Archive | May, 2011

Tips for Customer Retention & Keeping Your Cool

Tips for Customer Retention & Keeping Your Cool.

“The customer is always right,” is an old cliché, but here’s why it’s true. It’s harder to win new customers than to keep old ones. A recent survey conducted by accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers found that it costs five to ten times more to acquire new clients than to keep existing ones happy. And with customer turnover of about 50 to 65 percent on average every five years for the typical shop, learning to keep customers is a key part of doing business. Even when your customers are upset (or worse), take a deep breath and remember that their satisfaction is literally part of your bottom line.

Here are 10 tips to manage your clients successfully and to increase retention and overall customer bliss:

  • First impressions about how you communicate are important: Your first contact with customers is often pivotal in determining the tone of your business relationship. When you send your project proposal on time, it signals you are diligent and efficient. When you send an email follow-up, it signals you are organized and thoughtful. When you produce correspondence and all other branded material in the same way, it signals you are consistent and professional. On the other hand, you don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations. If you respond to an email within minutes of it being sent, that might set a precedent you can’t live up to later. If you allow your customers to call you at anytime, they may call you when you are on a deadline or have other pressing priorities.
  • Set boundaries and expectations and then live up to them: Particularly if you are a freelancer, you should make your customers aware of your boundaries. Freelancers have to balance their development time with customer consultation time, which can become impossible if customers call at inopportune times. Try to make a routine for emails. Instead of checking emails all day, consider checking email only once or twice per day, but make it a point to respond within 24 hours. As for phone calls and IMs, make sure that you schedule them so they don’t become disruptive. If you explain to your customer that setting an appointment for a phone call will be more productive because you can prepare ahead of time, you can make the customer feel appreciated without needing to be on high alert for random calls. When you keep up habits and patterns, customers will know what to expect and will adapt accordingly.
  • Be transparent and professional about billing, time sheets, and turnaround times: If you show how much you bill and how, your customers will face less sticker shock. One of the most frequent complaints in customer care is a lack of billing transparency or a gap between perceived value and price. Being upfront can ease this. It also helps to develop real plans for turning around project work items so that you can accurately and confidently quote this information in future correspondence. If the customer suggests a change but you don’t know how long it will take, follow up with more information instead of offering a vague promise. It’s better to follow up with more information confidently than to set your customer up for later disappointment.
  • Build self-service, timely updates, and useful features into your website: Your website should offer continuing value for your business. Freelancers should sign up for project management and billing sites to make sure they make professional and accurate communication with their clients. Self-service can help customers to feel empowered, but make sure that your site provides a quality personalized experience.
  • Approach confrontation with the customer with their perspective in mind: Everyone eventually faces the irate call from a customer due to a missed deadline or some other problem. Listen to the customer, and respond gracefully and professionally. It helps to repeat back the customer’s question or complaint to confirm that you have listened. It also helps to use positive phrasing such as “Here’s how we can solve this problem”. If the conversation becomes particularly personal, gently remind the customer by saying something such as “I know that these comments are not directed towards me but this situation, which if I were you I wouldn’t be satisfied with either.” Some social scientists have discovered that in the case of refunds, it can actually be helpful to ask the customer to suggest a fair refund price. More often than not, the customer will offer a price lower than you expect, and if you keep the customer, this goodwill will pay dividends.
  • Personalize all correspondence and communication as much as possible: When you send correspondence to your customers, use their name and information about a recent conversation to make the correspondence seem more urgent and timely, which gives the customer greater satisfaction. If sending a generic email, at least give users a chance to opt-out. Sending email too often will seem like spam, so use software that detects whether the user is reading your emails or not. Use a service like Scrubly to make sure that your address book contains the best name to use to address customers and that all email addresses in your address book are clean, neat, and up-to-date, which will prevent annoying customers with accidental duplicates and improper salutations.
  • Use automated telephone systems with care:If you use a computerized telephone system, make sure that customers are able to speak to a real live person at any time. If you can afford it, use professionally recorded audio instead of text-to-speech, which can sound robotic and unfriendly.
  • Ensure that customer care representatives have everything they need to interact successfully with the clients: You should keep a log that documents all customer interactions. No customer likes the sense that they’ve had to repeat information from earlier conversations. This log will also help you to develop a rapport and to find leads.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver: Customers get excited about big project plans at deep discounts, but this is a recipe for disaster either because you can’t meet the price or you can’t meet the high expectations. Going the extra mile on a smaller project plan will delight the customer and will show extra value than failing to deliver a bigger plan.
  • Cold-call old clients and win them back: One of the difficult things to do, particularly for freelancers, is to learn to cold-call old clients. Old clients could be easier to win back than you think even if you parted on not-so-good terms. Focus on a technique called “the soft sell”. Instead of convincing customers they should come back, remind them of what it was like when they did business with you. Talking about the past conversations you had and other information about your relationship shows that you are considerate and remember their specific business. If they talk about their current projects, suggest how those projects would have been on time and on budget if they were still a client.

