The Front Porch of Life- Living and Doing Business in Small Towns

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“Too often we forget about the 120-million Americans building their homes, their businesses, and their lives in small towns far from the limelight” — not my words but those of successful entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor Robert Herjavic reflecting on the plight of small towns and small businesses decaying away.

And that is unfortunate because statistics indicate more than 50% of the employed population works at a small business.

A nationwide contest was held among small towns to find the one that could best improve upon itself by the community.

Small towns like Wabash, Indiana.

And that is how the Small Business Revolution project and web series came to be, and I have the first episode here.

As explained and described on their website:

“Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, along with Shark Tank star Robert Herjavec, employed their marketing and business expertise to help six small businesses learn more about what it takes to compete in their local and regional markets. The entire Wabash journey is captured in this eight-part web series. The opening episode provides a glimpse into the community, the businesses and the town leaders.”

Whether you are a small business in a small town such as Belfast ME where I have lived or in a big city like Boston where I have also resided, you will view the series seeing familiar problems, then hopefully say “aha there is a solution.”

( Anthony M. Scialis is an experienced print & broadcast writer who coordinates blog, Twitter & Facebook social media content to create a focused & powerful customer engagement effort which will bridge the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

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Directing Customer Traffic on Your Small Business Social Media Highway

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CARE, which stands for Customers Are Really Everything was an an employee training program I went through early on in my career. It was likened to an auto manual in how we were to treat customers, the force which drove our business.

Later, there was a newer model defining customers as both external, being the people who show interest in purchasing your product/service and internal, being employees who show interest in promoting your product/service. That’s right. EVERYBODY is your customer. Get that, and you’ve won half the battle.

Customer service is not an intangible, abstract, invisible force. You can see it and hear it everyday in the way employees interact with people interested in what you have to sell. Dynamic Social Media expert Skarlet Shuplat and I will be exploring aspects of customer service in respect to social media in a back & forth between our blogs over the next few weeks.

She correctly opens with this statement “You need to be social with your fans anSkarletd followers.” And follows up with three key areas of focus:

  • Find Customers Where They Are
  • Take Feedback to Heart
  • Be Available & Responsive

To read Skarlet’s full conversation (which already started, ladies first), scoot on over to her blog at FoxFireSocial.com

Feel free to jump in with your own thoughts. Because…. as our readers, you are our customers too!

But, for my first blog on the topic of social media presence I am going to… (cue the wavy screen to simulate a flashback)… look at the mindset of business people in regards to customer treatment.

You may have noted in the first paragraph I described customers as “both external, being the people who show interest in purchasing your product/service and internal, being employees who show interest in promoting your product/service.” I did not say buy and sell. For me, customer service has been the process of dealing with interested parties before, during and after interaction — whether a sale took place or not.

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether it is face to face, or online, your external customer’s “care experience” will be influenced by your internal customer’s attitude.

That person who walked into your store, called, emailed, or flitted through your website, might not have purchased today, but depending on the “customer experience” could be back tomorrow for something else.

Ever go into a cute little boutique store in the mall, look around and never be acknowledged by sales staff behind the counter because they’re too busy gossiping or even bad mouthing management? Ever go back?

That was a Customer Service fail.

My daughter, as a teen worked at a cool, goth store obviously aimed at active, young adults. One day an elderly (ancient by their standards I would guess) woman in a wheel chair entered the store. The sales crew, having a pity party about job unhappiness, essentially ignored her, assuming she didn’t realize the youth culture of the store and would just roll on out.

My daughter who had been doing stock, (and is a smart kid because Rachael had asked for my advice when going into retail sales) came out to talk to the lady as she was about to leave the store. Rachael explained what the store was all about and the clientele it catered to. The woman thanked her and left.

Next day she came back, asked for Rachael (my kid, beaming dad here), and proceeded to buy over $500 worth of goth shirts, pants, jewelry, etc, for her twin granddaughters who had just “graduated” from middle school and needed to look good for junior year of high school.

That was pay-off to the “Before, During & After with no sale” customer service experience.

Customers Are Really Everything. Had the other two sales staff felt better about their own “customer” experience working for the store, perhaps they would have not let the elderly woman – or any other non goth-looking client leave untouched by a positive customer experience.

The same mindset applies to customer service translated and transmitted through social media. As Skarlet’s headline asks Is Your Social Media Presence a One Way Street?
Just because you have a social media presence on Facebook or Twitter does not mean you can stand behind the counter and ignore people, whether they are paying customers or not. Every question, every comment, every shopper should be acknowledged.

