Great Customer Service Begins with a Smile

Smiley Face

Smile (CC) by seanbjack on Flickr

The first step in great customer service is simple and easy. It begins with a smile. And give a nice “hello” also.

What does it cost? Nothing. What does it get your small business? A great first impression. And if you continue to do it, it creates an atmosphere where I, the customer, look forward to doing business.

Of course that isn’t all that makes up good customer service but, if you miss the first step, you already are playing catch-up.

What are some of these other pieces? Read a blog post on Small Biz Survival.

What would you add to the list?

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New Resource – Small Business & the Affordable Care Act

Small Business and the ACA
Guest bloggers – Marilyn Schlake and Carroll Welte, Extension Educators – University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is heralding in many changes for business owners with and without employees. It is important for business owners to stay on top of the changing regulations to meet obligations as well as know what is ahead when planning for business growth.

The good news is that as the deadlines near for individual and business action, more public information will be available about enrolling in the individual Marketplace and Small business Health Options Program (SHOP). However, these are not the only options when considering whether a company should offer insurance coverage for their employees. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension recently launched a healthcare website for businesses to help the employers and non-employers better understand how the ACA regulations will affect their business and learn what coverage options are available. It is a great starting point for a business owner to open discussions with their attorney, accountant, insurance broker and other knowledgeable business advisors.

Important dates to remember:

• October 1, 2013 – Marketplace and SHOP open for enrollment. Individuals can purchase coverage through Marketplace for themselves and their family members. Small employers can purchase insurance coverage for their employees through SHOP. For 2014, SHOP is restricted to employers with either 25 or 50 employees, depending on state regulations.

• October 1, 2013 – Deadline for employers to provide to all their employees a notification of coverage that informs the employees if coverage will or will not be available to them through the company.

• January 1, 2014 – ACA law requires all individuals to have health coverage for 2014. For individuals who do not have coverage in 2014, they will be assessed a tax of $95 or 1% of income, whichever is greater.

• January 1, 2015 – New effective date that employers with 50 or more full-time or full-time equivalent employees must provide health insurance coverage or incur a tax.

There are numerous others deadlines and regulations that small business owners needs to know. Visit the University of Nebraska health care for business website for more information and talk with business and insurance advisors to further assess coverage options.

Amazing Customer Service

satisfied customer

Satisfied (CC) by SanFranAnnie on Flickr

If you know me or have read my material, I try to support local small businesses whenever possible. But I am also one to hit the keyboard sometimes to get what I need.

Recently I placed such an order. Didn’t really pay attention until going through some old emails and realized I should have received it. So I checked the online tracking, a customer service tool I love, and it said I received my item two weeks ago. So I checked in all the likely spots where we have packages delivered and nothing. Asked my spouse and still nothing. Contacted the package service, batting 0 for 3.

At this point I assumed I was looking at a loss. I would never see this item and would get little satisfaction, at least in the near-term and not without a long term exchange of emails. So with dread, I checked out the customer service options, one of which was an online chat.

Liked that idea and I typed in the situation. Of course I had no documentation with me when I did this so it was basically one sentence, “I didn’t get my product.” Maybe a minute passes and someone responded. We had a brief chat and the person said they would check and be right back. In about two minutes the service person was back and said it would be reshipped, with an expedited service. I was asked to hold for again a couple of minutes. The person returned and said the item was out-of-stock and offered a choice, wait until it was restocked or get a credit on my charge card.

Since the delivery date was too late I asked for the credit. I indicated I would order a comparable unit. The service person replied that they would cover, at no charge, the expedited shipping costs.

So in less than 10 minutes I have ordered a replacement item, had my account credited for the first item, and have it coming with 2-day delivery. I was impressed. (And I already have my item).

That’s customer service in my mind. Now I wonder what happened to the first one??

Fear of Failure

Business Closing (CC) Leslie Feinburg on Flickr

Business Closing (CC) Leslie Feinburg on Flickr

You would love to start a business but the idea of failure just seems so scary.

Those words and fears are common among many aspiring business owners. The desire is there, maybe even the idea, and, at times, all of the pieces and planning. The only thing missing is starting. So how can you get past this barrier?

The first thing to remember is to acknowledge it exists. We all feel failure. One author, Kevin McCarthy wrote, “Fear of failure or success is one and the same. Both are fear of exposure. Not of our strengths, but of our weaknesses.” Aspiring owners are afraid of losing money and the time it will cost them if the business does not succeed.

And this fear is real. Although the numbers vary, between 50 to 80 percent of businesses will not be there in five years.

But stop right there. Let’s understand what that number means. Many of these business terminations occur but no one, except the owner and perhaps family and friends, are owed any money. It is a business that just didn’t work out. Business owners saw a better opportunity and either transitioned the business into something else or just closed the first one and opened another. In view of all the businesses that start, only a few close via bankruptcy in the grand scheme of things. Businesses close for lots of reasons. This is the second thing to remember, understand why businesses close.

The third thing to remember is okay, it happens and is just part of the learning process. As Edison said, “I never failed once. It just happened to be a 200l-step process.” Or the words of General Colin Powell, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Entrepreneurs fail. Think of Sam Walton or Henry Ford. Ford recognized this when he wrote, “Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

So don’t let the fear of failure be your excuse. It isn’t a given that you will fail. Many businesses plan, work hard, adjust when needed and end up being a success. Perhaps the words that inspire so many aspiring and existing entrepreneurs are those of William Feather, “No man is a failure who is enjoying life.”