3 Gridiron-Approved Ways To Train New Employees

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Football season is almost here---in just a short time, we’ll be back to enjoying weekends full of football. I can’t wait. And as I consider fall camp, I’m thinking about what we can take from the football field and apply to training better customer service employees. Here are three things straight from the gridiron that we can learn about how to train new employees.

1. Everybody gets better together.

Fall training is the first time incoming freshmen get to be part of the team. Whether they’ll get playing time remains to be seen, but in training, everyone is there---most experienced and the least---so everyone can learn together. Business training should be the same way. No one gets a pass with training: make sure everyone’s involved because everyone can learn something.

2. It weeds out those who can’t hang.

Sometimes, fall camp rosters start to get a little slimmer. It’s a little bit disheartening at first, but think about it: if players couldn’t hang in the heat of practice, do you think they’d fare any better in the heat of the game? Probably not. There’s a business parallel here, too. You’ll find that as your business grows, you’ll have to cut the slack in order to move together as a team. That means coaching up individuals who need help, and, when necessary, cutting individuals who aren’t up to the task of winning a call. How can you know exactly who’s who? Call recording. By monitoring your employees’ calls at all times (when you’re there and when you’re not), you ensure that they’re not slacking in providing excellent customer experiences: they aren’t letting phones ring, leaving customers hanging, or coming up short. And call records also have the power to show you who your star team members are---those who are going above and beyond to polish your company’s good reputation. But before you’re in a pivotal game situation, you need to practice.

3. Practice reveals strengths and weaknesses.

Two-a-days, drills, and scrimmages show what you’re good at, collectively and individually. They also show the big holes in your offense, the weaknesses in your defense, and what could cost you the game. “Practice” in business takes a little different form, but the premise is the same: single employees can cost the entire team a win. And the whole team, as a unit, has to be pushing toward the same goal. That’s why call recording is so important as a training tool, too. You can use real recorded calls to train your employees in situations they will actually encounter without the game-time pressure. Once you and your team are ready, you can move from training---the JV games, if you will---to live calls (the games that matter).

Fall camp is important in football. “It is a time when teams are built, players prove they belong, coaches find out who they can use and teams grow together." Similarly, the training process for new employees matters just as much. As they say, the way you practice is the way you perform.

What Do Millennials Value In Customer Service?

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Millennial: (noun) a person born in the 1980s or 1990s — usually plural.

Chances are, you parent one, hire one, work with one, or otherwise know one. There are many theories of Millennials as employees, but not as much is said about these young adults as consumers.

Did you know that Millennials have $200 billion of direct purchasing power and $500 billion of indirect spending (mostly the influence on the spending of their mostly baby boomer parents)?

And did you know that those numbers will continue to surge? That’s a lot of potential income you could gain---or lose---depending on how your company plans to market to and serve customers in this generation. So, it’s important to know, what do Millennials value in customer service?

1. Millennials won’t look to the person---they’ll look to the app.

Micah Solomon has an excellent column on serving customers at this age. Here’s one of the most interesting points:

“Millennials have different ideas of where humans should fit into customer service delivery. If an app or algorithm can deliver what they need, so much the better. Which is one reason most Millennials consult their smartphones first–even when they’re in your store and a human–a human paid to assist them is standing at the ready.”

He goes on to say that Millennials want to choose to interact; they don’t expect to do so based on bad user experience or “sloppy” systems. Give Millennials a good system to answer their own questions first.

2. Millennials want transparency.

Whether it’s a work, personal, or business relationship, Millennials expect their boss/employee/significant other/buyer/seller to be open and honest. In business transactions, this means being upfront about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t hide it from Millennials, because (with their seemingly permanently attached smartphones), they’ll share their experiences with anyone who will listen. And they’ll get heard.

3. Millennials are incredibly reachable.

Take a look at some of these statistics taken from “The Millennial Generation Research Review,” an article from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

  • Millennials are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of technology than are older generations.

  • They are more likely to use the internet, broadcast thoughts, and contribute content. Millennials stand out when it comes to producing and uploading online content.

  • In 25% of searches for the top 20 brands, results are links to user-generated content. This has huge implications for brands to become aware of others’ experiences of their product or service and ensure that it is in harmony with their brand strategy.

  • Marketing and advertising to Millennials should be placed around engaging content. Engagement is higher among Millennials than other generations for television and websites; on a percentage basis, it is greater online than on TV. It appears that Millennials are highly engaged with content they chose to view online and on TV, which amplifies the effectiveness of ads for Millennials.

The counter to that? Millennials know how to disengage, too, and they don’t hesitate to do so. That makes the way you engage with Millennial customers incredibly profitable (or detrimental) to you.

“They have the confidence to stand up for what they believe and the confidence, technology, and network to voice their opinions. With Millennials, brands know where they stand, sometimes even minute to minute. According to one survey, 86% of Millennials are willing to share information about their brand preferences online, making it a top personal identifier.” -U.S. Chamber Foundation

With tools like call tracking, you’ll have evidence to show you exactly how well you’re reaching this up-and-coming demographic. You can measure your marketing effectiveness with unique phone call tracking numbers and simple reports designed to help you improve the way you treat customers (including Millennials!).

4. Millennials won’t wait for you to respond.

If you snooze, you’ll lose them. In customer service, that means not only being accessible to help answer their questions and solve their problems, but being actively involved in helping them find a solution that pleases them, whether it’s over the phone, via email, or through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or review websites like Yelp.

We love the way the way the U.S. Chamber Foundation says it, and we think it sums up customer service---Millennial style:

“It all comes down to trust for brands. The trust is deeper and more intense with this group, but the greater availability of information can also destroy it faster.”

3 Business Tips Straight From The World Cup

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Have you caught World Cup fever?

As enthusiasm grows for the sport, more and more people are tuning in to the tournament, drafting their favorite players in fantasy leagues, and, of course, cheering for their teams. One thing I've noticed as I've watched---football (the other kind) has a lot in common with successful business practices. These three business tips stick out to me:

1. Goals matter.

This one’s pretty obvious in soccer, isn’t it? But how much attention do you pay to your business goals? If you’re not setting goals and measuring your levels of success against them, you might just be wasting your time---and money. Not sure where to start? Sit down with your staff and create goals for yourself, your employees, and your company that are SMART:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Actionable

  • Results-focused, and

  • Time-bound

Once you’ve clearly and concisely set goals, follow through on them. Make sure you revisit them annually to make sure you’re on track, and don’t be afraid to adjust your goals when necessary.

2. Listen to the coach.

As the owner or manager of your company, this may sound a little funny to you---after all, aren’t you in charge? Exactly! You’re the coach, which means you are responsible for coming up with a game plan, conditioning, training, and ultimately, executing a win.

In December, the U.S. Mens Soccer Team Head Coach Jurgen Klinnsman had this to say about his team: “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament." Sounds pretty harsh, right? This article contends that that Jurgen’s brand of coaching is exactly what the team needs.

“Through this sort of harsh realism, Klinsmann is asserting his belief that the U.S. must significantly change the way it produces soccer players. He wants the team to develop a coherent national style of play that will be employed at every level — so that 9-year-olds play the same way the national team plays. He wants teenagers to join professional teams when they're 18 instead of going to college, like they do in Europe. He wants to proactively identify and recruit dual nationals.”

How does that relate to business? It means everything starts with you. Despite what Klinsmann said about his own team, he obviously believes they have the potential and capacity to win on a big scale. Whether you’re frankly pragmatic, like Klinsmann, or more optimistic, the tone and expectations you set for your team will direct your success or failure (yet another reason we think it’s imperative to set goals from the top down).

3. Have a backup plan.

When USMNT defender John Brooks scored the winning goal in the United States’ game against Ghana, being a “backup” didn’t matter. Brooks actually became the first U.S. MNT substitute to score a goal in a FIFA World Cup, but what really mattered was that, in the 86th minute, Brooks’ goal was on target. Clenching a win against Ghana secured the U.S. team a win.

Like Brooks’ last-minute goal, a backup in business can come out of nowhere and help your business win big, too. With call tracking, you can have a backup always there to help you track calls across the U.S. without having to deal with your phone company.

Here’s how it works: When you advertise, we partner with you to give you local or toll-free numbers, depending on your needs. Whether you choose 800 or vanity numbers, you can use  your numbers on specific campaigns to see how the results stack up against each other. That information can help you determine which media work best for you, what time of day your ads are most successful, and more. (P.S. Not sure if you need a local or toll free number? Here's an article that can help.)

With call tracking, you won’t have to scratch your head wondering how your advertising campaigns are doing (and why they are or are not wins for your company). If you think that sounds good, but want even more insight into customer phone calls, we can record each call, too, so you can review them to help your team close more business.

So, whether you have been a diehard fan for years or are just dipping your toes into the world of (the other) football, enjoy the tournament! And then, take these tips back to the office and see what a difference they will make for your team.  

