Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How to show customers you appreciate their business

The company owner sets the rules, and employees need to live and know them. The old adage “the customer is always right” isn’t realistic, but empowering employees and rewarding employees for superb service helps each customer sense your appreciation.

Perhaps sharing the following with the front line people can add to the desired goals of dependability, promptness and competence. Helping the customer service representative communicate in an upbeat, positive way, may just help the customer feel appreciated. Here are some useful phrases to incorporate in customer communications:

- “Good morning. How can I help you?” This starts the conversation in a friendly, non adversarial tone plus invites discussion. A customer feels you want to help them and not sell them a product and also putting them at ease.
- “I can help you solve your problem.” Now the customer service professional places the customer as the most important participant and promises a positive outcome. The positive statement inspires customer confidence.
- “I am not sure of the answer but I will find out for you by ……”. A sophisticated buyer could be bating a customer service representative for an answer the customer already knows, so it is always best to be honest and not just try to wow a customer with some fancy rhetoric without a definitive and honest answer. Honest answers inspire integrity.
- “I am responsible for this and I will take care of it.” A customer knows what to expect and can depend on the customer service representative to stick by the agreed upon terms, price and if applicable… the promised delivery date.
- “I will call you on Friday ( or whenever) and update you on my progress.” If you promise to call on Friday with updates, make sure you follow-up and make sure you call.
- “Your delivery date is set for ….” If a delivery date is set for Thursday, it is the company’s job to make sure the delivery day is met. Sometimes it takes a better relationship with vendors to ensure delivery dates. When companies pay vendors on time, learn to deal with honorable vendors, insist on reliability and dependability of their vendors, delivery dates happen at specified and agreed upon dates and times. Efficient pre-planning and efficiency don’t just happen; they are cultivated and nurtured.
- “I have the particulars of your order. Let’s go over it.” Each order must be exactly what the customer ordered. Customers don’t want to hear of a similar product or a promise that what you are going to deliver is better. They want what they ordered.
- “Did you get everything you ordered and are you satisfied with your order?” The order should be complete and the customer should have everything they ordered, in the time they ordered, in the method agreed upon when ordered, and in great condition.

Superior customer service includes, the infamous “I appreciate your business, and is there anything else I can do for you?” Follow-up with surveys, thank-you notes and, more service; customers are sure to keep coming back.

Posted by Cheryl Hanna

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Improved Productivity

Productivity can seem so elusive at times. It can be hard to prioritize, manage the workload and stay focused, but with a few simple steps and a good dose of discipline, you can be on your way to more control over your days.

  1. Plan your exit. Productivity for tomorrow starts today. Set a time to leave the office and stick with it. An hour before that time, have a wrap-up alarm remind you to start wrapping things up for the day, a great tip from organizational and productivity guru Julie Morgenstern in her book, “Never Check E-Mail in the Morning”.
  2. Plan tomorrow. Set your intentions and priorities for tomorrow during the last hour of your day so that you hit the ground running.
  3. Set your boundaries. At quitting time, turn off the computer (completely off so that you’re not tempted to “quickly” check your email), turn off the light, and shut the door. Don’t return until it’s time to work tomorrow.
  4. Honor a bedtime routine. Two or three hours before you want to be asleep, begin a routine of winding down. This will be different for every person, but it might include: no more phone calls or connectivity with the outside world (unless it’s an emergency, of course), no more talk about work, a bath or shower, a cup of hot tea, light reading, journal writing, no television, and lights out at a set time.
  5. Start the day off right. Wake up at a set time. Exercise or do yoga for fifteen or twenty minutes, unless you have another workout routine that you prefer. Eat a healthy breakfast (don’t skip this, as it affects your energy levels for the rest of the day). Set out with the right intention for your day by taking care of yourself first.
  6. Maintain your boundaries. Don’t immediately go to your office and start checking emails or news feeds. You’ll be at your computer all day. Take some time for yourself and other priorities in your life, or they’re less likely to get done later in the day, especially after work. Have some coffee, write in your journal, read, or go for a walk. Just take some time for yourself before jumping into your work day.
  7. Avoid or limit email time. Avoid checking your email right when you go to the office, or if you prefer seeing if anything important is waiting, at least limit your time to fifteen minutes so that it doesn’t distract you from more important tasks. Email is a huge time suck; if you don’t control it, it will control you.
  8. Avoid or limit news feeds and social networks. This is another time-suck that easily distracts from other priorities. Set specific times for keeping up with the latest news and updates, and then be diligent about staying away from the distractions.
  9. Start with your list. Jump right to your list of intentions and priorities that you jotted down the previous day. You were probably much more focused and honest about what needed your attention when you were planning it out with a clear head. First thing in the morning, it’s easy to want to procrastinate or give too much importance to trivial tasks and to-dos.
  10. Check in often. Set yourself an alarm for every hour or two. Don’t let yourself get too far off base from your intention/priority list. If you do get derailed, at least you’ll not lose much time this way.
  11. Work in blocks. In a business, it’s easy to have a wide variety of different types of tasks. There might be client work, writing and publishing, and marketing-related tasks to be done. Groups these tasks and complete them in scheduled blocks of time, say two- or three-hour sittings.
  12. Stay disciplined. When you finish with a particular type of task, like work for a specific client, don’t pick up that client’s work again until his/her designated time comes back around again. It’s easy to be tempted to do “just one more thing” for a project, especially when clients are emailing feedback and updates throughout the day, but avoid the temptation. Treat all time blocks with equal importance, whether you’re working on client projects or doing lead generation tasks. It’s all important, and if you don’t maintain a balance between current work and future prospects, you’ll experience peaks and valleys with your revenue as well.

