Poll: What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

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Beyond the processes you put in place and the helpdesk software that your company uses, the customer service experience is ultimately influenced by the people you hire. People in customer-facing roles form the face of your company in the market. When they fit their roles, all’s well. Otherwise, well, not so well.

The Zoho Support Poll

The question we’re asking this week is about customer support hiring. What’s your approach to customer support hiring?

Hire experienced people and empower them.

Experienced customer support professionals bring a certain competitive edge to your company. They already know how to handle varying ticket loads. They know what to do when a ticket gets escalated. They know what not to say to that short-tempered customer. They’ve been there and done that.

Experienced professionals are suitable for small companies that don’t have much process intelligence yet. They’re also suitable for companies that prefer to put hires in their roles almost instantly.

Having said that, professionals who meet your specific requirements are not very easy to find.

Hire fresh candidates and train internally.

Fresh hires come with an open mind. They haven’t been conditioned to think in any particular pattern. They can be trained to fit your company’s exact culture and philosophies.

Hiring fresh is suitable for companies that have process intelligence. Also, if you’re hiring at scale, its easier to hire fresh when compared to hiring experienced professionals.

Having said that, the cost of training a fresh hire is far higher and even more substantial at scale. So, it’s a trade-off between deployment flexibility and training cost.

What do you do at your business? Tell us in the comments section below.

We’re looking forward to listen to your opinions on this topic.

4 Ways to Keep Telecommuting Employees on Task

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This is a guest post by Kristine Hansen of Null Media.

While working from a satellite office, it’s easy for any telecommuter to feel like they’re on an island. But telecommuting offers tremendous business advantages, including cost reductions, environmental benefits, and access to a truly global workforce. So here are 4 tips for keeping your remote staffers motivated and on the same page, literally and figuratively.

  1. Jointly develop a growth plan. One drawback for telecommuting is that it doesn’t naturally allow time and space for feedback. Aside from annual reviews, employees who don’t regularly turn up at company headquarters may have no idea about how they are perceived by others. As a manager, you want all employees to feel invested in the company and their careers. Work together with each remote staffer on writing a growth plan that takes into consideration that employee’s job description, the areas where he would like to improve and grow, and what his long-term goal is – all of which can help to boost retention. By showing your telecommuters you are dedicated to fostering their growth within the company, they’re more likely to want to stick around.
  2. Ask for updates. The last thing you want to hear on the day a project is due is that it isn’t finished. To avoid this situation, request weekly progress reports leading up to the deadline. (In this case, email is okay, because the interaction is brief and informative. But you could also consider using an online project management tool.) If you sense that the employee is falling behind or losing focus, ask how you or the rest of the team can help — and talk through the steps leading up to the deadline.
  3. Use cloud storage. A quick and easy way to check remote employees’ progress on a project is to peruse the documents they’re working on. Store files in a collaborative space that’s convenient for everyone to access. By relying on cloud storage and other online applications, you’ll find this leaves more time to devote to other tasks.
  4. Pick up the phone. Despite the convenience and brevity of email correspondence, for certain tasks it can be too passive. There’s no face-to-face interaction and emotions and intentions are not easily understood. Start relying on the telephone more. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to deepen connections amongst a team – and to assess an employee’s input and output. While a conversation might take 15 minutes and incur a cost – versus the few minutes it could take to compose a free email – the long-term benefits of the exchange are much greater. Of course, email is a crucial tool if you’re working with someone on the other side of the globe, where the workday ends when yours begins, but try to use email only when the recipient is already intimately familiar with the project and, at this point, you are on the same page. Leave the details about a brand-new project for a phone call. Explaining a multi-faceted approach over email rarely results in mutual understanding.
With the availability of online tools to help you get your work done and reach your business goals, there’s no reason for employees to be chained to today’s office space. These 4 tips can serve as a guide for ensuring smooth telecommunication and overall productivity for you and your staff.

Results: What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

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Last week, we had asked Zoho Support users what kind of interactions they preferred in support tickets.

Short interactions are crisp but several such interactions in a single support ticket could still reduce customer happiness significantly. Long interactions need more patience but might get the job done in just a few interactions itself.

We asked the question to customer support managers as well as agents. We were really curious to see how different their opinions were in regard to this particular topic. What surprised us was the resounding uniformity in their opinions!

Customer Support Poll - What kind of interactions do you prefer in a ticket?

Managers prefer shorter interactions.

When asked the question, about 68% of support managers said that they prefer short-but-several interactions. While managing a team of support agents, the bigger picture takes center stage. When agents have shorter interactions in a ticket, they’re able to handle more tickets in a given period of time. Multiply that by the scale of the team and you’ll understand how useful that is, in the big picture.

Agents agree.