Then Directing Customer Traffic on Your Small Business Social Media Highway will yield positive results.

(Anthony M. Scialis is a social media strategist focusing on blogging & tweeting as a two-step customer service effort in bridging the gap between the wants of your small business to grow and the needs of your customers to be satisfied. Follow https://twitter.com/amssvs)

Company Social Media Response Times to Customers are Unsocial

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FORTY-THREE days for a Facebook response. FIFTY-ONE days for a Twitter response. Granted, these statistics are from the “slowest” companies represented in an Eptica poll, but would you buy products from a small business that displayed anywhere near this level of ambivalence toward its customers?

Shep Hyken doesn’t think so. Neither do I. Neither should you.

Who is Shep Hyken? He is a customer service expert, professional speaker and bestselling author who works with companies and organizations that want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. In other words, he “knows” customer service.

In a blog he wrote “Social Media Response Time, Are You Fast Enough,” he was bowled over by the lack of acceptable response times businesses “on” social media were apparently giving to their customers AND non-customers.

The survey by Epitca, a global provider of multichannel customer interaction software, evaluated 500 US retailers on their ability to provide answers to 10 basic questions.

Response timesAverage response times were one day (and a few hours) for Facebook & Twitter.

Hyken wrote “This is nuts! If I have a problem, and I contact the company, I don’t want to have to wait almost eight hours to get a response. Maybe all I have is a simple question, I’m not even upset or angry. But, due to the frustration of having to wait hours, or even a day or more, for a response my simple question becomes a customer service debacle.”

It’s bad enough in the 21st century if your small business is not on Twitter or Facebook or does not have a blog— meaning you can’t or won’t hear what’s being said about you. But to put up lazily administrated token Twitter & Facebook accounts or websites without a blog and ignore comments & questions from customers until you get around to them, well, I firmly believe that is… rude and counter-productive.

Just posting pictures of what you have for sale or tweeting about store events is not going to entice people to walk into your business. Not the ones on social media. Let’s repeat. SOCIAL media. Your customers and potential customers wish to get up close & personal. They want to know why they should drive over to your store, walk in your door and pick up your product.

It’s called engagement.

And they will express this with questions tweeted, posted or in response to blogs. Calling is passe for most people. Who is watching your Twitter, Facebook and website/blog interactions? The college kid working part time? Your niece? You?

That’s the failing of many small biz owners who love social media because it offers multiple levels of free advertising, but don’t want to spend a portion of the savings on hiring a social media strategist or even just a writer like myself to make sure that there is not only solid content but someone “listening” to provide speedy customer service.

Look at those worst response times again. FORTY-THREE days for a Facebook response. FIFTY-ONE days for a Twitter response.

How would you like it if a vendor or the bank took that long to respond to you?

The full Eptica Infographic can be found here.

Reporter’s Notebook: If The Job Offer Letter Is Poorly Written…

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Image courtesy of ningmilo at FreeDigitalPhoto.com

Recently I moved and needed to update my resume on LinkedIn, About.me, and all the job boards. Shortly afterwards, this item of questionable origin barged its way into my email.

Submitted for your edification, observe how you feel as you go through the email; gauge how the typos and grammatical errors make you neither trust nor want to work for this business— whatever it is.

By no means is my writing perfect, but I do respect my readers enough to attempt a quality effort. Consider how other people might feel reading your work when you don’t take the time to edit after writing.

Charity Guzman (LatifahGonzalez@hotmail.com) viamailgun.org

Good morning Anthony Scialis,

My name is Charity Guzman, I’m one of managers with the Recruiting Division. I spotted your CV online, and I think that you would be a great candidate for a recently announced job of a Shipping Agent with our Courier Department. Due to the start of a high season our client list has was extended greatly, which is why we’re now looking for more people to work remotely.

We offer a decent remuneration along with convenient part-time hours and other benefits. If you’re interested in this vacancy and are currently located in the United States, please reply to apply for it at your earliest convenience. This is a unique opportunity to start a carrer in a vibrant and growing team as well as obtain extra income working from home.

Yours sincerely,
Your Potential Employer

Charity Guzman (LatifahGonzalez@hotmail.com) First off, why is Charity using Latifah’s hotmail account for a business? For that matter why is a seemingly international import business using a Hotmail account (nothing wrong with Hotmail, but a sizable percentage of businesses would have their own name.com).

I’m one of managers with the Recruiting Division In case you didn’t notice, nowhere does it tell me the name of the company. (Also it should be “I am one of the managers…”)

Due to the start of a high season our client list has was extended greatly... Proper grammar would dictate a comma after “season.” Proper proof reading would have determined as to which verb to use “has or was.” (Actually “has been” or “was”).

