Understanding the relationship between compliance and customer relations
February 20th, 2018
Keeping customers happy is the name of the game. Unfortunately, it’s not the only responsibility modern businesses have. In addition to keeping customers satisfied, you also must remain compliant with various laws, regulations, and requirements in your industry.
Compliance: The norm in today’s business world
It’s easy to view compliance as a pain in the rear – a deterrent force in your pursuit of growing revenue, scaling your business, launching new products, or managing people. Compliance means abiding by constricting rules and regulations, even when you don’t feel like they’re within your company’s best interests.
The thing about regulatory compliances and other industry rules and laws is that you don’t really have much of a choice. You either abide by them or you get penalized, sanctioned, and/or shut down for your lack of obedience.
For many businesses, the biggest point of friction occurs at the intersection of regulatory compliance and customer satisfaction. Abiding by a certain regulation often feels like a direct threat to keeping customers happy, but this isn’t always the case. In fact, the more you study the purpose behind compliance, the more you’ll realize that rules and regulations actually help keep you on track.
Remaining compliant and keeping customers happy
The rise of the cloud has been one of the more interesting developments to watch in recent years. It’s gone from a promising technology to the undisputed present and future of computing. But part of what has made the cloud successful is the fact that its growth has been so closely monitored to ensure customer-side safety and security. Many regulatory agencies and bodies require businesses to meet very specific compliance measures when it comes to handling customer data and confidential information.
This is just one example of how compliance and customer relations interact in a positive way. If it weren’t for these compliance measures, it’s likely that some businesses wouldn’t take the necessary security precautions, which would result in preventable data leakage and security risks (which would ultimately hurt customer satisfaction in these brands).
Another example of how certain compliance measures can protect a customer’s best interests (and thereby the company’s best interests) is found in American franchises.
“Franchises, multi-location companies and organizations who have a well-defined model have staked and scaled their growth based on consistency and adherence to the fundamentals that made that system successful,” Kelly Grace writes for Volano Solutions. “In this regard, compliance to those tenets is necessary not just for health, safety or legal reasons but to delight customers and drive revenue.”
Agile compliance systems are a must
Having acknowledged some of the benefits of compliance and how it can have a positive impact on customer relationships, it’s also important to recognize the fact that fragmentary compliance systems can be dangerous and costly when it comes to the customer experience.
As compliance expert Holly Parker writes, “Fragmentary compliance systems that slow down, restrict, or inconvenience customers will lead to a lack of trust and loyalty in the institutional-customer relationship, instead of nurturing the reliability and convenience which generates loyal and satisfied customers – customers who contribute to a financial institution’s long term market success.”
Clearly, there’s a need for agile compliance systems that encourage consistency, while eliminating the friction that typically comes with incomplete systems and strategies. If your business is subject to external compliance – i.e. industry regulations – then it’s up to you to develop internal methods for handling these regulations in the most efficient manner possible.
If your organization is subject to internal compliance – like specific rules from corporate – then it might be worthwhile to sit down and have a conversation with key business leaders about how you can increase flexibility without compromising on consistency.
Whatever the case may be, don’t sit back and watch.
3 employee recruitment and onboarding strategies that cut costs and reduce turnover
February 7th, 2018
You’ve spent weeks combing through resumes, calling your short-list of applicants and conducting in-person interviews. Recruiting a winning team is time consuming and stressful. And, it’s a major distraction to the other aspects of your business that could benefit from more attention – crushing your bottom-line.
In addition to the personal stress and lost business opportunities, there’s a measurable cost to recruiting a high-quality workforce. Research shows that this cost varies based on the type of position:
Low-skilled, high-turnover positions cost companies 16% of their annual salary when they need to be replaced.
A mid-level manager earning around $40,000 per year would cost the company 20% of their annual salary to replace.
The cost of replacing a high-level executive or other critical team member can exceed 213% of their annual salary.
The key takeaway here is that the more skilled your labor force, the more expensive it becomes to recruit, screen and train their replacement. Hanging onto quality members of your team is a fundamental aspect of reducing operating costs for your company.
Thankfully, there are powerful tools available to companies that want to improve the employee experience and reduce costly turnover.
