Setting expectations in your business is essential to gain the trust of your customers, avoid conflicts, and maintain a high level of customer service. One way to set expectations is to clearly state policies that are customer-facing. Many of these are accounting policies that we can help you with. The following policies are ones that every business should clearly publish.
When customers purchase your products or service and don’t get what they expect, what is their recourse? Your refund policy should clearly state which products and services are refundable. Do customers need to physically return the product in-store or via shipping? What if it’s a service? Are they refunded in cash or credit card? Or is it a store credit? Is there a deadline for refunds?
All of these questions should clearly be outlined in your refund policy. Your website is a great place to publish this information and an abbreviated form of your refund policy should be outlined on customer receipts.
If your customer has a complaint, how should they submit it? Is there a hotline to call, a suggestion box, or a form to fill out? If your business and employees are licensed, is there a government agency to write? A notice should be posted on your website and in your physical location describing where to submit complaints.
If you ship physical goods to a customer location, what is the cost of shipping? What is the expected delivery time? A shipping policy explains this as well as what can go wrong: If the item was never received, what should one do? Must you sign for a shipment? If you return a shipment, who pays the shipping? If an item is received damaged, how do you file a claim?
What forms of payment will you take? If you take a check, what ID does the customer need to show? Do you take some of the newer forms of payment such as Apple Pay or cryptocurrencies? How do gift cards work?
If a customer doesn’t pay their bills on time, they should know what to expect. Will interest be charged? Will the account be sent for collections? Will someone break the customers’ legs? Will future purchases be cancelled or require a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) payment?
You might not think of your accountant when it comes to writing these policies, but you should; we can help. A good accountant can help you craft these customer service policies so that your communications and expectations with customers are better than ever.
With holidays approaching, this is the perfect time of year to take a moment and reflect on all of the things we are grateful for. Being grateful may sound a bit trite, but it’s also the number one, hands down, fastest way to bring more positivity and less negativity into your work and life.
Acts of gratitude are selfless and done unconditionally. You can use gratitude as a private exercise of reflection or you can express your gratefulness to show people that they are appreciated.
You don’t have to wait to feel gratitude; you can invoke it proactively.
If you don’t have a gratitude practice, consider starting one. Science has gotten involved in studying gratitude, especially in the field of positive psychology, and the benefits to health and well-being are enormous. It can benefit your business, too, when you show appreciation for business partners, employees, customers, and vendors.
Here are five easy ways to bring more gratitude into your work and life:
- Think of five clients you can send thank you notes to. You can write them by hand or send a greeting card with a thank you message.
- On your customer service email templates, add a line before the closing that says, “We appreciate your business.” It does make a difference.
- Quick, right now, think of five things you are grateful for and list them off the top of your head. After you’re done, you should feel a little bit happier than you did a few minutes ago. Use this tool after you feel a negative emotion to move you back into positivity faster.
- Find part of your day that you don’t love, such as your commute to work. Change it to your gratitude commute, finding things along the way to be grateful for. You might be surprised how great you feel when you arrive at work.
- Let one of your employees know that you’re grateful for the work they do for you. You can do this verbally, with a note, or with a gift.
When you practice gratitude, you can’t help but feel happy for the things you have in your life. Try these five things on a regular basis to bring more gratitude and positivity into your work and life.
It’s always fun to surprise and delight your customers. This puts a smile on your client’s face, boosts loyalty, and is fun for your employees too. Here are five ways to surprise and delight your customers with inexpensive perks.
1. Handwritten thank you note.
Email and social media have all but killed the handwritten thank you note. So when you send yours to your top customers, it will really stand out.
2. Promotional items.
Promotional items are frequently handed out at trade shows, but they can be used in other settings too. These are items where your logo is typically imprinted and you purchase them in quantity. Items that are useful and popular include coffee mugs, t-shirts, fidget spinners, screen cleaners, webcam covers, key chains, notepads, calendars, and more.
Choose an item that is similar to or a reminder of your business or product. An IT consultant might choose a screen cleaner, while an accountant might choose a piggy bank.
3. Coupon bag.
If your business is located in a shopping mall or office building with other businesses around, go door to door and ask for coupons that you can put in a coupon bag to give to clients. Clients will be delighted to get a coupon for the dry cleaners, florist, and hair salon in your center no matter what type of business you’re in.
4. Random prize.
If your business has a stream of clients coming in a physical store or a virtual one, you can award prizes randomly to customers. If customers are grouped together as in a classroom or lecture hall, it’s easy – you can hold a drawing for a prize. Or you can select a random number and the customer assigned that number wins a prize.
Choose a prize from one of your services or products, or give something away that’s universal and “hot,” such as an Amazon Echo Dot.
