Handling Negative Online Reviews Like a Pro

24 05 2016

Online reviews can make or break a business. More and more often, customers are turning to sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook to get an unbiased view of every business they use.

Negative reviews are pretty much inevitable, regardless of how hard you try. Your responses, or lack thereof, can also have a dramatic effect on how people view your company’s credibility and dedication to customer service. Here are a few tips to handle negative online reviews like a pro.

First and foremost it is important to have a consistent approach to handling both positive and negative feedback.

Meet Kelly…
Kelly owns a local hair salon and uses many types of online profiles to represent her business. Since public comments can’t be deleted, Kelly has developed a solid approach to protecting her business’ online reputation.

Set Up Alerts

The first line of defense for Kelly’s online business reputation is daily alerts. Setting up alerts through Google, Facebook, and Twitter lets Kelly know when someone has mentioned her business. She gets these alerts sent to her inbox daily.

Comment Always

Kelly’s policy is to comment on as many pieces of feedback as possible. She leverages the personal touch by interacting with her customers in a timely manner to all forms of feedback. She’s also turned her responses into an art form.

Positive Feedback

Kelly always responds to positive feedback. It doesn’t have to be the great American novel, but Kelly makes sure it’s genuine and has a personal feel to it. Observe the magic:

3/24/2015: Jen, this is one of the sweetest, most thorough reviews I have seen. Thank you so much for your kind words about the salon and our wonderful nail artist, Nickie!

Negative Feedback

Kelly always acknowledges the client’s concerns and states in the public reply that she will contact the person to follow up and resolve the issue. If she doesn’t have the client’s contact information, she invites the person who posted to contact her directly.

At this stage, Kelly understands the importance of not engaging in justification, excuse making, claims of innocence, or outright denial. Here is an example of what NOT to do…

Michelle,
I am really surprised by some of the comments in your review. You were 15 minutes late for the appointment. The stylist you were booked with had already packed up to leave and you were marked in our books as a no show (15 minutes late for a 45-minute appointment is pretty late). I tried to convince the stylist to stay and see you because it was Valentine’s Day and I didn’t want you to go away disappointed. She needed to get to her other job but agreed to do the blowout even if it meant being late for work. I asked you if you minded skipping the complimentary hand massage that we usually do with our blowouts since you were late and she needed to get to her second job. I’m sorry if that made your experience less pleasant. However, she did stay late and do an amazing blowout for you.

What a complete turnoff! If you want to try and win her back and impress others? Try this instead:

Hi Jonathan,
Thank you for taking the time to submit a review. We are sincerely sorry that your experience was less than satisfactory on this visit. We would be grateful for the opportunity to make this situation right for you. Please feel free to contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX and I will assist in reconciling this issue. A private message has also been sent. Again, many thanks for the feedback – it only helps us serve you better!

The Clock is Ticking

Kelly promptly follows up on her commitment to reach out. The best person for this job is the business owner or general manager – someone with the clout and authority to fix the issue in one phone call or email. She and her manager put on their best customer service hats and really listen to the client’s concern.

Follow-Up on the Follow-Up

Once the issue is resolved, and only if it was a positive result, Kelly asks the client to follow up on the posting and comment that the issue was resolved. This can be the most impactful. Kelly always goes back to the original posting personally to briefly talk about how the resolution went down.

The key to success lies in being genuine, working proactively, and embracing the age-old philosophy, “The customer is always right!” even if you aren’t in agreement.





Outsourcing Employee Training – When does it make Sense?

20 05 2016

When you first started your company, you likely had some vision of what the customer experience would look like. Depending on your market, it could have looked something like the highly polished Front Desk staff of New York’s Plaza Hotel, or maybe the sarcastically surly wait staff of San Diego’s Dick’s Last Resort. Whatever the market, you definitely wanted to create a distinctive customer experience.

Fast-forward a few years…You’re standing off to the side of your restaurant/coffee bar/bookstore/clothing boutique and you realize, despite your best efforts at conveying your vision, your staff is just not “getting it.” If that’s the case and you want to distinguish your establishment, it may be time to bring in some training experts.

