Chatbots and Customer Service

Every entrepreneur and business owner knows that customer service is key to a lasting and successful project, initiative, or company. Being the department that possibly interacts the most with your audience, it’s highly likely that you have spent countless hours looking for the best customer service employees and tools to elevate your service to the next level. When the digital age arrived, however, the rules with customer service began to change. No longer were you greeted with a, “Hello, how can I help you?” from a real live person, but instead with a, “Please press 1 for more options” message coming from a robotic voice. While both methods are efficient, it’s important to note that the customer service rules have changed, and programs like chatbots will soon become the norm.

 

Chatbots were born out of a necessity to more efficiently police and traffic calls in high volumes. Quite frankly, it would be nearly impossible for a small office of people to handle transferring incoming calls for a large company such as Wells Fargo or Apple in a timely manner. And with the technology available, companies are able to save money by no longer needing to hire that team of switch-board experts. Chatbots are also attractive to businesses because they allow the customer to have total control of the direction of the call, instead of relying on who is on the other end to understand what they need.

 

At first, chatbots were not very sophisticated and often served as a point of frustration for customers. Since they work off of keywords and not actual context, customers had to readjust their own customer service visions and learn how to interact with the new technology. Chatbots have come a long way since then, and have been integrated with machine learning technology that allows for an easier experience thanks to advancements within artificial intelligence.

 

Chatbots are able to do more than just get a customer from one complaint to a solution, however. They also can yield valuable data and metrics that show where the majority of customer complaints come from. Further even from this, because of the real-time nature of chatbots replacing employees live-chatting with customers to troubleshoot, they’re able to point customers in the direction of other services on your site that they may be interested in as well, all from the keywords that you used during your chatbot inquiry. This will drive sales and increase customer satisfaction.

 

The bottom line behind chatbots and customer service is to not be afraid of the growing technology. There is a healthy balance between an in-person customer service rep and chatbots, and by learning about the best practice for both services, you can create a custom service platform that will serve your customers in the best way possible. And as technology continues to advance, look to chatbots to become even more capable of driving your business towards success in more areas than just customer service.

A New, Old Trend: The Business Card Is Back

Business cards can play a very important part in any professional’s career. A chance meeting with the CEO of a company you admire or a new connection at a young professional’s mixer, the business card once served as a reminder of your encounter. Soon, however, the business card started becoming so common and overused that they started to pile up like drink coasters at a cocktail party. In the digital wave, they were pushed aside for an exchange of numbers and information on smartphones or a connection on Facebook or LinkedIn. The business card seemed like a thing of the past.

 

Thanks to an awakening of new designs, the power of the business card has been reignited. Clever shapes, more valuable messaging, and a lesson in branding is helping the business card make it’s comeback. If you ever ditched a business card before, you’ll think twice about doing it again after seeing (and, in some cases, experiencing) these new design trends.

 

New Materials

The cardstock you use on your business card can make or break it’s effectiveness. If a card is too flimsy, the person receiving your card might think you’re a reflection of the card’s strength. And there are tons of different choices of cardstock to pick from, making any choice possibly overwhelming. To avoid cardstock confusion, some professionals made the move to different materials such as wood, metal, plastic, and even transparent materials.

 

This reinvention of the material in which a business card is made with has revolutionized the industry, especially amongst young professionals who are looking to make important connections and a lasting impression on potential employers against a strong millennial class of competition. By introducing new materials, they body’s sense of touch becomes involved in the card presenter’s first impression, giving it an even stronger, and cooler looking, message.

 

Shapeshifters

Another way to change your view of business cards is to change the way you view a business card. Try making your rectangular card read vertically instead of horizontally, or, just tip the card on it’s side to make it a portrait shape rather than landscape.

 

Where this trend really becomes interesting is when die-cuts and special shapes are introduced. New designs offer square and circular shaped business cards, as well as cards with cutouts. Some cards even go as far as being foldable for convenience and to fit more information, or to be used as a pop-up element to give excitement to your brand. If you really want to go all out, you can design your cards to have arms and legs, as seen on CompanyFolders.com.

 

Valuing Yourself

The last trend that is important to note has to do with your own self confidence. A business card should reflect who you are, as well as give a glimpse into the work you can provide. It’s the connection between your meeting and an interview. Even if you’re not with a company, you should make yourself a business card and give yourself a brand. What symbols and colors represent you? What does a powerful business card feel like to you? Take these questions into consideration before designing your card to make the best choices in representing yourself.

