Monthly Archives

October 2018

Preparing for Employees Going on Annual Leave

9 Ways to Prepare Your Business for Employees Going on Holiday Leave

By | Business Improvement, Call Center Support, Employee Management, Time Management, Virtual Assistant Support | No Comments

Last year’s holiday season retail sales in the US alone topped $161 billion and 43% shoppers supported small businesses on Small Business Saturday. With the holiday season coming up, now is the time to plan out a company strategy to ensure you have backup staff handling essential business activities at all times.

Figures for Holiday Season Retail Sales

You don’t have to dread the holiday season when your employees go on leave, when the company’s manpower is down and productivity seems to nosedive. Simply follow our tips that we’ve practiced and improved upon through trial and error over 8 years of operations and you will be well prepared. You can easily handle holiday leave while maintaining a healthy culture and employer brand.

  1. Use a Workforce Management Software

Using a scheduling and staffing software or even a shared Google calendar can make your life infinitely easier. This way you won’t have clashes in scheduling vacations and can plan accurately in advance for holidays. Most workforce management softwares have additional features like communication, task management, and time reporting. Here is our rundown of some effective softwares:

Deputy

With unlimited users, shift swapping, forecasting and QuickBooks integration, Deputy is a mobile platform that can cut your time spent scheduling considerably. It is perfect for small to medium businesses employing shift workers.

When I Work

Offering templates and shortcuts with its mobile and desktop adaptive platform, When I Work is also integrated with some POS and Payroll systems and has a very intuitive user interface (UI).

Quinyx

It allows you to schedule work keeping in mind employee contracts and working time directives. You can also set up an optimal schedule matching the best employee to the most appropriate task and set up a staffing schedule taking expected sales into account.

TrackSmart

Their online time and attendance management software allows for scheduling based on employee availability and job skills. You can even set up recurring schedules. All these are accessible from all devices 24/7. These smarter schedules will ensure you are never understaffed, even for the holiday season.

  1. Be Transparent

Make sure you communicate your holiday leave policy and vacation policy to your employees as soon as they are hired. Is it first come first served? Are there any vacation blackout periods when no vacation requests would be entertained due to an expected rise in traffic or a special project? Will you be encouraging them to take their vacation in the slower periods? Communicating all this in advance will be fairer and more acceptable to your employees. Make sure any vacations are granted judiciously—with employees fully cognizant of the decision-making criteria—after due deliberation and without any favoritism.

  1.  Set a Deadline

Set a deadline by which employees can request holiday leave. Depending on your needs, this can be anywhere from a few days to several weeks before the staff wants to use leave time. This deadline should be far enough in advance for you to ensure that it does not affect a project’s productivity or deadline and you are not understaffed. Also cap the number of employees of each specialization who can take off at the same time.

  1. Get Pertinent Information

When an employee puts in a leave request, request a report on current projects. Ask them how they plan to meet deadlines before they head out the door. Nicolas Gremion told SmallBizTrends that this process “gives me piece of mind that their absence won’t be problematic and they can leave knowing that they’ve tied up any loose ends.”

Get a detailed breakdown of projects they are currently working on, tasks to be performed, access details for pertinent files and accounts, deadlines for current projects, important contact information, and any other information needed by the employees covering the vacationers’ jobs. Create a checklist of these that each vacationing employee can tally against before leaving.

Project Name Deadline Tasks to be Performed Contact Person Contact Information Access Details
Account Password
Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
  1. Delegate Tasks

Then make sure that someone is covering for the missing employee. Sometimes, that requires handing off tasks and projects to a few different people in the office instead of asking one person to do the work of two. Crosstrain employees in preparation for the upcoming holiday season, ensuring that the backup employee is fully conversant with the appropriate project training manual.

  1. Trade-off

Trade-off between your employees. Some employees may have important commitments at other times of the year that they can take time off for and then work during the holiday season. Allow employees with similar job descriptions to trade off their vacations with each other, one picking up the slack when the other is on leave. Stagger your employee vacations so you always have coverage; allow some to work the morning shift, some the afternoon shift, or schedule one set of employees for the first few days of the week and the other for the rest of the weekdays during the holiday season.

