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Support Your Branding Through Quality Customer Service

By Elizabeth Leer

No amount of branding can help a company overcome poor customer service. Good branding is time-consuming and can be an expensive process. So do not undo all the hard work and expense with poor customer service. Consumers are looking for companies who provide above and beyond customer service and will choose to shop elsewhere especially in a down economy if they feel they were treated poorly. Here are seven ways for any business to increase customer satisfaction by providing superior customer service.

Employee Training: Well trained staff members are essential to providing quality customer service. No one wants to stand around waiting for a business’ representative to figure out how to do their job or service their customer. Companies need to provide comprehensive training to their staff in order to build on their company branding. It is much more powerful to have a reputation attached to the brand that says, “This company provides excellent customer service”than to have a business whose name is synonymous with bad service. Training needs to incorporate more than just how to do day to day procedures; it needs to incorporate people skills and service techniques as well. Different cultures may have been exposed to different methods of dealing with people. These methods may not be in alignment with company beliefs. Company training is one way to make sure that all associates are familiar with the way they are expected to treat and interact with customers while representing the company.

Stay Calm and Smile: Teach associates to always remain calm and even-keeled when in the presence of customers, even too angry customers and how to calm an angry customer without being patronizing. No business can have 100 percent, happy customers, all the time; there will always be the squeaky wheel that needs some grease. The important thing is to know how to manage these squeaks without turning them into a full-blown emergency siren. By teaching staff members to stay calm and to not let the encounter become a direct attack on themselves, staff members are provided with an invaluable mediation tool. Instruct associates on the technique of looking at all customers as individuals with their own problems outside of the immediate situation that may be part of their emotional response. Teaching employees empathy removes the preconceptions that can often escalate an already negative situation and instead provides the associate with the proper mindset to understand the customer’s viewpoint and find an equitable solution. When administering this training do not forget to address how the staff member may be affected internally by the encounter. It is not an easy task to be asked to return negative comments or yelling with cordial responses in a calm manner. It is important for associates to know that their well-being and feelings are just as important as the clients. Provide a cool off break where associates can take a few minutes to get themselves back in perspective after a strongly negative interaction with a customer. A short cool off break will ensure that associates are ready to take on the next challenging situation with skill and grace while reminding them that they too are important to the company.

Happy Employees: It is impossible to expect disgruntled employees to provide happy and cordial customer interactions. This is why happy employees who feel vested in the success of the company are an invaluable resource. Taking care of associates and showing them they are valued is one way to both create a happy workforce and a positive image to the community. Three such examples of this are:Low Sales WalMart

  • Negative – According to an article in Blomberg Businessweek, Walmart employees in three major U.S. cities Boston, Miami and San Francisco, went on a weeklong strike in May 2014 claiming lower than poverty level wages and no benefits as the reasons for their striking.
  • Negative –’s Leipzig, Germany fulfillment center recently went on strike Walmart Protestdemanding better wages and more comprehensive benefits.
  • Positive – The same article points out that in Costco’s 30-year history they have never had these sorts of worker disputes. Their average hourly wage is $20.89 plus overtime, versus the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 per hour and Walmart’s full-time hourly employee average wage of $12.67. Costco’s 5 percent employee turnover rate is substantially below retail standards and a direct indication of their employee loyalty. While other retailers have struggled to keep their doors open through the past five years, Costco SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTUREShas grown 30 percent and had their stock price double since 2009.

The financial aspect of happy employees are employees who stay longer creating a lower turnover rate, less training costs, and fewer recruiting expenses. What it takes to provide for associate needs will be different from company to company as the size and industry of the company will inevitably play key roles in what is feasible to provide and still allow the company to make a profit. Take a census of what associates feel they need and then figure out what works best for both the company and its employees. After this is done, explain to associates why certain things were feasible and why others were out of reach. Having this conversation with employees will make them feel heard and important to the organization, instead of dismissed when their requests seem to be ignored. If there are some requests that are not feasible for the company to do right away, but are very important to associates create a plan of action on how these requests are addressed and inform associate of the plan; better yet have an employee representative or several on the planning committee to witness and participate in the process.

Delegate: Delegate responsibility to trained staff in order to avoid passing customers off multiple times when resolving an issue. Everyone can relate to the frustration of trying to tend to a business issue only to be passed back and forth between departments or staff. Avoid creating this customer frustration by empowering associates to handle customer concerns without fear of reprimand. Teach employees the proper method of handling specific issues, as well as providing them with the bigger picture of their actions to guide them in assisting customers with issues that may not be in the regular scheme of things. When associates are empowered it frees up time for managers and other associates to complete their specific responsibilities that may be put off due to continuing interruptions for associate assistance. Empowered employees also take ownership in the company giving them the drive to do a better job.