The big question is this: What makes more sense for your business – doing your training in-house or outsourcing your employee training?

Market Placement and Reach

Your decision on whether to insource or outsource your employee training is typically impacted by how many people you need to have trained. Is it a set number of people at exact intervals? Many businesses can take advantage of on-demand training to reduce costs and ensure your employees are trained quickly and properly by having an external provider handle the training function.

Additionally, if you have trainees located in geographically diverse locations, a vendor can easily take a classroom-learning module and create web-based training. This can be hosted in-house or remotely, depending upon your business needs.

Outsourcing Training May Cost Less

If you have full-time employees that are specifically dedicated to training your staff, it can be a costly endeavor. Many small and mid-sized companies just don’t have the monetary resources to dedicate man-hours to development, design, implementation, and evaluation of training for their employees. There’s also the management and tracking of these functions to think about.

Instead of hiring one or two employees dedicated solely to training, it may make more economic sense to use an outside organization to send your employees to before you let them loose with customers.

Risk Reduction

Training your employees is not just about creating that distinctive customer experience. You also want to ensure that your employees have the proper tools to do the job efficiently and safely. Think of training as a way to safeguard your business and reduce the risk of injury, loss, and (gasp!) lawsuits.

There are a host of web-based training programs out there addressing topics like proper money handling, OSHA safety, and dealing with difficult clients.

Access to Expertise

Training takes a specialized skill set. Vendors that specialize in training have the ability to create customizable training systems at a fraction of the cost of having them built in-house. The individuals that design, develop, and implement training are professionals that know how to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of learners.

The bottom line here is that these outside vendors are in the business of training. In-house training is hard to beat if you have the financial means and the ability to keep a steady stream of projects in the pipeline. However, if this is not the case, it may make sense to look to outside options for excellent employee training. However you choose to train your employees, taking the time to ensure your employees know their jobs well will mean your customers will thank you!





Not All Mailing Lists Are Created Equal – Maximizing Your Return With Mailing List Savvy

17 05 2016

It’s ironic, really. The lists that we struggle to be removed from are also the same lists our companies strive to obtain. The truth is, for many businesses, targeted mailing lists are the bread and butter of their marketing efforts. Being able to create niche-marketing materials and then putting those materials into the right hands is essential to a company’s survival.

Not all mailing lists are created equal, though. Understanding the different types of mailing lists is critical in maximizing the return on your investment of content and quality marketing materials.

Consumer Mailing List

Consumer mailing lists are comprehensive lists of people associated with their demographic, economic, and psychographic information. The consumer mailing list helps your business target individuals with very specific profiles for maximum return on investment. Typically, you can choose to filter these types of lists by the following data:

– Gender
– Age
– Ethnicity
– Marital Status
– Estimated Household Income
– Children Present
– Home Value
– Single or multiple family homes
– Hobbies and Interests

Consumer mailing lists are more expensive than say, a neighborhood mailing list, but your ability to filter out non-ideal recipients can make your investment worthwhile, especially for high-quality mailings such as multi-page letters, brochures, or large, high-quality postcards.

Neighborhood Mailing List

Neighborhood mailing lists are by far the most cost-effective list you can get. Many local businesses will target specific neighborhoods within a particular zip code or geographic location that falls within a specific radius of their business location.

This type of list is effective for obtaining new clients, particularly if your business wants a broad reach without regard to specific demographic or psychographic categories. Deliverables commonly associated with this type of mailing list include coupons, smaller postcards, and tri-fold 20# paper-stock brochures.

Business Mailing List

Business mailing lists are the “Holy Grail” for B2B companies, enabling them to maximize new targeted opportunities. This list type includes data pertaining to:

– Business Type
– Number of Employees
– Annual Sales
– Credit Rating
– Geographic Location
– Executive Names
– Phone Numbers
– Years in Business
– Owner Gender
– Public vs. Private

By targeting specific business data points, your company can identify and market directly to your ideal clients. You can also use the data points to differentiate the type or content of your marketing materials. For example, if you are a woman-owned business wanting to connect with other women-owned businesses, this type of list can help you do that, while still allowing you to send similar content to non-women-owned businesses with a different slant.

