• Organizations that have exceptional service cultures don't happen by accident. They are the result of a defined customer service strategy. Customer service practices should be incorporated into business goals that impact corporate objectives. This is accomplished by having a defined customer service strategy.

    A customer service strategy consists of:

    A Vision for Customer Service
    Communicating the customer service vision is an important first step in service strategy. Employees need to understand their role in meeting the needs of customers and how their work contributes to the vision. It is easy to recognize businesses that are strong in service and those that aren't. Service training is the key to a great customer service experience.

    Assessing Customer Needs
    It is important to find out what the customer needs and expects. There are several approaches to soliciting customer feedback. It can be done by using customer comment cards, satisfaction surveys or focus groups. Each method can

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  • Election uncertainty over for small businesses; now what?

    Throughout campaign season, many small business owners reported paralysis over pursuing growth or hiring due to uncertainty about what kind of administration they'd face for the next four years. Would ObamaCare be repealed? Would the regulatory environment ease up? Would tax rates increase?

    This morning, no question remains about who will lead the country for the next four years, and it's more likely than ever that the Affordable Care Act will remain in tact.

    But much uncertainty remains. Small businesses still can't be sure just what the new health care act will cost them come 2014 when it goes into full effect. And yesterday's election outcome brought virtually no change to the partisan split on Capitol Hill, with Republicans ruling the House and Democrats ruling the Senate, which leaves great uncertainty about the so-called fiscal cliff and tax rates.

    Of that status, the Wall Street Journal editors this morning warned:

    "Mr. Obama will now have to govern the America he so

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  • The Role Your Personal Credit Score Plays in Start-Up Financing

    by Michael Germanovsky

    When people think of starting a business, one of the first things they might consider is writing a business plan. Identifying a source of funding is a large part of it. A successful business takes cash flow to sustain it and investment to grow it. We all know investors are hard to come by. So there are two basic ways to fund the start-up costs for a small business. One way is a traditional business loan and the other is a line of credit.

    If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, then be kind to your credit and it will be there for you when you need it. Your credit does not have to be perfect to get a loan or credit extension to start a business, but the better your credit history the better your chances to obtain start-up financing.

    About half of small businesses fail within the first five years, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Even with low start-up costs and low overhead there are still going to be those times when credit is needed in the

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  • Sandy, disaster preparedness, free money: Small Business Reading

    Last week in Small Business Reading we managed to be just a tiny bit prescient when we highlighted the often-overlooked topic of emergency planning. As everyone knows, that has come back with a vengeance with the arrival of Sandy on the Eastern Seaboard. For those small businesses in the affected area, the SBA is making disaster loans available. It's also worth noting that some of the small businesses in the disaster area managed to keep thins going using old-fashioned word-of-mouth and its modern replacement - social media. Part of the reason they were able to do that are the large number of tools available for small businesses based on smartphones and tablets - which will at least keep running for a few more hours when the power goes out and which are easier to recharge. This article has a few simple tips on ways to keep gadgets running when the power goes out. For those truly unfortunate enough to have their business dreams dashed, perhaps the best way to recover is to face your

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  • Self-employed head to polls with unanswered questions

    NASE's Facebook button

    With only three days to go before they head to the polls, self-employed voters are disappointed with the Presidential candidates, each of whom made small business owners a centerpiece of his platform. Katie Vlietstra, Director of Government Affairs for the National Association for the Self-Employed, says the organization submitted 10 questions in September to President Obama and Governor Romney's campaigns on behalf of the nation's 22 million sole proprietors and micro-business owners—a group she says represents more than 70 percent of the small business community.

    NASE, which is non-partisan and does not endorse a candidate, promised to use the candidates' answers to educate and inform its membership about the positions of each on small business taxes and economic recovery "so that they may make the best decision for their business in November." But November is here and the answers never came.

