Does Your Business Pass the Customer Experience Test?

We hear the terms “customer experience” and “CX” everywhere, but what do they really mean?

John Foley from Oracle defines customer experience as “the idea that businesses can use everything they know about a customer to personalize and maximize the transaction at every touchpoint and across business channels – in the store, on the phone, online, and via social media and mobile.” Greg Gianforte from RightNow Technologies, Inc. defines customer experience as “the sum total of all interactions that customers have with a brand, and the perception they form as a result.” Superoffice makes it even simpler. “Customer experience is your customers’ perception of how the company treats them.”

Though customer experience is a general term, there’s a reason we hear it so often – it’s what makes businesses competitive in a market rife with options:

Do you have a handle on your customer experience? Ask yourself these four questions to see if your customer experience passes the test.

Have you drafted a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a diagram that illustrates each stage a customer must go through to conduct a transaction with your business. It can include the research phase, purchasing, onboarding, customer support, repeat purchases, and even exiting to a competitor. Once completed you’re provided with a visual of what your customers overall experience.

The more steps it takes for a customer to accomplish something, the more opportunity you have to improve upon their journey. Or on the inverse, you may even identify some holes in your customer journey map need addressing. Ask yourself, can any of these be removed? How can I make this easier on the customer? Can I empower my employees to make this process a better experience for the customer?

Are you accessible?

How long does it take for someone to reach you? Is someone from your company available around the clock? Do you offer omnichannel support? Depending on your industry, your customers may expect 24/7 coverage and they definitely expect to reach you in a multitude of ways including phone, email, live chat and social media.

Also, if you provide phone support make sure your phone system is configured to get callers to the right place the first time. Eighty-nine percent of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. And if you do provide live chat as a communication platform, make sure it’s properly staffed and opt to have it disappear as an option when it’s not.

Do you know your customers and their expectations?

Who are your customers? What do they expect from you? You may think you have an adequate understanding of your customers and their expectations, but they can change on the daily. Expectations have increased – digital customers expect online responses in minutes and 75 percent of consumers say it’s absolutely critical or very important to interact with a salesperson who is available when they need them.

Your best resource to learn about your customers and their expectations is your frontline. Your employees speak with your potential customers, your happy customers, and your angry customers all day long. They know what turns potential customers into happy customers and what turns happy customers into angry customers and it might just have something to do with your customer experience.

Does your frontline know the strategy?

Your customer experience strategy is only as good as your employees’ execution of the strategy. To become engaged in a customer experience strategy your employees must first buy in. Do you invest in the training and the tools for your staff to be confident in handling customer concerns before they become issues? Are they incentivized to stick to the strategy? Is there open communication between you and your frontline to allow for important feedback?

Establishing a customer-centric culture in your organization is the best way to turn your ideal customer experience into reality. Engaged employees who receive the appropriate tools and consistent training are your best brand ambassadors.   

Does your customer experience pass the test? Do you have room for improvement? The best place to start is by drawing up a customer journey map and by gathering customer and employee feedback. Though acquiring customer communication can take a lot of effort, the rewards are worthwhile. A good customer experience not only retains your current customers, it helps you grow your customer base and even revenue through upselling and customer referrals.

What SMBs Need to Know When Choosing a Small Business Loan

There are many loan options for small businesses, from equipment loans to working capital loans. As a small business owner, you’ll likely decide between a few lenders: The Small Business Administration (SBA), conventional banks and alternative lenders. Each offers their own benefits and disadvantages.

“While there are numerous options from which to choose, not all deliver the same benefits,” said Kate Quinones, account executive at Linda Costa Communications Group. “Make a short list of potential lenders by shopping around to compare offers. As you go through the process, keep in mind that bigger isn’t always better – or safer.”

Depending on your needs as a business, you’ll want to understand all your choices before settling on a lender. Here’s everything you need to know about getting a loan. [See related: Business Loans and Financing Options]

Types of loans

There are many types of lenders and loans to choose from. Here are some of your options.

Traditional bank business loans

According to Jay DesMarteau, head of commercial specialty segments for TD Bank, traditional bank loans typically have low interest rates, a detailed payment schedule and the ability to retain total ownership of the business.

“Banks also offer loans for many different purposes: real estate, working capital, lines of credit and equipment among others,” he said. “A line of credit would most often be used for short-term funding needs, while a term loan or commercial real estate mortgage offers multiyear financing for expansions or to purchase property.”

Editor’s Note: Looking for an alternative business loan? If you’re looking for information to choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our sister site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of lenders for free:

 

SBA loans

These government-backed small business loans are safe and attainable for businesses that might have been turned away by other lenders. They offer some of the lowest interest rates available and often have lower monthly payments, said DesMarteau.

