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When designing a plan to grow your business, one of the first items on the to-do list should be to examine the quality of your customer service. Let’s face it, you can offer top notch product, but if the customers aren’t satisfied with the service they receive, they won’t stick around long enough to know just how good your product is. Customer Service can make or break any company – big or small – and should always be high on the list of any company’s priorities.

A few things to consider when looking at the quality of your customer service:

  • Good communication is imperative. Make sure you are listening to your customers to know what they want/expect. Be open to their suggestions and make them feel comfortable to come to you with both new ideas and constructive criticism. On the other side of that coin – make sure you are clearly stating the services you can provide that will benefit them.
  • The customer is the boss. In any service industry it is imperative to remember that you do not exist without customers. If a customer wants something done a certain way and you have a different way of doing it, you can suggest your way but in the end, their way wins out.
  • Apologies. First, let me say that no matter how conscientious you are mistakes will happen. One of the most powerful yet underrated tools you can have is the art of the business apology. There is a difference between a business apology and a personal one. In a business apology, not only must you acknowledge your error, you must make sure that you let them know the steps you’ve taken to correct it and what measures you’ve implemented to ensure that it won’t happen again.
  • Focus on the internal as well as the external. It is important that you and your employees have a strong working knowledge of your product and have the skill to exchange that knowledge with your customers. Next, remember that your employees are the face of your company, and as such, they need to feel that they are an integral part of your business. If you keep your employees happy, they will in turn keep your customers happy.
  • Give your customers more than they expect…go the extra mile. Examine how you can elevate your company’s performance and offer the customer services that exceed their expectations. Be forward-thinking in anticipation of what products or services will best aid the customer in his or her own business. It will make a lasting impression on them. If they aren’t buying at the moment, they will remember that you went above and beyond and are more likely to choose your company when the time comes. Equally as important, once they are a customer, they will be able to refer other colleagues to your company with confidence.

The bottom line is this – keep the customer happy and the customer will stay loyal to your company. The goal for any growing business is to bring in new customers, but the true strength lies in the ability to please and retain the existing ones.

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Are you a small business owner?  If you are, you likely already know that you have to compete with a large number of other businesses, many of which may be larger than your business or have more money to “toss,” around.  While you may think that your size automatically puts you at a disadvantage, it doesn’t have to.  There are a number of ways that you can go about making sure that your small business is a successful, profitable one; ways that actually require little or no work on your part.

One of the simplest, yet most effective ways that you can turn your small business into a success and keep it as one is by smiling.  Yes, smiling. Many people, possibly even you, do not actually realize just how far a smile really goes.  When it comes to buying a product or a service, from both large and small business owners, many customers want to feel appreciated or at least like they are being noticed.  After all, without the customer, you and your small business employees wouldn’t even have jobs.  That is why it is important that you and your employees always smile at your customers and always put on a happy front.

Small talk is another simple, yet effective way to make your small business a success.  Small talk can be something as simple as asking any of your customers if they need help finding anything, if you run a retail store, or asking them about the weather outside.  Small talk makes your customers feel important.  It makes many consumers feel good that there is assistance available if it is needed, as well as the fact that some actually values their opinion or insight, even if it is only about the weather.  That is why you and your employees are always advised to strike up a conversation with your customers.  This conversation is what will likely keep them coming back for more.

As stated above, there are many people who tend to forget how much a smile can brighten up a person’s day.  In addition to smiling, it seems as if some customer service workers have forgotten the importance of a simple thank you.  When running a small business, your customers have the options of shopping with you or with a larger company, a larger company that have more products for sale, at lower prices.  What often sets you and your competitors apart is your customer service.  That is why it is advised that you and all of your employers thank all of your customers for their business and ask them to come again soon.  Your customers do not have to shop at your store, but they do chose to do so; therefore, make sure you thank them for it.

Another way that you can help to ensure that your small business is a successful one, one that consumers love doing business with, is being polite on the phone to all callers. While this may seem like common sense, there are times when it can easily be forgotten.  Sometimes it seems is if potential customers call with questions about store hours or a product at the worst possible time, often a time when you are busy.  Although this may be frustrating to you, you are advised to stay calm, cool, and collective.  If you need to, ask the caller to please hold on for a minute, but try not to keep them on hold for too long.  Your actions or the actions of your employees on the phone will have a significant impact on whether or not the caller decides to become a paying customer later on.
As outlined above, being friendly, patient, and pleasant to deal with are simple, yet effective ways for you and your business to make a name for yourself; a positive name.  That positive name is what may help to keep your business running strong and profitable for years to come.

What is Twitter?  Twitter is a free social networking and micro blogging service that enables users to send and read other users’ updates known as tweets. Tweets are text based posts of up to 140 characters in length which are displayed on the users profile page and delivered to other users who have subscribed to them (followers).

Why should a business utilize Twitter? Isn’t it for personal use mostly? People buy from those you know, even virtually know.

So, what is your suggested action plan?

Just like you wouldn’t attend networking events every day, all day. Don’t plan to network on Twitter that much. Some do, I don’t know how they manage it. Set aside a time to catch up on what has been said. Try to make that hour at different times of day so you catch a variety of people.

Tweet about what you are reading, i.e. in the newspaper, books, magazines. If there is an online version, include a reference to it. If you purchased the book online, provide a reference to that too. Get people interested.

Be sure to respond to what people are saying, “Thanks for the article”, “great point”.

Network just as you would face to face, make introductions with like minded people.