Specialty Mailing List

Specialty mailing lists are, just like they sound, lists of people filtered by special categories that you determine. Common types of specialty mailing lists include:

– New Parents
– New Movers
– New Homeowners
– Homeowners
– High-income Homeowners
– Renters
– Investors
– Health Conscious
– Green Consumers
– Sports Enthusiasts
– Voters (by political party)
– Seniors
– Consumers by Hobby

The list goes on. Essentially, if you can think of a niche that you want to market to, you’ve got yourself a specialty mailing list.

Truly understanding the individuals and businesses that your product or service is ideal for is the key to success. Combining a highly targeted mailing list with marketing materials that speak directly to the people or businesses on your list will boost your chances of making that next sale.





Super-Charge Your Sales Force With Highly Effective Print Sales Collateral

13 05 2016

Converting prospects into clients is often a difficult and expensive process. Sales reps can spend weeks, months, even years trying to get a prospective client converted into a buyer. A large part of that process involves face time between the sales rep and the prospect in an attempt to forge a relationship built on trust. Seldom does that face-to-face meeting end in a solid sale.

Sales reps hate leaving a prospect without a signed contract, and the days of hardline sales techniques are long gone. So, how do your reps keep the conversation going and the interest building when they’re away? The answer is simple: put high-quality, effective print sales collateral in their hot, little hands.

Armed with the right mix of marketing materials, your sales reps can leave their prospects with some subliminal messaging that subtly invades the prospects’ subconscious after the sales rep leaves. Think of it as a little beacon whispering “buy me…buy me.”

Highly effective print sales collateral doesn’t just mean you leave a brochure and a business card and hope for the best. To super-charge your sales force, you need well thought-out, quality-designed materials that will continue to grab the prospect’s attention and not end up as a coaster or at the bottom of a hamster cage. Top sales experts have weighed in with the following best practices.

Case Studies

The single, most effective piece of sales collateral that you can leave with your prospects is the case study. Including one or two case studies targeted to the prospect’s needs can do more for your sales than a holiday gift basket. Your case studies should concisely discuss:

What the client’s greatest challenge was prior to purchasing your product or service
How the client implemented your product or service
How the client’s challenge went away or was reduced by implementing your product or service

These three things will communicate more to the prospect about how your product or service works and the value that it can provide to them, than merely listing the things your company does. Be sure to include solid numbers about money and time-savings, as these are the top two complaints companies have.

Testimonials

Finding three or four clients to rave about you is also a fantastic way to show your prospects that (1) you have clients, (2) your product/service is LOVED and (3) why your clients love it. Just like the case studies, if you can guide your clients in crafting a testimonial that discusses how your company changed their life for the better, the more effective the testimonial will be. Including their name, business name, and even a picture can go a long way in building credibility. Nothing says, “Trust us” like someone else saying, “Trust them!”

The Sales Page

Sales and Marketing Strategist Walter Wise notes that successful marketing messages use the “Marketing Equation of Interrupt, Engage, Educate, and Offer.” Let’s break down that equation (don’t worry, it’s even less to remember than the FOIL method from back in middle school):

Interrupt: your main headline, designed to interrupt your prospect’s attention
Engage: your sub-headline, crafted to keep the prospect’s interest and get them to keep reading
Educate: this is where you add some valuable information on solving your clients’ problems
Offer: this should be a low-risk, free report, checklist, white paper, or e-book that will position your company as a thought leader in the field.

Take the time to provide your “offer” in your sales package. The longer you can keep that prospect engaging in your company’s materials, the more likely they will be to buy.

Putting It All Together

It goes without saying that all of your materials should be printed on high-quality paper stock and designed by a professional graphic artist so that the materials are aesthetically pleasing. Too much text and low-quality graphics can be an instant turn-off regardless of the quality of your product.