1. Make it easier for negative employees to leave
This might sound counterintuitive, but one of the top reasons good employees leave is because you’ve surrounded them with toxic people that do not believe in the mission behind your company.
With the wrong people, an office can feel more like a prison than an opportunity to earn an income and achieve personal ambitions.
This is one reason that Jeff Bezos, the Founder and CEO of Amazon, is willing to pay employees to leave – up to $5000. The method behind the madness is simple: If you’re just sticking it out until your next paycheck, and you hate your job, your negative attitude oozes out into the workforce and the customer experience suffers.
Negative, disenchanted employees are a cancer that can infect your labor force and cause massive issues. It’s cheaper to fund their exit, instead of suffering the consequences of keeping them around.
2. Take advantage of cloud-based tools to streamline onboarding
It costs companies thousands of dollars to train and properly enroll new employees. The onboarding process is the first experience your new team member will have with your company. So far, your recruitment and interviewing teams have talked the talk, but will your leadership and human resources department walk the walk?
Here are a few HR tools you can use to streamline the process and help your newest team members experience a fast, painless transition into your workforce:
The Smart Pension platform ensures companies with workforces in the UK are fully compliant with pension scheme requirements. Failure to competently provide employees with critical information can result in substantial fines. This tool helps you avoid those fines, without burdening your new hire.
Cloud-based learning platforms can assist your team in quickly getting up-to-speed, and then staying ahead of the competition. Professional development and opportunities to learn new skills are an important factor in employee satisfaction.
Today’s workforce is truly global. It’s critical that your entire organization is operating from the same sheet of music. You can utilize cloud-based HR management systems to better communicate a consistent corporate vision and a set of policies customized to the locations where your teams call home.
3. Focus on building a team that shares your core values
Remember how I mentioned Amazon’s focus on removing toxic employees from the company? You can avoid needless hiring and firing by simply tweaking your recruitment process.
One of the most effective ways to keep millennials engaged at work is by creating a company culture that aligns with their values – giving them a sense of purpose that matches up with your corporate vision. According to a study by Deloitte, 70% of millennials feel that their personal values are shared by the organizations for which they work.
Do you think they got this feeling from the first company they hired on with after college? No. There’s a reason that employees jump ship – especially millennials. They’re looking for someplace to work that shares their values – and I’m not talking about those motivational posters up on the wall.
At every stage of your recruitment and onboarding process, ensure your new hires understand that social and moral values of your organization. This isn’t about evangelizing or preaching. Those are just words.
Instead, focus your marketing, customer service and product development strategies around the values that matter to your culture. There are a few ways to do this, without breaking the bank:
Allow employees to donate time to their favorite causes. Paid volunteering time is a great way to show your teams that you give back to the causes they care about.
Empower your HR department and leadership teams to initiate diversity and inclusion initiatives. These are designed to ensure everyone feels welcome.
If you’re mindful and focused about aligning your actions with your shared corporate values, you’ll have much less turnover. And you’ll do a better job of attracting the employees that will dig in and help your company prosper.
Automated customer service must be deeply personal to be successful
January 30th, 2018
There’s a push to automate the entire customer experience, and for good reason. Computers rarely call in sick, and they’re much more cost-effective than a traditional human customer service rep. Plus, customers prefer automated, self-help solutions.
But, automation requires a secret ingredient to outperform humans. That ingredient is personalization.
If you’re asking yourself, “How do I personalize an automated user-experience?” You’re not alone.
Follow the Bread(cookie)crumbs
To personalize the experience, you need to learn everything you can about the end-user. Traditional marketing data on your target audience is helpful, but we need to break things down to the individual user-level.
This is where affiliate marketing and content marketing come into play. By the time someone sees your site, chances are they’ve completed a few Google searches about your brands and products. You need to know what they’re engaging with in order to know if it’s the right time to pitch your product or service.
Even if they haven’t searched for you specifically by name, the problem they’re trying to solve should lead them to a Google search result page with links to your content, or the content of your affiliate marketers.
In either case, when the customer hits your associated content, their computer should receive a tracking cookie. These cookies are everywhere on the web, and they’re used by savvy-marketers to track the journey that customers take to their site.