How To Land A Promotion

I should preface this by saying there are no shortcuts when trying to get promoted. You absolutely cannot expect to put in half the effort and yield all of the desired results. In fact, in order to stand out from the crowd and make a name for yourself, often times you have to go above and beyond what is required of you within your normal day-to-day job description. So what exactly can you do to make the right impression and land that big promotion? The tips below can give you the guidance you need to find the success you’ve been hoping for.

 

Don’t say you want to be a leader; just be a leader.

Depending on your current role and the nature of your work, there are many different ways as to how to you can establish yourself as a true leader within your company. If you’re already in a managing role, going the extra mile to ensure quality of work will certainly help your chances for a promotion. Educate and reach out to those around you – be someone that other employees can go to over small issues or if they need a question answered. If you’re not in a position of management just yet, you can still apply both of these strategies as they will show that can handle the requirements of a role larger than the one you currently have.

 

Think of the team goals, and not of your own.

It can be difficult to not have a “me, me, me” mentality when thinking about your own goals. Thinking of what you want is not a bad thing, however, it can become a bad thing if it’s not applied to the greater good of the company’s overall goals. As stated in a Forbes article on the topic, “…it is impossible to do all the right things for all the wrong reasons.” You have to know how your strengths fit into the larger goal of the company. When approaching the subject of a promotion, position your pitch towards how you want to help the company succeed, and not what you personally deserve as a hard worker.

 

Be willing to ask for what you want, and show the proof as to why you deserve it.

Opportunities are sometimes hard to come by. If you’re in a particularly small or large company, you might have to create your own. This means that you both have to ask for a promotion, and you have to keep records at all times of what you consider your best work. You can’t always wait for your boss to notice your talents and recognize the projects you’ve had a hand in. And by gathering your top work and examples of leadership, you’ve done your boss’ job for them. This may seem like a scary and rather bold prospect, however, even if there are no opportunities available or your company doesn’t have the resources to carve out a new position to showcase you at that time, you’ve now established yourself as someone who wants a bigger piece of the pie. When the time comes, your boss will already have your portfolio on hand and the impression that you have what it takes to be a go-getter.

How to Lead Millennials

There are dozens of proven management strategies and techniques in practice in today’s corporate world. What managers are seeing now, however, is that those techniques may not be connecting with their new, young, millennial employees entering the workforce.

Millennials, the children of baby boomers, essentially, require more than employees of the past, because they’ve been given more than others in the past. With access to the internet possible since the time they were toddlers, they’ve discovered a whole world at a young age that those before them haven’t had access to. This has given them an edge in knowledge, but has also slightly stunted their ability to connect with management styles of the past.

If you are a leader in your business and are seeing a disconnect between you and your new employees, the techniques below will serve as a strong starting point in bridging the gap in your management strategy.

Work Must Have Meaning

Millennials have a need to connect with their work. If they don’t feel connected to the purpose of your business, they will simply go somewhere else. Even if your business doesn’t serve the public in a philanthropic way, having opportunities within the company in the form of charitable events and sponsorships will help to offer a connection.

Emphasize Training

No one likes to be thrown into the fire on day 1 when starting a new job. And while this must happen to a certain degree at some point, millennials are especially sensitive to this technique. Make sure they are well-equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed within your business.

Showing Respect

Something that has given the millennial generation a slightly bad reputation is what some call a “sense of entitlement.” For millennials, what this translates to is, respect. Showing respect for the value they bring to the table is crucial – and, they do bring new skills to the table that should be respected – and will ensure that they show you respect as well.

Try A New Schedule

A new trend seen within many young companies started by millennials is the 4 day work week. Millennials value their time. After all, having been exposed to the power of the internet at such a young age, they know there is a whole world out there to see and it’s important that they see it. Giving your employees the option of working 4 10-hour days instead of a traditional 5 day work week will not only keep your young employees but can draw new employees in.

Do you have a favorite management style for millennials? If so, tweet them to me @PepperRutland on Twitter, or message me on LinkedIn!

What to Expect When Working at a Startup

A start-up company is not just like any other new business. It’s a new business that has its sights set for big things, and while start-ups are young companies that have their work cut out for them, success is not easy.