  1. Offer Incentives for Working Employees

Give cash bonuses, extra paid leaves redeemable after the holiday season, and other incentives for those willing to work during the most popular vacation periods. This will ensure that you have a productive skeleton staff even during the heart of the holiday season. It will also boost the morale of those who have to work over the holidays when the other employees are on leave and enjoying themselves.

  1. Hire Temporary Support

In some cases, you can even hire a temporary virtual assistant to pick up the slack in an employee’s absence. Especially in the retail industry, business booms in the holiday season and having employees on holiday leave can cause a stress on operations. Hire a qualified virtual assistant to take care of ecommerce sales, provide administrative and operational support, or even act as a virtual receptionist service during the holidays.

You can even hire a temporary call center operator or a customer service center to handle customer service, field incoming calls, generate leads, and make telemarketing calls to take advantage of the boost in sales in the holiday season.

Having part-time staff as backup all year round is always a sound decision, so they can come in if you have any shortages and during the holiday season when most employees are on leave.

  1. Prep for the Manager’s Leave

What if the manager is the one going on leave? We suggest that you let your employees know far enough in advance so they can prepare. Make the manager’s calendar public so that the staff will know when he or she will be back. Ask the manager to train the second-in-command to pick up the slack. The administrative support staff must also be familiarized with how to handle certain tasks while the manager is out of the office, such as where to direct calls and how to respond to requests. Then, consider having a protocol for an emergency, so employees can determine when to call the manager while he or she is on leave.

With these tactics, you can ensure that handling the holiday season won’t be such a hassle. Let us know down below what some best practices are that you have seen or used for handling employee leave during the holiday season.

Do You Need an Inbound Call Center Solution?

Do You Need an Inbound Call Center Solution for Your Business?

By | Call Center Support, Customer Service, Inbound Call Center Solution, Remote Support Services | No Comments

With customer service at the forefront of business competitive differentiation in today’s global marketplace, and 81% of marketers estimated to be competing on the basis of customer experience by 2020, you need to evaluate your customer care center and see whether you need an inbound call center solution.

What is an Inbound Call Center Solution?

An inbound call is initiated by a customer, employee, vendor, or other stakeholder who wants information or assistance with some aspect of your product or service. Your business is not initiating the call. An inbound call center solution constitutes the management of all inbound channels of contact that any stakeholder can use to reach out to your business. All inbound calls, messages, or chats are routed to an available agent with the required skillset and these can constitute queries, technical support requests, order processing requests, etc.

Firms providing call center support offer both inbound and outbound call center services. However, if more than 50% of the calls are inbound, the call center is classified as an inbound call center solution.

Benefits of Having an Inbound Call Center Solution

A reliable customer and vendor support system enhances brand value. It not only significantly improves the conversion rate, it assists in cross-selling and upselling, and the after-sales support ensures customers stay with your brand for longer.

Improved Bottom Line

Customer service is more often that not the deciding factor in ensuring a positive customer experience and retaining current customers—customer experience leaders outperform laggards by 25%. Customers purchase more after a good customer service experience and stop buying or even avoid a business after a bad customer support interaction. More important still, customers share their good and bad experiences, so your customer support has a direct impact on your brand reputation and long-term profitability.

An effective inbound call center solution improves your customer service, enhancing the bottom line by creating more positive customer support experiences.

Importance of Good Customer Service - Inbound Call Center Solution

Customer Retention

70% of businesses believe it is cheaper to retain a current customer than to acquire new ones and, depending on the competitiveness of your industry, acquiring a new customer can be 5 times more expensive than retaining a current one. Couple that with a 60-70% probability of selling to an existing customer, your primary focus should be on your current customer base to improve the bottom line.

A mere 5% increase in your retention rate has the potential to increase your profits by 25–95%, the magnitude of gains depending on your business model. Loyal customers buy more from the company and become brand evangelists, spreading positive buzz. Not only are they willing to pay premium prices for assured quality and reliability, the operating costs of serving them is lower, so you must ensure they stay with your brand and do not switch to a competitor.