Continue Building a Customer Profile Based on Interactions with Your Brand
Once the customer has reached your site, you need to continue collecting data on the individual user. You can differentiate individual viewers with cookies, by IP address, or incentivizing visitors to give you their email address (i.e. free newsletter or email marketing offer).
You can also steal a page from your favorite grocery store and offer discounted pricing if they agree to sign-into the site. Free membership in a discount club is a great way to reliably track user interactions.
Follow Amazon’s Lead in Delivering a Custom Automated and Live Support Experience
One of the shining examples in delivering automated, personalized customer service is Amazon. With millions of products in hundreds of niche-markets, they’ve successfully threatened almost every big box retailer.
Offer Custom Add-On Suggestions
When you visit their site, you’ll notice that a significant chunk of their webpage is dedicated to positioning products that compliment previous purchases and relate to past browsing history. You can create site algorithms that look at browsing and purchase history, and then analyze product meta-data to make accurate, personalized product suggestions.
Provide Continuity of Support
Once a customer places an order, the order is attached to their account. After signing into your site, it should be easy for customers to view past orders; the information should include shipment tracking information and opportunities to leave product or service reviews.
And, if there is an issue that requires a live representative, you need to provide a clean pathway to accessing the right rep. This can be done by leading the customer through a couple of self-help options. As they interact with the troubleshooting flow, they’ll provide details that should identify the fastest was to resolve their concern.
Accenture published a survey of customers that discovered the most frustrating aspect of customer service: Customers hate having to repeat their issue as they’re transferred from rep to rep.
Your live rep should be able to pick up right where the automation leaves off. Click-to-call is a great way to automatically connect the customer with the appropriate support, and your customer service team can leverage Desk.com’s platform to quickly see previous steps the customer has taken and quickly jump into action.
By delivering a personalized automated experience, you can minimize the cost of traditional customer service overhead. The fact that a customer can resolve most issues on their own in the time it would have taken them to wait on hold for a rep will dramatically improve brand loyalty.
4 tips for collecting overdue invoices and preventing them in the future
January 24th, 2018
Receiving late payments for overdue invoices stifles your cash flow. If you want to restore that flow, here are several tools you can use to collect on these invoices:
1. Change the customer perception of their payments
Many people perceive bills as an inconvenience because it means parting with their hard-earned money. Although they want the goods or services, it still hurts to part with their dollars.
A person doesn’t usually change their payment habits from one bill to the next. Someone who’s perpetually behind on their phone or electricity bills will probably be behind on invoices for their own business.
To encourage people to pay late invoices, you need to find a way to remind them of the value of the services they’ve received, without making the request to pay seem like a threat. Threatening is one way to never get paid.
When you can get a customer to think about the value of what they’ve received, you’ll have a better chance at getting paid. You can achieve this through the language you use to communicate with your customers.
Be intentional with your words
When you send a “late payment” notice, it’s tempting to mark it up with red ink, emphasize how overdue the invoice is, and stack up the penalties. However, that approach is not effective. Instead, change the words you use to request payment in full.
Use phrases like, “thank you for being a loyal customer,” “we’re happy you’re enjoying your services,” and “your prompt payment makes it possible for us to continue serving you.”
2. Seek outside help to get paid
If you’re having difficulty collecting on your outstanding receivables, consider getting help in the form of accounts receivable factoring. There are companies that will buy your outstanding invoices, and the customer will owe them. FactorFinder.com explains, “Factoring receivables is used to smooth out the gaps in your cash flow caused by slow-payers. It’s a debt-free way to get paid sooner by unlocking cash tied up in unpaid invoices. Since it’s not a loan, there is nothing to repay.”
Be sure to seek this kind of help as soon as possible; the older an invoice gets, the less collectible it becomes.
3. Don’t accept reasons or excuses, yet be flexible
If you’re going to cut someone a break, do it without accepting their excuse.
While there are legitimate situations in which people don’t have available funds, some people put off their payments out of habit. The moment you accept an excuse for a late payment from someone with that habit, you’re creating a future of late payments.
Quickly suggest a new due date
Rather than entertain excuses, suggest a new due date that isn’t more than a week away. Let them know if they pay by the new date, their payment won’t be considered late.