 

A quote from the cofounder and co-CEO of Warby Parker explains this further in a recent Forbes article. “A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.” Those are tough odds for young companies looking to break into their market. And yet, start-ups continue to be on the rise in the U.S., with thousands of young hopefuls looking to be a part of the next big thing.

 

If you’re considering a job with a start-up, or are looking to join an existing start-up, here’s what you should expect.

 

Expect Change

Change could happen nearly every day at a startup. Since things are new and really young start-ups tend to only have a handful of employees, there’s likely not a rulebook yet as you’re just getting started on figuring out how to run your business. This makes for an exciting atmosphere, but it can also test your patience. You have to have a high tolerance for fast paced change, because adaptability is really the true nature of your business.

 

Everyone is Important

It’s not a generational approach; at a startup, everyone is a crucial member of the team. Even if there is a solid managerial structure in place, your work is vital to the success of the company. You won’t be able to hide at your desk if you’re feeling drained. This can create a very welcoming and supportive environment but can overwhelm anyone who’s not sure if they are up for the challenge. Teamwork will be heavily relied upon, and new ideas are nurtured instead of being turned away based on your tenure.

 

Benefits, Schedules and Offices are Untraditional

One of the most appealing aspects of start-ups is how untraditional they are. Younger generations have seen those before them fall into a working pattern that leaves people feeling a bit stuck in a routine every day. Start-ups often offer nontraditional job aspects that are extremely attractive, such as an open office with a casual environment, happy hours and downtown lunches with your teammates to celebrate wins, and flexible working hours with unlimited sick days. While these perks sound great at first, they can sometimes become cons quickly. Because startups are still growing, they do not always have the ability to afford health insurance and other standard benefits at a traditional company.

 

Things Move Quickly

Start-ups are a fast paced environment. Just as quickly as your dreams were realized, they can be taken away. While the long term successes will be great, it’s getting there that can be the problem. This means that you have to be able to prioritize projects to accommodate for big clients and changing routines. You could be moving offices quickly as you continue to grow as well. If you usually like to take a third or fourth pass at your work before sending it to a client for review, you’ll have to settle for two rounds. Time is very valuable and it certainly cannot be taken up by any type of doubt.

 

The most important aspect of a start-up is the atmosphere. It’s an exciting time even if you’re working from a few desks in an office basement. Keeping the above job aspects in mind, you’ll be able to adjust to your new job quickly – just be prepared not to settle into any type of routine too quickly.

 

6 Steps That Will Set Your Business Up For Success

Pepper Rutland relays 6 steps that will set any business up for success.Succeeding in business takes a village. The reality is, however, that there’s no clear cut formula on how to succeed within the business world. And really, how could there be? Success looks different for every business and for every entrepreneur. While there may not be a book of rules to ensure success, there are plenty of strategies any business can take to set themselves up for their ultimate end goal. Once you’ve defined what success looks like for you, take a look at these helpful foundational tips and try incorporating them into your strategy.

 

Thoroughly develop a marketing plan

If you’re a new business, part of the main focus of your launch will be attracting customers. Creating a marketing plan that is far-reaching will be key in spreading awareness of your brand. If you’re an established business, you’ll want to make sure your marketing plan stays true to your brand while attracting new customers. No matter the motivation, don’t be afraid of the tried and true practices of attending tradeshows and conferences, as is suggested by this Huffington Post article. This will help customers to discover and then connect with your brand.

 

Build an attractive online presence

Social media continues to be an important player in online marketing. If your online site isn’t optimized for mobile and tablet experiences, you could be losing out on a portion of your audience. Ensure that you are utilizing all relevant social media platforms and that they not only contain the right information but look attractive as well.

 

Hire employees that make you happy and work to make them happy

The people with whom you work will account for the people with whom you interact with for three quarters of the year. It’s important that you invest in good people that want your business to succeed. In turn, it’s also important to make those employees feel valued. By surrounding yourself with those who “make you stretch” and are unafraid to give feedback, your business will enjoy a healthy foundation for success.

 

Stay ahead of the game

Always be prepared. If you’ve employed a team to help tackle a customer service issue, make sure that you know all of the details ahead of time and have already started to brainstorm solutions. Showing up to a meeting looking for help will leave your employees feeling panicked without a jumping off point. Make sure you’ve already set up guidelines for billing, time tracking, and role assignments, even if you plan on making adjustments as the solutions are being developed.

