Customer-Focus: Are you ready?

Is Your Company Customer-Focused?

This post from SmallFoodBiz is a must watch. As noted, this is not an endorsement of SalesForce but the video they developed clearly lays out where it seems we are headed. Just sit and watch people today. While not everyone, many of them are fully connected all the time. Is your business there or moving in that direction? You really just need to watch the first three minutes or so.

Your Business has an Online Reputation!

Trust attributes

Photo (CC) by Intersection Consulting, Flickr

Every business owner knows that their business has a reputation, both good and bad. They know people who have thanked them for their help and they know customers have left angry (but they probably don’t know them all as we, as consumers, sometimes don’t tell the owner but we let everyone else know).

In the days of traditional media, statistics suggested that a satisfied customer told maybe five people about a good experience. However the dissatisfied consumer may tell as many as 20.

Well today information about the reputation of a business can be found online. Even if it isn’t in one of the online review sites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor, people make comments on their Facebook page or in a tweet about their experiences. And, as in the case of United airlines and others, some of these incidents become wide spread, or “go viral.”

There are tools that a business owner can use to help him or her monitor what is being said (see https://www.openforum.com/articles/online-reputation-management-tools/). Yet research suggests that many small business owners simply do not take the time or don’t consider it a priority. Not watching what is being said about your business though brings great risk. No longer are 20 people hearing about a poor experience but all of that person’s hundreds of friends. And if a comment is made, just starting multiplying that by their friends and their friends, etc., etc. Thus you can see not paying attention is perhaps letting the snowball start rolling down the hill until it devours your business.

And if nothing is being said, don’t assume that is a good thing. Being there is the first requirement. But more and more, people want to check out your reputation. Online reviews are a quick and easy way to begin to develop a trust relationship with the consumer. You need to work on developing those online reviews. Encourage them from current customers.

Bottom line: 1) Know your reputation. 2) Encourage your customers to share their online reviews.

Home Based Architect Runs Business From Home

Home Business

Home Business

Guest Blogger – Richard Proffer, Business Development Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

As more Americans try to fit work into their busy lifestyle, one solution is to work off-site if the company allows it. For many entrepreneurs, working off site is as common as a PBJ sandwich is to afterschool children wanting a snack. In fact, many entrepreneurs work from their home. Some love it and others find it trying sometimes with all the potential distractions.

Rebecca Ward is a home based entrepreneur who owns a historic preservation architectural firm in Jackson, MO. She has been self-employed for about five years now when her corporate job was moved out of town and she could not. Her interest in historic preservation is strong as she has worked on many projects in the area and across the state. She likes taking a building back to its roots and then making it “live” again in the modern day world. She has been a client of Richard Proffer’s for about three years. He is a business development counselor in the University of Missouri Extension’s Business Development Program where he operates a small business technology development center in Jackson.

Richard recently had an interview with Rebecca where she talked openly about her experiences as a home based entrepreneur.

Why did you want to work from home?

Prior to moving to Cape Girardeau County, I worked for a design-build construction firm where I traveled seventy miles to the office, two, sometimes three days a week. I worked at home the remaining days. It was the perfect mix for the job. I communicated and socialized with coworkers in weekly meetings in the office and had uninterrupted project time at home.

This last time around it was less a planned adventure. I was working as a corporate architect for a national chain, when the upper management made the decision to relocate the architectural department to St. Louis. The architects were offered moving expenses or a limited time contract to work at home until a replacement could be hired in the city. It was a bad time to move the family, so I began working at home, the corporation keeping me just as busy as I was prior to the office relocation. It was a great time to work at home, I knew when the kids arrived home, and it was no issue if I needed to run an errand or take a child to the dentist, I could work in the evening to make up the time.

What are the advantages of working at home?

It is so much cheaper! I don’t spend the half-an-hour driving in the morning and then again in the evening, and I don’t use the gas. Lunch is in the kitchen, I save the money I would have spent eating out. I also schedule my own time, so if I need to move work around so that I can help out with one of my volunteer obligations for example, it is not an issue.

There are no distractions, unless you choose to be distracted.

I make my own hours, if a client needs to meet at 7 am, 7 pm or on a Sunday afternoon it isn’t a problem, I can just move tasks around.

What are the disadvantages of working at home?

I miss teamwork. Projects are always better with an extra set of eyes. That is why I involve my clients so much in their projects. It is extremely important to me that my client understand that I am working for them, to do the best possible solution for their project, and that it meets their needs. I also miss the social aspect of the office. Although I am an introvert by nature, I do like company. I certainly don’t miss the politics of the corporation, the backstabbing, the maneuvering and the unprofessional mean-girl behavior that seemed to go along with how much a person feels undervalued.

What has changed in your work style while at working at home instead of the former corporate setting?

My time is spent much more efficiently. I spent countless hours listening to co-workers who had come into my office to complain while I tried to finish for a deadline, a by-product of being a good listener. Now, when I am done with a project, I don’t have to stay at my desk looking busy, as sometimes required when working for someone else.

What would you change in work from home?

Ideally, I would like a separate client area. While most of my work involves existing buildings, so I typically go to the building. But a few of my clients do new construction, and they feel more comfortable coming to me. Ideally, since I specialize in historic preservation/reuse architecture, my long term goal is to own a downtown building when I can live above my office.

