4 Ways to Improve Customer Service

Many businesses fail to realize the importance of customer service for business growth. Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. Their satisfaction has a direct effect on your sales and the profitability of your business. Thus, effective customer service determines if the business will continue or not.

A successful business is one that is continuously endeavoring to improve its customer service. Here are a 4 ways to improve your customer service:

1. Develop Customer Service Skills

It is essential that you ensure your customer service team has the right skills and expertise to manage customers’ needs. Your team must demonstrate empathy and patience towards customers. They must learn to deal with all sorts of customers and resolve their problems. Building relationships is the key to your success with your customers.

2. Be Interactive

Teach your customer service team to be as interactive as possible with customers. Ensure that they have detailed information on the customer they are dealing with. This includes records of previous interactions as well. The team should try to have friendly interactions with customers. Most importantly, admit your mistake when you are wrong. Always follow up with them after an issue has been resolved.

3. Engage Customer Service Representatives

Keeping your sales team engaged is critical for the success of the business. Customers are likely to come back to a firm whose sales representatives have a positive attitude. Keep your customer service staff motivated and engaged by providing individualized training, benefits, compensation, adequate opportunities for advancement and comfortable working conditions.

4. Feedback

Establish a convenient way for customers to give you feedback. Customer feedback is critical as it will help you cater to their needs and improve your services.

In a nutshell, good customer service has manifold benefits for your business. A little bit of effort in keeping your customers and sales representatives engaged will do wonders for your business.

How Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Work Performance

If you are an executive or owner of a business, you can probably count yourself amongst those who routinely run on minimal amounts of sleep – four to five hours a night is not uncommon. Margaret Thatcher was famous for only getting four hours of sleep a night during her years as a prime minister. But while many high-performing people cite this as a normal pattern of behavior for themselves, this flies in the face of the accumulated knowledge that states that adult humans need between 7-9 hours of sleep. What gives?

It’s tempting to think that the high level of success these people have achieved serves as proof that sleep isn’t so necessary for normal biological functions. It’s also important to note that these high-achieving people represent a small segment of society – just a few percent of all workers. Perhaps they’re so driven that they are able to overcome the effects of sleep deprivation. Perhaps they possess a rare genetic mutation that allows their body to function on less sleep. Perhaps they’re trying to pretend that they aren’t being affected, or maybe are too proud to admit that they are tired all the time. Regardless of what the reality is, you need your sleep.

A lack of sleep doesn’t just result in your feeling tired; your entire body pays a price when it isn’t well rested. Some of the worst effects of long-term sleep deprivation include:

Being unable to focus

If you are a college student who is burning the midnight oil, you probably know this all too well. Instead of being able to focus on the professor’s lectures, you instead find yourself barely able to keep your eyes open, let alone pay attention to what he/she is saying. At work, you’ll be subject to similar problems. Instead of being able to focus on what your boss is saying, you’ll instead focus on trying to keep your eyelids open. Your boss might even think that you aren’t even trying to pay attention to them, which is an even worse outcome. Focusing on reading documents becomes a chore, and remembering what it was that you were doing becomes increasingly difficult.

Putting on excess weight

Your metabolism is partially regulated by your sleep schedule. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body loses much of its ability to regulate your sense of hunger and fullness. As if that wasn’t bad enough, you also burn fewer calories overall while awake. Both of these factors are exacerbated even further by the fact that you are awake for several more hours, and thus will need to eat more to stay full over that longer period of wakefulness.

An increased chance of burning out

Burnout can result from a number of factors, but sleep deprivation is frequently cited as one of (if not the biggest) reason for why it happens. Being exhausted all the time will do your physical and mental health no favors, but depriving your brain of restorative sleep will eventually cause you to stop caring about work altogether. Your mood is tightly linked to your sleep patterns, and if you find yourself more irritable or short-tempered than usual, consider going to bed earlier.

Worsening memory

Memorizing a lot of information is never easy. Doing it on four hours of sleep is nearly impossible. While the link between sleep and memory is not fully understood, chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to correlate with a reduced overall ability to form and retain memories over the course of a lifetime. It’s speculated that the brain transitions short-term memories and information over the course of the day into longer-term memories during sleep, which is why people that aren’t getting enough sleep tend to underperform at school and work overall.