Managing Interns Without Losing Your Mind? Yes, You Can!

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Ah, sweet summertime.

Sleeping in late. Watching ice cream melt and drip into sticky puddles on the floor. Long lunches followed by lazy afternoons. Unbridled laughter and exuberant chatter as friends recount stories of those hot summer nights.

And that’s just in your office.

Let’s face it---adults feel the same way about summertime as they did as kids: it's a season of “taking it easy.” And that feeling doesn’t get left at the door when they come to work. But, as a small business owner, you know you can’t afford to slack off (and neither can your employees). Here are six ways you can make sure your office productivity doesn’t take a leap off the high dive when summer begins.

1. Plan Beforehand

The first step in successfully managing interns and summer hires is to prepare for them. Game plan exactly what you want the next three (or however many) months to look like and what you hope to gain from the hire or hires. Think about what you want them to learn from you. It’s important to put some thought in to this and then write it down so you don’t waste time (yours and theirs) and money.

2. Make Your Expectations Known

As soon as your new employees arrive, tell them exactly what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. And this is important: be clear in stating your goals for their time with you as well as your company’s policies.

One article calls this setting the stage: let your interns know how their performance will be evaluated, how they will be paid, and who they can go to with concerns.

Giving clear instructions won’t just set the tone for the rest of the time these employees will be with you, it can also save you the money and hassle of dealing staffing changes and retention issues.

3. Give Them A Project They Own

Of course, it’s not fair to dog interns and summer hires if you’re not giving them anything to do. They are eager to show they can help, and you might be surprised at how insightful their fresh perspectives are in solving problems, identifying weaknesses, and improving strengths. The tasks you assign them don’t have to be important, necessarily, as much as purposeful. Do you have any less urgent, yet purposeful, tasks on your desk that you never get to? If so, consider delegating these tasks!

4. Guide Them

The other angle? Interns are with you to learn how the real world works---and how they can work in it. Giving them a few projects that matter will show them what it’s really like when someone depends on you to do a job well without giving you cardiac arrest if they make a mistake (and they will!). You’re in a unique (and pretty awesome) position to show someone who has no experience what the “real world” is all about, so take pride in it.

  • Institute an open-door policy: let them know from the beginning that the more questions they ask, the more they’ll learn, and that’s why you’re there.

  • Take time to give feedback.

  • Be honest when it comes to giving recommendations.

5. Guarantee Your Peace of Mind When You’re Not Around

One summer in college, I worked with someone who refused to answer the phone. Every time it rang, this employee either walked away or picked up the phone and set it back down---hanging up on probably hundreds of potential customers in the short time I worked there.

I’m not sure how our supervisor found out this was going on, but I do know it took months. I imagine thinking about the potential lost profit made my boss ill. Temporary and summer employees are a golden example of how a tool like call recording can make a huge difference in your business. If my boss had known about call tracking and recording, she wouldn’t have had to wait months to find out about the dozens of callers who never got through (she’d be alerted almost immediately that there was a pattern of dropping calls). And instead of having to let go of a teary-eyed employee who didn’t know how to do a job (and who just hung up the calls), she could have used recording phone conversations as a training tool, not only for that employee, but for all future employees (to make sure the situation never happened again)!

6. Have Fun, Too

Managing interns and summer hires is a lot of work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Not only do you get to help form someone’s first work experience (a huge life event!), but you can potentially gain an exceptional member of your team. Enjoy the experience, and then stay in touch with those who go above and beyond; use the training ground you provided for your benefit (not your competitiors’!).

With these tips, you’ll not only gain an outstanding employee, you’ll improve your company---and be on the way to becoming one of the businesses every potential employee wants to be a part of. Let us help you get there.

P.S. What’s the best (or worst!) summer job you’ve ever had?

The Small Business Owners' Checklist Before Going on Vacation

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I have a friend who refuses to go on vacation. It’s not that she doesn’t want---or need---a break from the office, it’s that she’s too nervous to go. She owns a small business, and she thinks the risk of leaving her baby (her company) outweighs the restorative powers of a vacation.

She compared leaving her business for a week’s vacation to that tinge of nervousness you feel when you leave your home for a few days and, an hour down the road, start to wonder if you left the garage door open or the front door unlocked. She was certain that panicked feeling would ruin her entire time away, so she just never left.

Do you know anyone who feels this way? Most entrepreneurs don’t need a reason to go on vacation, they need an assurance that, while they’re away, business won’t go up in smoke (figuratively and literally!). And guess what? With a little planning, a restful vacation is completely within grasp. Here’s are the items that should be on every small business owner’s checklist before going on vacation:

1. Strategize when you’ll take vacation time. 

This is key to ensuring you’ll actually make it to your destination. Consider your business’ rhythms, and schedule to be gone during a time of relative calmness. If your business doesn’t have predictable faster and slower periods, AdviCoach CEO Brian Miller suggests “testing the waters” of vacation during holidays, when clients aren’t as likely to need you. Another bonus to planning a vacation in advance? Studies show that the mere act of planning---and subsequent waiting for---a vacation is enough to boost happiness levels for weeks. And that’s not even considering the vacation itself!

2. Prepare your employees for your vacation.

Once you’ve marked your departure date on your calendar, don’t look back---look around. Those people sitting in your office? You hired them for a reason. They can do good work, so give them a chance to shine. Start a couple months in advance (maybe ten weeks or so), preparing employees to handle the tasks you usually accomplish.

This article from the New York Times includes several tick-boxes for preparing employees, including:

  • writing and explaining detailed instructions on handling correspondence;
  • preemptive problem solving: going over potential problems with employees and providing guidance on how to handle them; and
  • meeting with staff members and reviewing all projects beforehand to snuff out potential issues.

3. Let your clients know they’ll be in good hands while you’re gone.

If your ongoing projects involve customer feedback, it’s worthwhile to keep them in-the-loop on your plans, too. With reassurance they won’t get left high-and-dry while you’re away, you’ll not only avoid panicked “where are you and what’s going on?!” emails, calls and texts, but you’ll be introducing a chain-of-command that will give you backup for the next time you are away. Some concrete ways to do this? Personally introduce the employee who will be taking care of each customer while you’re away, and include both your customer and employee on correspondence before your trip, so everyone is on the same page. If you don’t want to miss a single conversation, consider recording the calls your employees have with your customers. You won’t miss a beat, even when you’re miles away.

 4. Wrap-up big projects before you leave.

Don’t leave any important tasks sitting on your desk. Finish them before your vacation, so you don’t have the distraction of a nagging to-do list in the back of your mind. Clean out your inboxes, voicemail, and physical paper piles, too, so you can come back to work with a clean desk and fresh attitude.

 5. Schedule limited check-ins.

If you must, make the choice to check-in at specific times during the day or week. Some business owners choose to check in first thing in the morning and again in the late afternoon; others check once-a-day at 10 a.m. Tell your staff the parameters for when they should contact you directly, otherwise, don’t waste your regenerative time sorting through emails. Set aside the time period you’re willing to work, and prioritize the things that you must attend to. If it can wait, let it, and enjoy your time away!

With this checklist, you’ll be able to spend restful quality time away from the office with peace-of-mind that comes with knowing everything at your business is under control. And you may even find that the time you spend outside of the office improves your work inside the office!

Now you tell us, what’s the longest time period you’ve spent away from your business?

How Secure Are Your Business Passwords?

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Imagine leaving your safe deposit box---filled with private information, important documents and financial information---unlocked. Sounds like a nightmare, doesn't it? This is exactly what’s happened to countless Internet users because of a security hole called Heartbleed. We want to give you a little bit of background on Heartbleed as well as provide you with tools you can use to evaluate the login credentials you use to create stronger personal and business passwords.

What is Heartbleed?

Mashable sums it up this way:

“Heartbleed is a bug in the code running on the servers of millions of websites. It leaves open a hole that allows hackers to get in and around the encryption between you and the site. This means that the information stored on the servers, and passed between you, could be stolen.”

It’s important to note that the bug was discovered by Google’s security team and a firm called Codenomicon, and it’s believed hackers haven’t known about the exploit. Think about it this way: in the example above, the safe deposit box (your personal information) was exposed, but it’s not believed that any of the information was stolen. Nonetheless, you still need to change your passwords.

What websites were affected?

OpenSSL, the software library Heartbleed occurs in, is used on an estimated 66 percent of the web, so there’s a good chance that at least a few of the websites you visit were affected, including Google/Gmail, Yahoo, Instagram, and Pinterest. According to the Heartbleed website, “Your popular social site, your company's site, commerce site, hobby site, site you install software from or even sites run by your government might be using vulnerable OpenSSL.” Here is a good website that lists many of the affected websites along with some popular websites that weren’t hit. The web browser Chrome also has an extension called Chromebleed that tells you the website you’re visiting is on the “Heartbleed hit list.”

So, how secure is your password?