The best way to retain and grow your customer base is investing in an effective inbound call center solution.

Handling Important Accounts

Your most important accounts need special care since 20% of customers typically account for more than 80% of sales. Providing these accounts special care will have an exponential positive impact on your profitability. You can have an inbound call center solution with dedicated agents for these accounts to provide them enhanced customer support.

Importance of Customer Retention- Inbound Call Center Solution

Better Customer Insight

An inbound call center solution helps build a better understanding of the common issues faced by customers, their problem points as well as main complaints. This would allow you to tailor your value proposition accordingly. For example, if you get to know through customer feedback that your product gets soggy in humid climates, you can focus on better vacuum-sealing protection. You can also add enhanced features that customers have shown an interest in and proactively determine how customer interactions with the product are changing.

Checklist to Conclusively Determine the Need

Use this simple checklist curated by us to determine whether your business needs an inbound call center solution. Any of these would require specialized call center support to increase sales and productivity.

Receptionist Service—Your business gets a large volume of calls for scheduling and confirming appointments, asking to be redirected to various departments, and miscellaneous other queries for which you need an inbound customer service center.
Inquiries—Potential customers get in touch for queries about your product, process, or service before making the purchase decision. This may be directly related to the composition and function of the product or service or its recyclability, sustainable sourcing, the location of your outlets etc. These must be handled professionally for maximum conversion to sales.
Order Processing—Customers require assistance in processing orders, confirming sizes, choosing between alternative modes of shipment, tracking orders etc. Your business needs to process orders given live across multiple channels by customers and enter them into the database, allowing you to deal with rush periods and ensure timely delivery.
Bookings and Reservations—You handle reservations and bookings for conferences, hotels, trips and holidays etc. and need an efficient system for ensuring nothing slips through the cracks.
After Sales Support—Current customers need troubleshooting assistance, technical support, assistance with upgrades, usage instructions, repair and maintenance, and call center support is needed to handle these communications. SAAS providers like Intuit and those selling goods that need technical support get a lot of incoming traffic for this reason.
Marketing Support—Customers contacting your company must be told of your range of products and services and combinations of products that would enhance their experience, to increase their share of wallet.
Billing Support—You get incoming queries regarding modes of payment, payroll processing, and tax liabilities that a trained customer service representative must address.
Global Customer Base—Customers from all over the globe use your product or service and require 24 hour call center support to cover differing time zones.
After-Hours Support—You must be available for your customers after hours too since you are an emergency service provider or ecommerce business with customers in various time zones.
Multilingual Support—Your customers, vendors, and/or employees speak multiple languages and multilingual call center services would make communication efficient and enhance brand loyalty.
Omnichannel Customer Experience Management—With the proliferation of points of contact, customers and other stakeholders reach out via various mediums: calls, text, live chat, social media messages, fax etc. and you need an omnichannel management system for all of it.
Vendor Support—Multiple vendors contact your business to confirm orders you have given, shipments received, invoices and payments. An inbound call center solution would manage your vendor communication and relationships.
Large Volume of Job Applications—You receive a large volume of incoming calls, emails, and social media messages from potential workers for job applications and then subsequent application status inquiries. These need to be handled by HR through dedicated lines of communication.
Multiple Departments—Calls and other incoming inquiries may be relevant to any of several departments, business units, branches, or outlets and need to be directed to the relevant employees.
Type of Need—The features of the inbound call center solution depend on the time-sensitivity and type of the inbound communication:
  •  Very Time-Sensitive: You will need 24 hour call center support if the inbound communication is very time sensitive—if the query is not resolved as fast as possible, the customer can switch to a competitor’s brand or the business will lose money. For instance, having 24/7/365 support for a payroll software is necessary because if the glitch is not resolved immediately, the checks will not go out in time.
  • Small Queries: Live chat support is required for small queries to help redirect customers on the website, resolve small login issues and other problems that have instantaneous fixes.
  • Requests for Quotes and Meetings: In case of queries that require research and strategizing, email support is a better alternative. For instance, if a firm needs a quote from you for a strategic partnership, it can wait till you put together a proposal and the best form of initial communication is email support.