It’s not always easy to stay on track. Time flies, distractions can beg for your attention, and deadlines loom, making you feel pulled in one hundred directions and unable to keep up with the demands, but by approaching your work with purpose and discipline, it’s a lot easier to get things done and feel great about what you’ve accomplished.

What steps do you follow each day to stay on track and productive?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Uni-Tasking vs. Multi-Tasking

By Bev Coggins

Multi-tasking was the darling of time management experts in days gone by. Now that we've had time to study multi-tasking, research has shown that it may not be as efficient as we thought.

Studies have shown that when we jump from task to task, it takes time to regain focus. Trying to do two tasks at once, with at least one requiring concentration, reduces the quality of work.

For tasks that require concentration, uni-tasking is best. Taking a break every 45 minutes or so refreshes your brain. A quiet place to work without interruptions or distractions increases productivity and efficiency.

There are definitely times and places for multi-tasking, though. These occur when tasks at hand are low-risk - what I like to call mindless activities. They can be interrupted and don't require great concentration.

At the office, shredding, filing, straightening your desk, deleting emails, etc., might be done while on hold or during casual phone conversations. At home, many household chores can be done while on the phone, watching TV, etc.

A key question to ask is whether interruptions will cause you to lose your focus and/or productivity. An interruption while dusting is not a problem, but an interruption while writing a proposal or working on a project can derail your train of thought.

Knowing when to uni-task and when to multi-task is an essential time management skill!

More on time management:

1-2-3 ... Get Organized series on Time Management
Trivial and Strategic Interruptions
Functioning at Peak Performance by Planning Quiet Moments
Increasing Efficiency

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tightrope: Getting the word out about your business

Hello, Gladys, I own a carpet cleaning company and so far I seem to have a fairly decent customer base. I would like to get more customers. When I checked into advertising on local radio stations and in a few local newspapers, the prices are more than I can afford. How can I get more people to know about and use my service without spending money that I don't have? — Sam

There are many ways to get the word out about your business that won't cost you a lot of money. You will need to use the most valuable assets you have — time, effort and creative ability. Keeping them in good working order is one of the enjoyable aspects of entrepreneurship. The following are examples that you can try and I'm sure there are other entrepreneurs that may find a few ideas to try as well.

Never underestimate the power of referrals. There are a couple of ways to go about this. Call or write a letter to your customers and ask them to refer a friend. Or, you can ask each of your customers to recommend three of their friends. Then, write a letter to them introducing your services.