Chances are, it’s not secure at all. Wordpress says it like this:

“The most common advice you’ll hear about creating a strong password today is very outdated and impractical. A password created with that advice, like jal43#Koo%a, is very easy for a computer to break and very difficult for a human to remember and type. The latest and most effective types of password attacks can attempt up to 350 billion guesses per second, and that number will no doubt increase significantly over the next few years. Creating a strong password today requires modern techniques.”

This comic underscores the idea of hard to remember/easy to guess passwords with the underlying idea that they just don’t work. So, what does work?

What does a secure password look like?

Let’s get this out of the way: there’s no failsafe password. There’s an inherent risk in using the internet, but, thankfully, there are methods you can use to protect your sensitive information that are proven to work really well. Here are two secure password “modern methods” mentioned in the Wordpress article quoted above: using a password manager and using a passphrase instead of a password.

Using a password manager:

A password manager stores your credentials for all the websites you use and helps you automatically log-in to them. Password managers encrypt your password database with a master password---that master password is the only one you have to remember. The software will automatically create unique, complex passwords (like this: N8!BmW!A8$6a23jk%sdf2354#*x4]sa+f423@) to automatically log you in, but you won’t have to remember them.

Password management software is available at all price points and with basic and advanced features. Here’s a list of password management software available---you can also Google “password management software” and find other options. (If you do this, just be sure you do your research and find a reputable company.)

Follow the instructions that come with your software to ensure you’re using it properly and keeping your sensitive information as secure as possible.

Using a passphrase:

Next to password managers, passphrases are the best way to create secure passwords. If you can’t use a password manager, you definitely need to use passphrases. A passphrase uses four unrelated words with additional characters and spaces to create a more complex, harder-to-guess password. This Wordpress article does a great job of explaining what a passphrase is and teaching you how to create one.

Just keep these three things in mind:

  1. Mix it up. Don’t use a predictable pattern (like a sentence) for your phrase.
  2. Don’t use your personal information, like names, addresses, phone numbers or things that could be researched online. And never use your social security number.
  3. Don’t use published phrases. Book titles, song lyrics, funny quotes, etc. are all bad and easily guessable.

Whether you use a password manager or passphrases, follow these guidelines:

  • Never use a password twice.
  • Don’t email, text, or otherwise share your passwords.
  • Don’t let internet browsers “remember” your password, whether you’re on a public computer or even on your personal laptop.
  • Don’t write down your passwords. If you must, store them in a safe, secure place, like a safe or bank deposit box.

We know you do everything you can to help your business succeed. By taking a few extra steps to secure your password, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your business and personal accounts are in good hands---yours!

6 Reasons Your Business Should Be Using Instagram

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If you think Instagram is only for sharing photos of cute babies, average-looking food, and a selfie (or 12), think again. With the right strategy, the photo-sharing platform can work for your business. Here are six quick reasons your business should be using Instagram.

1. You can show your products in a new light (er, filter).

This is the most obvious reason to use Instagram. By sharing through a visual medium, you’ll give your current and potential customers a look at your products in a new way. Get creative. For example, if you’re a car dealership, share photos of your in-stock vehicles---exterior, interior, cool features, even pictures of the vehicles “in action.” As your inventory changes, so, too can the pictures you post. And don’t worry if you’re not a professional photographer---Instagram makes it easy to have cool images with just a push of a button.

2. Your audience already likes---and loves---Instagram.

Instagram is on track to pass Twitter users later this year, making it one of Facebook’s best purchases ever. With 60 million new photos posted daily, and 58 percent of users checking for new content at least once a day, it’d be a mistake to overlook Instagram as something that is just a trend.

3. You can give your customers behind-the-scenes access to your company.

Don’t limit your pictures to “showcases.” Let your followers get a glimpse of your team and your company’s culture through behind-the-scenes photos of the group of people who are bringing them awesome products (and content). Not sure who should post? Why not everyone? For example, once a week, you could pick a different employee to share a “day in the life” through the lens of his or her job. Don’t limit it only to work-related things---let your employees’ personalities shine, and give your customers a glimpse of just how awesome your team is.

4. Hashtag #engagement.

One of the hallmarks of Instagram is just how easy it is to connect with users through hashtags. A hashtag is the pound symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase with no spaces that users can tag photos with. Once a photo has a hashtag, it’s made into a link that shows you all of the images under that hashtag. Here’s an example: Chick-fil-A took a picture of a cup of sweet tea on a golf course and hash-tagged #masters in honor of the Masters Tournament. That’s pretty brilliant, huh? Now, whenever anyone clicks on any #masters tags (there are potentially millions of them!), they can see Chick-fil-A branding. And because Instagram is a free platform, this doesn’t cost you a thing.

5. Locations and user shout-outs bring your customers to you.

Another awesome thing about using Instagram for business? Your customers become your brand advocates through location and @user tags. Instagram lets you pinpoint user locations in images, so anytime you click on a location, you can see all of the users who have “insta-ed” there. Similarly, users can use the @ symbol to tag other users to connect to each other.

In the car dealership example above, consider what this could do for your business. If you asked your customer (who uses Instagram) if he or she could post a photo at your car dealership (using locations) and tag you in it, you could gain exposure from all of his or her followers. With that customers permission, you could regram (repost their picture from your account), too, and give the picture a creative hashtag unique to your dealership (or even the dealership name). Now imagine doing this with all of your customers. Sounds pretty awesome, right?!

6. You can get a business edge (for free!).

Here’s the “so, what?” to using Instagram for your business… it’s free, it's fun, and it’s also measurable.  To find out if your Instagram marketing is actually driving leads, you can include a call-tracking number or a unique website in the “about” of your account or within image captions. That way, you’ll know it’s both fun and productive to market your company! Based on the analytics, you can choose to post more of the type of photo---product photos, maybe, or behind-the-scenes shots---that your followers seem to engage with. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity!

Tell us, how do you use Instagram for your business?

5 Things You'll Love About Local Business Numbers

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Would it feel weird to you to if you called an 800 number to order a pizza? Or dialed 1-800-HAIRCUT to schedule a trim? What about calling toll-free to a store a few miles away to see what time it opens? At first blush, you might think not think much of it. But, when you start to dial that number, you might start to wonder, "why aren’t I calling a local number for a local service?"

Guess what? Your customers feel the same way!

If your company has satellite offices, you probably need more than a toll-free number. Because looking local to your customers is important to them, it should matter to you, too! Here’s why companies with multiple locations should invest in local business numbers for each of their offices.

1. You’re part of the community.

Having a local number (or numbers) caters to regional customers. When a customer sees his area code, he thinks, “I can trust this brand to take care of me in my hometown,” even if your brand is known nationwide. Which leads us to the next point:

2. Your customers trust you; you’re not just an outsider.

Face it, not all potential customers trust the idea of a company who isn’t “from around here.” No matter how well you serve your customers, research shows that, among businesses who use both local and toll-free numbers in yellow page listings, the local numbers bring in upwards of 68 percent more leads. That’s a lot of leads! Maybe it’s sentimentality, maybe it’s because a local number is associated with close ties, or maybe it’s just because there are still a lot of people who haven’t bought in to the idea of not having brick-and-mortar store to do business at, but what’s local is golden.

3. Your numbers have the local business “feel.”

Local business is associated with personalized service that is a must for all businesses, whether they’re based one or one thousand miles away. Toll-free numbers have a hard time with this. One study said it this way:

“The reason why ads with 800 numbers fail to receive high call volumes in both print and online media is because of the general negative reaction of customers to an 800 number. Such a number suggests the following: “not a local business”, “call centre”, “long waiting queues”, “less personal service”, “automated voice systems.”

If your company has multiple locations, numbers pinpointed to each office can give you an advantage over toll-free-only competitors.

4. You can add numbers for each location.

As your company reaches its growth goals, you’ll be able to connect as many additional local numbers as you need in as many locations as you need.

For example, consider Dr. Clean, our favorite dentist. He’s got a main practice as well as a satellite office about an hour away. Though only about 70 miles apart, his satellite office is located in a different time zone and is on the state border, and the closest town, where most of his patients live, is actually in the bordering state.

When Dr. Clean established his second office, he chose to add a number local to the town his patients live in. He wanted his patients to understand from the minute they called to schedule their appointments that he was their local dentist, even though his main office was in a different town. That way, he could avoid the misperception that patients would have to travel to a different city (in a different area code) for their care.

5. You can still have your 800-number, too.

Of course, your business may need and benefit from a toll-free number, too. We think you should have all the tools you need to help your business succeed, so you get both. By pairing local and toll-free numbers, you can maximize your reach and your target audience.

From a customer service standpoint, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Looking local is also easy to implement. Through number routing, companies with multiple locations can easily establish several local business numbers (and toll-free numbers, too!).

Then, once you’ve established your numbers, you can track and measure your business to see where business is booming and where you may need to make adjustments. With that information, you’ll be able to identify what really makes your phone ring (and you’ll be adding more numbers in no time!).

