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

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At Zoho, we get to talk to several startup founders and small business owners regularly. A good number of times, the topic of hiring and retention comes up in our conversations. We thought it might be a good idea to ask the community at large and understand the broad opinion.

We had asked a question on customer support hiring, via our poll last week. From our own experience, we’ve seen startups with very good process clarity as well as mid-sized businesses that prefer not to have strict processes. So, we were naturally excited to see what results would emerge from that question.

What's your approach to customer support hiring?

About 40% of all respondents said they preferred to hire experienced professionals and empower them suitably.

From a traditional standpoint, this feels like the optimal approach for any company that wants a ‘safe bet’. If you hire experienced customer support professionals, you can trust them to behave reasonably in most of the situations. In a sense, when you hire experienced professionals, you can expect them to hit the ground running. A lot of companies prefer to have that ‘celerity’ as a competitive edge. However, there’s also the downside that experienced professionals are ‘conditioned’ and don’t necessarily come with a completely fresh outlook. For some businesses, that can actually be a significant drawback.

About 60% of respondents said they preferred to hire fresh talent and train them internally.

This is definitely not an approach that leads to a safe bet. Over the last few years, if there has been one broad trend in customer service, it’s that companies are looking to create a customer service ‘culture’ that’s unique to themselves. Companies like Amazon have taken that trend to a whole new level. It’s pretty difficult to create a culture like that by hiring just experienced folks. So, companies prefer to set a culture in place and hire fresh talent. It’s far easier to align fresh talent to your company’s culture than to align experienced professionals.

It’s also fairly common for companies to maintain a good mix of both fresh and experienced talent. However, the ‘right mix’ is very tricky to attain. In a way, that’s one reason why it might be better to set a customer service culture for your company and hire accordingly.

That’s it for this week. We’ll get right back to you with another interesting question next week! Until then, have a great weekend!

Our Management Consultants Recommended That We Kill Our Free Email Plan; We’re Increasing It Instead

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When it comes to hosted email options for your business, there is not a whole lot to choose from unless you want to compromise on quality. There’s Microsoft’s Office 365. There’s Google Apps. And there’s Zoho Mail. We think Zoho Mail is better, but then again, we’re kind of biased.

And if you’re a small business, your options are even more limited. Until some time ago, Google Apps had a free edition. It started with unlimited users and decreased then gradually until they finally canceled it. Microsoft chose to never give anything away for free (shocker, I know!).

Now, here’s something we haven’t told anyone: When Google Apps Free Edition went the way of the dodo, Zoho Mail registrations shot up through the roof. Want some proof?

Of course, I was just being facetious with the title. We didn’t hire a management consulting firm, because we already know what they would say. Their recommendation would be: ”Well, your two other competitors don’t have a Free plan, so why would you? Don’t offer anything free now, and instead make more money.”.

Instead of spending money with the consulting firm, we decided to spend that money with you, our users. Starting today, we’re increasing our Free plan for Zoho Mail, making it even better and making it completely free for up to 5 users. When we say completely free, we not only mean that you pay nothing for it, but also that you don’t have to deal with ads. Free and ad-free.

Even though Zoho Mail now is the only viable option for small businesses looking for a great -and free- hosted email solution, we’re not backing away from our commitment to our small business friends.


New In Zoho Sites: Code snippet, LinkedIn widget and more

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We’ve been fortunate to have our feature priorities be continuously questioned by the community. As a result, we are announcing 5 new features that, we believe, would make a difference to most of you who have been repeatedly asking for these.

Third-party widgets and scripts via code snippet
The Embed widget has had an upgrade; in addition to HTML code, you can also insert scripts and code snippets now. Widgets and apps from most third-party vendors demand that you to insert few lines of script into your website. You can add them all now. That includes scripts that work behind the scenes, like tracking and in-page analytics. (See how.)

Custom Page URL
You can now customize the URL of a page. This is important on the SEO front, as it is on the aesthetic front, allowing you to optimize your pages for hot keywords.

