What’s Missing From Your Holiday Shopping List? Better Customer Service

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This is a guest post by Shabana Shiliwala, who owns The Financial Sort, a financial planning company based in Austin, Texas.

While you’re shopping for holiday gifts, pay attention: if you’re impressed or frustrated by the customer service you experience from a business, chances are other people are too. There isn’t a better time than the crowded and hectic holiday shopping season to observe how you can improve your business’s customer service:

Short response time. It seems the rarest commodity these days is courtesy. Can you even
remember how many emails you’ve sent that have been ignored? It’s become de rigueur to call
multiple times if you ever expect to receive a response. Want to really surprise your customers?
Call them back right away. Customers will be so blown away by this uncommon act of common
courtesy that they won’t know what hit them.

Real people. Is there anything more infuriating than not being able to talk to a real person?
Give customers a shock by having someone actually answer the phone. Instead of sending an automatic response to emails saying you’ll respond in 24 hours (but no one ever does because there’s no system in place to deal with emails), designate an employee who will have the responsibility of promptly responding to emails personally. Talk about standing out from the competition.

Well-trained employees. Have you ever been told by an employee at a store that they don’t
carry a certain product you’re looking for, only to find it on your own while browsing? Or
discovered that an employee gave you incorrect information about a product, so you can’t help
but wonder if it was on purpose just to make a sale? Staffing your business with
unknowledgeable employees is a surefire path to frustrating your customers and compromising
your business’s professional image. Employees represent your business to your customers, so
it’s worth spending extra time and effort to ensure they can explain your business’s products and
services as well as you can.

100% satisfaction guaranteed. How you treat customers after they’ve made a purchase is
possibly the most important interaction you have with them. Have you ever been made to feel
guilty or ashamed while trying to return a product? Or felt frustrated and angry when your
complaints about a product or service fell on deaf ears? Most importantly, did you continue
shopping at that store? The true test of good customer service is how you deal with a dissatisfied
client. Can you make every customer interaction a positive one? When customers feel that they
are heard and respected even when they express dissatisfaction, they’ll be more likely to
continue doing business with you. A “no questions asked” return policy and responding to
complaints with immediate refunds, discounts or bonuses go a long way towards fostering
goodwill and building brand loyalty among your customers. Not only will they feel comfortable
continuing doing business with you, customers will also be more likely to try new products or
services since they know there’s no risk.

All you have to do is open your eyes while doing your holiday shopping to find the best gift you
can give your customers this year–better service.

Come 2012 – Make The Switch To Zoho Books

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Ever since we launched Zoho Books in the first quarter of 2011, there have
been numerous requests from our customers to help them move their accounting data from their existing system to Zoho Books. We are on the threshold of a brand new year and 
there is no better time to leave your old accounting software behind and move to Zoho Books. We have worked hard to make the switch over as simple as possible regardless of your current accounting system – be it QuickBooks or even Microsoft Excel.


To switch to Zoho Books all that is to be done is to choose an appropriate
migration date, note the account balances in your current system as of the migration date( i.e. run a trial balance report in accountant speak) and enter the balances in Zoho Books. This would ensure that all your financial reports like balance
sheet and profit & loss statement display the same figures as your
current
accounting system.

Once this is done, you can import your open transactions like unpaid invoices and bills into Zoho Books. If you buy or sell goods in foreign currencies, the migration process handles the transfer of foreign
currency account balances as well. 

We have come with a step by step guide to help our users migrate to Zoho Books. If you are a QuickBooks desktop user, we have a specific migration guide for you.

Come 2012, we are sure that you will start using our intuitive accounting program and enjoy doing your accounting. Wishing you all a merry X-mas and happy new year in advance!

Serve customers faster with Social CRM

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The biggest growth area for CRM is in the SMB space, said Marshall Lager, Managing Principal of Third Idea Consulting. At the CRM Evolution Conference in New York City, we spoke about SMBs and CRM and what are the hottest integration points for CRM.

The lack of SMBs using CRM in the past isn’t the fault of hesitation, said Lager, but rather SMBs not being aware of what they can get out of CRM. When SMBs do discover CRM, often through colleagues or just tracking their industry, they utilize it like mad, Lager said.