Have we convinced you yet? You can pick your number here, or, give us a call or contact us to if you need a little more information.

Don’t Let Madness Stop Your Business Productivity

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I bet you’ve heard about the guy who decided he’d give away a billion dollars to anybody who could come up with a perfect bracket. Lucky for him, none of the millions of bracket entries made it past the first round of the challenge (and if you’re one of the participants, don’t feel bad---you only had a one in 576 quadrillion chance of winning).

For almost every other business owner out there, losing money during March Madness isn’t a game they want to play---NCAA-obsessed workers could cost employers $1.2 billion for every unproductive work hour.

50 million Americans are expected to participate in March Madness, and most likely, you employ at least one of them (hey, you may be a little obsessed yourself!). It’s fun, after all! But if you’ve got employees doing more than sneaking glances at their phones and spending a little too long in the break room, chances are they’re not doing all of the work they can---or should---be doing. What should you do to keep tabs on your business productivity?

You’ve got two options:

A. Shut off your business operations to the dancing completely.

Block streaming websites, collect smartphones, enforce TV-free break rooms, and cause general overall office depression. Probably incite a walk-off. Definitely have someone switch the sugar bowl you use for your coffee to salt. This approach may backfire.

B. Enjoy the madness, but track your business productivity.

Look, you’re smart. You know it’s impossible to put blinders on your team, but you also know that you’re responsible for how you manage distractions, especially when they affect your bottom line. One easy-to-implement solution? Call recording.

Why does this work? Monitoring your employees this way ensures that they’re not slacking in providing excellent customer experiences: they aren’t letting phones ring, leaving customers hanging, or coming up short on serving the customer just because a game is scheduled to start soon.

Recording calls keeps everyone accountable, but it's a means for recognizing and rewarding outstanding members of your team, too.

When you start recording your calls, you’ll be able to turn your productivity questions into data you’ll be able to use and re-use. It’s not just a good tool for March Madness aka business distraction season---there are exponential ways you can use data from recorded calls month-after-month (training and continuing education opportunities and onboarding for new employees come to mind immediately).

Call recording is about more than policing your employees. You don’t have to hover over their desks to make sure work is being done well---the numbers will tell you all of that. It’s about maintaining an environment where your customers are served well and your operations are running smoothly. When those things are taken care of, a few minutes to watch a basketball game won’t be a big deal at all.  In fact, taking that time to celebrate wins and bemoan busted brackets together will boost office morale. And who doesn’t want that?

Should Your Business Get A Toll Free Number?

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Pay phones. Calling collect. Toll free numbers.

One of these things is not like the others.

Long gone are the days of scouting out a phone booth to make a phone call, and cell phone minute plans make calling collect ubiquitous---minutes are minutes whether you’re calling one house over or several time zones away.

So, if a vast majority of customers use services that don’t charge them to make calls, and they can call from any location, should your business have a toll-free number? Ask yourself these five questions to see if a toll-free number is a good call for your business.

1. Do we serve customers outside of our area?

If you’re shipping to, serving, or otherwise communicating with customers who are across the map, a toll-free number is a must-have. It tells potential customers that you’re willing to serve them no matter what their location. Consider this: you’re browsing online for a specific gift and you see two companies selling the same item for the same price. One has a toll-free contact number, and one has only a local number. Who do you call first? Chances are, you’re going to pick the 800-number, even if the only reason is because they appear to be more professional. Which leads us to our second question...

2. Does our business portray a professional image? 

800-numbers are a great equalizer in terms of professionalism. No matter how many employees you have or how long you’ve been established, a toll-free number gives an "official" feel to your business correspondence. With vanity numbers, the potential for unique branding and advertising is even greater.

3. Is our business growing? 

Hopefully, your answer to this is a resounding yes! For growing businesses, toll-free and 800-numbers are an asset because they can easily be scaled from two to 200 numbers. In fact, you only have to pay for what you use---there’s not any charge for services that don’t work for you.

4. Are our offices in more than one location?

Toll free numbers work well for franchise businesses and satellite locations by providing cohesive contact information for each office no matter where it is located. Extensions allow you to route the call to the right employee, even if he or she is located hundreds of miles away from your main office!

5. Do we need a cost-effective solution that still lets us care for customers?

Another benefit of utilizing toll-free numbers is their low cost. Toll-free numbers are relatively inexpensive to purchase and install for business owners, and, of course, are free for current and potential customers. Though it’s true that many customers don’t have to pay for calls---especially if they are calling from cell phones---it still matters for two reasons: First, it still matters to some people. Take, for instance, the outcry against Spirit Airlines when the company announced it was switching from toll-free to not free numbers. Secondly, though it may not actually affect your customers, the perception that you would charge them to do business with you doesn’t seem like very good customer service (whether they would actually be charged or not!).

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, a toll free number could benefit your business. It takes only a minute to get set up, and you can add more numbers at any time. Contact us today and let us handle the details!

How Do You Make Your Customers Say "Spoice"?

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SPOICE! SPOICE! SPOICE!

OK, I’ll admit---I’m enamored with the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And when U.S. Snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg won the first gold of the 2014 competition, his proclamation of “SPOICE!” resonated with me. Mostly because I had no idea what it meant.

In case you’re wondering, too, here’s the (un)official definition: Spoice, which rhymes with voice, is

“An exclamation of gratitude toward life (Urban Dictionary), or, a particularly high compliment to be paid to someone. “Her last name’s ever. First name Spoiciest.” — @sagekotsenburg

What if you could translate the “spoice” of life to your customer interactions? Would you, pardon the pun, jump at the chance? Of course you would! Well, it’s easier than you think, and it starts with call recording.

Call recording gives you insight you can't get any other way.

It's the direct link to details about your customers, your employees, and your marketing campaigns that could potentially boost profits---and, conversely, going without it could cost you.

Call recording tells you about your employees,

so you can keep an eye on quality and liability issues. With call recording, you can easily recall the correct card numbers, account information, or price quotes given; that way, you can correct any data discrepancies as soon as they come up. Your business benefits as light is shed on specific ways you can improve how you train and evaluate employees, scripts, and your sales methods. With call recording, you can simply and precisely target and measure the success of individual advertising campaigns as well as your overall marketing strategy.

Call recording is a low-cost solution with valuable benefits.

Instead of throwing away dollars to purchase systems that still make you do the work to figure out what your customers are actually saying, call recording gives you complete, direct access to exactly what you want to know in real time. You don't have to hire a bunch of people to organize and archive your data, either. It's done for you---you don't have to train yourself (or an employee) to maintain a complex system. The low cost of recording your calls far outweighs the perceived lack-of-cost of trying to monitor your employees yourself or, even worse, not at all.

Call recording gives you insight about how well you serve your customers.

Ultimately, all of the benefits come down to this one. If you want to know what your customers really think, record your calls. You will find out the good, the bad and the ugly, and then, acting on what you know will help you close more business. Delighted customers become loyal customers---the kind who finish a transaction and know they will choose you next time, even if a new shop opens down the block offering lower prices.

When you're ready to record your incoming calls, it's easy to get set up. The process is outlined here, and we can help you with any questions you have about getting started with low cost call recording. It's a win-win---for you and your customers.

So really, with call recording, both you and your customers will be able to keep it spoice-y!

Beat Snapchat Hacks With A Throw Away Phone Number

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Happy New Year! Your account has been compromised, and your personal information, including your phone number, has been exploited; your data may be sold to the highest bidder for whatever purposes he or she desires.

Sounds like an awful way to start 2014, doesn't it? For millions of Snapchat users, that may be a reality. According to news reports,

"Hackers appear to have posted account info for 4.6 million users of quickie social-sharing app Snapchat, making usernames and at least partial phone numbers available for download... In the statement, the hackers said they blurred the last two digits of the phone numbers they posted but were still considering whether to post more with the full number visible."

The Snapchat hack highlights two things: the relative lack of security consumers accept when using apps and the need for consumers to take extra steps to protect themselves. In an interview, Identity Theft 911 co-founder Adam Levin had this to say about the exploit:

“This is a big deal. Anytime you have a hack, it impacts what people do. It's important to remember that any technology can be defeated, and you should always look at things skeptically...

Many people have the same username for multiple platforms, including email and banking accounts, Levin says. Once a hacker or fraudster gets a hold of your user name, you can be fished or spear fished by being targeted via email, or even text-fished, by phone.

“If you click on a link or a text message that has malware, it can be passed onto your smart phone,” Levin says. “These are like mini computers, data storage devices, meaning it opens people up to be exposed for identity theft. At first blush, this appears to not be as big a deal as it actually is.”

As Levin said, once your information is hacked, you're not only at risk via email, but by phone, too.

Can you imagine what might happen if your phone number were to get in to the wrong hands? Not only could your phone number be free game for annoying sales calls, but, more importantly, your personal information be exposed, putting you at risk for identity theft.