Features Needed for Inbound Call Center Solution

The next step is figuring out what features you need in your inbound call center solution and which ones can wait for now and you can opt for once your business has expanded sufficiently.

Characteristics of Customer Service Representative

Some of the most crucial characteristics of a customer service representative are:

Basic Skillset

Each customer service representative must be well-trained in customer care, with communication skills par excellence.

Well-Prepared

The agent must be well-versed in the product or service, order processing, and common issues customers face. He or she must be able to handle any type of incoming query.

Handle Pressure

Should be able to easily deal with the pressure and volume of incoming calls.

Omnichannel Experience

The customer service representative must be able to handle all points of contact and all mediums used by stakeholders.

Features for Business VoIP Platform

You must analyze your inbound call center solution needs and decide whether you need each of the following features in your business VoIP platform.

Channels Covered

Determine the current main contact channels like phones, text messaging, social media, live chat etc. as well as those you want to target.

IVR

Do you want to automate the first step and direct calls to the relevant departments and agents as efficiently as possible?

International Inbound

Do you receive calls from international numbers? Do you want to make it simpler for your international callers to get in touch with you?

Number of Extensions & Queues

Do you need several extensions to create multiple points of contact for various departments and branches?

Online PBX Controls

Do you want a Private Branch Exchange that is stored and managed over the internet rather than end-user hardware?

Voicemail Box

Do you need one or several voicemail boxes and do you want to receive transcriptions of voicemails in your email for better management?

Call Flows & Failover

Figure out whether you need to set up a route for incoming calls and emails so that no incoming communication slips through the cracks.

Greetings & On-Hold Options

Do you need hold and forwarding capabilities? Analyze whether custom greetings and on-hold messages add value.

Call Monitoring

Is there a need for recording and monitoring calls, with options for the supervisor to override calls and/or assist the agent?

Wait Time Announcement

Would you like to announce an approximate wait time to your callers, especially at times of long call queues to create greater trust and transparency?

Caller Information

Would your team better handle callers and live chat customers if they get some information on the customer before they pick up the call or respond to the chat?

Advanced Call Analytics

Will insights into call patterns, locations, extensions, and agents help you in strategizing and improving productivity? Do you need basic or advanced analytics?

Partnering with a Call Center Support Provider

Once you have determined that you need an inbound call center solution and the features you need, you must ensure that it is a seamless extension of your brand image. This requires customer service expertise. But do you need an in-house customer care center, with the associated HR admin expenses, overhead costs, benefits, and paid leaves?

A more efficacious option is partnering with a call center support provider since you would be assured of reliable customer support that builds brand value. Each customer service representative will be experienced, highly skilled, and well-trained at not only handling incoming communication but also cross-selling and upselling products and services.  Most call center support providers cover 24/7/365, ensuring your business is never out of reach of your stakeholders, especially your customers.

This is also the more scalable option that will allow you to expand operations easily without doubling your overhead costs. It is ideal for businesses that face seasonal fluctuations in sales volume.

Take the time to determine whether you need an inbound call center solution, which features you need, and how to quickly and cost-effectively get one for your business. Our advice is, contact a specialist call center support provider for a custom inbound call center solution that best suits your business’ needs.

SMM International- IU Client Blog Post

Christopher Wick, Social Media Guru and LIVE on WLOX – Leading in a Digital Era!

By | Business Improvement, Customer Service, Ecommerce Support Services, Entrepreneurship, Social Media | No Comments

Looking for a pre-eminent advertising medium for your company? In a sea of options, how do you come down in favor of the best, unrivaled one? In a day and age where our gossips are about the latest video trending on social media and not some inefficacious TV show, the answer certainly comes in approval of use of social media to grow digitally and make money. Social media comes with copious marketing benefits for companies inclined to walk towards the churning internet news cycle.

Social media helps a great deal to reach its target audience at the lowest cost. Consumers can communicate with the company and get their questions answered and also provide feedback. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram are few of the booming social media platforms. The age has come where it’s beyond the bounds of possibility to disjoin social media from the enterprise—thoroughly affecting research, distribution, and how products need to be fashioned in the future.