Be flexible with the date; if a customer needs a couple extra days beyond the date you proposed so they can get paid, give them that grace period. Give them at least one chance to follow through.
If any of these top excuses for late payments sound familiar, it’s time to tighten the reins on your collections efforts.
4. Avoid getting involved in the customer’s story
Customers have all kinds of reasons they can’t make their payments, and unfortunately, entertaining the legitimate reasons can put you in a position where that customer will expect a break.
For example, if a customer tells you they can’t pay their invoice because they had to drain their savings account to pay for an emergency surgery, that’s a legitimate reason. However, the more you allow the customer to tell you their story of why they can’t pay, the more they’ll expect you to cut them a break – and get mad when you don’t.
4 ways you can offer more responsive customer service
January 19th, 2018
Customer service plays an integral role in success for small businesses that want to compete with larger brands. However, most companies don’t prioritize responsiveness nearly as much as they should. In today’s marketplace, customers expect businesses to deal with them promptly and efficiently. Shortcomings in this area will do nothing but hold you back over the long haul.
How to increase your customer service responsiveness
According to entrepreneur Ian Linton, “Customer responsiveness is the ability of a business to recognize and respond to changing customer needs.” As you seek to improve your business standing in your industry and drive engagement with the marketplace, enhancing your overall level of responsiveness is one of the strongest investments you can make. Here are a few specific actions you can take:
1. Don’t offer a channel you don’t intend to monitor
One mistake businesses often make is promising customer service channels that they can’t support. While it might look nice to advertise phone, email, chat, and social media support, don’t promise something you don’t intend to monitor. It’s better to offer one or two responsive channels than four or five poorly managed ones.
2. Learn to use social media correctly
Social media offers an excellent opportunity for your company to offer customer service in an environment where your customers are already congregating. Just make sure you understand the responsibilities that come with social customer service.
Studies show that people feel they deserve a response within the same day, while 42 percent want feedback within an hour of a customer service inquiry. Having a full-time social media customer service rep will help you reach these goals.
3. Give trusted team members autonomy
While you should be cautious when it comes to giving a lot of unsupervised freedom to lower-level employees who haven’t yet proven themselves, there’s something to be said for providing your most trusted team members with the autonomy to promptly deal with customer service issues.
One practical way you can do this is by providing these trusted employees with good business credit cards that they can use to fix or solve customer issues immediately. In other words, instead of having to climb up the ladder and get approval from multiple people just to take care of a $20 expense, the employee can take care of it at their discretion. In the long run, this autonomy breeds better responsiveness.
4. Make the chain of command clear
When you look at inefficient customer service departments, one of the more common traits is a lack of clarity regarding the chain of command. People on the lower levels of the chain don’t know who they report to. People at the top aren’t always sure of how much power and freedom they have to call the shots. It’s a vicious cycle that leads to slow response times and frustrating customer experiences.
The solution to this problem is to make sure everyone is on the same page. The more you can streamline the chain of command, the faster the response times. When response times are fast, customers will be satisfied, too.
Give your customers what they want
Your customers choose to spend their hard earned time and money on your products and services. This should give you a sense of responsibility to care for them and make sure their needs are met. And while every consumer has their own specific needs, each customer deserves responsive service when they have questions, requests, or needs. By increasing your level of responsiveness, you’ll create more satisfied customers, which in turn strengthens your brand and attracts additional customers. It’s a sustainable loop your business can come to rely on.
5 ways to improve your customer service at the point of sale
January 5th, 2018
Your retail location’s point of sale (POS) is one of the most vulnerable processes in your business. Give a customer a memorable and positive final experience, and they’ll be more likely to associate the entire experience with positive feelings. If it’s clunky and awkward, on the other hand, even a good experience might be tainted with that memory.
So why is the POS so crucial to the average customer’s experience, and what can you do to make it better?
Why POS matters
These are three of the main reasons why service at the POS matters:
Financial ties. We tend to place tremendous value on money—even if we like to believe we aren’t materialistic. Anytime we pay for anything (especially if we’re paying cash), we feel resistance and a bit of a thrill. Maximizing the positive feelings and minimizing the negative ones is important to leave your customers with a positive experience.