Don’t treat a lack of sleep as though you are wearing some kind of badge of honor. There’s a reason we evolved to need the amount of sleep that we do, and while its exact role in regulating biological functions isn’t fully understood, it is shown to be highly correlated to your mood, weight, concentration, and memory. Getting five hours of sleep as opposed to eight might seem like a good deal on paper – you get an extra three hours to do anything you want! The actual reality is that your decline in productivity as a result of feeling so tired will eventually cancel out the extra time you have. One night of doing this won’t kill you, but over time it adds up to a significant deficit, one that winds up negating everything you thought you gained by sleeping less.

Achieving Financial Freedom

A lot of books have been dedicated to the subject of debt and money. It seems simple enough: don’t spend more than you make. As you know, this is not what reality actually entails. Sometimes it’s the person’s fault: they wanted that new, shiny car, or maybe they felt like going on a shopping spree. Other times its merely bad luck – suffering from an unexpected health problem can cause you to spend enormous amounts of money on health care (at least in the United States). But in most cases, the crippling amount of debt that Americans possess doesn’t happen overnight: it gradually creeps up on you over time.

Some researchers refer to what is known as “lifestyle creep”. This is the tendency of Americans to gradually increase their spending at least in tandem with their earning power. When their income falls their spending does not, often due to the fact that they have become used to their seemingly higher standard of living. This is a big part of why Americans average over $16,000 of credit card debt and over $28,000 of auto loan debt. It’s understandable to have unexpected expenses, but because a lot of people don’t save their money appropriately they are forced to take on debt to make these unexpected payments.

The following three tips are some of the most important pieces of advice to follow when breaking yourself free of debt and ensuring that you don’t get trapped by your own finances.

1) Save 10% of your income a month

This is typically given as the ideal amount to save. Understandably, some people make so little that they can’t put away 10% of their income a month. Even if it’s just 5%, over time it will add up to enough money so that an unexpected emergency or expense will not throw your finances into turmoil. A surprising number of these people live well above the poverty line for their area.

The purpose of saving your money is not to serve as an investment; interest rates in the past several years have been so low that you won’t gain much of value by sticking your money into a savings account. Don’t think of it as a safe investment so much as a cushion. If you find yourself needing money for any unexpected reason, it’s there for you.

2) If you have to go into debt to buy it, you can’t afford it

I’m not referring to major investments – very few people can afford to buy a home in cash. What I’m referring to are the smaller things that aren’t essential for survival. If you want that new TV but the only way you can afford it is for it to go on your credit card, then you can’t actually afford it. If you eat out frequently and you have to put it on credit to do so, then you are spending money you don’t have. The annual percentage rate of credit card interest frequently exceeds the double digits, and as a result the interest you pay on that debt winds up costing you more in the long run.
Paying with a credit card by itself isn’t a bad thing. This is how you establish and build a credit history, which increases your credit rating and allows you to qualify for better loans and interest rates in the future. But if you are going to charge something to your credit card, make sure that you could afford to pay for it in cash if needed. Following this simple rule will help you avoid a lot of unnecessary purchases in the future.

3) Make a budget and track everything you spend

For many individuals, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” applies especially to spending money. It’s easier to spend when you are putting things on a credit card, because you aren’t actually seeing physical money leave your hand when you buy. And all those days you went to eat out? Sure, one night might only cost thirty dollars. Do it several times a week and you’ve wound up consuming 20% of your monthly pay.
Frivolous expenses add up a lot faster than people realize, and the best way to get a handle on what you are spending each month is to keep meticulous track of your cash flow. Measure every cent you earn, and measure every cent you spend. Even if it’s for a 99 cent candy bar, track it. This will allow you to measure what you are spending as a percent of your income, and if you are positive or negative in finances each month. Your income level matters a lot less than you might think.

What to Do if You are Being Harassed at Work?