“SBA loans allow approvals in some cases, such as when the down payment or a business’s cash flow is too low, because of the government guarantee,” said DesMarteau. “There is a misconception that SBA loans are a startup loan and that the government gives them away, but it is true that they have different credit underwriting standards, terms and other factors than a traditional small business loan.”

Bad credit loans

There are other funding options for small businesses aside from traditional bank or SBA lenders, like online lenders, direct alternative lenders or lending marketplaces. This is a popular option for those with bad credit.

But while they might have a short approval time, there are some downfalls of alternative funding, like double-digit interest rates, short payback time, less control over the business, etc., said DesMarteau.

Secured loans

Secured loans are easier to acquire than unsecured loans because they require collateral from you. This type of loan is often suited for new businesses with startup costs – $50,000 to $100,000 loans.

Unsecured loans

If you have good credit, you can potentially get up to $50,000 unsecured loans. However, startups with business owners who have poor credit are often turned away. If you can acquire an unsecured loan, you don’t need to offer any collateral – which is a major plus for business owners.

Long-term business loans

Long-term loans are geared more toward expanding your business rather than starting it, offering up to $100,000. They can be paid back for years and at lower monthly rates. However, they aren’t typically suited for startups, but rather for more established businesses.

Points to consider

Make sure you sort through the following factors before seeking a lender.

Business plan

Before choosing a loan, you need to outline your objectives for your company in a business plan. This should give you a good idea of the type of loan you need.

“Prior to meeting with a banker or lender, it is important to have a business plan in place – preferably one that has been reviewed by your certified public accountant,” said Quinones. “The plan should include articulated short- and long-term financial goals.”

Ask yourself what you need to reach your goals and what you’re lacking. From there, find a banker who can anticipate the growth of your business and craft a lending solution, added Quinones.

Cash-flow cycle

Your cash-flow cycle directly impacts the type of loan needed for your business. Consider your payment cycle, the flow of cash in and out, and the best way to maintain a steady revenue.

“Make sure you have a solid grasp of your accounts receivable and that your banker understands your payment mix,” said Quinones. “For example, many large corporations, medical insurance companies and government entities have lengthy pay cycles – even up to 90 or 120 days. Talk with your banker about how these factors affect your cash flow so he or she can design an appropriate solution.”

Expenses

Calculate your expenses to get an idea of how much money and what exactly you’ll be needing from your potential lender.

“Do you have a realistic understanding of both current and potential expenses?” said Quinones. “Take a look at the size of your business and its growth potential.”

For instance, she noted, if you have one office, you might not need to hire an HR professional right away. But this could change down the line if you decide to grow your business.

Risks

There are always risks involved with finances, especially when seeking the right loan for your business. That’s why it’s important to discuss concerns right away and be transparent with your intentions.

“Conversations about risk should happen upfront,” said Quinones. “Banks look at debt levels, cash flow and liquidity carefully. It is important to understand your bank’s guidelines in these areas.”

The higher your debt to equity ratio, the riskier it appears to bankers and the more difficult it will be to attain a loan. If you have any weaknesses in your business model or financial history, disclose them upfront and work around those issues with the help of your banker, said Quinones.

4 Factors That Determine Your Business's Internal Value

Last year, 13 percent of business owners selling businesses valued between $5MM and $50MM sold as a result of an unsolicited offer, according to the Q4 2017 Market Pulse Report published by the International Business Brokers Association, M&A Source, and the Pepperdine Private Capital Market Project. The report also forecasts a continuation of this trend into 2018, due to recently passed corporate tax reform, meaning quite a few business owners may find themselves in a position to sell sooner than they thought possible. 

Whether you’re considering a sale, merger, recapitalization or other private capital market transaction, identifying your business’s internal value drivers should be your very first step. A surface level snapshot of your business is not enough for buyers and investors. They will want to know exactly how and why your operation is successful. Understanding your company’s unique value will ensure that you arrive at the negotiating table prepared.

Even if you have not made a decision to exit or to seek a recapitalization, it doesn’t hurt to look at the following areas of your business to get an idea of your internal value drivers.

Revenue, Cash Flow and Profits

If you can demonstrate strong, sustainable, and reliable revenue, cash flow and profits, you are more likely to end up with the lucrative deal you are hoping for. However, if your company is weak in any of these areas, you may want to wait to put it on the market until things improve. Buyers almost always see financial underperformance as too risky. Even if they are willing to overlook the risk, they will be expecting a steep discount.