5. Free samples.
The cosmetics industry has been giving away free samples and gifts with certain purchases for decades. Grocery stores often have free samples of food at a little booth staffed by a host at the end of an aisle. You might be able to apply this idea to your business with a little bit of creativity.
Think of how you can “sample” your service or product and package it up in a free gift or sample. If you offer a service, you may have to get extra creative. A consultant can offer a book that’s related to the service offered, a spa can have healthy treats while clients wait, and a divorce attorney can offer stress balls or fidget spinners.
With customer service declining in many businesses, try these five things to wow your customers and set your business apart.
It’s the little things that add up to make an exceptional experience for your customers. Here are five “little things” you can add to your services to create an exponentially memorable connection with your customers.
Add a little extra something to the products or services you offer. It could be a piece of chocolate like Hershey’s® Kisses®. It might be a handwritten thank you note. It could be a coupon for their next visit. It could be a bottle of water.
These little additions pack a huge wallop for the customer experience. And none of them cost a lot to implement (unless you eat all the Hershey’s® candies yourself). Think of what you can add to your customer experience so that the customer sees you as generous and caring.
Many customers value their time, and adding speed to your service will be appreciated. When customers call in or email you for a service question, how fast do you respond?
Set response time goals for you and your employees to respond to customer issues and questions. You might choose one minute, four hours, or one day for response time, depending on your business. Make sure customer emails are answered first, and have someone monitoring the phone during business hours.
Track your results and reward your speediest employees.
Acknowledge and Apologize
Sometimes things go wrong, and an apology to the customer is in order. In most cases, customers simply want to be heard, so your listening skills are your best asset at that moment.
As an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. Even though it might not have been your fault, it’s sometimes a good idea to simply apologize in the sincerest way possible. If there’s something that needs to be done to make it right, go overboard. Give the refund, take the loss, and let the customer win.
How you word things can make all the difference. Which sounds nicer?
“That item is out of stock and won’t be in for six weeks.”
“We will have that item in stock in six weeks.”
The first sentence has two negatives (out of stock and won’t), while the second sentence is positive. It avoids the negative wording.
It’s a small but powerful change in the customer experience. Think about how you can word your communications so that there are more positive words and fewer negative words when speaking with customers.
Your Full Attention
Although you want to respond to customer issues with speed as mentioned above, while you are working with the customer, take time to slow down and really engage with the person. Our world is so fast, and some companies even reward multi-tasking, but no customer appreciates interruptions when being helped.
When you are with a customer, even on a phone call, be with the customer. Avoid interruptions and distractions, and give them your full attention. It’s the most powerful thing on this list. Treat them as a real person, not just another figure, and the customer will notice.
Try one or more of these five customer service boosts to take your customer service experience to the next level.
Online marketing is a large component of marketing for many small businesses. There are many aspects to online marketing that you’ll want to consider for your business. Here are just five for your consideration.
Content marketing is huge, and it consists of generating articles, blog posts, social media updates, white papers, videos, and other educational materials about your company’s products and services. Content marketing provides your prospects with something to read, watch, or learn from.
You can offer your content via your website, social media pages, a special landing page, in a blog, in the description portion of your profiles, via paid ads, or almost anywhere online. Your content should promote your brand as well as show your prospect how to use your product or service.
Video has become incredibly important. It’s no longer enough to generate text. Graphics are better than text, but video trumps them all when it comes to effectiveness, higher search rankings, engagement, and sales conversions.
The good news is you don’t have to hire an expensive video team anymore. A good video camera is less than $500, and you can also use your smartphone for some very decent footage.
It’s no longer enough to simply have a website. Being listed in online directories will help your business expand its visibility. Some common directories for small business include:
- Angie’s List
- Better Business Bureau
- Yellow Pages (online version)
- Your local Chamber of Commerce
- Google for Business (Google Places)
Some of these directories work best if you ask customers to post reviews. Be sure to also check out your industry-specific directories.
Including social media in your digital marketing is a no-brainer today. Graphic and video posts are far more effective than text posts, so it’s important to make this content switch if you haven’t already.
If you’ve focused on the “big 3” platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – it might be time to try some new ones. Pinterest and Instagram lend themselves to graphic representation of your product. Google Plus is often overlooked but can help search engine rankings. And YouTube is a must because of the importance of video.
Digital public relations has been around for a while as well. If you don’t already have a Press page on your website, consider this addition. It can list contact information for reporters as well as a list of articles that your product, company, or employees have been featured in. You can also post press releases to this page.
Distributing press releases is less expensive than ever with options such as PRWeb and PRNewswire.