Customer Feedback: Make Customers Feel Heard and Respond to them. Take quick surveys, and provide customer feedback cards in easily located areas for customers to grade and comment on the interaction they had. Make sure feedback cards have a place to list the associate who waited on them. Consider placing a pre-printed mailing address on the back for customers who may not have time at that moment to fill out the form to be able to fill it out in the comfort of their home and mail it back. Do not just put the forms out there; read them. It does no good to gather the information simply to ignore it. Respond to customers with issues so that they know they have been heard. This will instill a sense of value with the customer and in some cases defuse an issue that has the potential to escalate.

Easy Contact Options: Make it Easy for Customers to Contact and Communicate with the right person to handle their particular issue. When possible give them a live Person to speak with and do not let them get lost in a seemingly never-ending automated system, which too often happens with large companies in this automated day and age. Provide easy to locate contact information with detailed FAQ’s and department or associate responsibilities to make it easier for consumers to locate the right person to answer their concern.

Follow-Up: Follow-up on concerns to make sure they have been dealt with properly. It is very easy to tell a customer that their issue will be addressed and then get busy and have it fall through the cracks, especially if the issue requires more than one associate or department to work on it. By having a follow-up with the customer procedure for all consumer concerns, fewer issues will fall through the cracks and consumers will feel acknowledged, empowered and loyal to the company. Consumer loyalty is money in the bank for any business; since loyal customers not only continue to provide return business, but they refer their friends and family.

Marketing and branding are only two important pieces to the puzzle of having a successful business. Quality customer service to reinforce a company’s branding is the third vital component. Excellent customer service seems to many consumers to be a thing of the past, and companies who consistently provide above and beyond consumer interactions will be stronger than those who do not.






Do’s and Don’ts for Successful Marketing

By Elizabeth Leer

When marketing a business it is important to see the business through the customer’s eyes. Think about how the business is perceived and compare it to the image you want the business to have. Also, consider how convenient and user-friendly your marketing tools are such as do online websites load easily and without a bunch of steps? Do mobile application websites work properly without the viewer having to modify their settings to read it? Does your marketing tool reach the right people? Is your contact information easy to locate? These are some basic issues that will frustrate potential clients and lose a business, customers if not done properly.

The last decade has thrown business owners into the world of the web whether they want to be or not. According to a survey of 800 small business owners by the U.S. Organization NSBA (National Small Business Association) in 2013, the majority of small businesses have a business website and almost one in five of those websites are mobile website compatible. With more than 250 search engines on the web today, and 85 percent of consumers using search engines in 2012 to locate products, services and businesses, having a quality web page has become a necessity for modern businesses.

Consumers automatically assume that all businesses will have an informative and easy to navigate web page. The days of picking up the yellow pages and flipping through to find an auto mechanic or a plumber are no more. Today consumers expect to be able to pick up their laptop or mobile device and search for whatever they need and have all the information easily at their fingertips. That is why it is a vital marketing tool for businesses to have a well laid out and formatted website. Some things to consider when developing or revamping a business website are:

  • Is the website mobile device friendly? Smartphones have changed the way people use the web. Consider this, according to Belle Beth Cooper in her article “10 Surprising Social Media Statistics that will Make You Rethink Your Social Strategy” 30% of Facebook’s ad revenue is generated through mobile use and 189 million Facebook users only access the site through mobile devices. Websites need to be easily accessed by Smartphones, Androids, and Tablets since the population has transitioned to wanting to be able to locate places, information and directions through their phones while they are on the go. This means that website formatting needs to meet mobile web requirements in order to reach the full spectrum of any business’ possible customer base. Also, consider the mobile formatting that is used. It should be as simple as possible so that viewers are not asked to rotate their phone or enlarge the picture to see it. Different Smartphones, Tablets, and Androids have different capabilities and making an ad or site too extravagant or cumbersome may mean it will not work on all phones or devices. Keep it simple.
  • Does the website contain all vital information? There is nothing more frustrating for a potential client than to go to a website expecting to find all the pertinent information they are looking for and have it not be there. Make sure your business website contains, hours of operation, contact phone numbers, address, possibly a map, details about the business or product etc. Although the idea is to get customers in the door, if your business website does not provide enough information that the consumer is looking for they will simply move on to the next business whose website does have the information. In the current highly competitive marketplace of the web, not having the information on the site does not mean potential customers will call to get the information.
  • Is the information easily located on the website without having to search through endless pages? Make sure contact information is easily found and not buried behind pages of links. If a consumer is looking for a phone number or address they do not want to have to explore the entire website to find them. Tabs should make sense and provide the viewer with easy cues as to what will be found on each page.
  • Is the website easy to read? Having clear and understandable text content is only part of what makes a web page readable. Make sure that the background color and the font color stand out from each other; or else it doesn’t matter how eloquent the content because no one will be able to read it. Consider color schemes; verify what they look like on screen before locking into that theme. Current logos and company branding images may need to be modified since print color looks different than on-screen
  • Has the content been proofread? Make sure the content is accurate and complete. Missing information, obvious misspelled words, truncated text and confusing sentence structure will only send potential customers running to a site that has proofread their site. These simple mistakes make it look like the business is sloppily run and does not instill confidence in the consumer.
  • What is the business’ prime target audience? The website should flow in a manner that caters to the target audience, but without alienating other possible consumer bases.
  • Does the website have an overload of images that could slow the upload process when a potential customer logs on? There is nothing more infuriating to a potential customer than a web page that causes their system to freeze up or crash. Consumers typically will try a website once and if this happens they will not give it a second chance.
  • Does the website design look dated? Try to create a design and layout that matches the company’s branding. Avoid dated color schemes or trendy items. This will make the web page maintain a new and vibrant look longer.