Amongst support agents, about 60% opined that they preferred shorter-but-several interactions in support tickets. A quick internal discussion with our own support agents revealed that they prefer shorter interactions themselves. One reason is that most of the issues that customers tend to have are common issues. It’s very rare that an issue that has never been documented before pops up. In the case of common issues, it’s pretty simple for a support agent to isolate the issue and help the customer. So, by and large, shorter interactions would serve the purpose splendidly.

On the other hand, there are situations in which long-but-fewer interactions fit the bill better. We don’t rule those out. But for the vast majority of situations, shorter-but-several interactions seem to be much more convenient.

We’ll come back with a new topic next week. Until then, have a great weekend!

The importance of great branding for small businesses

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This is a guest post by Sandra Faleris of SmBizWinningTips. 

To most small business owners, branding seems more fit for multi-national corporations. Yet many don’t realize that branding, in some ways, is even more important for small businesses which are constantly trying to one-up the competition.

Even if you own, for example, a local corner convenience store that doesn’t seem to inspire any kind of grand marketing gesture, there are ways of branding that will entice customers to spend in your store versus the convenience store down the street.

Branding is more than having a business with a unique name or a restaurant that serves your grandmother’s favorite recipes. Branding encompasses everything in your business, from the way your employees treat your customers, to the bags that hold the purchased products.

5 Branding Tips for Small Businesses

  1. Prepare a one-page Mission Statement: This is an important document that will set the stage for how you do business. Make sure it highlights the elements that sets your business apart from your competitors and how that will engage your customers.
  2. Create Company Identity Standards: Expensive logos are not considered an important element to the small business brand. Yet it’s important to create a visual theme that includes how the company name is graphically configured (fonts, color scheme, images). These “standards” should be used as a base structure for all branding/marketing material that is to follow (i.e. brochures, promotional materials, etc.).
  3. Slogans/Themes: “Expect more, pay less” is Target’s slogan. In a few words, it communicates the company’s position versus their competitors. Yes, K-Mart could have said the same thing. But Target did it first and best. So differentiating your business also includes how you want to “position” it in the minds of the consumer against your competitors. Slogans/themes can be a great asset in branding, as long as your business “delivers” the promise, each and every time. Consider adding a slogan or theme to your company identity standards. Then include it in everything from the way the phones are answered to the close of the sale.
  4. Websites: While logos are no longer the all-important differentiating factor of a brand, websites are the future.  Even if your business is not an online e-commerce site, design a website that encompasses your company standards. If you are afraid that developing a website is too expensive, think again. There are software programs, online developers and outsourcing companies that can create your website for less than $500, and that includes web hosting.
  5. Say-do: This is something small businesses tend to forget and is a key point in branding. What your slogan, promotion or sales people tell your customers must come true. Consumers are reluctant to work with small businesses that say one thing and do another. It creates frustration, negative feelings and bad word-of-mouth. There is nothing worse than inconsistency and failure to deliver on the promise.

Evaluate your branding strategy every few months. Your customers are the ones who will test its efficacy. Alter as needed, but don’t start from scratch unless you have the budget to revise everything.

These 5 easy steps can make a world of difference in how your business is viewed. You can turn your “Mom and Pop Shop” into a growing contender for having the top brand and a growing piece of the market share with little effort and a great deal of forethought.

Go Global – Check out 2Checkout!

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We have now made it really easy for you to receive online payments from your customers – from even the ones who are not in the same geographical area. Zoho Books and Zoho Invoice recently integrated with 2Checkout Payment Gateway. Apart from supporting multiple currencies, it is also multi-lingual. Transacting in global currency and getting paid has never been this easy.

2Checkout offers up to 15 languages that your customer can choose from during the payment process, thus giving them a better online payment experience. And great experiences lead to happy customers which means prompt payments always.

It takes only a few simple steps to configure your 2Checkout account in Zoho Invoice and Zoho Books. All you need is the 2Checkout Account Number and the ‘Secret Word’ (word you see in the site management section under Accounts). To know exactly how to configure 2Checkout account, just follow the steps given in our documentation.

With Stripe and 2Checkout added this year, we now have SIX payment gateways that you can choose from to accept online payments from your customers.

Would you want to hear some more good news?

For those who are eager to sell international, quickly sign up for a free 2Checkout account and enter the promo code ‘ZOHO2CO’ for a waiver on your application service fee (a savings of $10.99).

Like it?! Give 2Checkout a try and tell us how it worked for you!

Zoho Reports: White Label Reporting Solutions for ISVs, OEMs & Others

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Are you are a software vendor into making inventory management software, a help desk ticketing tool, a mass mailing marketing software, or any such software product? Chances are you would be continuously building and enhancing the core functionalities of your product and not spending too much time on non-core features like having an online store to power your bank transactions, or providing powerful reporting & dashboard features for your customers. These are things that are best left to the experts in the respective fields.