Make sure your digital marketing campaign has all the components above and that you have updated your content for these latest trends. Having an up-to-date digital campaign will help you generate more revenue and grow your business.
Are you interested in being known for your extraordinary customer service? Or perhaps you just want your customers to feel like it’s easy to work with you or purchase from you. If so, try these five tips for five-star client service.
1. A good old-fashioned handwritten thank you note.
Almost extinct, this customer pleaser shows you are willing to go the extra mile for a personal touch and connection with your client. You can purchase boxes of thank you notes from any stationery store or order them with your company logo from a local printer.
2. Remember your customer’s preferences.
High-end hotels are good at remembering what you like, and almost any business can add this idea by using a CRM – customer relationship management system – that stores customer preferences, order history, last conversations, and any notes you want to remember about the client. The trick is keeping the system notes updated and using them when it counts.
3. Deliver an unexpected extra.
When your customer least expects it, give them more than what they paid for. This manifests itself in many ways, depending on your business type. Here are some examples:
- Restaurants: Give an appetizer, dessert, or coffee at no charge or pick up the bill of a regular once in a while.
- Retail or offices: Offer an unexpected beverage and fruit tray or snacks like you would find at a spa or country club.
- Real estate: Provide a list of local phone numbers, a fancy map or GPS app, or coupons to restaurants you partner with.
- Construction: Offer a tool, a warranty, a list of reliable repairmen, or a full set of replacement lightbulbs.
- Landscaping: Offer a birdfeeder, a fertilizer schedule, or a lawn tool.
- Any office: Partner with a business that has your same client base and exchange coupons so that you have a book of them to give to all your clients.
4. Give clients your cell number.
Giving clients your personal or business cell number is not as risky as you might think. Very few clients will actually call you. Surprisingly, the goodwill you gain by sharing your personal number far outweighs any disruption. But here’s a warning – don’t share your number with sales reps of vendors; you’ll get relentless calls every day from them.
5. Offer a VIP membership.
Some customers care about and are willing to pay more for excellent service, and others don’t. Separate your customer base by offering a VIP membership. By paying a nominal fee each year, these members get priority access to your appointment time, sales, overnight shipping, or whatever else you can distinguish. The good news is it’s a new revenue stream as well.
Choose one of these ideas and implement it to increase your customer service to five stars.
Providing great service can make a huge difference in a small business. For companies like Zappos, Nordstrom, and Southwest Airlines, customer service is a differentiator from their competitors. Done right, good customer service can bring lots of referrals that lead to increased revenue. Here are five tips to improve service to your customers.
1- “Welcome Home” Greeting
Consider your business as your home and your customers as invited guests. No matter how they come to you, whether by phone, email, or in person, greet them like you would a guest. If your business has a storefront and customers walk in, have your employees greet them immediately with a welcome message that ends in “Please, make yourself at home.” If your prospect or customer calls you, greet them warmly with “I’m so glad you called.” If a customer or prospect emails you, personally email them back (no autoresponders) to let them know you received their message and when you will be replying.
A warm welcome every time your customer contacts you will make them feel important.
2- Throwback Thank You Cards
Be old-fashioned for a change and handwrite thank you cards to your top clients. You can get blank folding cards with matching envelopes from your local printer or paper shop and have your company logo printed on them. If you don’t have time for that, consider SendOutCards.com.
Things are bound to go wrong. Be quick with a heartfelt apology whether it’s your fault or not. If your customer struggled with anything – your website, shopping cart, store display, out-of-stock item, and so on – teach your employees to apologize first, then own the problem and get it fixed for all future clients. You can also teach them the language, “thank you for giving us the opportunity to fix this for all future clients.”
4- Mystery Shop
Periodically hire a mystery shopper to evaluate the customer experience at your business. These customer service experts will provide you with a list of suggestions, from your initial voice mail recording to paying your bill. Everywhere your business touches a client should be streamlined, easy, and sealed with a smile.
Your customers can be the best source of ideas for your next new revenue stream. Listen to their feedback and incorporate their ideas into your business.
Try these customer service tips to delight your customers, and watch your revenue grow.
As we move into the fall season and the final quarter of the year, it’s a perfect time to commit to a project in your business that will help you reach the year’s end in better shape. Here are five ideas:
1. Back-to-School Time
If payroll expenses are one of the higher costs in your business, then it makes sense to boost your team’s productivity and maybe also your own. Fall is back-to-school time anyway, so it’s a natural time of the year to take on a course, read a business book, or hire an organizer to help you get more from your workspace.
If you spend a lot of time doing email, consider taking a course on Microsoft Outlook® or even Windows; learning a few new keystrokes could save you tons of time. If you need more time, look for a book or course on time management. Look for classes at your local community college or adult education center.