Up Next: “Avoiding the 10 Common Killers of a Small Business”

How to Get the Most out of a Business Conference

How to get the most out of a business conference.


A professional business conference is potentially a great learning experience and opportunity to network and make new business contacts. A good conference can both inspire ideas and serve as an impetus for action. On the other hand a poorly planned conference can also be an exercise in tedium with mind numbing, boring speaker after speaker droning on while you sit on uncomfortable seats in an overheated, overcrowded conference room. With a few simple tips though you can make the most out of conferences and actually take something back home to the business which will improve you as a worker and your work place.

Before You Leave

There are a few things you can do before you even leave to make the most of your conference. First let us start with the basics. You should pack clothes which you can wear in layers; conference centers are notorious for having extremes of hot and cold temperatures. The sheer volume of people in the room can make things very uncomfortable by the heat they generate; each person in a room generates the equivalent heat of a one hundred watt light bulb. If you are unable to take a layer off when the time comes you won’t be able to think about anything other than when you can get out of there let alone take anything away from what the speakers are trying to convey to you. You should also be sure to bring some office supplies so that you will be able to take notes and keep them organized, a tape recorder may also be useful for keeping track of more complicated lectures. While taking notes during each lecture try to boil down things to one main point that you can take away. Something that is worthwhile and useful to you that you will be able to use when you get back to the office.

Taking Care of Yourself and Maintaining Balance

It is important to remember that the structure of the conference is not set in stone and there won’t be someone at before each speaker calling off a roll of names taking attendance. You will be able to get more out of the conference if you are healthy, happy and alert then if you dutifully sit through every single speaker, in the processes burning yourself out. The conference may get your adrenaline flowing but be sure to take frequent breaks if you need them and to keep up your regular eating habits. It is tempting to while away from home to over indulge by eating or drinking too much but you will do nothing lying in bed sick in your hotel room. Take advantage of the amenities the hotel will offer such as the pool, spa and exercise room. Don’t forget to set aside a moment to return to your emotional and spiritual center. An afternoon nap is a great way to enjoy late night networking and fellowship with your peers while avoiding feeling tired the next day. While all of this may seem like you are taking a free vacation on the company dime this is by no means what I am suggesting. My point is to make the most of your conference so that you can be at your most effect. Many of your most important contacts and relationships are found in events outside of the official conference such as informal lunches or late night drinks. This type of networking is invaluable and can offer insights that could not be gained else where.

Take Away the Most You Can from the Conference

There is a lot for you to learn at the conference both from the speakers and from your colleagues as you network with them both formally and informally. As you listen to the speakers try to take notes and jot down key points and ideas that you want to take away from the conference. If you can condense the main ideas down into a couple of key concepts it will help you remember and be able to carry out it in your own workplace. Learn from every experience you have and as you network with your fellow conference goers as well, both their successes and mistakes are useful to you. Be sure to write down the lessons and new information you learn so you will be able to remember it later and apply it to your own life. Knowledge though is not the only thing you will take away from a conference you will also collect a lot of business cards, brochures, hand outs and maybe even some books and tapes. You soon will have far more than you can pack in a suit case to take on an airplane. Bring some priority mail envelopes and some postage stamps; you will be able to mail as much as you can fit in them. You can periodically lighten your load by mailing some of these items home and avoid having to check another bag at the airport which can get very expensive.

While a business conference is far from a vacation it is a great experience, where you will be able to network, gain knowledge and further develop business contacts from around the world. Be sure to take the time to process what you have learned to have it translate into improvements in your business when you return home. This is the purpose of conferences and this is how you make the most of your conferences.

Attending a business conference will hopefully increase your client base! Up Next “Tips for Managing Clients and Keeping Your Cool”

Another 7 ways to increase meeting productivity.

It’s common knowledge that meetings are costly. Time is valuable and assembling a large group in one place is expensive by any definition. The financial impact of upsetting the workday rhythm is even costlier, and small businesses are hit hardest.

Some people are at their most productive at the beginning of the day, greeting the morning’s tasks with immediate energy. Others (myself included) may need about an hour of preparation before they’re ready to get moving. When a meeting begins, however, personal wants and needs fall by the wayside. Meetings force us to relinquish one of the basic components of any creative task: autonomy.

There’s no way to do away with meetings altogether. Admittedly, a meeting’s benefits sometimes outweigh its drawbacks. There’s no question, however, that a more intelligent approach is possible.