Have your sales reps present the documents to the prospect in a snazzy, branded folder that will catch your prospect’s attention when the rep leaves, and one that will beg them to open it up and read what’s inside.





Why Continuing Education is the Key to Career Advancement in More Ways Than One

10 05 2016

When many people reach a career milestone – be it getting a job with that great new company or even starting their own business – they often leave the concept of education behind. After all, they’ve already had a huge amount of schooling up to this point and they’ve succeeded in accomplishing what they set out to, so it probably isn’t even necessary anymore, right?

Wrong.

Career advancement is a journey that never ends and continuing education is one of the single, best ways to make this road the easiest one of you’ve ever traveled.

The Key to the Future Rests in the Present

Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current position and can’t imagine ever wanting to go someplace else, continuing education is still valuable for a number of different reasons. Think about your long-term career goals. Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? In ten? Even though you’re satisfied today, there will still likely come a day where you begin looking for a change or what a little something “extra” out of your current situation. Continuing education not only makes it easier to ask for a raise within your current position, but it also makes you more attractive if the time comes where a management position opens up within your business that you might want to pursue.

Many experts agree that when hiring managers start to look at internal candidates for a new position, they actually grade on a tougher scale than if they were looking to fill a position from outside the company. At this point, a simple history of “hard work” and “dedication” isn’t necessarily going to cut it – their expectations are higher than that. They KNOW you’re a hard worker – it’s why you still have a job. A history of regular, continuing education says that you’ve taken your dedication to a new level and that you’re not only ready for new responsibilities, but you have the ethic and the skills to back up that claim.

It’s All About Perspective

The late, great comedian Garry Shandling was a firm believer in the idea that the minute you stop working to improve yourself either personally or professionally, it’s all over. He was the type of person who believed that his work was never done. There was ALWAYS something he could learn and ALWAYS some way he could improve the quality of the product he was putting out into the world. He deeply stood by these ideals, even though by any objective standard he perfected not only the sitcom but also the comedy television format with his HBO series (and he had the dozens of Emmy nominations to back that up). Yet still, it wasn’t enough.

Just like Shandling, the moment you feel you’ve learned it all and the moment you feel like you’ve reached the point where you can’t get better, you’ve lost a game that you never really understood in the first place.

This simple idea is perhaps the most important reason why continuing education is the key to career advancement, regardless of the type of industry you’re working in. It forces you to think about ways that you could be doing better and about the shortcomings in your daily life that you need to address. It keeps you moving forward, but it keeps you grounded at the same time. Continuing education doesn’t just make you a better employee on paper because you get to add a new certification or qualification to your resume – it makes you a better person, period.





The Power of Leadership: Bringing Out the Best From Introverted Employees

6 05 2016

As a business leader, one of the core requirements of your job is to make sure that you’re bringing out the absolute best in your team at all times. Every employee working under you not only needs to excel on their own terms but must also be contributing towards the larger whole at the same time. Having quiet, introverted employees can certainly make this difficult, but therein lies the challenge. If you want to use your leadership skills to bring out the best from your introverted employees, you’ll certainly want to keep a few key things in mind.

Work on Your Pace

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in terms of dealing with introverted employees is trying to force them to adapt to the way you like to work. Introverted employees typically don’t like fast-paced, high-stress situations. They need time to think, to plan, and to ultimately prepare for the task ahead. Part of the way you can help bring out the best in these employees involves embracing this idea wherever possible.

Say you’ve got a big meeting coming up and you know that an introverted employee will need to contribute as much as possible. Instead of springing this on them at the last minute, let them know as soon as possible. Give them time to get their thoughts straight and make sure you give them a clear, actionable agenda to work from. If you allow them to build up to the meeting, you’ll find that they’ll be much more engaged than you probably thought they would.