Do not rush through the web design process. Too many businesses rush through the process in order to get something up and running. A lot of times a business’ web page is the first impression to the consumer, so it is important that it be done right. Beta test the new or revamped website before making it live to the public in order to make sure everything is working properly.

Even though online marketing is a vital resource to any current day business, it is important not to rely solely on having a website for marketing. Although print ads are not as effective as they once were, they still reach a wide swath of people and place a company or product in front of the consumer’s eyes. Do not completely eliminate print marketing methods such as direct mail to past clients, or strategically placed bulk mailings.

Consider whether or not TV advertisement would be well-spent money. According to Neilson in 2009, 57 percent of TV viewers also simultaneously used the web. This provides the opportunity for viewers to instantly log onto a business’ website when the consumer sees the business’ TV advertisement.

Blogging and Social Media are the latest in marketing tools. HubSpot in their 2012 article “State of Inbound Marketing” sited that 92 percent of the companies who regularly blogged multiple times per day received a customer from their blog. This same article states that the number of businesses who believe Facebook is of vital importance to their business and marketing strategy has increased by 75 percent.

The automated and technologically based world we live in has changed the way businesses need to market themselves. Whether it is a large conglomerate or a small mom and pop store having a strong web presence is vital to creating a solid bottom line. It is important to keep in mind the customer base and impression while creating this web persona, as well as rounding out a business’ marketing game plan with other forms of non-electronic marketing platforms. Keeping abreast of new technology and comfortably transitioning with the technological tide will help businesses stay on track with the mobile and Social Media hungry consumer base of today.






Safety Saves More than Lives, it Saves Your Company Money

By Elizabeth Leer

Worker’s Compensation claims cost companies millions every year, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Throw in injured customer compensation, employee downtime, equipment and facility damage costs, and legal fees and unnecessary accidents prove to be very costly to any business. These costs can be minimalized through comprehensive associate safety training and strict adherence to safety policies.

Brief History of Worker’s Compensation

Worker’s compensation is not solely a U.S. concept. It was initially put into practice in Germany and to some extent Britain. It then expanded throughout Europe and North America from there. New Zealand also implemented a form of worker’s compensation in 1974 that has been much more successful at eliminating litigation than other countries’ policies. In 1986 Australia followed suit implementing the Worker’s Rehabilitation and Compensation Act”, which was revamped and replaced with the “Worker’s Compensation Act” in 1987.

New Zealand’s Comprehensive Accident Insurance System has nearly eliminated worker accident litigation since its implementation by implementing a no-fault comprehensive accident insurance plan. New Zealand’s policy provides compensation for all accident victims and eliminates tort litigation by removing fault from the accidents. New Zealand’s Worker’s Compensation policy has become a working model for other countries as they try to modify their own dysfunctional systems.

Why it Works

A large part of New Zealand’s worker’s compensation policy’s success is that it places a large focus on accident prevention, followed by worker care and reparations. Public hospitals provide treatments and timely reparations are made in order to keep the system flowing smoothly.

To support their campaign for prevention of workplace accidents, New Zealand has several government websites established to guide employers in the process of creating a safe work environment for their employees.

These sites cover a broad spectrum of topics with sections dedicated to a multitude of industries from retail to mining. They also contain employer checklists and detailed action plans for establishing and maintaining a safe work environment in order to minimize on the job accidents.