I know there are many companies that offer cash bonuses or rebates to people who refer customers. Personally, I don't like that arrangement. Several months ago I got a letter from the gym I frequent offering members a $50 referral fee if they could get a friend to sign up. I asked one of the owners how that campaign had fared. He said they didn't get any takers. I wonder what would have happened if he had offered the discount to the person signing up. I certainly would be happy to tell my friends that if they joined the gym during a certain time they would get the cash back. So try to avoid offering to pay your customers to send their friends to you. Generally when you have customers that appreciate your service they are usually happy to help you stay in business.

With the end of winter just around the corner, spring cleaning will be on most folk's to-do list. You could design attractive leaflets and drop them off at churches, supermarkets, car washes, laundromats, gyms — any place that has a good flow of traffic. Usually there are community bulletin boards that you can post your leaflets on; by all means take advantage of that.

You can also offer your service as a fundraiser for your favorite charity. For a designated period of time give the organization a percentage of each sale they send your way. Organizations that are involved in raising money to fight breast cancer have raised millions of dollars this way.

Have you considered co-op advertising? Sometimes local newspapers offer this option. If not, pull it together yourself. Invite several small businesses that compliment your service to join in with you on an advertising campaign. For example, you could contact a window cleaning company, drapery cleaning company, maid service and maybe even a chimney sweep to join in an ad campaign aimed at building business for that coming spring-cleaning season. Once you pull the other business owners together, sit down with an ad agent from the newspaper and work out something attractive and eye-catching.

Also talk with other business owners to learn what they done creatively to enhance their market share. Try out one or two things that fit well with your company. Marketing a business is all about testing, testing and re-testing to see what works. Never underestimate the power of even the simplest marketing idea. The very thing that you think to be ridiculous could be the thing that has the most impact. Sometimes the best marketing and promotion ideas can come from simple ideas.

Gladys Edmunds' Entrepreneurial Tightrope column appears Wednesdays. Click here for an index of her columns. As a single, teen-age mom, Gladys made money doing laundry, cooking dinners for taxi drivers and selling fire extinguishers and Bibles door-to-door. Today, Edmunds is founder of Edmunds Travel Consultants in Pittsburgh and author of There's No Business Like Your Own Business, a six-step guide to success published by Viking. Her website is You can e-mail her at

Monday, February 08, 2010

Tools to Track Your Computer Time

Need to track your billable hours or want to be more accountable for how you spend your computer time? Alina Dizik reviews software options in her article "Services to Help Us Stop Dawdling Online," which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 1/28/2010, p. D2:

"Even after spending hours behind a computer screen, we're often surprised by how little we get done during a workday.

Indeed, frittering time away is epidemic in the office: A 2007 survey of 2,000 workers from Inc., a Web site that provides compensation data, found that Americans waste about 20% of their time at work; with 34.7% of those surveyed saying surfing the Internet is the biggest distraction.

An emerging crop of software now aims to make individuals more conscious of how they spend their screen time. Previously meant for free-lancers looking to keep track of billable hours, software developers are realizing that time-management applications are useful for anyone who wants to track which Web sites they visit and how much of their day is spent on certain work tasks or computer applications.

Some services record and categorize users' computer activities—often allowing workers to classify chunks of time as either productive or unproductive. Other services operate by having users set goals for how much they'll get done in a set period of time.

While it is easy to see how hours spent on YouTube or Facebook can crush your productivity, time-management experts say one of the biggest culprits is the constant transitioning from one computer-based task to another.

"Multi-tasking is a complete myth," says Peter Bregman, a time-management expert and chief executive of Bregman Partners Inc., a management-consulting company. "We lose time in the switch from one task to another," since it takes time for the brain to adjust to each project.

Tony Wright co-founder of Seattle-based RescueTime Inc., a time-tracking software company, agrees. In an October data audit, Mr. Wright found that RescueTime users switch to an instant message window 71 times per day, which means every 5.2 minutes or 11.5 times per hour. Users to the site visit an average of 57 Web sites or applications per day, he says.

To track our productivity, we tested four online services for a week each: RescueTime, Slife, Klok and ManicTime. Each site provided an eye-opening look at our workday without too much of a hassle. We also found that just knowing our activities were being watched made us a bit less likely to dawdle on non-work-related sites. But the services themselves required some upkeep—which, ironically, took time away from our work.