LinkedIn Widgets
Previously we introduced widgets for Facebook and Twitter. But of course, you need to work too! Now we’ve added a LinkedIn widget for you to add your company profile, personal profile, and Share button to your website.

Custom 404 page
Whenever a visitor accesses a wrong URL of a webpage, a 404 page comes up to direct the visitor to other pages on that website. This is increasingly becoming an opportunity for creativity and a way to excite visitors when they least expect it. So we now leave it to you. Customize your 404 page however you want.

Revoking a published site
Just as you publish a site with ease, you can now bring down your website as well. But why would you want to do that? Well, we figured you might want to perform some periodic maintenance, and this would be the easiest way to do it and get back up when you are ready.

Try them out, and let us know.

What the Recent Rise in Loan Approval Means for Your Small Business

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It’s no secret that the past five years have been anything but kind to small business owners and entrepreneurs across the country. In fact, an unstable economy and variety of other factors have forced a number of small businesses to close their doors while also discouraging others from entering the market.

Fortunately, good news is on the horizon in 2013 thanks to a recent increase in small business loan approvals.

According to the latest Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, big banks are approving loan requests at the highest rate in over two years, while small banks are giving the green light to over half of all small business loan requests.

Last month, big banks reportedly approved 15.9 percent of small business loan applications, a 35.9 percent increase from February 2012 and the highest rate since Biz2Credit began compiling this information in January 2011. Similarly, small business loan approval rates have increased from 49.9 percent in January 2013 to 50.3 percent last month.

Rohit Arora, Biz2Credit Chief Executive Officer, attributes the higher approval rates to a stable economy over the last year and a half and attractive premiums on securities backed by Small Business Administration-guaranteed loans.

So what can small business owners do with this data? If you are a small business owner, now is one of the best times to receive a small business loan to expand your existing business or take the first step in entering the market. Three smart ways you can invest this money into growing your company include the following:

  • Making smart investments — Whether you need office space or a piece of machinery to increase efficiency, one way to expand your business is by investing in property, buildings and equipment. Increased loan approval coupled with relatively low interest rates make this the perfect opportunity for growth.

  • Improve IT capabilities  Online business applications can help you increase sales, view real-time metrics and also decrease spending on traditional IT expenses. In fact, Forbes recently listed “cloud computing” as an essential for small businesses in 2013.

  • Hire employees  As a business owner, you don’t have to do everything on your own. By allocating money and resources to hire an employee — or multiple employees — you can focus on more important tasks like growing your business. When hiring employees, make sure you have a hiring strategy and think about whether you need a full time employee, part time employee, or even a freelance worker.

Spring isn’t just a time of rebirth in nature. It can also be a serious time of growth and development for your small business. And with loan approval rates on the rise in the first part of 2013, the sun may finally be shining on Main Street.


Zoho Recruit: Reach Out to Candidates Faster with an SMS

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The biggest challenge in the field of recruitment is to ensure that the job vacancies are filled on time. Talent acquisition is not an easy task, and contacting potential candidates when vacancies appear, following up them for the interviews, etc., can often be frustrating, expensive and a time-consuming experience. In recent years, mobile technology has proven to be a powerful communication tool than email because of its faster reach. That’s why we have been working on a new feature that will help you overcome the obstacles of recruitment and make the process much easier.

We are happy to announce the New Integrated SMS feature in Zoho Recruit, that will help you communicate effectively and efficiently with candidates and contacts during the hiring process.  A single click, and voi-là! You can send text messages to multiple candidates using Zoho Recruit! Not just that! You can also create custom SMS templates that will save your time from re-typing the same messages every time. All the messages you send will be recorded in Message History for future reference.

We hope you like this new feature. We look forward for your feedback!

Happy recruiting!

Zoholics 2013: Agenda Published, Early Bird Pricing Ends Mar 31

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In Jan, we announced Zoholics 2013, Zoho’s annual user conference to be held in San Francisco in May (29th-31st). We now published the agenda for the event at the Zoholics Website.