Let’s look at some ideas for meeting effectively picked up from highly productive workplace teams:

  • Steer Clear of “Informational Meetings”: If a meeting ends without action steps, then the meeting’s necessity – especially if it’s a regularly scheduled event — requires questioning. A group gathering simply to update information is better handled via voice-mail or e-mail.
  • Kick the Monday Meeting Habit: Meeting just because it’s Monday is a purely nonsensical practice. It’s time better spent tackling that overstuffed inbox. Almost always, regularly set meetings turn into “posting” sessions.
  • Conclude with a Rundown of Captured Action Steps: As every meeting wraps up, do a quick check of the “action steps” captured by each employee. The practice takes less than half-a-minute per attendee and will almost always uncover several neglected action items, as well as fostering a greater awareness of accountability. Once announced to the room, effectively completing an action step is much more likely.
  • Classify All Meetings as “Standing”: A smart idea I saw in some groups was the idea of a “standing meeting” – literally. In these, employees would remain standing throughout, removing the relaxation element which fills “sitting” meetings with unnecessary repetition and commentating instead of content-creating. Standing meetings are more action-oriented; people get to the point more quickly when they’re feeling weak in the knees.
  • The former chief of MTV Digital Media and current MySpace Music topper, Courtney Holt, swears by standing meetings’ positive effect on his employees. “I try to make every meeting – especially those that are called last-minute – a standing meeting, ideally each meeting finishes as quickly as it can.”
  • Most last-minute meetings, usually to quickly get the team up to speed or handle a problem situation, can take place in under 10 minutes.
  • Clarify Every Meeting’s Purpose at its Start: Brittany Ancell, chief of operations for Behance, advises beginning all meetings with a basic question: “Why are we here, and what are we supposed to accomplish?” As she elaborates, “Laying out the objective and setting the meeting’s tone is one of the leader’s key responsibilities.”
  • Reestablish Transit Time: Accounting for travel time between meetings of 10 or 15 minutes helps substantially lower anxiety. In the Harvard Business Review, David Silverman, a business writing instructor and entrepreneur, effectively argues that, as grade-schoolers, we knew the school bell signified 15 minutes until our next period. “Why is it,” he wonders, “that when we graduate, they take away our bells, replace them with an irritating ‘doink’ sound signaling ‘5 minutes until your next meeting’ and assume we can now teleport to the location of same? What could cause such madness? In two words: Microsoft Outlook.” It appears that the basic philosophy of corporate time-keeping has stolen that much-needed sanity-preserver – travel time – from daily schedules. For a return to sanity, Silverman proposes scheduling hour-long meetings but limiting them to no longer than 50 minutes.
  • Schedule Unavoidable Meetings for 3:00 PM, Tuesday: In a Lifehacker article, online scheduling service “When is Good” reported that, upon studying more than 100,000 replies to 34,000 invites on their site, they concluded that the time with the most “availability” for participants was 3:00PM on Tuesday. The results imply that there are probably specific times of day (and days of the week) which are the most convenient for all involved, in spite of personal work-flow differences. It’s far from a scientific conclusion, but it’s a result worth noting.

Respected employers acknowledge that determining a meeting’s worth is important. While researching for my blog, I noticed that the highest-achieving teams and bosses were, more often than not, inclined to view most potential meetings with a healthy helping of skepticism. The tips outlined above offer an easy way to protect your small business from the resource-wasting and time-consuming danger of unnecessary meetings.

Up Next: “Getting the Most out of Conferences”

Consolidate Your Online Work and Increase Productivity with Gist

Using Gist to increase productivity and consolidate your work

Gist is an extremely useful tool. It allows you to collect a lot of data from a lot of places. Gist takes your contacts from your phone, Facebook, twitter and many other places. Next, Gist brings these contacts together and displays them in an easily accessible format. When using Gist, finding information on a contact such as their phone number, address or e-mail becomes as easily as checking your Facebook page. As well as this, Gist allows you to check other things such as news reports and your email with the press of a button.

You can use Gist everywhere, whether you are on the go, or sitting at home. This is because of the simple fact that Gist is an app that is viewable on both your phone and on your computer. This allows you to do a variety of things with Gist. First of all, it allows you to use Gist solely for the purpose of storing, collecting and accessing contact information on the go. As well as this, you can use Gist for checking the news and your email as an alternative to going through various sites to do this.

Gist is available on smart phones such as blackberries or iPhones. Having the Gist app on your phone would allow you to access information on one of your contacts quickly. All you would need to do is open up your phone and connect to Gist. Then you would simply search up the contact that you want to find out about, it’s that simple. However, if you are not in a rush, there are more things that you can do on Gist on your mobile. You can check blog posts, you can send emails and you can access twitter to tweet and look at other people’s twitter pages.

Similarly, you can do all of these things on Gist on your computer. Gist is available on many different places on the computer. It is available on web browsers such as Google chrome and Firefox. As well as this, it is available on websites like Gmail and applications such as Microsoft outlook. When you use Gist on the computer, you can carry out the same functions as Gist on mobile, you can check your Facebook, twitter, blog posts and your email. However, in addition to this, you can also check news updates. Gist allows you to check news from around the world from a multitude of sources that Gist has to offer.

One of the many benefits of using Gist is that it automatically updates its information. This means that when you use Gist to access information, it is all the latest information. It is all the latest status updates, all the latest blog posts, all the latest tweets, all the latest emails and all the latest news reports. Overall, using Gist is a fast and simple way to make your life easier. Using Gist gives you easy access to information that would otherwise be scatter across the Internet. Gist saves you the time of navigating the Internet in search of information making it both practical and useful in many, many situations.

Gist is not the only answer to increasing your productivyt. Up Next: “Another 7 Ways to Increase Meeting Productivity

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