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27 December, 2016

Should You Hire or Outsource Your First Employee?

One of the light bulb moments in the life of a business is when you, as a sole small business owner, realize you can’t do it all yourself. When it’s time to hire that first person, consider the pros and cons of hiring in-house or outsourcing.

If you don’t have enough work to hire someone for at least half time, it’s usually better to outsource. After all, the amount of paperwork and the legal considerations involved in hiring an employee, such as learning tax reporting requirements, purchasing the necessary insurance, creating benefit plans, and so on, can be overwhelming to a business owner just looking for a little help. And it’s a lot harder to let an employee go than it is to cancel a vendor contract.

Certain tasks are best left to experts. Legal services and information technology, for example, are often outsourced, as are accounting and bookkeeping, especially for business owners who are not numbers savvy. Customer service and administrative tasks, such as mailing, invoicing, and even inventory management, are other frequently outsourced duties.

But before you rush off to find a vendor, consider the following:

  • Your outsourced worker may not care as much about the job as an employee. Contractors have other clients and other priorities, so you might have to fight for their attention.
  • Any information you provide an outsourced worker can be vulnerable. Screening vendors carefully is a must, especially when it comes to handling sensitive financial data or information security.
  • If you’ve ever spent an hour on the phone with a customer service representative who can’t really answer your questions, you know why it’s important to make sure any outsourced customer service is actually helpful to customers. If it’s customer service you need, nothing’s worse for your business than frustrating your clientele, so choose wisely.
  • If you’re not a clear communicator, it may be more difficult to work with an outside firm for tasks such as web design or marketing. While you’ll get higher-quality work than if you did it yourself, you may not get exactly what you want. And each time you make a change, it costs you money.

If your business is on the upswing, and you’ve got the wherewithal to set up the necessary systems to hire an employee, an office administrator is a good place to start. An individual who knows basic accounting systems and can take care of some of the smaller, more distracting details of business operations can be an important asset. An in-house bookkeeper can help you keep your cash flow moving by invoicing and collecting bills in a timely manner. Other good positions to fill in-house are customer service and shipping. Those customer relationships are key to building the best marketing tool in your arsenal: word of mouth.

As a fledgling business, take your hiring-vs.-outsourcing decisions seriously. Interview your contractors with the same depth you would potential employees. If you’re hiring a firm, consider such things as turnover, reputation, and response time. If you’re hiring an individual, check references and work history. Sometimes companies end up hiring contractors to work for them full time, so consider that possibility as you interview potential contractors.

Hiring your first employee is a milestone, and at some point all business owners need help to grow. Make sure it’s the right time and for the right job. Before you hire, consider whether outsourcing may be a better option. It could be the difference between growth and stagnation.

Emily Esterson is a contract writer, editor, and publisher specializing in small business topics.

27 December, 2016

An Introduction to Live Chat

What is live chat support and how can I make it work?

This video will give you a brief introduction to live chat support:

Live Chat Support is a relatively new way to interact with your website visitors. Usually the visitor initiates a chat request by clicking an icon on your website. This can look like this, for example:

Image: SnapEngage live chat button

The chat button can be positioned anywhere on your site. However, we found that it makes most sense to add it to the bottom right position as Facebook does the same in their chat application.

Live chat can be used for prospective customers in order to help them with their buying decision or for current customers who need support with a product they have already bought.

Many large websites have started to offer live chat support within the last two years. But live support systems are not only suitable for the big guys; small and medium-sized businesses alike have started to realize the added benefits live support can bring to their websites.

live support tools faq

In this article we will explain what you can expect from quality live chat software and how you can best integrate it into your website. These are some typical questions:

What about the look & feel of the live chat widget?

If you have a nicely branded website, you obviously want the live chat widget on your site to enhance this user experience. For that reason please make sure you check out the “appearance customization” section in each of our reviews.

There are also general differences in terms of how live chat widgets function. Some of the tools just put up an image on your website that tells the visitor that an operator is online. After clicking the image a pop-up window will open up where the customer can initiate the chat.