After signing up for a free two-week trial of RescueTime Pro (usually $5.30 per month), the software downloaded quickly and showed up on our task bar. The site recorded our activities accurately, assigned them to categories and put them into graphs. Some of the findings were surprising: When looking at the day's graph on a random Friday, for example, we realized we spent about 10 minutes of every hour reading the news.

But we thought some of the category titles—such as "Business"—were a bit vague. "We're still chipping away to distill this stuff into something actionable," says RescueTime's Mr. Wright. We liked the feature that let us designate individual sites and applications as productive or unproductive. Additionally, each time our computer was idle and we returned to our desk we were prompted to say whether our task away from the computer was work related, like a phone call, or something that shouldn't be recorded, like a trip to the fridge for a snack.

Klok doesn't automatically track what you do on the computer (so no Internet connection is required). Instead, it asks users to set tasks for themselves throughout the day to help manage projects. Then users note when they start and stop each project, making it easy to compare your goals to reality. One morning, for example, we saw that a writing assignment took 3½-hours instead of the two we thought it should. We also realized we did far fewer tasks than anticipated each day.

Overall, the service helped us get more tasks done because setting goals required us to think through how we would build our days' work. Tasks can be broken up into subcategories, making larger projects seem more manageable. But it was a bit of a pain to remember to notify the service every time we stopped and started a task. And even when we did make sure to mark our stop time, the service sometimes didn't register it, making our data inaccurate. Rob McKeown, co-founder of Mcgraphix Inc., which developed Klok, says this issue will be resolved in the next version.

Next up was Slife. The service costs $5 per month, but a 30-day trial is free. To sign up for the trial, however, we had to provide a credit-card number. (A redesign will soon enable users to log on without one, says Edison Thomaz founder of Atlanta-based Slife Labs LLC.) After a quick download, we could see an icon on our task bar. Clicking on the icon took us to various time-management graphs, which were easy to read. The software lets users customize their own categories, such as news or research. You can also add labels to specify your activity even further, such as detailing what kind of research is being done.

During one particularly unproductive day, the service showed us that we spent 22 minutes on Twitter, 40 minutes on Facebook and almost three hours on email. There was also a "private" mode that turned the tracking function off, allowing us to browse frivolous stuff guilt-free.

One big headache was that we were often randomly bounced off the Slife service, causing it to miss some of our activities and requiring us to repeatedly log in. (Mr. Thomaz says Slife is working on fixing the problem.)

ManicTime, a desktop program that only runs on Windows systems, was next. Our computer usage was tracked with line and bar graphs; we could color code activities and tags to better understand how we spent our time. That made it clear that email was our biggest time waster. (Though the service doesn't distinguish between work and non-work related emails.)

One nice feature: The service spit out a summary showing what percentage of our total time was spent with each application (like a Microsoft Word document) or Web site. The graphs also showed when our computer was idle, which helped us see how many little breaks we tend to take throughout the day.

All in all, the services really helped us get a handle on how we spend our work time. And having a written account of where our minutes went pushed us to modify our work habits—and get more done. The guilt element was motivating, too: Just knowing that the length of our Facebook session was going to be recorded made us think twice about lingering.


$5 per month; Mac, Windows, Internet needed.Web site tracking; categorizes activities; allows additional notes; displays activities with graphs.Need credit card for sign-up; "private" mode for non-work-related use helped us more accurately measure work time.
RescueTime Pro

$5.30 per month; Mac, Windows, Internet not always needed.Allows productivity alerts; tracks time away from computer; tracks applications and sites with graphs.Simple task bar made it easy to frequently monitor our productivity.

Free download; Windows only; Internet not needed.Graphs are color-coded by activity; tagging system to designate productivity; tracks time away from computer.Clean interface made it easy to see our daily workload; tagging system was a bit complicated.

Free download; Windows, Mac, Internet not neededCan drag tasks onto calendar; tasks have subcategories so can be easily broken down into manageable pieces; doesn't track the Web sites you've visited. Simple organization; It was tough to notify the service that we had stopped a task."