What advice would you give people starting a home based business?

If you have an option, don’t quit your day job until you get your business established. Going out on my own after working for a corporation where I did no public work in my home area left me without a network and name recognition. I would also say not having an advertised location compounded the problem.

I also suggest you get good advice early. I was lucky enough to have a friend that works in the local MU Extension office. She suggested that I contact the new business development specialist that had just been hired for her office. That was the best advice I could have received at that point. I can’t say enough good things about him. Richard Proffer has been amazingly patient, extremely encouraging, great at hand-holding and extremely supportive. A great person to have on my side and someone I consider a good friend.

So readers, you can see there are pluses and minuses for the pitch of working at home. A bit of advice would be think it through and make sure it is what you want.

To learn more about Rebecca, check out her website at http://rebeccawardarchitect.wix.com/home.

Developing Catchy Marketing Titles

clock face

Time (CC) I_Believe_, Flickr

The other day my eyebrows raised when I saw an article headline that called the ecommerce shopper “lazy.” While it grabbed my attention, my reaction was negative, probably not what the writer wanted (although there was a reaction and I did skim the article).

We know how important it is for the headline to grab someone’s attention. But I would encourage accuracy. I don’t know of any studies that find the ecommerce shopper to be lazy. They may actually be shopping while running on the treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle. I might call them time managers or jugglers or multi-taskers instead.

By adding such labels I also fear that you may alienate existing customers and prospective customers. They may perceive your title as a lack of understanding who they are and what they want or the issues they face in life.

Think about how my response may have differed if the article had instead referred to them as efficient or smart shoppers or savvy buyers. These could all apply and they all leave a positive image of the consumer. If you are old enough, like me, you might remember the old slogan, “let your fingers do the walking.” The same thing might have been said for those ads but instead the message clearly suggested that they were making the best use of their time.

So my suggestion is to develop catchy marketing titles that reinforce your understanding of who is your customer thus strengthening your image and brand

(PS – As I read the article, it was about something quite different but that is for another day).

The Power of Promise – Why product guarantees work

A number of years ago, I purchased a tree from a local, well-established nursery. I did everything I was told to plant and care for the tree properly but the next spring the tree was dead. Since the receipt had “100% replacement guarantee” printed on the bottom I called to see about getting a replacement tree. The person on the phone made me provide a lot of information to prove I actually did buy the tree from them and then proceeded to grill me with questions about what I had done wrong. Finally I was told if I wanted a replacement I would have to bring the dead tree in so they could look at it.

Satisfaction guaranteedI was offended. I did not bring the dead tree in. I did not collect my original money or a replacement tree. I also never returned to that nursery and have since spent thousands of dollars on plants and products with other local businesses. About five years after this experience that particular nursery went out of business. And, nearly two decades after the fact I still remember this incident!

In the psychology of consumers there are few things more powerful than a simple guarantee. In most cases, it will cost you very little and it just might increase your sales and bring in some new business! 

When customers see that you stand behind your product it sends a powerful message. It says, “I am proud of my product“. A product guarantee says, “I want you to be satisfied and I am willing to do whatever it takes to see that you feel good about doing business with me“.

Furthermore, the implied message in a guarantee is “I value your business and trust your judgement.”  In the example above, the nursery in question lost my business not because a tree died or because they would not replace it. They lost my business because their policy and actions said clearly they did not trust me.

All of these sentiments help build the type of customer loyalty that our businesses need to face the relentless competition in the marketplace. Having a guarantee and promoting it will also set you apart from those competitors who aren’t willing to fully get behind their product.

Here are a few considerations about product (or service) guarantees:

  • Make it easy for customers to return products. It is perfectly OK to ask a few questions but don’t grill customers — remember the goal is to make them happy not annoy them more.
  • Be clear about what your guarantee covers — Is it cash back? Is it a replacement? Store credit?
  • Train your employees on how to handle complaints and, if you are not available, empower them to make judgement calls when it comes to refunds, replacements, etc. No one wants to hear, “we’ll have to check with the manager and get back to you…

 Are there risks to offering guarantees? Sure. Could you be taken advantage of? Sure. But not offering guaranteed satisfaction sets you up for even greater risks down the road.

October 10 eXtension Webinar focuses on ACA and Your Small Business

October Webinar – Affordable Care Act and Your Small Business
eXtension Entrepreneurs and Their Communities webinar
Thursday, October 10, 2013 -2:00 pm (ET); 1:00pm (CT); 12:00pm (MT) 11:00 am (PT)

Join the webinar – https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/etc-cop

On Thursday, October 10, 2013 eXtension will host a webinar on Small Business Health Options Program with presenters Marilyn Schlake and Carol Welte, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) large employer (play or pay) mandate has been delayed until 2015, other ACA regulations are steadily moving forward, including opening of the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) on October 1st.  There are many ACA regulations that have and will continue to impact small and large businesses.   This webinar will highlight the different regulations and strategies businesses can use to manage the ACA.

No pre-registration is required and there is no fee to participate. About 10 minutes prior to the start time simply go the Adobe Connect Pro meeting room at https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/etc-cop. You will be presented with a login screen that has an “Enter as Guest” option. Enter your full name then click “Enter Room” to join the conference. You will be able to hear the audio directly from your computer’s speakers.