Last call. The POS is also the last opportunity customers have to change their mind about a purchasing decision. If the line is crawling and they’re in a hurry, for example, they may leave prematurely.
Memorability. We tend to remember the first and last moments of a given experience more than anything in the middle; it’s why the last bite of food is the most important for a meal. Your customers’ POS experience will come to define their entire experience, in retrospect, so make sure it’s a good one.
How to improve your POS strategy
If you want to improve your customers’ experiences with your POS system, try using these strategies:
Find the right POS software. You can only be as efficient as your POS software will allow you to be. Make sure you compare retail POS systems before you buy anything, and experiment with different settings, devices, and platforms. You’ll want to find a system that offers strong functionality, high reliability, and speed, all for a reasonable price. There are dozens of competitive options available, so at least one is certain to work for your business, specifically.
Improve transaction speed. We all live busy lives, and nobody wants to be stuck in a checkout process for more than a minute or two. Optimizing the transaction speed your system can handle is an easy way to make life easier for everybody. If your line runs smoothly and few people ever have to wait, people will barely notice, but if your line is ever backed up or slow, it will work strongly against you.
Offer more payment options. You should also consider accepting more payment options. Accepting cash and all major credit cards is a good start, but you’ll also want to accept digital wallets and other forms of payment. If you can make life more convenient even for a handful of customers, it will be worth it.
Train your staff on personal engagement. Customers who feel like they have a personal connection to your brand will be far more likely to return, so make sure there’s a personal touch for them at the POS. Train your staff to have more engaging personal conversations, and make sure they’re representing the characteristics you want to be associated with your brand.
Give customers takeaways, bonuses, and surprises. We tend to remember things better if they’re associated with a surprise; it’s part of the reason you can’t remember a part of your routine that you’ve repeated a thousand times, but you can more easily remember some aberration of that routine. Giving your customers a pleasant surprise at the POS can make them remember their experience more fondly, and increase their chances of coming back. Consider adding some bonuses or rewards, even if it’s a coupon for a discount the next time they visit.
These five strategies can make your POS system more positive and memorable for customers, which in turn will improve your customer retention and strengthen your brand reputation. The best part is, few of these strategies require a heavy investment, so even a small contribution of extra time and effort can be enough to tip the scales in your favor.
3 ways sales, service, and fulfillment teams collaborate to wow customers
December 19th, 2017
Are your sales, service, and fulfillment teams collaborating? If not, it may cause miscommunication, confusion, and even unhappy customers.
Fortunately, these problems can be addressed by inserting a service team between your sales and fulfillment teams. When such is done, your service team can ensure that your sales team isn’t promising something that the fulfillment team can’t deliver, and your service team can also work directly with customers if a fulfillment issue does arise. Here are some ways all teams can work together to offer a better customer experience.
Set reasonable expectations for customers
Harry Gordon Selfridge, the entrepreneur that opened the Selfridge chain in London during the early 1900s, is credited with creating the motto “the customer is always right.” This motto has created a lot of problems for businesses over the years, particularly for fulfillment companies.
When companies abide by this philosophy, their sales teams make unrealistic promises to their customers. This creates a tremendous strain on the service and fulfillment teams, because fulfillment may not have the resources to meet these expectations and service is then burdened with trying to fix an unfixable (and costly) problem. They inevitably let the customers down, which tarnishes the brand’s image.
The sales team will be able to make more realistic promises to their customers when they collaborate with their counterparts in the service and fulfillment departments.
Plan turnaround times
Sales are very cyclical in many industries. Companies may suffer low revenues for months before a massive number of orders are placed. This can create a large backlog and make it difficult to fill orders on time.
This has made it impossible for companies like Sysco to fill orders at times. Kathan Bhatt, an HCM consultant for Oracle, states that Sysco had a lot of difficulty filling a number of last minute orders after salespeople promised to fill them in 24 hours.
Sales staff need to understand the quantity of orders that their fulfillment team can handle, so they know when to push less aggressively.
Seek more resources to meet growth projections
The entire company depends on the sales team to create accurate revenue projections. The sales team depends on both service and fulfillment to help further develop customer relationships and deliver the product based on their expectations. When these three departments are working together to drive new business, manage customer expectations, and deliver on those expectations, a business can truly flourish.