Zoho Reports offers extensively customizable white label solutions. It can be a very good fit for independent software vendors (ISVs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and anyone who is in need of a ready made reporting tool to be plugged in seamlessly to their product offering.

Benefits of Zoho Reports White Label

  • Fully featured reporting / BI tool
  • Fast implementation
  • Seamless integration within your product/service
  • Customizable logo, login page, URL (from your own website)
  • Single sign on (use your own authentication system)
  • In-built collaboration with fine-grained access control
  • Embedded reporting (ready made reports)
  • Self-service BI for your users

Zoho Reports offers two types of white label solutions – 1) White label with SSO (single sign-on) and 2) White label without SSO.

White Label with SSO
This option is meant for SaaS providers. You have an application offered as SaaS. And you want to offer a powerful reporting solution to go with the service. Users login to your service, and they click on a ‘Reports’ tab/link in your service. This will open a white labeled Zoho Reports screen seamlessly within your service itself, without requiring your users to login again separately into Zoho Reports.

White Label without SSO
This option can be used by everyone other than SaaS solution providers.

  • Installable software vendors (who would want an online reporting/dashboard service accessible from anywhere anytime)
  • Companies from all verticals/industries (hospitality, real estate, manufacturing, automotive etc) who are mailing Excel attachments as reports to their clients every month
  • Analysts having lots of data to be reported upon/analyzed

Your clients can build ad-hoc reports too, on top of what you offer by default. We have setup a demo of this second option at https://reports.finepick.com.

Similar to the page you see above, your white label solution can have a web page served from a URL of your website, like say https://reports.mywebsite.com. Once the user logs in, she will see a customized, white label version of Zoho Reports with your own logo and top-band, being served from your own website. Similar to the one below, with your website URL, your logo, your customized page.

If you are interested in a full-fledged, ready made white label reporting / BI solution, do get in touch with us.

5 Ways to Maintain Clean and Accurate Customer Information

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Has it ever happened, that you make a follow-up call, only to find out that another member of your team had already contacted the customer? That would be a little embarrassing but where was the confusion? After cross-checking you clearly noticed that there was no record of a call being made to the contact, but there sure was a duplicate contact, assigned to another sales rep!

Inaccurate or incomplete CRM data often hamper sales and marketing performance. Many of your contacts would have changed their phone number, email address or even their company, leading to an accumulation of redundant and incomplete data in your CRM. So how are you going to maintain clean CRM data? Help yourself with these 5 tips to not only get your CRM system under control but also to save time and headache down the road.

#1 Maintain Complete Data
Ask yourself one question: How complete are my records? Believe it or not, incomplete information is not a good sign for data quality. The CRM account requires you to fill in numerous fields that are mandatory. It’s time-consuming! And as a sales rep, that becomes a reason for you to neglect proper data entry. The best way to deal with this is to set important fields as mandatory: like name, email address, phone numbers, and address. So, determine the fields that are most important for complete information and encourage users to fill in those important details.

#2 Avoid Entry of Duplicate Leads & Contacts
Since email address is unique for each individual, one simple trick to prevent duplicate records is by comparing the email address of the contacts. While adding a lead/contact in Zoho CRM, you now have an option to check whether the newly added record already exists in your CRM account. Now this will definitely save the effort of going through the records for duplicates

#3 Existing Duplicate Records? Merge Them
Preventing duplicates work great when adding new contacts manually, collecting leads/contacts using web forms, importing, etc. But what about eliminating duplicates from your existing data? By now, you will surely agree with me when I say that duplicate records are not necessarily identical. Let’s say, two contacts have the same last name, email address or company name but one record has a phone number or address that is not found in the other. This is sometimes frustrating as some of the crucial information that you are looking for is scattered in both the records. In that case, instead of blindly deleting one record and potentially losing important data, you can merge the information into one contact.

#4 Maintain a Style Sheet
While automation does most of the work, human efforts are essential for data quality. One way to make data entry easy and maintain consistency, is by introducing naming conventions. Sometimes you see the same country name in different formats. For example, USA, US, United States of America. You can avoid this by creating a list of abbreviations and standard data entry formats for data items like postal addresses, company names, designations, etc. Having a standardized format for all the data helps you generate accurate reports and filter records based on the exact criteria. Pre-defined drop-down values also helps a lot in eliminating a small part of the problem.

#5 Use Roles for Security
With data pouring in from several sources and multiple users accessing it, maintaining a clean CRM database is not that easy. One best practice is to restrict access to data in your CRM account. Define Roles that will help you control the access rights of users while working with CRM data. That way, users will modify only those records that are relevant to them.

We all realize how important it is to add clean data in the CRM system… and not just that, to avidly maintain it too! Maintaining data quality is not a one-time event. If not taken care from the beginning, you may end up having a tedious task ahead.

These are my top 5 tips, do share your techniques to maintain a clean CRM.