Customers

Buyers and investors will without a doubt require substantial evidence that you have a proven and reliable customer base. How many customers do you currently have? What is their demographic profile? How do you acquire new customers, and how are you keeping them engaged? What are you doing to earn their loyalty? Be prepared for investors to ask these questions, and possibly more, depending on your business type and industry.

Suppliers

This is one of the most easily overlooked internal value drivers. The long-term stability of a business rests more heavily than most realize on having a variety of places to source the materials, products and services necessary to run your business. Having options in terms of suppliers on hand makes your business appear reliable. Investors and buyers do not want to see you dependent on one single supplier with limited or no backup options. Regardless of how long and how good of a relationship you have with your current suppliers, it would be beneficial identifying several that could replace them should the need arise.

Management and Financial Recordkeeping

Management teams can make or break a deal, and competence, organization and professionalism are key factors in determining their value. Think like a buyer to identify weak links, and do not hesitate to repair or replace them. 

As for financials, showing off-the-charts revenue is not a make-or-break factor. While high revenue helps, it’s more important to have detailed, accurate and honest bookkeeping. It is much easier to prove your business has value if your finances are meticulously documented. Messy books can be seen as a red flag, regardless of what they show.

6 Things You Need to Do to Launch a Successful Blog

Launching a blog is now easier than ever. You can install WordPress with just one click and start blogging right away.

In fact, almost 1,000 new WordPress websites are created every day. But how many of these websites created in any given day will be successful? Maybe one – certainly no more than 10.

Most blogs fail because they launch right away without a proper plan. If you’re planning to start a blog, don’t make the same mistake.

To launch a successful blog, you need a strategy that covers the most important areas of blogging. In this post, we’ll tell you about those factors that make a blog more successful.

1. Optimize for Google.

Unless you have a big budget for advertising, search engine optimization is the best strategy you can use to promote your blog and attract more visitors to your website.

Unlike social media marketing and paid traffic, search engines can deliver a continuous stream of traffic to your blog without you having to do anything. All you have to do is optimize your blog posts for search engines and Google will rank your posts in search results to send visitors to your website.

Make sure to write great content that’s valuable to your audience and optimize your blog posts with keywords to rank on Google for specific keywords and search phrases. You can use Google Keyword Planner and Ubersuggest to research keywords.

2. Build an email list from day one.

Of course, even Google can be mean sometimes. When Google rolls out algorithm updates, it affects most blogs and websites. Even if you have the No. 1 rank on Google for certain keywords, it may disappear tomorrow without a warning.

It’s always best to have a backup plan. Start growing an email list from the first day of the blog launch. Your email list will help you achieve two goals: It will help generate traffic to your blog, and you can use it to directly sell products and services to your leads. Set up popup messages and embed email opt-in forms in your blog posts to promote your lead magnets and convert more website visitors into leads. 

3. Focus on quality over quantity.

A common mistake bloggers make is believing that publishing more blog posts is the best way to drive traffic and generate leads. It’s not true. Publishing a few high-quality, in-depth posts will get you more traffic than a daily blogging strategy.

For example, The Ahrefs Blog used to publish four new posts every week, but this didn’t make an impact on its organic traffic. Then it made a drastic change to its blogging strategy by removing 266 blog posts and focused on publishing just a couple high-quality blog posts per month. This increased its organic traffic growth by 89 percent in just three months.

Create a blogging strategy to only publish in-depth articles. It doesn’t matter if you publish once or twice a month – it will bring you more results than what you’ll get from publishing daily.

4. Write for your ideal customer.

Your blog traffic will be useless if you don’t have a target audience. Imagine generating thousands of visitors who aren’t interested in your product or service – all your blogging efforts will go to waste.

Instead of creating blog posts to generate traffic from all sorts of audiences, focus on crafting blog posts that bring in visitors who are interested in your product or service.

Yes, it’s possible. Start by creating a buyer persona. It will help you create a profile of your ideal customer, understand their pain points and learn about their interests. Then you can come up with a content plan to provide solutions to their problems and write extensive guides that get them interested in your product.

5. Use an editorial calendar.

Publishing blog posts according to a schedule is another important part of building a loyal audience around your blog. Don’t publish a post whenever you feel like it. Publish according to an editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar will help you consistently publish blog posts by planning them ahead of time. Do your keyword research and come up with post ideas to plan a blogging editorial at least three months ahead. This way, you will never run out of ideas to blog about.

6. Analyze, measure and improve.

Understanding which of your blog posts generate the most buzz and which bring in the most visitors will help you create more great content on the same topics to effectively grow your blog.

Performing content audits from time to time is also crucial to sustaining your blog growth and improving lead and sales generation. For all these purposes and more, create a system to gather data and measure your blog content.