Additionally, New Zealand enforces its safe work environment policies through a multi-tiered notification process that includes expert assistance in resolving potentially dangerous workplace situations. If this does not fix the problem, the employer can receive a fine of between $100 and $4,000 for safety protocol infringements, followed by legal prosecution that if convicted could have the sentence of up to $500,000 in fines and/or up to 2 years in prison, if the employer still has not corrected the problems.

According to New Zealand’s Department of Labor, the following are key steps to having a safe work environment:

  • know your company’s legal responsibilities
  • make a commitment to provide a healthy and safe workplace
  • plan how your company will implement a safe working environment
  • identify, assess and manage potential hazards
  • provide safety information, training, and supervision for employees
  • report, record and investigate all incidents, injuries, and illnesses
  • involve employees in the safety preparedness process to improve health and safety
  • plan and be ready for any emergencies
  • include contractors and subcontractors in your company’s hazard management processes
  • help your employees return to normal work after an injury

The Cost of Customer Lawsuits

Worker’s compensation and rehabilitation claims are only a fraction of the expense of having an unsafe facility, especially in a retail environment. Customer slip and falls or on-site injuries can lead to extremely expensive and drawn out legal mitigation, large settlements, and costly fines.

According to the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, slip, trip, and fall accidents account for 15 percent of accidental deaths and are second in being the cause of fatalities only to motor vehicles. This statistic is a broad spectrum study that covers all industries and includes workers, but it makes it clear that slip, trip, and fall accidents are quite costly.

In a paper produced by Pepperdine University, global retail giant Walmart deals with approximately 1,000 customer injuries daily, and in 1998 had over 3,730 premises liability suits filed against them. This is just one example of how high the number of incidences of on-site consumer accidents is, and the number of premises liability cases filed has consistently increased in the U.S.  since 1998; as has the median award amount. In 2000 the median award for a premises liability case was up 88 percent from what it was in 1994, going from $100,000 to $114,862.

Although the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association (APLA) disagree on the amount of increase in public liability claims they both agree that there has been an increase from 1998 to 2000. The APRA states that the number of actual claims rose in that time frame from 55,000 to 88,000 and the overall claim costs rose 52.5 percent, while the APLA says that their ration figures show the increase from 1996 to 2001 was only 2.63 percent.

Limit Premises Liability Claims by having Informed Employees

By educating employees and providing the resources needed to maintain a healthy and safe work environment companies can substantially reduce the number of on-site injuries and premises liability lawsuits. Some ways to do this are:

  • Educate All Employees About the Seriousness of Safety – This is not just informing employees on what to do if there is an injury or accident; include statistics and figures on the cost of injury claims and explain how these expenses cut into the company’s bottom line and inevitably their paychecks. Make sure safety training has a wide variety of possible safety hazard scenarios that could happen and for each scenario what the correct way to resolve the possible safety hazard would be.
  • Have Periodic Mandatory Safety Training Refresher Courses – Having a new hire safety training class for all new employees as soon as they start should be a required policy. However, over time the best way to handle different situations may change and people will forget what they have been taught. To keep safety protocols fresh and up to date in your staff’s minds mandate that refresher courses are taken. Ideally, this should happen either annually or bi-annually.
  • Have Clean-Up and Emergency Supplies Readily Available – Having the proper clean-up and first aid or emergency equipment and supplies on hand are only part of the task. These materials need to be easily and readily available to staff. They are of no value being buried behind boxes of inventory or locked in a supply closet. All staff members need to know where to locate these supplies at all times. These materials should be regularly inspected and replaced or replenished as needed
  • Employee Handbooks – Employee handbooks should include an emergency plan section for major emergencies, as well as a worker’s comp section that contains detailed instructions on what to do if there is an accident or injury, and a section dedicated to safety protocols that provides detailed instructions for specific clean-up or repair situations. This not only gives employees a place to turn to for information if something happens and there is no one else around, it provides the employer with written proof that employees have been provided with this information.
  • Implement and Enforce Safety Protocols – Having safety measures in place means also enforcing them. All companies should have a specific disciplinary policy for any associates who do not follow safety policies. Disciplinary measures should be stringent and also include re-training if necessary. There should be no wavering from employee to employee when enforcing these repercussions. For the safety of all employees, repeated offenses should lead to termination of employment.

On-Site injuries, premises liability claims and workers compensation issues cost companies exorbitant amounts of money, time and resources every year. By educating employees in the workplace and general health and safety companies can save themselves money and frustration while improving their work performance, moral, and safety records. Having a safe and healthy work environment is about more than avoiding injuries, it is essential to any company’s healthy bottom line.