no extra charge.

If you are worried about check fraud, consider asking your bank about positive pay.

Ready or not, it’s tax time!

It’s always a huge relief to many people who get their taxes done early. That gray cloud of stress that nags at you to get it over with can be gone in a matter of weeks instead of months. April is right around the corner. Here are a few tips to cross that task off your to-do list way before spring.

1. Catch up on your books.

If your books are behind, the first step is to get everything recorded so that your tax return will be accurate. With automated bank feeds and data entry automation, this is easier than it’s ever been before. If you have cash transactions or receipts lying around that your accountant doesn’t know about, be sure and get those pulled together so nothing is left out.

2. Make year-end changes.

Some companies may need additional year-end adjustments, and now is the time to make them. These include items such as loan balances if the interest adjustment has not been booked every month, depreciation and amortization, accounts receivable write-offs, accrual vs. cash basis adjustments, and possibly clean-up work. Your accountant can help you with these items.

3. Double-check vendor documents.

If you hired contractors and sent them 1099s, make sure you have the proper on-boarding documents for these individuals which includes a W-9. You may also want to have a workers’ compensation certificate from them in order to avoid paying it yourself.

4. Note deadlines.

Get clear on the deadlines for your corporate, franchise tax, individual and any other tax returns that are required. Even though you might hire someone to complete and file your return, you’ll want to make sure the deadline has been met.

5. Stay organized.

As you receive your 2016 tax documents, keep them all together in a special place. Download them or scan them in and keep them all in one folder. If your tax accountant has a client portal, upload them as soon as you get them.

Your tax accountant appreciates getting your information as early as possible. The sooner you get the documents to them, the sooner the whole process can be complete. Even if you owe money and want to file at the last minute, you can still complete the process except for the filing, which can be deferred.

Try these tips to reduce tax stress this winter and spring. And, as always, if we can help you with any of this, please reach out.

Cool Apps: Google Forms

Do you ever need to collect information from your customers? There are many ways to do it. A form in Microsoft Word®, a fillable PDF, and a Web form are all very common. Less common but slicker than the rest is the option of using Google Forms.

Setup

You’ll need a Google ID. Most people use their gmail account for this. Go to Google Drive from your menu, or you can access it from this URL: https://drive.google.com.

In Google Forms, you can have customers complete a line or paragraph of text, select from multiple choice, check a box, select from a dropdown menu, rate an item on a linear scale, or enter a date or time. To design the form, decide what questions you want to ask your customers.

Start creating your new form by clicking the button labeled ‘New’ in the top left corner of the screen and select ‘More’, then ‘Google Forms’.

Title the form by typing over ‘Untitled Form’. Your first question is already formatted for you. Multiple choice is selected. You can change the question type by clicking the arrow on the right side of the Multiple Choice option. Over on the left, you can type your first question or label. Let’s say you need to know their name, so you would enter “Name” in the field and change the question type to Short Answer.

To add a field, click the plus sign on the vertical menu to the right of the form. Repeat this until you have all your form fields entered. If you need to add instructions, choose the TT option on the vertical menu just below the plus sign. You can also add images, video, and sections to your form using this menu.

Clicking the Send button allows you to email the form, get a link (click the chain icon), or add it to a web page (click the <>).

Options

There are dozens of options and settings for your form. You can change colors (palette icon at top right), preview your form (eye at top right), or modify your settings (gear icon). The three vertical dots at the top right provide more functions. If you need a team member to access the responses or edit the form, you can Add Collaborator from this menu. You can even turn the form into a quiz.

Once people start submitting their answers, you can review them by clicking the Responses tab at the top of the form.

Google Forms are versatile, professional-looking, and best of all, free. Give them a try next time you need to collect information from your clients.