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5 Ways to Turn Incredible Customer Support Into a Profit Center

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS. UPS is all about logistics — the logistics that makes your business run better and faster

customer support

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Providing customer training and support is costly, but it’s also quite important.

Some organizations view it as a necessary evil while other, more innovative thinking companies, view it as a way to differentiate, up sell and create additional profits.

The key to creating support that generates profit is to create support that’s worth paying for. The way to do this is make it a formal package, think about it like a product and offer it either as a tangible added value or as an à la carte offering.

The Apple Genius Bar is a great example of how to generate profits from support. They sell service packages, offer training programs and even take back and recycle old products when you upgrade.

There are many ways to tap this mindset. Below are just five examples of how to turn extraordinary customer service into a revenue stream.

Live Q and A chats

When someone buys a product or service of any kind you can offer reassurance that they will receive full value from their purchase by implementing regularly scheduled chat sessions where users or customers may ask questions about their purchase and receive help with features or implementations.

Of course this is also something you could offer as a pre-sales education tactic as well as a paid subscription add-on.

There are many tools available that make this tactic somewhat easy to implement. If you are a 37Signals software user you probably already use their integrated chat tool Campfire. There are other tools such as Chatroll that allow you to embed a group chat tool on your website for a simple branded option.

Drop in Fridays

If your customers are primarily local you may want to schedule a time where customers can come in or bring a product in and receive additional advice, specific training or simply a chance to network with other users.

Trade in days

If you sell a product that is upgraded frequently, such as technology, or has you going head to head with competitors, create and promote specific times when customers or prospects can come in and get credit for recycling an old version or upgrading to your product over a competitors.

Be prepared to offer a service that makes it both very attractive and very easy to switch.

This tactic lends itself to hard goods, but certainly software and other process driven services could benefit from this approach as well.

Weekly Hangouts

One of my favorite tools right now is Google+ Hangouts. Using this tool you could easily create video Q and A chats, offer weekly lessons or simply create a series of expert adviser knowledge sharing sessions to benefit your clients.

One of the reasons I really like this tool is that you also broadcast these sessions publicly or password protected and archive them on YouTube to instantly create a library of customer service and training videos.

Online courses

Once someone buys a product or engages you to provide a service you easily establish a relationship of ongoing support through online courses.

The technology to create, manage and deliver content using full-blown membership site tools such as Kajabi or WordPress plugins such as Premise or Wishlist Member makes this approach something that every business should consider as a way to expand offerings and generate a residual stream of revenue.

Most content delivery applications today integrate with leading eCommerce payment systems as well as shopping cart, CRM and email service providers.

The need to provide basic support and training will always be part of the deal, but by creating even greater levels of support, delivering it in new and exciting ways and making is worth paying for is how you grow your profitability in ways that also makes your organization stand out.

The Only Path to Sustainable Growth

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS. UPS is all about logistics — the logistics that makes your business run better and faster

Sustainable growth comes from doing more of what really creates growth and less of what you get pulled into in the name of growth.

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Your business doesn’t care how you spend your day – only you can determine the most profitable use of the only unrenewable resource available – your time.

But the incredibly tricky part is determining what should and what should not get your attention. There are many things that seem important, feel important, and look important that simply shield you from what is important.

If you are ever going to grow your business beyond what you can contain in the grasp of your outstretched arms, you’ll have to let go of a great deal of what you do to fill each day.

Take a mental trip back over the last few days at your business. Or better yet, create an hour-by-hour time sheet and recount the activities that consumed your day. If you can’t remember what you did, other than the fact that you were busy, start today and jot down notes about the activities you engage in over the span of the next few days.

Now for the fun part. Try to assign a dollar value to the work you did. In other words, what would it cost if you had to pay someone else to do the work. Experience suggests that your list contains plenty of $10, $20 and $30 an hour work.

The problem with this reality is that to make a decent living you need to earn about $125 an hour for every hour you put in.

So, if you are making a decent living from your business then what’s really going on is you are doing a bunch of $10/hr work mixed in with the occasional $500/hr payoff.

I know this is pretty simple math and I also know that all this stuff you’re doing needs to get done. But, it also robs you from doing more of the highest payoff work.

The equation for true growth is pretty darn simple. Do more high payoff work and less low payoff work.

The path to adopting a high payoff mindset is understanding and creating the priorities for your work, defining the highest payoff activities and then letting go and allowing yourself to focus on them.

Define your activities

Sit for a while and sift through everything you do in your business and see if you can highlight the three of four highest payoff activities that you do. You know, the place where make your money. Think about what it would mean to your business if you focused on little else in your business but those activities. It doesn’t mean you know right now how you could free up the time to them, but acknowledging them is the first step.

Every business is different, but generally the highest payoff activities are things that fall into the strategic work in categories such as selling, creating new products and services, and marketing.

Note the word strategic above – mining LinkedIn for leads, proofreading copy for the new service agreement and designing ads all fit into the categories above, but as tasks better handled as low payoff work.

Create your list of three of four activities and lock down your commitment to find a way to focus more time on those activities while delegating or outsourcing everything that frees you to do this.