Knowing this, you'd definitely want to change it, and when was the last time you switched phone numbers? I bet it's been years---maybe even decades. Imagine the inconvenience of  trying to contact a decade's worth of people---your friends, family, business contacts and acquaintances---just to say "here's my new number!"

So what can you do to avoid compromising your legitimate phone number without having to sacrifice your real life? Get a throw away phone number!

Consider it the phone compliment to creating an email address specifically for the nonessential stuff. Instead of keeping your most important correspondence with your junk email, you probably send the junk to a different location. The idea behind a throw away phone number is the same---you can conduct your non-essential work (or play) on a number that isn't connected to the important stuff.

Here are three benefits of having a throw-away phone number:

  1. Certainty.

    A throw away phone number doesn't have the associations your primary number does. This number acts as a mask that protects your "real" information while still letting you make and receive the calls and texts you want to, keeping your information secure.

  2. Convenience.

    It's easy to stay connected to friends and acquaintances with a throw away phone number. You don't have to give up your social life, but you don't have to put your privacy at risk either. You can use this number for blind dates; as a "club phone number," for handing out to people you don't know (and maybe don't to!); for Craigslist buying and selling; and, yes, for social media apps like Snapchat!

  3. Cost.

    Throw away phone numbers are cheap! You don't have to worry about signing contracts or committing to your number for longer than you want. If your needs change, you can get rid of the number.

When it comes down to it, it just makes sense to have a throw away phone number for personal use. You can contact us to set up your number today!

P.S. If you use Snapchat and want to know if your account might have been compromised, you can look up your phone number here.

What's Your Backup Plan For Phone Outages?

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“Dangerous arctic blasts! It may feel like -40 degrees!” “You won’t believe where it snowed!” “Is the sun taking a break?” “Warning: Icy mess in days ahead.”

If you’ve stepped outside in, say, the last few months, you don’t need headlines to tell you---it’s been really cold lately. Along with dangerously low temperatures, Old Man Winter has dumped a season’s worth of snow in some places in just a few weeks, caused ice storms in others, and produced damaging wind and rain elsewhere.

Weather has caused a mess that’s closed schools and shuttered businesses, and guess what? It’s not going to stop, even after winter ends!

Even when the snow plows are stored away and winter coats are packed in a closet, you’re still going to have to worry about the weather. Tornado season, hurricane season, wildfire season, flood season… no matter where you live or what time of the year it is, you’ve got to be ready for disasters.

For business owners, this means having a backup plan for your business operations.

Imagine this:

You’ve just finished eating dinner and are cleaning up your kitchen, watching the local weather, when you hear a weather alert warning you of extreme winds and snowfall. You’re already hoping there won’t be a delay on the commute to work… your day is packed, and you and your employees can’t afford to lose one minute of productivity. You’ve just gone live with an advertising campaign that you’ve spent the last quarter perfecting, and the leads are coming in fast. You fall asleep that night dreaming of the potential customers you'll earn and profit you can make.

The next morning, you arrive to work to find out that not only did the previous night’s ice storm take out power, but it also collapsed and severed phone lines. Power is on, but there’s no telling when your business’ internet and phone will be restored---it could be hours, days, or even weeks. You're so mad you could scream. Not only have you missed any of the potential calls that could've been buys, but you may have many current customers who are upset that they couldn’t get the assistance they needed, either. You’re sickened just thinking about the customers who may have been lost and the resources wasted on campaign ruined by Mother Nature. Because of a phone outage, your business is paralyzed.

Now, consider this version:

You get to work to find out that not only did the previous night’s ice storm take out power, but it also collapsed and severed phone lines. You’re frustrated, naturally, but at least you know that you haven’t missed any leads, because you’ve got a partner who takes care of your phone operations and guarantees both you and your clients are taken care of in situations like this. In fact, every potential customer who called---and who will call---will reach someone who can help them. You rest assured knowing that your marketing campaign wasn’t spoiled by bad weather and bad luck. Despite the disaster, it’s better than business as usual.

Can you tell the difference? The difference is having a back-up plan.

In situation one, things are under control when everything’s operating as it should be. But, should disaster occur, there’s no way for you to recoup your losses, because there’s no contingency.

In situation two, having a back up plan takes care of the unknown for you. You never have to think about the “what-ifs?” if a disaster strikes, because you’ve chosen to partner with a company that can give you reliable service and a guaranteed back up plan for phone outages.

Here’s how it works:

With what’s called multi-route management, multiple vendors are available at any time and in any situation to serve you. If disaster or emergency causes one vendor to go down, your calls are immediately routed to the next. Redundancy is built in to the system so you never have to worry about losing current and potential customer calls. This way, if bad weather, emergency, or any number of other unforeseen circumstances occur, you’re covered.

You won't miss calls, you won't lose business, and you'll be able to serve your customers well. And, you'll have peace of mind knowing that you don't have to worry in any kind of weather.

But, maybe thinking about this situation has you checking your local forecast. If so, contact us. We can help you come up with a back up plan for phone outages that will serve your customers reliably no matter the season.

With that in mind, tell us, has your business’ productivity ever suffered due to the weather?

8 Tips To Composing A Successful Billboard

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"A Dream Died Here."

That's all the sign said, and that's all it needed to say to pique my interest. The billboard was off an exit about halfway through a several-hundred mile car trip, and those four words captured my attention from that mile-marker on; in fact, I'm still thinking about what that dream was, and what might have happened to end it!

Out-of-home advertising continues to be a cornerstone of effective marketing, making bold statements along highways and interstates and in close proximity to pedestrians and shoppers. According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, billboard and other out-of-home media revenue rose 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, accounting for more than $1.6 billion!

But in order to stake a successful claim in the out-of-home media world, you can't just throw anything on a billboard and expect sales. Here are eight proven tips to composing a successful billboard.

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1. Know your product.

First, do your homework to understand your product or service and your competition. Without insight into what you're trying to sell, you'll have to work a lot harder to convey a diluted message. By understanding the nuances of your product and service, you'll be able to have more fun with the creative execution of the billboard, too!

2. Unify your message.

Once you know everything there is to know about your product, use that knowledge of the product to create the strongest single message you can. Though there are many things you'll want to talk about, resist that urge and focus on the best attributes. The message will most likely be a call to action, though it doesn't always have to be. I like what Jocelyn Broder says about laser-focusing your message:

"We oftentimes feel the need to get the entire gist in the first sentence.  I once saw a lead sentence with more than 80 words…that’s a paragraph! Long sentences are harder for readers to digest and when your message only has five seconds to do the job, it’s important to make the message easy. Take the time to pare down the words in the first sentence, make every word count and you may be surprised that people will continue to read rather than give up on the run-on lead sentence containing every idea and nuance of the message."

Once you've established your message, you can take it and apply it to the three components your billboard needs: a headline, a graphic, and a point-of-contact.

3. Be brief.

Even though you’ve got a 14-foot by 48-foot canvas, the copy in your message should be short… in fact, the shorter your message is, the more effective it will be. The golden standard for billboard advertising is to have no more than seven words; any more, and your audience won't have the time, or desire, to keep reading. Don't write a novel, write a headline.

In the example I shared above, it took only four words to grab my attention. We even pulled over to find out what "died"---it turned out to be a failed amusement village the owners are trying to revitalize through fund raising. Their wording worked on us, and I'm sure we're not the only ones!

4. Invest in design.

With a billboard, what you see is what you get, and that visual appeal can make or break your entire message. Don't skimp on this aspect!

  • Use large type. You want your potential customers to be able to read what you've said.
  • Don't get cute with fonts---keep it legible, and mirror the tone of your copy.
  • Pick a single, relevant image to use.
  • Use---but don't overuse---color.
  • Seek out a designer if you need one. (Sometimes you think you don't... but you probably do.)

5. Use only a single point of contact.

This one seems counter-intuitive... we want our customers to have every opportunity to reach us! But for out-of-home advertising, one method of contact is enough, whether it is a website, physical address, or phone number. For nearby retail or restaurants, location-based contacts make sense. "Left on exit 4B!" tells your customer exactly how to get to you.

For services, an easily remembered website or phone number can help drive customers to your business. Then, if you pair that contact information with a call tracking number, you'll know exactly how successful your billboard leads are, or you can use that information to adjust your advertising if necessary.

6. Target your audience.

I love this example of targeted advertising by Mini:

"As they pass digital screens along one of London's main roads, Mini drivers find simple, fun content aimed directly at them. Messages such as "Hey Cream Mini, what's your secret?" and ""Hello blue Mini driver" flash up on giant screens, thanks to software that recognizes the Minis as they drive by. There is also a team of "spotters" who had to pass a test to prove they could see and name a make of a MINI from 50 paces.

At gas stations along the way, Mini drivers are offered treats -- bacon sandwiches or smoothies in the morning and a tank of fuel or bunch of flowers on the journey home. Drivers can also choose to have their photo taken and displayed with a bespoke message as they approach the digital poster sites. The push is part of Mini's "Not Normal" campaign, which celebrates the individuality of Mini drivers."