 

Keep your team educated

Technology is ever-developing and influencing the way we do business. Technology has also brought us closer to easily accessible education than ever before. Take advantage of online courses and encourage all within your office to read topical blogs and publications to stay ahead of trends. Knowing your competition simply isn’t enough anymore; educating yourself on developments within your industry will leave you being the industry leader in the end.

 

Maintain an organized environment

Having an organized office doesn’t just mean that the pens and printer paper are in their respective storage areas. Designing a space that cultures communication and accessibility to collaboration will help you stay connected to your team. Additionally, being able to define spaces within your office’s main work areas will keep employees’ focus just as organized as the space they work in.

 

Whether you’re a new or mature business, these tools will help you to stay focused in business and set you on a defined course for success.

 

For more tips and advice from Pepper Rutland, visit the blog page

Small Business Challenges in 2017

Part of the new American dream is staying small in business while dreaming of big success. While small businesses across the country are thriving, there are some concerns that keep owners up at night. It’s not always easy being a small business in a big market, and there are some who are feeling crippled by the challenges they face on a daily and annual basis. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the top challenges small business are faced with in 2017.

 

Remote Work

Advancements in technology have been very kind to the business world, especially for remote employees. With a slew of applications that can connect businesses, employees, and clients, more and more people are looking to work remotely instead of relocating for new opportunities. While this is a great option for employee retention and attraction, small businesses will need to be equipped to handle this practice. Small businesses will also need to lay out an entirely new list of rules to ensure that this privilege is not abused.

 

Healthcare

The debate rages on with healthcare. For being such a high priority for Americans, unfortunately there are clear losers while the government decides what healthcare will look like for years to come. Small businesses happen to be one of those areas that are getting caught in the cross-fire. Rising costs and uncertainty in policy have made this a top concern for small business owners. According to an article seen on bizjournals.com in early December of 2016, 52 percent of small business owners rank the “cost of health insurance” as a critical problem.

 

Retaining Customers

Every marketplace is starting to become a crowded one, with innovative strategies helping to take businesses further. This makes it easy for small businesses to get lost in the noise. Holding on to key customers and ensuring that they remain a profitable one continues to be a challenge for small businesses. While there are plenty of challenges in attracting new customers, it is important to focus on maintaining your customer base and ensuring they feel like a priority.

 

Stamina

Being a small business owner takes a lot of work. Not only are there challenges to face within the business (see list above), but there are many challenges that face the owner themselves. Being understaffed can cause owners to double the amount of work they should be doing, which can lead to long hours and one tired owner. Maintaining the energy to take on each day with success in mind can take a toll if areas within the business are not being supported as they should be. Hiring an assistant might set a business back a pretty penny but will help owners keep their cool and help them do what they do best: lead.

New Year’s Resolutions for Business Owners

pexels-photo-38196In a recent blog I shared some tips for finding success as a first-time manager; there are some very important, relevant lessons included within. Yet, since success is as much about evolving as it is about getting things right, I decided to create this post as a complement, and/or as a message for seasoned business owners, about making some resolutions to do things differently (read, better) in the new year.

 

  1. Stick To Your Goals
    Considering that just 8% of people who set New Year’s resolutions actually go through with them, this is the most important piece of advice to adhere. Set goals for yourself, both for the long term and short term, and some actionable steps you can take every day to achieve them. If it helps to write things down, get a brand new planner or journal and do that. If you’re not good at keeping yourself on track, partner with someone, like an assistant or confidante to keep you motivated and to hold you accountable to achieving everything you’ve set out to do.
  2. Do Something That Scares You
    Step out of your comfort zone. Going out on your own to start or lead a business is a challenge within itself, and a display of courage and confidence. However, since then, what have you done that made you afraid, that put you in a position where you didn’t have control over the outcome or direction? If the answer is nothing, it’s time to shake yourself up. Try something you said you’d never do; challenge yourself to face your fears, and you’ll be better for it.
  3. Learn Something
    Likewise, commit to learning something new. Whether it’s investing in a few books or actually taking a class, continued development is highly important and deserving of your time and money. To be clear, however, new lessons don’t have to be business or industry related. It can be anything from archaeology to baking. Whatever you choose to keep your mind active and expand the scope of your own understanding, will serve you well in your career.
  4. Improve Your Online Presence
    The Internet isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s getting bigger. If you haven’t made a professional website and career-focused social media profiles, you’re far behind but not incorrigible. In 2017, put more effort into your brand and the message you want to send online. It’s a part of who you are.
  5. Take Time Off
    Last but not least, take time off. So few Americans take a vacation. As the leader of a business, doing so may seem further away from reality because of various, important responsibilities and tight schedules. However, while setting up your calendar, build some time away from the office into your agenda to ensure that you can destress, rejuvenate yourself and be more productive upon your return.