As for what people are integrating with CRM, Lager said the hot area is social which is the ability to connect the social sphere to your business’ workflow. Social CRM is attractive for its immediacy. The faster you can trigger workflow to customer needs, the better you’re going to serve customers and keep them, Lager said.

Root Cause Analysis of our December 14 Outage

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We had a 3.5 hour outage of Zoho Mail, Zoho Support & Zoho Books, between 8:45 AM and 12:15 pm PST on December 14.  First of all, I want to apologize to our customers and our users. We let you down and we are sorry.  We know how important it is to have access to the vital business information you entrust with Zoho; our entire company runs on Zoho applications, so we understand this in an even more intimate way. With a view to preventing such incidents and improving our response to them when they do happen, we reviewed the root cause of this outage and our response to it. This post provides a summary.

The outage arose from a simple configuration gap between our software applications and the network. One part of the health-check mechanism built into our software (ironically, the very part that is designed to prevent an outage impacting customers) made an unneeded reverse DNS request to resolve an IP address to a name. The network stack did not adequately provide for this reverse DNS look-up; it worked until it stopped working. In effect, we had a single point of failure that our network ops team was unaware of, because the software had this implicit dependency.

When the reverse DNS failed, the health-check mechanism (incorrectly) concluded that the software applications were failing, and proceeded to restart the “failing” application servers one by one, as it is programmed to do. Of course, even after application servers restart, the health-check would still fail, because the failure was not due to the software itself.

Since the failure was happening in a disparate set of applications that share no resources (no physical servers, no file systems or databases in common) other than being part of a sub-network, the initial suspicion was focused on the switches serving that sub-network. In reality there was a shared dependency but that was not immediately identified. This wasted precious time. In the end, the reverse DNS problem was identified, and the fix itself took just a few minutes.

Here are the lessons we learned on December 14:

1. Subtle information gaps can arise between teams that work together – in this case the network ops and the software framework teams. The software had a dependency on a network component that the ops team did not appreciate, which created an unintended single point of failure. The failure mode was always there, and on December 14 it came to the surface.

Action: We will make the configuration assumptions made by every piece of software much more explicit and disseminate them internally. Our monitoring tools also will be strengthened to check the actual configuration against the assumptions made by software.

2. After the outage, precious time went on testing various hypotheses, though the root-cause, as it turned out, was quite simple. This is the most stressful period, and some of that was inevitable, which is why prevention is so vital. We had 5 people checking out various aspects of the system, but they were not aware of this software dependency. If they had known, it would  have taken a few minutes to fix it, and instead the outage lasted 3 hours.

Action: We are reviewing our incident response procedures, to bring in people with relevant knowledge on the spot more quickly. We will also provide more training to our operations team members, so they could diagnose and troubleshoot a broader set of problems. Our monitoring tools also would be strengthened to provide more diagnostic information.

3. This is a more fundamental, mathematical problem in any feedback loop: adaptive, fail-safe mechanisms can have unforeseen or unintended behavior and ultimately cause failures themselves. Basically a failure is declared, and action taken, and if the diagnosis of failure is wrong (often very subtly wrong) and therefore the action taken is not appropriate, those actions can then feedback into the fail-safe mechanism. We have humans in the loop for this precise reason, but in this case, there was a single point of failure that the ops-team-on-the-spot was not aware of, so they could not stop the cascade.

Action: We are reviewing our fail-safe mechanisms to identify such cascades and involve the human-in-the-loop better.

To summarize, we believe the failure was preventable, and in any event, the outage should have been resolved a lot sooner.  Once again, please accept our apologies.  We have resolved to improve our tools and internal processes, so we could do better in future.

Sridhar Vembu

Less CRMing and More Selling with Zoho CRM: New UI plus Exciting Features

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A few months ago we started rolling out a preview of our new, totally-rebuilt Zoho CRM UI. We took a close, hard look at how users were interacting with our app, and how we could make it easier for them to achieve their daily goals. Our goal was to make users spend less time  inside the Zoho CRM app, so they can spend more time selling.
So we re-designed many workflows and screens inside our app. A small example: we realized that everybody wants to add notes to their contacts/prospects. So, we made it very simple for them to add more notes. We streamlined how we show contact information. We made it easier for a sales rep to check availability for scheduling a follow-up call with a prospect right from the contact screen. We made several other changes - big and smallThe feedback we got from users has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re pretty thrilled about that.