What a fun and innovative way to single-out your customer and delight them! Not only does the car company celebrate its current customers, but it certainly gains the attention, and likely admiration, of a few potential Mini-drivers, too.

7. Think outside the box.

Some of the most successful campaigns break out of the rectangle to shock, entertain, and delight potential customers when the mode is appropriate to the message. Check out these galleries of award-winning Outdoor Advertising Association of America billboards to see how alternatives to the rectangle can set you apart from the competition.

8. Test, test, test!

The final step in composing a successful billboard is to track the leads its generating. By using specific call tracking numbers or website addresses on different billboards in different locations,  you'll be able to point to the data to know which signs are performing best and bringing in new customers!

How has billboard advertising worked for you? Seen any awesome signs lately? Leave us a comment---we want to know!

4 Signs It’s Time To Streamline Your Phone System Services

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Hey, business owner. I’ve got a question for you. What’s your problem?

Yes, I’m really asking you! You’ve got a lot on your mind. Of course, you’ve got your long-term goals: the legacy you’ll leave as an entrepreneur and person, as well as your hallmark 10-, 20- and 30-year plans. And then you have your short-term goals; the steps you’re taking to get to the places you want to be. You may even have daily goals, prioritized on a task list, to keep you on track. And those are all good things!

But that’s not all you’ve got on your mind, is it? You’ve got challenges to work past. You’ve got all of the details and minutiae to deal with, too. The equipment. The bills. The administrative work. The tedious tasks you hate and that never seem finished. All of those time suckers that sneak in and seems to take over---and take away from---the things you want to do and the things that will bring your organization forward.

So, I’ll ask you again. What are your problems? You can probably make a list of the top 20 hassles you face day-to-day in about five minutes, but I’ll add in one pretty common thing that you should consider a problem: your phone system services. Don’t believe me? Take a look below at these four signs your business’ phone system is setting you back more than you think.

Four Signs It’s Time To Streamline:

1. “I’m not getting anything done!”

How often do you say this, out loud or in your head? If your productivity and your profit margins are suffering because you and your employees are spending too much time on something that you’re not good at, put the kibosh on it.

I really like this article, which enforces the idea of getting rid of the things that take you longer, frustrate you, or that you’re simply not very good at. In fact, the article states that those meaningless but necessary tasks are exactly what you should delegate first.

“These are your lowest payoff activities. They are the ones you dread, because you don’t enjoy them and you aren’t good at them. By hanging on to them, you are holding you and your organization back. The sooner you delegate them, the better.”

Not only are these tasks taking away from the meaningful work you do, they’re actually eating away at the time you could have to make ideas happen and increase your bottom line. (The other side of this is that there is someone out there who can do this task for you, and will do it more effectively and at a fair cost.)

It may give you pause to think about paying someone else to do something you think you can handle yourself, but consider the hidden costs of the time you’re spending. Is it worth continuing, or is there a better system available? This is especially true in terms of delegating a separate company to handle your phone systems services. Consider the time and the level of dedication you can afford to give vs. the attention a company who specializes in providing excellent phone system services can give!

2. “I don’t know what my customers are thinking! How can I get inside their heads?”

Going the do-it-yourself route for call tracking and recording in-office is a bear, but you know that data is imperative to the success of your business. So you keep doing it, either by yourself or by assigning it to an employee who makes it a part of his or her job duties. But what happens when holes start to unravel your system? What if that employee is away, or your equipment fails, or there’s just not enough manpower to handle the job? You’ll lose the feedback of clients, or worse yet, may ignore them completely. Without any insight into how it's working for your customers, even the most innovative product, service or brand can fall flat.

If the motivation of your clients, their satisfaction, and most importantly, their loyalty, are something you’re struggling to solve by yourself, guess what? You don’t have to! (If this scenario has piqued your interest, skip down to “How do I know if this is even working?!” to find out more. Don’t worry, the rest of the article will still be here.)

3. “Why does this have to be so complicated?! Why doesn’t anything work around here!”

 I can’t help you with any plumbing issues at your office (sorry!). But I do know that your business phone system (and the way it operates) does not have to cause you or your employees headaches. If you and your staff are constantly forced to deal with downtimes, excessive costs, or other phone system-induced drama, there is an easier way!

We’ve got flexible, scalable, month-to-month plans that can change and grow as you need them to, not as defined by a contract. We’d be happy to talk with you about them more if that’s what you’re looking for! And, because we take care of as much of your phone system needs as you want, we can keep you happy by making your phone call system more efficient.

4. “How do I know if this is even working?!”

Don’t let this question keep you awake in the middle of the night. It’s critical to measure the leads your marketing is bringing in, but it is also simple. We’ve talked about some of the ways you can measure your marketing tactics in this post, but it’s worth repeating:

“One very practical way to measure your marketing is to test a small campaign and see how many responses you receive. For instance, you can send a direct mailing out to a small sub-section of your market, and include a custom URL for your website and a unique call tracking number. Then, using Google Analytics for your web results and a phone call tracking service for phone inquiries, you can measure the response you got from that direct mail. If you don’t get much response, you’ll know that you need to tweak things before going “all out.”

So, has this post brought to mind any “problem areas” you and your staff are facing? If so, I hope you’ve gained some insight into facing those challenges, and if you identify with any of these warning signs, let us know! We’ll strategize ways to make your phone call system more efficient and help your business.

What methods do you use to eliminate barriers to greater productivity?

7 Deadly Sins Of Email Marketing Campaigns

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How often do you spend more than three seconds glancing at each of the emails in your inbox? For me, after I’ve scanned and made mental notes of the important personal- or work-related correspondence, I ruthlessly “move to trash” almost all of the other emails I’ve received, sentencing them to an eternal purgatory in cyberspace.

Yet, research shows "89 percent of marketers consider email important to achieving their business goals.” It takes something remarkable to catch most people’s attention and get us to open, read and then act on an email campaign. As I scanned through my spam and trash folders, I noticed seven deadly sins most of these email campaigns committed. Here are seven sure ways to commit cardinal email marketing sins, and the steps you can take to avoid them.

1. Send out too many emails.

We’ll call this one a toss-up between envy; gluttony, over-indulgence to the point of waste; and lust, defined in part as an intense desire for money, wealth, food, fame or power. In this case, a marketer’s intense desire to tell his customers about something he thinks they will love---and purchase---grows into a barrage of emails sent all day and night. If a reader’s not expecting multiple emails per day, seven days a week, he or she is going to be annoyed. Don’t let that unsubscribe button tempt a potential customer! Instead, be transparent about how often you’re going to contact your customers from the get-go. While there’s no magic number that will guarantee the perfect reach, take time to research what your audience expects and wants. Which leads us to the second deadly sin of email campaigns...

2. Don’t treat people like people.

What we want to avoid here is the pitfall of pride, or the failure to acknowledge others. Don’t treat your audience like text-reading machines. Delight them with your understanding of their wants. Knowing your audience is a key component to successful email campaigns, so for the purposes of our example, we’ll think about pride in the sense that we have to understand what the customer wants, not what we think they want.

Did you know that 40 percent of people say they enjoy receiving marketing emails from their favorite brands? Or that 77 percent of consumers prefer marketing communications through email? Those statistics are proof that treating people like people and giving them the information they want in entertaining, engaging ways, leads to success.

Even not-so-good news presented in a thoughtful manner can boost your return in email marketing. Just recently, one of my favorite home design retailers found itself in a situation that required a massive recall of merchandise due to claims of plagiarism from one of its suppliers. I happened to preorder some of the items that were recalled, and I was pretty disappointed to find out my order would be cancelled. In the email I received, the situation was clearly explained and cancelled orders adequately apologized for. Additionally, the company went above and beyond, linking to its blog, where it provided a longer explanation of the situation and why it chose to respond the way it did. I was impressed by the brevity of the email, which got to the point, paired with the link to the company’s blog, which gave customers the option to find out as much as they wanted to know. Despite being disappointed by not getting the product I wanted, I ended up browsing the website again (and actually making another purchase!). That's good email marketing despite a tough situation!

3. and 4. Write a boring subject line and yawn-inducing copy.

Check out this statistic: 64 percent of people say they open an email because of its subject line. That means almost two-thirds of your readers are making their decisions based on the first hundred-or-so characters they see. Your subject line is not the place to get lazy (sloth). Work hard here, and you give your email campaign one of the best advantages it can have.

Here are some tips about designing a well-performing subject line:

Once you’ve crafted an awesome subject line, be innovative in your email body copy. Make sure it’s aligned with the subject, and use appropriate visuals to highlight the content. And keep your copy succinct.

5. Forget to focus on your call to action.

Customers don’t want to click delete wondering “what’s the point?”. Give them a suggestion of how they should respond, and create a sense of urgency. Here are some suggestions for drawing focus to your call-to-action:

  • Design it to stand out from the rest of the body copy.