We found that the better solution is a widget-like chat bar that stays at the bottom of all pages of the website. When a customer starts a conversation the widget will expand to its full size. There won’t be a separate window and the chat will remain active even if the visitor browses to another page on your website.

How do I answer incoming chat requests?

The chat console is your control center: from here you can answer chat requests, monitor who is on your site and many more things. Some providers offer their own console (browser-based or installed on your computer), others use an instant messenger like Skype, Google Talk or Pidgin.

Usually it is better when the provider offers his own chat console as instant messengers (IM) where not originally intended to be used for live chat support, which means that either not all options will be executable through the IM or you will have to remember keyboard shortcuts. Ideally the provider offers both options.

What additional features do live support tools offer?

Proactive chats

When there are free chat agents you can set your software to start chats proactively on their behalf. This way you will be able to reach a lot more customers. Make sure the chat does not start in an intrusive way i.e. forcing the user to manually close the chat in order to be able to continue browsing.

Offline mode

When there is no chat agent online you can usually choose whether the chat client will simply disappear or turn into a contact form.

Canned messages

This will help you with phrases that are used frequently; “Hello, how can I help you today?” would be an example. While this can save a lot of time, you should avoid overdoing it as it can sound like a robot when the answer is not really tailored to the visitor’s question. You’ll also find that quite a few visitors will suspect a machine answering their questions anyway, so don’t be surprised when they ask “are you a bot?”. Now you better surprise them with a really helpful conversion and they will keep coming back to your site.

Chat protocols

Most tools will automatically save a copy of the chat. This is great in case you want to assess the quality of your support agents.

Tracking & Live analytics

By using live analytics you can see where your visitors are from, which page they are on and what has referred them to your website (e.g. search term used). This is very useful in order to gain further insights on your visitor’s background, especially when you intend to start chats with visitors that seem most promising.

Integration with CRM tools

If you are using a standard CRM or helpdesk solution like Salesforce, Highrise or Assistly there are a couple of live chat tools that integrate directly with them. This way you can add the chat conversation to your customer’s existing profile.

Team work

When working in a team, especially in one with different departments, it is important to be able to transfer chats to one another. This generally works better with a vendor that provides their own chat console rather than an instant messenger.

These were some of the most important aspects to watch out for when choosing a live chat support tool.

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27 December, 2016

Customer Service - Client Service

Managing online business requires different skills and abilities than managing a business in the ‘real world.’ Customers can easily detect the size and determine the prestige of a business when they have the ability to walk in and take a look around. Not only do ‘real-world’ furnishings and location tell the customer what level of professionalism to expect, but "real world" personal encounters allow first impressions to be determined by how the business approaches its customer service. When a customer walks into a retail business just about anywhere in the world, that customer expects prompt and personal service, especially with regards to questions that they may have about employees they wish to purchase.

Customer service or the client service is the service provided to the customer for his satisfaction during and after the purchase. It is necessary to every business organization to understand the customer needs for value added service. So customer data collection is essential. For this, a good customer service is important. The easiest way to lose a client is because of the poor customer service. The importance of customer service changes by employee, industry and customer. Client service is an important part of every business organization. Each organization is different in its attitude towards customer service. Customer service requires a superior quality service through a careful design and execution of a series of activities which include people, technology and processes. Good customer service starts with the design and communication between the company and the staff.

In some ways, the lack of a physical business location allows the online business some leeway that their ‘real world’ counterparts do not enjoy. Location is not important, furnishings are not an issue, and most of the visual first impression is made through the professional design of the business website.

However, one thing still remains true. Customers will make their first impressions on the customer service they encounter. Unfortunately, in online business there is no opportunity for front- line staff to make a good impression. Every interaction the customer has with the website will be their primary means of making their first impression towards the business and its client service. Good customer service in any online business is a direct result of good website design and planning.

By Jayashree Pakhare (