If you’re interested in this vacancy and are currently located in the United States, please reply to apply for it at your earliest convenience. Since she indicated spotting my CV, didn’t she read my address as well? Rest of sentence has awkward construction of “reply to apply for it at.”

This is a unique opportunity to start a carrer Typo on “career.” At least I hope it is a typo and not a misspelling.

Yours sincerely,Your Potential Employer No signature or title; yes she mentions early on that she is a manager with the Recruiting Division, but proper business etiquette expects a name, title and personal contact info. And the company name.

Oh, and if you clever readers out there are going to say, but Anthony, it’s an international company that probably used cheap translation software-— well that says something too, doesn’t it?

So, boy & girls, ladies & gentlemen of the jury, would you bother applying, let alone wish to work for— or purchase products/services from— a company that issues something as poorly constructed as this?

The written word is still quite powerful.

(Image courtesy of ningmilo at Free DigitalPhotos.net)

Reporter’s Notebook: Oxford Needs You!

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You may never get to Oxford, but Oxford can come to you!

To commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War (1914–18), the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is revising a set of vocabulary related to or coined during the war. Part of the revision process involves searching for earlier or additional evidence, and for this we need your help,” reports the OED website.

OxfordYes, you, my budding writers of tomorrow, can contribute to the Oxford English Dictionary and the living history of the English language. Drop that into your resume!

Basically the evidence for the sought after words “first use” comes from newspapers and magazine articles, but there may be earlier appearances in letters, diaries, and government records which might be in personal collections.

Here is an excerpt from this list:

camouflage n. earlier than July 1916

The development of aerial warfare and accurate long-range artillery in the First World War meant that weapons, vehicles, and troops needed to be concealed from enemy view; hence the need for camouflage (a word borrowed from French; it had been used in French to mean ‘disguise’ since the 19th century). The earliest evidence we have for camouflage in English is from 1916:

“The shells, which a simple camouflage of white tarpaulins effectually hid from the enemy.”

1916 Cornhill Mag. July, p. 54

Other words needing confirmation include: demob, conchie, trench foot and zeppelins in a cloud.

You are requested to go to the OED Appeals page to submit any evidence.

Reporter’s Notebook: Self-inflicted Media Wounds

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“A gaping, self-inflicted social media wound bleeding all over the Evansville, Indiana airport Facebook page.” How would you like something you wrote to be forever described like that?

That’s how Jay Baer on Social Media Today labeled a recent FB post that I feel proves my point of the dangers that you bloggers face when avoiding journalistic responsibility to check your facts and write intelligently with respect for your readers.

Facebook logo

Facebook logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is the Facebook item:

We just saw a tweet from Google facts that an airline in India only hires women because they are lighter, so they save $500,000 in fuel!!! Insert your women drive jokes below – haha!

Not to diminish the really bad taste soliciting for “women drive jokes,” and flat out offending women fliers, but I want to concentrate on the “responsibility” factor of the author of this bit of “writing.”

There are so many errors & misrepresentations in that post that if the writer had checked his/her facts, and then double checked what he/she wrote, this post would not have been written (I hope).

As an editor and as a writer, I would ask: is this a long-standing policy or a new one (hasn’t even been launched, but the post seems to indicate this is an ongoing practice); is this company-wide (no, just for flight attendants, but the post seems to imply all positions are so marked); is the fuel savings daily, monthly, yearly or total (yearly).

I did my homework and researched the item about low cost carrier Go Air, pulling these facts from several sources, including this CNN story.

“Weight and its reduction is a key focus for airlines as fuel costs, comprising a third to half an airline’s operating costs, continue to rise.”

The airline is also reducing the size of in-flight magazines and capacity of water tanks; the hiring of ‘women only’ is neither an isolated incident nor even impending. The current “130 male cabin staff (out of 330 total) will be unaffected — the policy affects future hires only. The airline expects to hire around 2,000 flight attendants and pilots over the next seven years.”

As you can see, after you check out the basic story, the focus was really on an airline trying every which way to cut costs. Nothing funny about that. And as Baer points out, nothing to do with female drivers.

Granted this was not an issue with a blog, but with a Facebook post. Yet my point about you bloggers being reporters, self-training yourselves to check facts, watching what you write and respecting your community of readers is self-evident. If you don’t learn this in your formative stages, it will come to haunt you, and someday someone will hang you with creating a “gaping, self-inflicted social media wound bleeding all over” the internet.

Anthony M Scialis