  • Use action-oriented language (verbs like “get” and “claim,” for example).

  • Reiterate the call-to-action in case it’s missed the first time your potential customer scans through.

  • Engage, but don’t alienate. This article cautions not to let your call-to-action morph into pushiness.

6. Make it impossible to unsubscribe.

Does it surprise you that one of the deadly sins I’m comparing this to is anger? Probably not! If you’ve spent any amount of time searching for that tiny button, only to be forced to click through four separate screens before receiving a message that may or may not confirm you’ve successfully unsubscribed, you get it. Don’t get greedy and pass that frustration on to your potential customers.

Though we don’t want any our audience to unsubscribe, it’s required. Use the unsubscribe button as a learning experience.

  • Provide more than one subscription option. Maybe the reader wants your emails, just not as frequently. Maybe they’re only interested in one type of email you’re sending. Don’t let a potential customer quit cold turkey because they couldn’t just subscribe to fewer emails.

  • When appropriate, show your reader you’re sad they’re leaving. Tell them they’re valuable to you, and you want them to remain subscribed.

  • Ask for feedback. Find out what on your website or in your business is not working for your target audience so you can make changes if needed.

7. Forget to say thanks.

Say thank you to your audience. Whether that’s a literal “thanks!” or an incentive for responding to a survey, an sincere attempt at showing appreciation is one small, but important, detail that separates you from everyone else.

Now that you know what not to do, and have some options for what to try instead, you’re almost ready to press send. Just make sure you are tracking what’s working and what needs to be adjusted in your email marketing campaigns. You can even get a specific call tracking number to see if your campaign is generating a great response. Good luck, and keep on testing!

Now you tell us: what’s the best email campaign you’ve been seen lately?

Why You Shouldn't Post Your Phone Number on Craigslist

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The things I’ve bought and sold on Craigslist reads like a veritable Christmas list: guitar amp, video game system, vintage toy collection, several board games, assorted furniture; it seems like if you're looking for (or looking to get rid of) something, you can eventually do it on Craigslist.

Whether it’s locating that hard-to-find item at an unbelievable price or making a handful of cash from something that was gathering dust in the basement, every transaction I make through the website leaves me with a smile on my face and the belief that Craigslist is one of the coolest things on the internet.

But there is a darker side to Craigslist that all buyers and sellers need to be aware of: some Craigslist creepers are looking to scam you, steal from you and possibly even bring harm to you. That may sound alarmist, but a quick Google search returns story after story of users who find themselves in the midst of annoying, and even unsafe, situations.

The reality of what lurks online can be frightening, but guess what? You don’t have to close the website, shut down your computer, close your curtains and keep storing your dust-collecting stuff in your basement! A few common and not-so-common sense precautions can make your Craigslist experiences both safe and profitable.

Here are three very simple steps you can take that can help protect you as a Craigslist user:

1. Stay Anonymous

The first and best way to protect yourself from Craigslist scammers is by eliminating any chance of them knowing who you are.

Kent Davidson’s blog post does an excellent job summarizing how and why you should keep your private information off Craigslist. He recommends that the first step you should take is to use the remailer option when creating as well as when responding to advertisements. Keep your personal email out of strangers’ hands by following his advice, and you won’t have to worry about random spamming or having your email address mass-mailed to a stranger’s 500 email contacts.

Also, in your ad and/or response, don’t share any private, personal information. Things like not sharing your address and full name are no-brainers, right? But you should also be cautious of sharing your phone number on Craigslist! Automated phishing tools can easily collect your number, and scammers search specifically for this kind of information. Spelling out the digits of your phone number on Craigslist doesn’t protect you, either; what if you give your (spelled out) number to some unscrupulous buyer who doesn’t like the product after the transaction? That person can now use your phone number to harass you, and if your number is a landline, they can even locate you.

In most situations, you have to provide a contact phone number, so the best solution is to put a unique number in your Craigslist postings that won’t get trolled later. This number acts as a mask that protects your real information from Craigslist creeps but still gets you the calls, so you can buy and sell without worry. It’s both convenient and easy to set up your unique number with TeleCapture, too.

2. Be Careful When and Where You Choose To Meet

Make it difficult for someone to take advantage of you. As much as possible, arrange meetings in a familiar, well-lit, busy public locations. When at all possible, avoid meeting at your home or business, and avoid meeting at night. This post on Craigslist safety suggests using an app like BuddyGuard to keep you a bit safer, too. Finally, trust your instincts. Don’t do business with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable or who pressures you, and always bring someone else along.

3. Pay With Cash

It’s way too easy to get scammed with checks, money wires, and other fake payments. Cash is king! For small purchases, insist on cash only. If you’re buying a larger item, Paypal is recommended as a safer resource that requires only an email address. Where money and strangers are involved, it’s so important to keep yourself safe, so keep the above tips in mind, too.

Remember, it's better to be safe than sorry. These tips will help protect you and keep your money secure when you find that awesome deal or decide it’s time to sell that antique pinball machine that hasn’t been used in decades. It only makes sense to do everything you can to protect your privacy online, so contact us to find out more about getting a unique number for your Craigslist buying and selling.

Let us know... what’s the craziest thing you’ve bought or sold on Craigslist?

Why Storing Phone Records Off-Site Matters For Your Business

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"How can I grow my business?"

It’s a question you’ve no doubt considered quite a bit (and maybe “quite a bit” is even an understatement!). As an entrepreneur, you’re interested in making the most of the limited time and resources you have. So what are some concrete things you can do to maximize your investments so you can successfully grow your company?

According to international sales expert and New York Times best-selling author Grant Cardone, there’s a five-point process that answers that question. Cardone says the first two “keys” to growing your business are to delegate and pick your battles.

In other words, success comes down to realizing you can’t do it all.

You have to cut through the noise, figure out what tasks represent the 20 percent with the greatest leverage and focus on those tasks. Find those projects that make a big impact and ignore EVERYTHING else.

Sure, it sounds good to say you can ignore everything else. But what about those leftover tasks that simply must be done? As one prescient commenter put it, “when you can't do it all, you can still have someone else do it for you anyways,” thereby harnessing the strengths of others to accomplish even more.

Here’s an example:

Dr. Clean, a local dentist, recently ran a series of promotions that, thanks to precise marketing, have phones ringing off the hook. For the past month, his office staff has been inundated with calls, which has led to more booked appointments and excellent feedback from clients.

Dr. Clean and his staff are thrilled about this, but he can tell that he’s pulling his staff, equipment and himself in too many directions. His staff is so busy recording data that appointments aren’t getting made and many of the leads the promotions generated are going elsewhere.

And, in the midst of all of the good news, his office manager realizes that the hard drives that store all of the recorded data are working slower than usual and have started crashing.

Dr. Clean’s case is a prime example of the importance and value of delegating a task that can be done best by someone else; in this case, Dr. Clean can save himself and his staff a lot of time and potentially make much more profit by storing their phone records off-site.

What exactly is off-site call storage?

All off-site storage means is that someone else houses and organizes your phone records and data in their facility instead of having it take up time and space in your office.

Simple enough, but why is off-site storage important?

For business owners, having experts secure and manage their phone and data records off-site has several benefits.

  • Off-site phone record storage is secure. Compared to doing-it-yourself, the security benefits of off-site call record storage are huge. Your records are localized, easy to access, and completely protected from things like hard drive crashes, security lapses, and emergency scenarios (like fire, flood or other disaster). Experts trained in storage handle your files, so you don’t have to worry about files being misplaced or lost, and detailed recovery plans are in place in the case that something out of the ordinary does happen.

  • Off-site phone record storage is convenient. One of the benefits of off-site call record storage is that it gives you and your employees complete access and control to your files without the hassle of managing files and equipment in-house. Easy access to your data gives you near instant, up-to-date information, plus the benefit that you or your employees don’t have to spend precious time on tasks that take away from your bottom line.

  • Off-site phone record storage can boost your bottom line. Most importantly, storing phone records off-site can improve your productivity and give you and your employees more time to do the work that makes a difference. By trusting experts to handle your off-site phone recording storage, you can dedicate your time to doing what you are an expert in. Doesn’t it make sense to focus your talents on what you do best and leave the small but important details, like off-site storage, to a company who does that best?

If you’re wondering how you can get off-site phone record storage for your phone records or have a few more questions, get started by live-chatting with a representative on the TeleCapture website, or drop us a line here. We’ll share with you more about how TeleCapture can give you insight into customer phone calls to help your team close more business.

In the mean time, tell us: what’s one benefit you’ve found to storing your phone records off-site?

Can I Keep My Phone Number If I Drop My Home Phone?

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What’s the most recognizable phone number you can think of?