2. A Garage Sale for Your Business
Do you have inventory in your business? If so, take a look at which items are slower-moving and clear them out in a big sale. We can help you figure out what’s moving slowly, and you might even save on taxes too.
3. Celebrate Your Results
Take a checkpoint to see how your revenue and income are running compared to last year at this time. Is it time for a celebration, or is it time to hunker down and bring in some more sales before winter? With one more quarter to go, you have time to make any strategy corrections you need to at this time. Let us know if we can pull a report that shows your year-on-year financial comparison.
4. Get Ready for Year’s End
Avoid the time pressure of year’s end by getting ready early. Review your balance sheet to make sure your account balances are correct for all transactions entered to date. You will be ahead of the game by getting the bulk of the year reviewed and out of the way early.
Also make sure you have the required documentation you need from vendors and customers. One example is contract labor that you will need to issue a 1099 for; make sure you have a W-9 on file for them. If we can help you get ready for year-end, let us know.
5. Margin Mastery
If your business has multiple products and services, there may be some that are far more profitable than others. Breaking these numbers out to calculate your profit margins or contribution margins by product or service line can help you see the areas that are adding the most income to your bottom line. Correspondingly, you can determine if you have any items that are losing money; knowing will help you take the right action in your business. Refresh your financials this fall with your favorite idea of these five, or come up with your own fall project to rejuvenate your business.
Just about every business relies on “word-of-mouth” marketing to get the vast majority of its clients. If this is true for your business, then it just makes sense to figure out how to boost your referrals from all sources. Referrals are almost always easier to sell and they keep your marketing costs low. But how can you do that?
The first step is to make sure that you know who your best current referral sources are. If you’re not already asking the question to new clients “How did you find out about us?” then I’d recommend you implement that right away.
If you do know the answer to that question for each customer, then you can make a list of your referral sources. Take a look at the list, and see what these referral sources have in common. Here are some questions to ask:
* Are they all customers?
* Do they all have a profession in common? For example, are they all lawyers, massage therapists, plumbers, or pediatricians?
* Have you properly thanked each of these individuals? If not, you can send out a thank you card or take them to lunch with no other agenda.
The last question to ask yourself is “where can you find more of the same type of people that are referring you?” If you discovered that you get a lot of business from dog groomers, then you may want to consider visiting every grooming salon in your zip code. You may also want to present a speech to a dog groomers Meetup group that you find.
You really can be proactive about your referrals so that business comes to you more easily. Try these tips to boost your referral sources in your business.
Many businesses operate with seasonal peaks and valleys. Retail stores flourish in their busy holiday season. Construction contractors are busy when the weather is good. Accountants are very busy from January through April, but also experience a quarterly peak in July and October.
Your business many have its own calendar of busy and slow times. If your business goes through slow times, then your cash flow may suffer at certain times of the year. But having seasonal sales is only one of the reasons for a bumpy cash flow.
You might also have a business where annual payments are made for many items such as equipment purchases, software licenses, insurance renewals, and other large costs. On the revenue side, it could be that your clients pay you annually, which can be hard to predict.
There are many solutions that can help to smooth out the seasonal bumps, and here are a few ideas for your consideration.
Plan for Prosperity
When income and expenses go up and down and up and down, it’s really hard to know if you have enough money for obligations coming up. Creating a budget can help a great deal. Consider creating two budgets: one that shows the ups and downs and one that averages a year’s income and expenses into twelve equal parts.
With both budgets, you’ll be able to see which months will be deviating from average and by how much. From there, it’s easy to create some forecasts so you can stay on top of your cash requirements.
Cash vs. Accrual Basis
It might help your business decision-making to convert your books from cash basis to accrual basis. This is a huge decision that should be made with an accounting and tax expert, as there are plenty of ramifications to discuss.
In some cases, the accrual basis of accounting will help keep those annual payments from sneaking up on you as 1/12 of the payment can be accrued on a monthly basis to a payables account. This also keeps your net income figure steadier from month to month.
If your clients prepay their accounts on a yearly basis, you can book the income monthly and keep the difference in a Prepaid account. This spreads your revenues out and recognizes them over time.
If you feel accrual basis accounting is a little too much of a commitment, your accountant can still work with you to help you avoid the impulse of spending too much during the cash-rich busy season. Perhaps the excess cash can be put into a savings account until it’s needed. You can draw out 1/12 each month as you need it. A little planning such as the above suggested forecasts will help you determine how much you can take out each month. You can even name the Savings account “Do Not Spend!” or “Save for a Rainy Day.”
If it’s just too tempting to have all that excess cash building up in the good times of the year, try one of the ideas above to take back cash flow control and smooth out those bumps.