Every person should have the expectation of a safe workplace. This doesn’t just include occupational hazards, but also from the people you work with. In an ideal world employees don’t get bullied or harassed by their coworkers, but as many of you (unfortunately) know from experience, having rules in place to stop that behavior doesn’t prevent some people from overstepping boundaries. When you find coworkers (or your boss) making inappropriate comments to you, you have a right to stand up for yourself.

Part of the reason why harassment continues is that the person being harassed doesn’t always know what resources are available to them, or that they might be afraid of retaliation. You are not ever alone – there are forms of recourse both within and beyond the business that exist to ensure that you are treated with the respect that you deserve. Whether it’s disparaging comments, unwanted physical contact, or sexual harassment, there are laws and rules that exist to protect you.

The following points will help you make the most of the resources that are available to you so that you can continue to work in a safe environment without stress.

1) Document every instance

If you go to HR and claim that you’ve been harassed by a coworker or superior, the first thing you’re going to be asked is if you have any evidence to back up your words. While your words are not necessarily wrong, a person cannot be disciplined or fired without evidence. Whenever an incident happens, take a note of all the details – what was said, what was done, the time, place, and date, and if there are any, all witnesses to the incident. One event or two incidents is unlikely to get the ball rolling, but a well-documented paper trail will give a substantial amount of credence to what you are saying. The more evidence you have, the more likely that you will see the harassment stop.

2) Have a mediated meeting

This will not work for repeat offenders, but there are instances where a person is not acting out of malice so much as a lack of understanding as to where appropriate boundaries lie. If the person’s harassment is physical and/or sexual in nature then you can (and probably should) escalate it further. Before that happens, you might be given the opportunity to sit down with the person harassing you and a superior and to inform them that what they are doing is wrong. Even if this doesn’t stop the behavior, it will establish on the record that they were explicitly made aware that their actions were not acceptable at work.

3) Go above them

Your bosses are not laws unto themselves. Every person is accountable to somebody else, and if your boss is not taking steps to punish the person harassing you (or worse, is the one perpetuating it), report it to the higher-ups. Reporting to HR is also an option, as either method will create awareness of the fact that there is a problem. Ensuring that the knowledge of your harassment (and possibly other people’s) is not confined to just you will make it much harder to ignore. This step relates closely to the first one; make sure you’ve established a case before you notify your boss’ boss.

4) Get the law involved

Ideally, the person responsible for harassing you will have been dealt with before it reaches this point. If you have made a case with your employer and provided sufficient evidence to bolster your claims, yet no action has been taken, you will then have recourse in the legal system. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allows you to formally file a complaint within 180 days of the incident(s) in question. This is a last-resort step: in order to have your case heard you must try to resolve it internally first.

You can also hire a lawyer to review your state’s employment laws as they relate to harassment in the workplace. If you’ve gathered enough evidence to make your case and have attempted to solve it internally first, you’ll likely have a strong case to make in court. At the very least, a lawyer will be able to give you additional information pertaining to the strength of your case as well as any additional information that will help you make your case.

The Three Steps of the Customer Buying Cycle

A common misconception with a lot of people is that business transactions are simple affairs: customers express interest in something, they buy, and then they leave. This is a vast oversimplification of what is actually at work. Business majors and entrepreneurs have spent decades plotting out and exploiting every step of a customer’s buying process so as to better attract and retain their business. There are three sequential steps that customers take when they show an interest in purchasing something, and a lot of business owners are unaware of how to best target each of these phases. Each phase reflects a different stage of their mentality, meaning that the ideal strategy to exploit each phase will differ. So what are these three phases of the customer buying cycle?

Three Main Phases

These three phases are awareness, interest, and purchase. Awareness is the phase where they first become aware of the product or service that you are offering. Interest reflects the period of time where they show that they might want to buy your product – a customer that inquires about specific details relating to what you sell would be a good example. Targeted sales pitches are usually made in this phase. Lastly, purchase is the period of time where they make their final evaluation and the decision to purchase from you. Understanding how to address the needs of each phase will go a long way towards boosting your sales and securing long-term business from your customers.