4 Reasons Why People Love Where They Work

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Last month I highlighted MMR’s inclusion in the Baton Rouge Business Report as one of the best places to work in the city. The decision was made based on a combination of MMR’s answers to a questionnaire about workplace policies and demographics, and our employees’ own details about their satisfaction within the company. I decided to write this blog to share a few tips about why employees may consider your company a great place to work.

Employees enjoy love where they work when:

  1. The Company Has a Clear Vision
    People want their work to have a purpose. Employees, at every level, want to be aware of the company’s objectives, its plans for future growth and how their own efforts fit into the larger picture. Obviously not every detail is appropriate to share, and certain pieces of information may be reserved for small groups within the company rather than the entire organization. When possible, however, make a point to communicate the company’s vision and when it reaches certain goals to which the people of the company have contributed.
  1. Their Voices Are Heard
    Many times, ideas for how your company can improve, whether in practice or the offering of your product, are right in house. Your employees are a great resource because they are capable, knowledgeable, and have a stake in your company being successful. Open door policies are great if you can do them; if you don’t have the time, be sure ti designate someone who can receive and share those comments and concerns with you, then respond personally to let your employees know you’re listening.
  1. They Are Valued
    In that same regard, employees want to feel like they mean something to the company. The truth is, they mean a lot to the company, regardless of their title. Everyone has a part to play which enables the rest of the team to focus on their own responsibilities. You show that you value your employees in many ways, such as: providing fair wages and great benefits, listening, celebrating success together, and offering opportunities to advance, as a start.
  2. They Like The Leadership
    Lastly, but not the least important, people love where they work when they like who they work for. As a leader, people look at how you interact with them and others in the company. They take stock of whether you exemplify strong, clear leadership and your response to situations under pressure. Each of these factors affects how they see you, and ultimately determines how they see the company. Be cognizant of that representation and treat everyone with the respect they deserve.

How To Find Your Leadership Style

head-1169901_960_720In another blog, I highlighted various qualities a leader should possess, including: proactivity, attentiveness, imagination, focus, and continued development. Each of these are important, as I’ve learned from my own experience, and I hope it provided valuable insight about what it takes to properly manage a company. However, while these qualities are necessary, it’s important to realize that all leaders are not the same.

 

In fact, there are at least five different styles of leadership, each of which has its place and is often contingent upon the leader’s personality and initial exposure to certain style. Still, learning the differences in each can help managers create a more definitive style and even learn to adapt when appropriate.

 

Different Styles

  1. Democratic
    As the name suggests, democratic leaders use the input from their teams to make decisions about processes and procedures. This type of leader makes an effort to ensure that everyone has a say and that each voice is heard. As a note, this type of leadership can be time consuming, especially if one has a large team. Nevertheless, it works well in places where change is expected or a normal part of the given process, in which a better or different way of doing things can be enhanced by new opinions.

  2. Autocratic
    Conversely, autocratic leadership creates the rules and makes decisions before bringing it to the team. These types of leaders tend to have more experience and a better understanding what is necessary to meet the end goal, thus giving the leader greater autonomy in making choices. This style is best when decisions must be made in a time crunch and when those on the team lack the understanding to make an informed decision on the subject at hand.

  3. Pacesetting
    These leaders set high expectations for their team members, desiring quick turnarounds on large projects. They are willing to put in the same effort and provide examples for, or even work alongside, the team. This level of leadership works when used sparingly and with skilled members of a team.

  4. Transactional
    This style of leadership, also called coercive or commanding, is most likened to a military style of management, in which the leader expects team members to simply do what they are told. This leadership style is said to be most common but least effective in maximizing productivity and/or creativity from team members.

 

As I said above, each of these styles has its place, and no one style is always best. Assess the characteristics of your team and your environment to determine when and how to employ these leadership roles. The best leader is perceptive, above all things.