This two and a half day event is packed with over 55 sessions and a great lineup of Speakers including Ray Wang, Brent Leary, Doug Sleeter, Sridhar Vembu and more. The event features three parallel tracks including a dedicated track for Zoho CRM training with around 20 sessions.

The Early Bird pricing, which offers a 33% discount on our Standard ticket, ends Mar 31st. You may want to take advantage of this offer if you are planning to attend the event.

We also rolled out an iPhone app for the Zoholics event. If you are attending the event, we highly recommend you to install this app.

At Zoholics, you will learn how to get more out of your Zoho apps, meet the people behind the products, get to know the future direction of the apps and of course, network with other Zoho users.

We hope to see you in San Francisco in May. Register Now.


New in Zoho CRM: MailMagnet for Mobile, BCC Dropbox, Zoho LiveDesk Integration, and more…

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Yes! We have a whole bunch of new and interesting features lined up that will not only help you manage your customer data and interactions at a central place in CRM, but also give you an enhanced CRM plus Email solution.

Here’s a summary of what’s new:

MailMagnet for Mobile

When we introduced MailMagnet for Zoho CRM, our aim was to change the way salespeople interact with their email. Today, we’re taking this one step further by introducing MailMagnet for Mobile.

MailMagnet users can now receive their customers’ emails inside Zoho CRM mobile app without fiddling with their phone’s email settings. With the new Messages tab in the app, you can view all your customers’ emails, reply to them and even add tasks. What’s more, you don’t have to be on Zoho CRM app or refresh messages each time to receive new emails. Just enable alerts in your iPhone, iPad or Android device to receive email notifications.

An example? You’re traveling to a customer location and while on transit, you browse through Zite for some interesting articles. While reading, you receive an email notification from a customer. Tapping the notification for details, you find that a customer has arranged for a meeting with you. And as luck has it, the customer is in the same location!

BCC Customers’ Emails to CRM

With BCC Dropbox, you can copy selected customer emails to Zoho CRM. The feature comes with a unique email address for each sales rep. And all you need to do is, BCC the email address while sending emails to your customers, and get a copy of the email linked to the right customer’s record in CRM! Don’t have a matching record in CRM? No Problem. Zoho CRM automatically adds a lead or contact, and associates the email to that record. Even the file attachments are tagged along and saved.

For example, you’re having an email conversation with a customer from your Gmail account, and you find one particular conversation thread essential for further sales discussions. By entering the BCC email address, you can get that email linked to the customer’s record in CRM.

So you don’t have to restrict yourself from using a single mail client. You can use multiple email clients and email address as long as Zoho CRM knows the email addresses that you send from. Of course, a bit of human intervention is required. BCC Dropbox is available for all paid users.

Engage and Delight your customers with LiveDesk Integration

Let’s face it, no one wants to spend time on endless email threads and long phone calls to get their questions answered. Not in this digital age when information is available instantly, all the time. So, what’s the best possible way to support your Net Generation customers?

Introducing Zoho LiveDesk Integration with CRM. Zoho LiveDesk – an online live chat capability – in your website gives impatient customers a chance to ask questions in real time and also get an answer right away. Each chat transcript is attached to the customer’s record in Zoho CRM, keeping your support team in sync with all customer interactions.

That’s not all, your support agents can add Leads, Contacts, Notes and follow-up tasks to Zoho CRM, directly from Zoho LiveDesk. And when an existing customer requests live support, Zoho CRM automatically retrieves relevant customer information to Zoho LiveDesk. The LiveDesk Integration is not only an additional channel to provide better customer support, but also a good way to show that you’re available for them at all times.

Contextual Integration with third-party apps and get holistic view of your customer information

Earlier, we introduced Custom Apps to build apps that can access data inside your CRM system. Now you can pull in any customer related information from custom apps and third-party applications and contextually add it to any record in CRM. Custom Related Lists comes with ready-to-use gallery functions that help you integrate with third-party applications like Contactology, Saasu and Zoho Recruit with ease.

Custom Related List is available for Enterprise users. Our Online Help will walk you through the configurations.

Do try these features and let us know what you think.

– Radhika

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