1. Awareness

This is the incipient phase of a customer’s awareness of who you are and what you are all about. This phase of the customer buying cycle is where customers make their first judgement of you, which is why a lot of marketing and advertising departments spend so much time and money polishing the image of their business. This phase is important because it is where you can craft your message to appeal to the desired market segment.
Another important tool that is commonly used during this phase is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This refers to the practice of tailoring your website to the demographic that you wish to market yourself towards. Businesses will commonly insert relevant keywords into their indexed pages with the intention of leading searching customers to their website.

2. Interest

This phase of the customer buying cycle is when customers come to you. The awareness phase is where you grab their attention, and this phase is where you have a chance to build upon it. Customers are typically non-committal during this phase; they are likely still doing plenty of research and shopping around. Targeting buyers during this phase means that you need to give your potential customer a compelling reason to purchase from you instead of your competitors.

The responsibility here is two-fold: first, you need to market yourself as the solution to the customer’s unique problem. Second, you need to address the customer’s needs and perspectives. Businesses will frequently offer positive reviews and testimonials of their products to convince these potential customers that they offer the solution to their needs. Offering a persuasive sales pitch is only half of the solution: make sure that the customer feels that you are concerned with what they want.

3. Purchase

This phase of the customer buying cycle includes not only the actual purchase of the good or service itself, but also the final evaluation. A customer might still be reviewing their options in this phase, but what differs from the interest phase is that they have shown a distinct desire to purchase the good or service in question. This gives you an opportunity to give the customer a more comprehensive overview of what it is that they wish to purchase, and it is also the appropriate time to upsell additional products or features.

Car dealerships are especially fond of this point in the cycle. Once the customer sits down and begins negotiating the price of their future vehicle, the sales team moves in and does everything they can to get that person to buy the car. Whether they slash the price, throw in extra bonuses or offer them rebates, they will do whatever it takes to turn that expressed interest into an actual sale. This is where you want the sales team to take over: the amount of persuasiveness and personal magnetism they exhibit are every bit as important as their receptiveness and concern for the customer’s needs.

How to Keep Your Team Engaged

You can hire people, you can fire people, and you can tell them what to do. What you can’t do is make them like what they do. Some business leaders are content with having an unhappy team; as long as they do what they are paid to do then the state of their mental health is seen as superfluous. This line of thinking is not only wrong, but it is entirely counterproductive to the continued survival of a business. Gallup has run some excellent pieces that demonstrate the difference between engaged and disengaged employees. In particular they list several additional things that engaged employees bring to the table: motivation, innovation, and a willingness to take on more responsibility within the company. So how can you keep your team engaged?

That level of motivation contrasts greatly with employees who don’t even want to be there. They do their jobs, but they never put in more than the bare minimum of effort. Don’t expect them to ever go outside of what their job description requires, and if there is a chance for them to skip out on work without getting fired, they’ll take it. Obviously, you don’t want to have a team that consists of these people. But without the right knowledge of how to motivate a team, you’ll find yourself unable to inspire your employees to go above and beyond what is required of them.

A great company cannot exist without great employees, and there are steps you can take to mold them into the people you want to have working for you. These tips are proven methods of getting your employees to be engaged in what they do, and anybody can learn to apply them.

1) Keep Your Team Engaged: Be a team, not a dictatorship

Every ship needs a strong captain, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend every second reminding your employee who’s the boss. Your employees look to you for guidance, but they also want to feel as though you are in tune with everything that is going on. Some managers come off as though they are giving mandates from heaven, or worse, they rattle off long lists of orders because they don’t want to do the work themselves. If you give the directive and then pitch in to reach the goal, you’ll show your employees that they are all part of a team, and they sink or swim together.

2) Keep Your Team Engaged: Give them a chance to shine

It is true that some people are placidly content with being a cog in the wheel. I’m sure you know of at least one person who is sitting in a job they are relatively indifferent to just so they can collect a pension in twenty years. Those that fit that mold will gravitate towards jobs that give few chances to stand out and plenty of job security. For those who want to achieve more, they will never settle for a job pushing pencils all day. These restless employees are always looking for a way to prove to you that they are capable of so much more than low-level work. Denying them this opportunity will either push them to greener pastures, or if they can’t/won’t quit, cause them to become disillusioned with what they do.
If you find somebody who wants to prove themselves, let them. An employee who shows the initiative and drive to better themselves is a person that will bring your business an incredible amount of value. Don’t waste this potential.