In conclusion

Building a blog is a long-term investment. It won’t give you an instant return. You need to work hard for a long time to produce posts and generate traffic to develop a successful blog.

However, if you’re consistent, you will receive continuous results and profit from your blog for a long time. When starting a blog, make sure to aim for the long-term goals.

Reading Between the Lines of a Resume: 4 Areas to Give a Closer Look

The act of reading a resume is simple. But finding out what motivated the applicant’s decisions or what prompted any job changes is what will make you a better hiring manager.

A resume is a biography in progress. It’s a reflection of someone’s professional and personal story to date, but it is useful only if you know how to read between the lines.

For hiring managers, it’s extremely important to get the right employee and not miss out on someone due to a lack of context when evaluating a resume. Taking a closer look and really examining a good resume is similar to reflecting on someone’s life story, so you should take into account more than just dates and company names. The next time you recruit employees, keep these ideas in mind when searching for a good resume.

1. Job-hopping

Many employers consider job-hopping a red flag. However, it’s important to consider context and consistency before dismissing a potential employee as a job-hopper.

Remember the financial crisis of 2008? Nevada, Michigan and California recorded double-digit unemployment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the peak of the recession, there was a 44 percent decrease in job openings. This is just one example of how context plays an important role in reading a resume.

Job-hopping in the context of a bad recession may actually demonstrate that someone has an unshakable work ethic to do whatever it takes to support their family, even if it means taking a few side jobs between full-time employment.

When you see a gap in between jobs, look for a pattern of consistent employment before and after the gap. If the candidate does have consistency, it might mean they were out of work for a personal reason, such as taking care of a sick relative. In this context, a person’s character and work ethic in difficult times could be more telling than what would have otherwise been assumed about a short tenure.  

For example, think of someone who accepted a job in 2006 and then got laid off in 2008. Out of work, they take the first (lousy) job they can get in a tough market and stay for two years. Then, as the market improves, they look for a better situation. Is that a job-hopper looking for their fourth job in five years, or did they do exactly what you would have done in that situation?

2. Promotions and job title changes

Being promoted is a key indicator of a high-potential candidate. If someone’s current employer has thought enough of them to promote them at some point, it is a positive sign about their capabilities. Ponder this: You have two resumes in front of you from candidates with 10 years of experience. One has been promoted three times and the other not even once. That is an important data point.

However, job title changes often masquerade as promotions, and a trained eye can tell the difference. Often, a job title change is nothing more than an HR technique to give a normal salary increase without actually promoting someone to a higher position. If someone hasn’t been promoted after 10 years at a company, it’s worth asking a few extra questions to find out why. This might be a bad sign, but you can’t know for sure without digging deeper.

Look beyond the title to the actual function. For example, someone promoted from Engineer 1 to Engineer 2 to Engineer 3 may not have changed functions at all. The key question would be, how did your job change after each title change? That can tell you a lot.

3. Company size

Continuing with the themes of context and consistency, you have to be careful when comparing recruits from companies of different sizes. A title has context only within a specific organization, and it’s not so easy to transition from a small startup to a global enterprise or vice versa.

In the hiring process, it’s easy to forget that it’s just as hard to move from a global enterprise to a local startup; one doesn’t preclude or qualify the other a single iota. Instead, consider the scope of resources that a candidate previously managed, including the number of employees managed. To put this into perspective, imagine a VP of HR at a 150-person company applying for the VP of HR at General Electric. Those are two very different jobs with the same title, making this a matter of scale.

These are the two factors to consider:

1. Span of control – How many people, dollars, resources, etc. does the person control?

2. Degree of independence – The top HR person with two direct reports at a small company has more independence that an HR manager with six direct reports who then reports to an HR director who, in turn, reports to a VP of HR.

4. Commuting

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average travel time to work in the United States is 25.4 minutes. If you’ve ever had to commute over an hour, you might have been quickly motivated to seek new employment. Keep an eye out for commuting issues when you recruit, but remember that long commutes aren’t necessarily a bad thing for some people. Some like them because they are an opportunity to decompress, for example. Commuting is a personal decision.

These are some questions you might ask as a hiring manager: Has the candidate ever commuted that far before? If yes, for how long? Have they ever left a job for a shorter commute? Commuting may be an issue for only a small section of recruits, so, again, your job is to find that context.

A good resume gives you a sense of a candidate’s life before they even show up for an interview. Too many companies throw away resumes with small flaws or “red flags” because they are looking at titles and keywords without taking into consideration a person’s life story. As a hiring manager, always look at the context, making sure that you’re seeing the person, not just the paper.

Loading...