Lastly, think organic and authentic-Organically grow your followers, don’t you any of the get followers quick tools, and authentically communicate with your followers.

We are always looking for new tools to assist with the planning and execution of a successful event, whether in person or virtual. While researching new tools we stumbled upon Powernoodle.

Powernoodle was just released in January 2011 and appears to be an interesting concept which will make the planning and brainstorming more emjoyable. Serving as a project and task management tool with a dynamic interface, it allows for strategy, evaluation and feedback.

Participants come up with ideas and enter them into Powernoodle. They are then categorized by all participants. The best ideas will rise as they are rated and prioritized. Once this is complete, the final step is the Action Plan containing due dates, priority and person responsible.

We are still reviewing this service during the 30 day trial period and would love to hear feedback from other users and or planners.

While rolling out your marketing and social media plan can be exciting and at times overwhelming, there is no need for fear if you adhere to some simple rules. 

Don’t fall into a false sense of security when posting to social media outlets or responding to those who are connected to you. Those with business and personal accounts need to keep in mind that not everyone out there is who they appear to be. There are those out there who can program malicious apps and send through all social media outlets.

Social media is important because it provides a broader platform to reach your target market and share valuable information with them without spamming. Some very important tips to remember as you get started are:

  • Limit talking about yourself, but rather provide useful information to your readers
  • Be sure to incorporate your offline promotions as well
  • Be responsive; have one member of your staff/team who is responsible for managing all forms of social media for the best response rate. This is equivalent to good customer service.

I was pleased to attend the IVAA Summit once again this year, and managed to come away with new ideas and systems that I cannot wait to put into place. Not only did we have wonderful breakout sessions and a dynamic keynote speaker in Marsha Petrie Sue, but we also had the most fantastic networking opportunities. I was able to connect with some fantastic colleagues that I have only known virtually for many years. It was so wonderful to be able to sit across the table from them and exchange ideas and wisdom.  

I firmly believe in continued education and training, and attending the annual live conference is a great way to do this. Now it is time to ramp up the planning for our fantastic Online Summit http://online.vasummit.org/ which truly complements Live Summit http://live.vasummit.org/  . If you have not had the opportunity to attend both of these, I highly recommend that you work it into your budget for this year if at all possible. You will not regret it.

Another fantastic online conference is the OIVAC http://oivac.com/ which will be held in May 2010. I am very honored and pleased to announce that I have been nominated for the Thomas Leonard Award this year. I can’t express how pleased I am to just be nominated and to be in the company of the other fantastic nominees.  Be sure to check out the website for the Online International Virtual Assistant Convention and the educational program they have in place for this year.

Thomas Leonard Award Nominee

When it comes to making an online business successful, there are a number of internet marketing strategies to choose from. Among the most popularly used ones are article marketing, pay-per-click advertising, forum marketing, and email marketing. To achieve success through these internet marketing platforms, an online business owner needs to diligently track click-through and conversion rates. The more people are converted into actual paying customers, the more successful these platforms are considered to be.

Today, social media sites have become popular among internet users. It is for this reason that they have also become very attractive platforms for internet marketers. Through such sites, online business owners can easily reach out to a wide variety of active internet users and attract them through more engaging means. Among the most popularly used social media platforms are video sharing and social networking websites.

1) Video Sharing

Video sharing websites like YouTube have become known as the launching pad for aspiring artists, directors, singers, comedians, and other performers. However, online businesses have much to gain from such sites too. In fact, many business owners have achieved success solely because they made it a point to produce entertaining yet professional videos and posted them on video sharing sites for internet users to view. Product demonstrations that highlight benefits to customers have become quite popular as well.

Good videos become popular on video sharing sites not only because there are already a number of users looking out for new videos but also because these sites have made it easier for videos to be spread virally. They can be easily be tagged as favorites so that more users will be prompted to view them. Videos are also easily shared through social bookmarking and social networking sites as well as through email. Furthermore, should a video be relevant to other people’s businesses, they can easily be published in other websites and blogs. Because online business owners have higher potential to attract people online as well as allow its offerings to spread virally, video marketing has proven to be a crucial element in any internet marketing campaign.

If videos are attractive or interesting enough, people can leave comments that online business owners can read through to gain consumer insights on their offerings.

2) Social Networking

Online business owners can use social networking sites as an alternative to email marketing campaigns. It is through these sites that internet marketers can regularly share relevant content that can engage users enough to prompt them to follow the brand or make it a part of their network.

Logging in to social networking sites everyday has practically become a way of life for many internet users. Using these sites to promote an online business, however, is not as simple as building a network of random people and advertising products and services to them. Online business owners should treat such sites as a means to build relationships with users rather than as just another advertising medium. Similar to video sharing websites, social networking sites can prove to be one of the most invaluable sources of customer feedback for any business.

Through such sites, internet marketers can encourage comments from users and converse directly with people within their network. They can then gain powerful consumer insights as well as manage the reputation of their online businesses. What is even more attractive to internet marketers is that being active in social networking sites gives their brand a higher potential to spread virally among people who share the same interest. This, consequently, allows them to spend less on brand building and customer acquisition.

With today’s popularity of social media, internet marketers can now direct more of their focus and energy on branding and building a solid reputation for their online businesses. For this reason, click-through and conversion rates are considered only as secondary means to track success. More important are the number of conversations incited around the brand and the business’ offerings as well as the number of followers gathered through these platforms. The idea is to get more and more people to talk about an online business and keep the brand at the top of their minds so that internet users will be more likely to patronize it or to share it with other people.

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