For me, that answer comes straight from 1981: the iconic seven digits of Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny. Apparently, that’s pretty common: a woman in Alabama named Lorene Burns, who once held the number, had this to say about the digits:

"When we'd first get calls at 2 or 3 in the morning, my husband would answer the phone. He can't hear too well. They'd ask for Jenny and he'd say 'Jimmy doesn't live here anymore.'... Tommy Tutone was the one who had the record. I'd like to get hold of his neck and choke him."

Yikes! Needless to say, after receiving dozens of phone calls each day for months, the Burns family changed their home phone number in 1982. (That’s probably a good thing, for both the Burns and their nuisance callers.)

Thankfully, most people don’t have the Burns’ problem. In fact, the number of residential land lines has plummeted in the last decade; when the song 867-5309 was released in 1981, virtually every household in the United States had at least one land line. In 2012, a CDC study concluded that 38.5 percent of Americans don’t have a land line and use only their cell phones, and another 15.9 percent people, who have both a land line and cell phone don’t use their land lines.

More than half of Americans don’t have or use their home phone numbers!

The trend lines show that residential consumers will continue to drop their land lines in favor of cellular devices; technology researchers estimate that by 2016 the number of wireless-only households could climb to 50.8 million.

Those numbers may not come as a surprise to you, but maybe you’re on the fence about whether you should drop your home phone number. You’re not alone.

Dropping your home phone is a big decision. If you are on the fence about cutting the cord, it makes sense to look at the pros and cons of having a land line phone number.

The pros and cons of cutting the cord to your home phone line:

  • Pro: You could stand to save quite a bit of money if you drop your home phone. If you already have and use a cell phone, you should take a look at the costs of your land line. Consider whether bundling your internet, phone and TV (or some combination thereof) is a savings or leaves you with services you hardly use.

  • Con: Not all cell phone plans are cheaper than land lines and bundles they are included in, especially if you use your home phone regularly.

  • Pro: You can do almost everything you do on your home phone on a cell phone. Keep in touch with family and friends, order a pizza, etc. Most cellular technology allows a lot more than phone calls, providing internet, video chat, and so much more.

  • Con (and this is a big one): In some places, cellular phone reception is not reliable enough to use in case of emergency. In fact, at my own home, a land line is a necessity because there isn’t strong enough signal to rely on reliable 911 service if I call from my cell phone. Similarly, if you don’t have reliable cell phone reception at your home, you may opt to keep your land line. This is especially true for business and errand calls, when video chat or text messages won’t suffice.

There's one more, final hesitation many people have. This is the big one.

The sticking point: the thought of losing their home phone numbers along with their land lines.

For many people, their home phone numbers are as much of their adult identities as their names or addresses. Losing it would be weird. Confusing. Stressful.

How in the world could they notify everybody of the change of number? It’s not as simple as a change of address form. In fact, it’s enough to make most people stop cold in their tracks, even if they could potentially save a lot of hard-earned money by dropping their home phone number.

Guess what? There is a way.

If you decide to drop your home phone line, you can keep your phone number.

Yes, really! You don’t have to worry about losing the phone number you’ve had for 5 or 65 years, and it is a simple process that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. So, don’t let the thought of losing your phone number and the headache that comes along with getting a new number stop you from making a move that might save you money and eliminate something that’s not really adding any value to your life.

Get started by live-chatting with a representative on the TeleCapture website, or drop us a line here.

In the mean time, tell us: have you cut the cord from your land line? How did the process go for you?

Should You Run A Newspaper Ad?

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What's black and white and read all over? The answer is, of course, the newspaper.

But when was the last time you really read all over the newspaper? And for how many people is the paper still a part of their day?

The answers to these questions, I think, aren’t black and white, but there are a few ways to identify whether print is still a good buy for your business’ marketing mix.

Newspaper advertising isn’t all black and white

Ask almost anyone on the street about the state of newspapers, and they will probably say something along the lines of “It’s not doing too well” or even “Newspapers are dead.” This conventional wisdom has been backed up somewhat by the stories we see about newspaper journalism’s continued struggle to make a profit, shrinking newsroomspapers shutting their doors after decades (and in some cases, centuries, of business), and the rise of the internet.

That sounds pretty scary if you are thinking about running a newspaper ad. In fact, you may be tempted to stop reading here! But hold on, because it’s not all bad news for newspaper advertisers.

In fact, once you read past the headlines, there are some convincing facts that point in the direction of newspaper advertising, like this one from Nielson, which says that “respondents rate newspapers (in print and on the internet) as the most effective advertising source among various media” and this one, which says that “of all media, newspaper readers are the most highly engaged with the content and advertising newspaper readers are highly engaged."

Small business owners should take note of this survey, too: "when looking at advertising effectiveness directly, with such metrics as “usually notice ads”, “likely to purchase” or “best place for Black Friday shopping,” print newspapers came in at 41 percent, above radio’s 34 percent and the Internet or TV/TV online, which had 33 percent and 32 percent, respectively.”

Here's more:

  • 86 % of consumers used media to help plan shopping or make purchasing decisions in the past 7 days.

  • Newspapers ranked first as a source by 59% of adults, followed by in store displays, direct mail, television, magazines, e-mail, radio and search.

  • 80% of newspaper readers report looking at advertising when reading the paper.

  • 41% of adults report that newspapers are the media most used to check out ads; more than all electronic media combined (internet, television, catalogs, magazines and radio). Shoppers rate newspapers first of all media for: Bringing sales to attention; Most valuable for planning shopping; Most believable and trust worthy; Look forward to this type of ad; Prefer for receiving advertising information.

  • 82% of readers used a preprinted insert in the past 30 days. On average, adults keep inserts 4.4 days. Uses include 59% to compare prices, 55% to compare one circular to another, 52% saved until visiting the store, 43% showed it to a spouse, friend or family member, 43% to make an unplanned purchase, 42% took it to the store with them.

  • Even if they don’t read the newspaper, consumers want to know what’s inside. 36% of adults who said they had not read a newspaper in the past week, used a newspaper during that same week to check sales in local stores (19% ), clip a coupon (15%), and check movie listings (10%).

I think Adam Burnham sums up the data about advertising in newspapers well (emphasis mine):

"Readers of newspapers pay for the advertising. I apologise to all of my content peers, but we charge a premium price for the Sunday edition because it is filled with advertising. And people pay that premium price so they can see everything that is on sale in the market. This is a developed behaviour that is not going anywhere.  So when I say newspapers have a future, I can think of no stronger argument than this. And if you disagree, ask some of the big box retailers that tried moving away from Sunday inserts. That move didn’t last long."

So, should you run a newspaper ad?

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of running a newspaper ad, it’s up to you to find out if newspaper ads have to potential to be successful for you.

According to this article, newspaper advertising is more successful when it is hyper-localized, and according to this article from Entrepreneur.com, targeted to people who are in the market to buy immediately.

Pay attention to your target audience, and don’t let your biases get in the way of the research.

One small business owner, in a discussion about the value of running a newspaper ad, said it this way:

Avoid one of the biggest marketing mistakes, which is assuming that your tastes and preferences and habits are those of your target market. What you do or don't do has no impact on what your target market does or doesn't do.

I think she’s right. Whether you read the paper at 7 a.m. every morning or haven’t read page one in years, your habits don’t matter. It only matters what your target audience will do. It’s up to you to determine if putting an ad in the newspaper has a high chance of success, so make sure you do your research.

If you’ve decided that you should run a newspaper ad, make sure it has the best opportunity to work for you. Here are a few things to pay special attention to:

  • Ad placement: As much as you can, make sure your product or service is being featured in a place where your target audience will be reading. Don’t stick your travel agency’s ad in the real estate section or tree-trimming service with the local restaurant menu page. Talk to your newspaper representative if you are concerned your ad isn’t in the right place!

  • Ad design: One of the most common reasons newspaper ads fail, according to this article, is that they get lost in the paper. “Small businesses tend to run small ads with mediocre copy and no illustrative materials, such as photographs or art."

  • Integrate a coupon or incentive: 21 percent of readers say the main reason they subscribe to a local newspaper is for the coupons! That means one out of five of your potential customers want to buy a paper only because they think you’ll reward them for doing so. So do it, and add a unique call tracking number to see your results (which we’ll talk more about now!).

Now, track your ads.

After you’ve done all of the hard work that goes in to planning and implementing an ad, you can’t afford not to track the results. In the quote from the small business owner above, she goes on to say that “small business people often don’t take the time to measure ad results. Without measuring results, they have no sound basis for improving their creativity, their copy, their offers, or even their choice of media.”

I completely agree with her! After all, you want to make sure it’s been worth it! You can do this easily by adding a call tracking number or website address that’s unique to your ad, which will show you per call and click exactly how effective your newspaper ad has been.

Then, you’ll be able to use the analytics to determine if you should run a newspaper ad again or if you should invest your advertising resources elsewhere.

Now that you’ve read a little bit more about our take on newspaper advertising, we want your feedback! If you’ve chosen to run a newspaper ad, how has your experience been?