Acknowledge Accomplishments

One of the most important things to keep in mind about introverted employees is that they will rarely, if ever, take outward pride in their own accomplishments. They typically don’t like attention, even if it’s positive, which means that a lot of the hard work they’ve been doing will likely go unnoticed. As a result, it becomes your job to take pride in those accomplishments for them. If an introverted employee absolutely nails a project, make sure everyone on the team knows it. Make the announcement on their behalf, allowing them to feel great while embracing their personality at the same time. Just make sure you spread the love – all team member accomplishments should be acknowledged equally, both for introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

Another factor to consider about introverted employees ultimately comes down to communication. An introvert doesn’t necessarily like to keep in constant contact either in person or by phone, but luckily, technology has made it easier than ever to adapt to this idea. Utilize virtual communication for projects when possible, either via text messages to your team or instant messaging conversations, e-mail threads and more. This will allow your introverted employees to not only contribute to a larger project but to do so in an environment they feel the most comfortable in.

These are just a few of the ways you can bring out the best from your introverted employees all day, every day. Remember that just because someone is quiet and prefers to work in a solitary environment does NOT mean that they aren’t contributing. In the same way, a loud, boisterous attitude doesn’t make someone a good employee either. Your primary goal is to strike a balance. You need to provide ALL employees, regardless of their personality type, exactly what they need to thrive.





Succeed in Business Without Undue Stress: Lessons From a Sailor

3 05 2016

Whether you’ve been in business for 40 years, or you are a startup waiting for the perfect time to enter the marketplace, you want to know how to succeed in the fast-paced world of capturing market share. Let’s see how your business can benefit from the lessons learned in the daily life of a salty sailor.

Sailors are known for their exciting tales of far-off worlds and adventure beyond a landlubber’s imagination. The trusted captain and crew have a few pointers to share for a successful voyage.

Know your vessel. Is she seaworthy? Is she built and maintained by people who take pride in their work? What are her quirks? Not all vessels are the same by any means. Know what makes her unique and tend to those details. What is the greatest strength of your enterprise? What is your core competency, or what is the distinguishing feature of your product? Having a well-defined product or service and a good understanding of how it compares to similar items in the marketplace is crucial.

Choose a good crew. Your crew will make or break the voyage, and as the captain, all the responsibility is resting on you. Is the “crew” of your “vessel” the best in the business, or did you hire your brother’s high school best friend out of some misplaced sense of obligation? You have to constantly assess the skill and knowledge of your crew. Do you have the right people stationed at the right post? Just as you wouldn’t put a deckhand in charge of navigation, you must insist on having all of your staff working in the areas of their expertise.

Know where you’re going. As a sailor, you must always be aware of your latitude and longitude. You have to know where you are in order to chart a course to where you want to go. The tools available today are changing rapidly and technology is great, but do not lose sight of the basics: quality, consistency, value, and customer service. Knowing where you are in these key areas and how you stack up to the competition will allow you to get where you want to go, be it increased market share, growth, innovation, or profitability.

Sharpen your senses. The wind will change direction and velocity and make your life terrible if you aren’t in tune with Mother Nature. The same goes for rain, thunderstorms, and squalls. Know what conditions are in the forecast, but always keep watch to discern subtle changes and patterns. Business journals and analysts are out there making predictions and it can be hard to figure out who has the best information. Sharpen your senses and your gut will guide you in the direction of success. Look at the forecast, but know that your gut is rarely wrong.

Know how to adjust your sails. When the wind changes direction or a storm system builds, sailors understand that they’ll make no progress fighting the forces of nature. They know that by simply adjusting their sails, they can harness those forces, adjust their course, and continue on. They may even adjust their destination to make the most of the situation. Similarly, a leader of any enterprise must know how to adjust his plans to accommodate changes in the market. Market forces can be infinitely stronger than your iron will and can crush your business if you fight. If you accept the change and adjust your course, you may find yourself in a different place from where you intended to go, and it may be far better than you expected.

Whether you are a captain on the high seas or a captain of industry, you old salts have a lot in common. Next time you are in a pub near the marina, strike up a conversation with the weather-worn sailor in the corner. You just might learn something.