But that’s not all we have been working on. We have also been busy building a lot of new things we know you will love. We kept this as a surprise for all of our users – and here it is.

Stay on top of what’s happening on your sales pipeline with Pulse
Just like you can follow people on Twitter, now you can follow a particular lead, deal, contact or account in Zoho CRM. Sure, you can always run a report, but Pulse takes sales tracking to the next level by allowing you to follow what’s really important for you. But that’s pretty much where the Twitter analogy ends, because we’ve taken it a couple steps further. How? First, you can create rules that will automatically “Follow” a deal for you when some conditions are met. But my favorite part is this: you can also follow what’s NOT happening in your business.



Let me explain. When you follow a deal, it’s because you’re interested in seeing what happens with it. But what happens if a week goes by and you haven’t heard anything? How will you remember? Pulse takes care of that for you. In the Pulse tab inside Zoho CRM, you can view what is happening and what is NOT happening, and you can also set different time intervals for keeping track of your deals.

Build Custom Apps based on your CRM Data

With this latest Zoho CRM update, you can now build custom apps that access data inside your CRM system easier than ever before. For example, if you want to build a Travel Expense app, you can have one field ask what account or deal this travel was related to – and display a list of deals right from Zoho CRM. Of course, you have always been able to build this with an our API, but this update makes it easier for you to build apps with Zoho Creator – so there’s no coding required, just drag-and-drop. In addition, you are able to add these custom apps as tabs inside Zoho CRM.

Connect with your Customers on Social Media

Zoho CRM now allows you to link a CRM contact with their LinkedIn profile. So you can not only very easily get their position, company, city and more – but now you will also be able to keep up to date with their business and professional activity. You can even see their picture directly in your Zoho CRM contact. You can even send a note to your contact through LinkedIn right from Zoho CRM.
Webhooks make Zoho CRM even easier to integrate


We’ve had a pretty good and liberal API program for a while. But say for example, you want to update your inventory system every time you close a deal. How can you alert the external system that something just changed inside Zoho CRM? That’s what webhooks are for. Without getting too technical, every time some condition is met, Zoho CRM will send a quick message to your external system (your inventory system in this example) to give it a “heads up”. After that, more complex processing might take place through the API.

This is a major release and a major milestone for us, and hopefully you will find it exciting and useful!

Rodrigo

Services Are Up, Root Cause to Follow

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We have restored all Zoho services. They should be working normally. Our teams are monitoring the situation closely, and if you encounter any trouble, please let us know.

We know this is not what our customers and users expect from Zoho. We let you down today. Please accept our humble apologies. We have launched a full investigation of the root cause, how we responded to it, what we could have done better to both avoid the problem and how we could have resolved it sooner. We will post this report as soon as it is ready.

Update: Our preliminary information is that reverse DNS look up failed in one of our subnets, which caused the outage on some of the services. We still are trying to determine why it failed, why it didn’t trigger other type of alerts and why this failure resulted in such a service outage. Once the incident is fully understood, I will post a detailed report. 

Sridhar

Some Zoho Services Down, Please Check our Twitter Feed @Zoho for Updates

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As of 9:05 AM Pacific time, we started encountering difficulties in many Zoho services. The services affected are Zoho Mail, Books and Support, as well as some sporadic issues in other services. We have narrowed it down to network issues in our data center, and we are analyzing it. We will restore services as expeditiously as possible. 

Please check our twitter feed: http://twitter.com/#!/zoho  for updates.

We apologize for the inconvenience.
Update: as of 12 noon PST, we have restored Zoho Mail, Support and Books. We still are not completely out of the woods, and we are monitoring all services closely. Meanwhile, we are also looking at the root cause of today’s outage. We will make a detailed post as soon as we determine the root cause, and we will outline the actions we are taking to make sure this does  not recur. Please accept our humble apologies.