Get serious about getting free

As you make your to do list today mentally make note of this question and pose it each and everyday. Could I get someone else to do this task?

Once you get serious about this mindset you’ll start seeking ways to get it done. There so many ways to get tasks accomplished by people more proficient and less costly than you that it’s almost a crime not to do it.

Find virtual assistants experienced in proofreading, bookkeeping, social media management, blogging and research and get these things off your plate. Explore project based services like Fiverr and Fancy Hands to do those things you’ve been meaning to get around to.

Create and protect space

The final step in your high payoff transition is to take your priority list and, well, make it a priority. The best way to do this is carve out a day or two each week and make those your “high payoff activity only” days.

That means during those days you map out a plan to work on the highest payoff work and leave the rest alone. No email, no tweaking your website, no meetings – unless these are truly high payoff.

For some, two entire days for this might seem like more than they can afford, so start with two afternoons. The point is if you don’t create a protect time for this, it won’t happen.

What you work on during your high payoff days will change based on what’s going on, but when you identify the priorities you can plan each week with these days and priorities in mind and know that you are growing your highest payoff work space and ultimately growing your business with a high payoff mindset.

7 Social Collaboration and Accountability Tools

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS. UPS is all about logistics — the logistics that makes your business run better and faster

One thing is for certain – it’s become much easier to work virtually these days. New online apps and tools are being created every day to make it easier to connect, collaborate, contribute and manage staff flung far and wide of the traditional cube or physical office setting.

social collaboration tools

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Tools that allow us to meet instantly using video, discuss and edit documents in real-time, clip and store notes and ideas for team sharing and create custom content on the fly for individual clients and industry segments have enabled even the smallest businesses to do things relatively inexpensively that only of a few years ago would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.

I enjoy finding and using these new tools and I’ve noticed a trend in these tools over the last year or so, they’ve become more social. In other words, they seem to be taking clues from social networks and the pattern of sharing, liking and commenting they have fostered to create social collaboration as a central theme.

Below are seven relatively new entries to the collaboration and accountability tool space that share some of these new, more social, attributes.

Evernote Business – I’ve written about how I use Evernote in the past, but a recent significant update called Evernote Business has me adding it to this list, even though it won’t be available until December 2012.

Evernote Business gives employees all the Evernote tools to save and find everything that matters in their day-to-day lives, while also providing the centralized management features businesses need.

iDoneThis – Sometimes working with remote teams makes it hard to keep up on projects or even consider how much work people are really putting in because you don’t witness it in action. iDoneThis is a very simple email based team productivity management tool.

Everyone on a project or team replies to an email reminder with what they did that day. The next day, you get a digest with what everyone on the team got done.

KanbanFlow – the problem with most project management software is that it’s just too complicated to figure out quickly. KanbanFlow is as lean and intuitive as they come.

It presents project boards and to-do lists in a very visual way and leans heavily on the Pomodoro time management school of thought.

WalkMe – This tool is really more about collaborating with customers in a way, but I love what it does.

WalkMe allows you to create step-by-step guides that show your customer, or really any website visitor, how to do what you want them to do. It inserts little instruction bubbles that guide your user to the next task.

A Web Whiteboard – This is as the name implies a whiteboard on the web. It takes advantage of some nice HTML5 functionality and is a dead simple way to collaborate on drawing.

I can imagine some nice whiteboarding on big screens as a cheap alternative to computer driven smart boards.

Co-Meeting – This tool bills itself as a new style group communication tool. Basically it allows you to hold text-based group discussions where everyone participates via chat.

What I like is how it creates and saves multiple threads and shows a comment being created in real-time much like a real conversation. This format won’t be for everyone, but it has some benefits that you can’t find in fac-to-face meetings and everything that is said is logged.

Podio – Podio is a project management, CRM, sales, intranet multi-tool that clearly takes its design from social networks.

You can create an instant social intranet site that’s completely customizable to your organization, manage events, meetings, collaboration and client communication all in one.

In addition there are thousands of add-on apps being built for the platform.

ScoopIt – Most people wouldn’t call this a collaboration tool, but I think it has great potential as such. ScoopIt allows you to curate content from around the web and build a custom magazine of sorts with the content. You can bring in all of your social networks and share with all your social networks.

What makes this a potential collaboration tools is when you start thinking of ways to co-curate with your customers and community members. Imaging having your customers from a specific industry contributing to an industry specific magazine.

The way we work has changed dramatically and permanently so let’s celebrate that idea by employing tools that make it even more useful, consistent and enriching.

What new tools have you discovered?

Too Many Business Objectives Are Worse Than None At All

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS. UPS is all about logistics — the logistics that makes your business run better and faster

This time of year many businesses turn to planning as a way to determine the path for the upcoming year. It’s a great practice and one that I support without hesitation.

strategic planning

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Taking stock of where you are now and how you intend to move towards the vision for your business as you see it down the road is something that you must do to create positive change and growth.

While the task of annual planning is a necessary one, it’s also one that is fraught with challenges.