Low cost is an absolute advantage social media gives us as compared to traditional marketing, which is a bit too exorbitant. Social media helps your business proliferate and build trust with people. Lost cost advance features can be used for promotion of the content.

Online promotion prompts two-way communication. This helps a company to know if its message is being delivered efficaciously. It also lets the company know if the word is going across to the ‘target audience’ or not.

It’s an opportunity to discover what consumers think of the product and share their thoughts. One has to be consistent in excellence in order to gain recognition and make money online.

Consistency is the key!

What makes you stand out? What makes you differently amazing is what the entire digital game is all about. The posts and advertisements are the essence and key ways to bring traffic to your website. Social media propounds an easy and low-cost way to make your audience get intrigued about your content. Lead generation is another edge social media provides for business. Like Christopher Wick, author of best selling e-book Use of Social Media to Grow Business and Make Money says,

“I encourage my clients and people to go try it. You never see the results unless you do it, so do it.” He also says, “Social media marketing is the best way to grow your business since no risks are involved, also no fear of losing capital.”

The 69-page critically acclaimed book gives an insight of Christopher Wick’s understanding of social media and his brilliance in the marketing world to surpass your goals and grow your business. Christopher advises to always get help from an expert or someone who knows about social media more than you do.

Because as simple as marketing through social media seems like, there’s still a lot that can go wrong!

About Award-Winning Speaker & Best-Selling Author, Christopher Wick

Christopher is a seasoned award-winning speaker and informative author. He wrote Amazon’s #1 U.S. and internationally best-selling book, How to Use Social Media to Grow your Business and Make Money”. As founder of SMM International, an international social media marketing firm, Christopher is responsible for consulting with clients to manage their online reputation and internet presence to serve their business objectives for revenue growth, lead generation, and growing the bottom line.

SMM International focuses on managing clients’ social media accounts by posting original content, managing incoming messages, and growing followers.

Call 888-SMM-INTL today to schedule your free social media strategy session!

Christopher is one of IdeasUnlimited’s valued long-term clients. This post appeared originally on his blog.

The Rise of Online Retail and How Managed Support Services Can Help You Get Ahead of the Curve

The Rise of Online Retail and How Managed Support Services Can Help You Get Ahead of the Curve

By | Backend Support Services, Business Improvement, Call Center Support, Customer Service, Ecommerce Support Services | No Comments

“Online retail is booming and is the next big thing!” Rest assured, this is not an overly-enthusiastic rhetorical claim by some zealous internet purist. Economists and retail analysts agree that online retail has shown steady progress over the last few years and is here to stay.

According to Business Insider, worldwide ecommerce sales increased by 15.5% this year from 2017. In stark contrast, traditional brick-and-mortar sales only increased by a paltry 3.1%. In the US alone, ecommerce sales accounted for 10% of all retail sales—up from 8.2% a year ago. Not only that, online shopping is estimated to be a $526 billion industry in the US, with more than 80% of internet users expected to make an online purchase in 2019.

Statistics for Growth of Ecommerce Sales

Why the Shift to Online Retail?

So why this aggressive shift towards online retail? The most obvious answer is the convenience it provides to its users. Online shopping is hassle-free, usually offers free delivery, and saves so much time! For retailers, it eliminates the pressure to continuously expand physically and open costly brick-and-mortar outlets; an online ecommerce portal ensures an additional revenue stream, not to mention the automatic promotion of the brand.

The Secret to Online Retail Success

Online retail, despite all its pros, is not for the complacent or lazy business owner/manager. It requires constant innovation, which includes providing impeccable and super-responsive human and technical support.

The human part of ensuring a seamless online retail experience includes offering attentive customer care center support and omnichannel customer experience management. The biggest pitfall is not responding to customer queries and/or comments quickly and efficiently—rub a customer the wrong way and brace yourself for some irreparable (and fast-spiraling) brand bashing on Facebook or Twitter! On the other hand, handle a customer with the due care and diligence, and bask in the generous lauding and viral exponential appraisals of your brand! The customer is truly the king (and queen) in the online retail world!