    To be fair, Vlietstra acknowledges that hundreds of constituent groups submit

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  • By Jonathan Poston

    If business "branding" were as simple as its namesake might lead us to believe, then it would just be a matter of heating up the iron and swiftly searing it deeply into the hides of the jumpy target market. Effectively branding businesses involves tagging targets who, unlike their four-legged friends, have already been lashed with hundreds of hot pokers from more established ten-gallon hat ranchers. But, with a steady hand, and a solid grasp of effective technique, there's still room among the herds for new firebrands to make their mark.

    Here are three rules to follow before heating up the branding irons.

    1) Brand names aren't everything, but there are caveats to keep in mind when choosing one. Some marketing firms, perhaps the ones that like to charge 10-20k to conjure out of thin air a slick new name for their clients, will say a name can make or break a business. While partially true, it's not everything. But here's the part that is important: Select a name that

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  • Business in a hurricane disaster area? Here’s SBA loan info

    The most-visited item on the Small Business Administration's loan information website today is the Disaster Loan Application. SBA announced yesterday that various disaster recovery loan programs will become available to eligible applicants as disaster assessments and declarations are made.

    President Obama has already declared disaster areas in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and additional announcements are expected.

    If your small business sustained physical damage or "economic injury" as a result of Hurricane Sandy, you may be eligible for SBA assistance. Businesses must submit loan applications directly to SBA in order to get an inspector to estimate damages. SBA says it strives to make decisions within 18 days, and advises against waiting for insurance settlements before applying for an SBA loan in order to avoid missing filing deadlines. The application-filing deadline for physical damage loans is December 31, 2012. The deadline for economic injury loans is July 31, 2013.

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  • manageremployeesEmployees go to work with the intention of doing a good job but managers are often the reason they don't. We sometimes put employees in situations where they don't have the resources to perform well and they become frustrated when they are not given the necessary tools and training to complete job assignments.

    Successful managers have learned to support employees by advocating for them and helping them remove the barriers that hinder productivity. They do this by asking one important question. This one question can reveal the obstacles that employees face that only the manager can help to overcome. So what is the question?

    How can I help you?

    This question demonstrates the manager's commitment to serving the employee and their intent to help resolve issues. This question also reveals employee challenges and issues that only a manager can help fix.

    When employees answer this question, they reveal work issues that need to be resolved and often answer the question with this response.


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  • Socially networked small businesses help customers navigate storm

    Connecticut farmer Patti Popp used Facebook during the storm to ask customers to keep an eye out for row covers that blew away.

    In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, power was cut to every resident in the Connecticut village of Easton, where more than 100 trees had fallen on utility wires. Even most of those with generators to power their homes couldn't get TV news or listen to the reverse-911 calls placed by the town's first selectman. Throughout town, phones, internet, and cable service were knocked out by the storm.

    Nevertheless, news flowed among neighbors over Twitter, Facebook, and email about open restaurants, businesses offering wifi access, where to buy a bottle of wine, and which local service stations weren't yet sold out of gas. An unofficial "mommy network" shared knowledge about open movie theatres and other activities for kids home from school for at least a week. And tragically, news that an Easton fireman had died in the line of duty during the storm circulated so quickly that many residents knew the hero's name before local newspapers published it online.

    Smart small business owners who

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  • Nightmare managers: These bosses make it Halloween 365 days of the year in the office.


    Managers come in all forms. Some are fantastic, some dreadful. But who hasn't experienced a nightmare boss? Perhaps even one deserving of a special costume for Halloween. It might not scare the neighborhood kids, but it'll certainly scare their parents! Here for a bit of Halloween fun are XX bosses from your nightmares.

    First of all, let's be clear. What exactly IS a boss?

    Next - let's move straight on to the boss from Hell - the one for whom nothing is EVER good enough.

    This link will take you to an example of a seemingly innocuous boss, but one that is deadly in practice - the disorganized manager.

    Discipline is an issue that undermines the best of managers. This link shows you the unready, the silent, the terse and the sarcastic managers in full flight.

    And one thing that is sure to bring out the monster in every manager is the performance review.

    But perhaps the biggest nightmare of all is the clueless boss...

    For more information about good and bad management practices

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