3) Keep Your Team Engaged: Don’t take them for granted – show your gratitude

This goes beyond a simple “thank you”, although those two words can have quite a bit of power in themselves. If your employees feel like their contributions are not recognized or rewarded, then they will feel little incentive to go above and beyond in what they do. How you show this gratitude is as important as the action itself, because a perceived token gesture is even more insulting than a lack of a reward at all. Put another way, if somebody comes up with a million-dollar idea and you give them a monogrammed lanyard as a gift, don’t expect that person to stick around. Rewarding achievement is the flip side to punishing failure, and a balance between both is necessary to craft the ideal team.

As intuitive as these three traits seem, you probably know from personal experience that a lot of managers don’t quite know how to implement these strategies effectively. If you find yourself having difficulty reaching your employees, ActionCOACH can help you with that. The people we hire have spent years of their life honing and developing these traits, and their expertise and guidance can help you develop these on your own.

Learn to Plan and Plan to Learn

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you fail to plan.” But how many of us really take it seriously?  Do we even understand what planning is, why we should do it and what the value would be?

In my experience, until we understand the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) we never really do anything.  There normally needs to be a perceived benefit before we’ll generally do anything!

So let’s first take a step back and explore when we do understand planning.  Two of the best examples are: 1. A wedding; and 2. Building a house.

Most weddings are either pretty good or even great.  And even if you have been to a lousy one, it’s normally in the minority.  Weddings generally work out well because they’ve had literally months and months of planning.  Every detail has been considered and the plans get reviewed and adjusted all throughout the months before the big day.

One More Example

For the second example, consider this:

Assistant (at Builders Warehouse):    ‘Hi, this is Joe Soap how may I assist you?”

You: “Hi Joe, I’ve just thought about building a house and want to order some bricks please.”

Assistant: “Sure, how many would you like?”

You: “Well I’m not sure, how many do you need for a normal house?”

Assistant: “That depends on the house.  Have you thought about the colour yet?”

You: “Not yet so maybe give me a few in every colour you’ve got.”

This interaction seems silly, as no one would ever just start building a house.  We’d go through meticulous planning, and re-planning, before we even get to ordering the bricks.  First in our imagination, and then with an architect and, even a designer.

So let’s see how and where planning fits in:

  1. Dream
  2. Goal
  3. Plan
  4. Action

Once you have spent some time on getting clear on your dreams, the next step would be to set SMART goals.  SMART goals then need to be translated into plans so that the actions we take again feed up the line to ultimately achieving our dreams.  This would be the same for business goals and personal dreams.

The disconnect between these 4 areas normally result in things like procrastination, boredom, being overwhelmed, burnout and the like.  Once you have absolute clarity at each step, it’s easy to focus and more often than not your goals and ultimately dreams are achieved faster than initially expected.

With this understanding, I often find people wanting to then go straight into planning over a long period.  If you’re not yet good at planning your day, there is no use in trying to plan the next three years.

Clarity

So to start, get some clarity on what you’d like to achieve in the next 3 years.  With that in mind, what is it you’d like to achieve in the next 12 months?  Once you’ve got the 12 months goals, break them down and work backwards to what needs to be done in the next 90 days only.  Start the planning at that level and first get good at creating a 90-day plan, like ActionCOACH’s GrowthCLUB.  This can be broken down into monthly focus areas and weekly goals, plans and actions that again connect to the 90-day goals.

Take daily action and get good at reviewing the daily plan and preparing for the next.  Then move towards working on the weekly review and planning for the week ahead, and so on.  Before long you’ll have exercised your planning ‘muscle’ and will be getting good at annual and then three-yearly planning.

Planning is a tool for achieving your dreams, and the more you work on it, and have fun with it, the more your life and business will bear the fruits.  Go for it!