The best strategic planning focuses on carving our priorities for the year. The challenge with this is that many organizations see it as a time to create a giant wish list or to do list.

In my experience most small businesses can only focus on a handful of priorities or objectives at any given time and the key is leave more out of your plan for the year than you leave in.

The focus of your planning is to identify your top three objectives and commit to taking massive action on making them happen. When you think small numbers you can think big ideas and that’s how you move in the direction of real growth.

An objective is a priority

Calling something one of your primary annual objectives makes it a priority and that status must be affirmed, communicated, acted upon and held up for all to view throughout the year.

Create themed communications, events and education that keep the focus on your stated objectives.

Every objective requires a goal

Once you establish your objectives for the year figure out how you plan to measure your progress. Set goals, no more than one or two, for each objective and make your act of measurement and reporting on your progress as transparent as possible.

Build internal dashboards, report in to all hands meetings and plan to adjust your goals and actions in real-time. Let’s face it, a goal, while meaningful, is often a guess. Feed the data often and analyze what it means when it’s real.

Goals require new habits and behavior

Once you have the objectives defined and goals attached the hard work stars. Here’s something that I know about goals. It’s fine to state a goal, but most of what we do in life is dictated by our habits.

If you want to make real and lasting change towards the attainment of a goal, particularly a goal that stretches your current reality, you must adopt a corresponding set of new habits.

This is the point where I want to suggest that you check out my interview with Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and In Business.

Duhigg shows how habits and goals are aligned in ways that often make it impossible to succeed.

Look at your goals and objectives and ask yourself what has to change.

Do you need to delegate more, hire someone, fire someone, create focus days, have more meetings, have fewer meetings, start working out, stop saying yes, start charging more, get up earlier, get home earlier or just sit for a very long time while you reconnect with why you do what you do?

Once you can identify habits that are in the way you can start to address the organizational and personal behavior that must change in order to move in the direction of your goals and objectives. Don’t take this step lightly, it’s the key to success.

While planning like this often is seen as an annual event, and I don’t want to discourage that notion, it’s really an every day, every week, every month, every quarter kind of thing that must stay top of mind and inform every decision you make minute by minute.

How to Hold Productive Meetings That People Don’t Actually Hate

This post is one in a series of tips for making your small business run better and is sponsored by UPS.

Scheduled communication may be one of the most powerful team and accountability building tools available when done the right way.

photo credit: MoDOT Photos

Meetings are an essential aspect of getting things done, collaborating and delegating, but for many they are the bane of business life. People actually leave companies because of the life draining nature of their meeting culture.

This commonly accepted feeling about meetings comes about because most people have been trained to handle meeting in one of two ways.

One is the “I hate meetings, so just come to me if you have a problem” method. Of course this is quite possibly the most frustrating approach for all concerned. This approach leads to lots of wasted time and the every ten minute or so interruption.

The other approach is what I refer to as the “I’ve called a meeting, but it’s really a reading” approach. In this approach managers read from a list of to-dos that could have been sent via email and then propose some things to try to get buy in.

This second approach eventually leads to adopting the first “I hate meetings” attitude and drains any sense of commitment from all involved.

Here’s the deal: you need meetings, perhaps frequently, but you need them to be energetic, useful and in the words of consultant Al Pittampalli – modern.

In Read This Before Our Next Meeting, Pittampalli lists the seven attributes of what he calls the modern meeting. This is a great framework for how to think about meetings that generate energy and action.

1. The Modern Meeting supports a decision that has already been made.
2. The Modern Meeting starts on time, moves fast, and ends on schedule.
3. The Modern Meeting limits the number of attendees.
4. The Modern Meeting rejects the unprepared.
5. The Modern Meeting produces committed action plans.
6. The Modern Meeting refuses to be informational. Reading memos is mandatory.
7. The Modern Meeting works only alongside a culture of brainstorming.

Read Pittampalli’s book before your next meeting and consider making it a gift to everyone in your organization.

Adopting this approach to meetings and making it the “accepted meeting protocol” in your organization will reduce the need for meetings that drain, hold anyone that calls or attends a meeting accountable for action and even keep the boss on task. (Well, maybe)

Pittampalli’s last point can’t be emphasized enough.

Brainstorming is an essential business tool as well, but it’s not the same as a meeting. Meetings are for making decisions, brainstorming sessions are to throw out ideas, discuss constraints, test theories and get feedback on ideas.

You need an entirely different framework for brainstorming. You need to frame the idea, throw roles and titles and encourage big thinking. (And, don’t forget to feed everyone well.) In fact, brainstorming sessions should be held offsite in settings that encourage and foster creativity.

Far too many meetings are really just protracted brainstorming sessions where little gets done. Hold advertised brainstorming sessions as special events to take advantage of this unique tool, but resist the temptation to bring this dynamic into meetings.

Again, meetings are for making decisions, most everything else can be handled with email, IMs and texts.

This applies to team meetings, all hands meeting and even one on one meetings.

Embrace this mindset and watch what happens to the energy, accountability and action produced from meeting that nobody hates.