Now come to the second part of innovation—the technical aspect. Technology changes fast. For an online business to run smoothly, it needs to be supported by a solid and scalable online inventory management system and strong backend support that tolerates no downtime.

Nothing puts off an eager shopper who has liberally filled up his/her shopping cart and excitedly clicked check-out more than encountering an annoyingly slow response time, and worse, inefficient or insecure online payment services. According to Statista, 42% of online shoppers worldwide prefer to make their payments via credit cards, while 39% prefer Paypal; imagine the volume of business you would lose if an insecure payment system is in place! Your potential customer will be replaced by a sulky user ready to vent out their frustration on social media. Your listing and inventory management must also be par excellence to ensure all the information is up-to-date and you have no surplus or shortages.

Importance of Secure Online Payment System

Another important aspect is the content on your website, whether it fully describes all aspects of your service or product and resolves all queries of the average customer. Poor quality content and brochure websites do not garner high conversion rates.

Did you know that you only have 0 to 8 seconds to get the visitor’s attention through the headline and the landing page, and even a one second delay can result in a 7% reduced conversion rate? Moreover, detailed product content is considered extremely important by 88% of online shoppers. Not only should the website be aesthetically pleasing and fast, it should be intuitive and interactive, with grammatically correct content that highlights your unique value proposition.

Important Figures for Online Retail

So how to juggle the tricky trinity of online retail, which is maintain the quality of your product/service, ensure a flawless customer care service, and provide solid operational support and backend support systems?

The solution is delegate! A prudent business always focuses on its core product and delegates the ancillary and supporting (but equally important) workflows and tasks to the experts! For online retail, the optimal approach is to get onboard a reputed and well-established support services provider that provides all these services at lower cost than an in-house setup. Doing so ensures a unified and seamless customer experience, translating into higher brand loyalty and return on investment.

Checklist for Getting Ahead of the Curve

  • Get call center support to
    • answer queries of potential customers,
    • resolve any issues that arise with current ones
    • provide omnichannel support: email, social media, text, phone, fax etc.
    • manage your customer database to keep track of purchasing history and loyal customers
    • manage your feedback and reviews to convey a positive brand image and transform disgruntled customers to satisfied repeat customers, and
    • give technical support in case glitches appear on the online platform.
  • Invest in backend support for your online retail platform to ensure
    • fast loading speeds, working links, pages, and graphics,
    • a responsive shopping cart, and
    • a secure online payment system.
  • Partner with an ecommerce support services provider to
    • manage your ecommerce brand,
    • ensure up-to-date listing and inventory management,
    • optimize product information through data entry, data cleansing, product catalog management, and indexing services and
    • provide order processing and tracking services.
  • Get an expert content writer to ensure your website’s content is
    • search engine optimized and
    • grammatically correct.

Case in Point

PatPat a 24 hour call center support client of IdeasUnlimited

PatPat, an online apparel company that aims to make affordable quality apparel for moms and kids, seems to have nailed the online shopping experience just right. They focus on providing reasonable, trendy, and quality wear. But what truly makes them stand out in the jungle of online apparel sites is their attentive customer care. Did they deviate from their core competency of providing apparel to focus on managing the omnichannel customer experience?

Of course not, they simply recruited a customer care center expert. Initially, they only needed two customer care agents but the number grew exponentially as their business flourished, and they now have 30-plus agents ensuring an empathetic customer care service. The increase in this number shows how important a well-equipped customer care center is! Their 24 hour call center manages their brand image by providing customer service, omnichannel support, and ecommerce support services.

PatPat is flourishing because the work is done in unison—PatPat focuses on and provides the core product while IdeasUnlimited helps add value to PatPat’s value proposition. Indeed, a win-win situation!

Conclusion

In a nutshell, retailers that have not figured out how to build a powerful presence online, have not invested in doing so, and are not planning to do so in the future will be left behind. Online retail is certainly not a fad—it is here to stay. The way to get ahead of the curve is to focus on your core competencies and partner with a specialist support services provider for support systems—let your product shine on a scalable and efficient ecommerce platform!