Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Customer service is a core part of many businesses. When customers reach out to or for customer service, quite often it’s about a problem or an issue that requires a resolution. Customers are typically looking for someone who is going to listen to and understand the issue at hand. They are looking for someone who understands that there is a sense of urgency, the issue needs to be treated with a level of priority and that it will be addressed in a timely manner. Customers are also looking for accountability; someone to take charge, be responsible and follow through from start to finish to ensure the problem or issue reaches final resolution or is escalated appropriately and promptly up the chain until reaching that resolution.

Talk is cheap! Customers want results!

It’s important to note that this is not the time to upsell or downsell to customers. Upselling or downselling is not a solution or resolution to a problem or issue. These are retention tactics, plain and simple! Sure, some customers may be taken in by the tactic while others who understand the retention tactic may manipulate it to their advantage. For real problems or issues, this will likely infuriate customers, especially patrons. Fair warning: If you’re going to play with fire, you’re going to get burned! Put your customers first! Focus on resolving the issue at hand in a timely, effective and efficient manner. Don’t give your customers the runaround and don’t make them jump through hoops. In the end, it can have serious repercussions on your business and its reputation.

Any business that is defined, in whole or in part, by the quality of their customer service, their customer service reputation and customer satisfaction rating MUST step up and provide an exceptional, premier level of customer service to their customers not only to differentiate themselves from their competitors but also to demonstrate and prove to their customers that they have earned and deserve their customers’ business. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Making Investments in Your Business in the New Year

As we prepare to close out the year, business owners should take the time to evaluate their current business operations to determine what investments they need to make in their business heading into the New Year and begin planning & budgeting for those investments. This includes investing in staff (ex: hiring additional employees, employee training & education, health & wellness programs, incentives & retention programs), investing in technology (ex: computers, servers, software, storage, network equipment) and investing in infrastructure (ex: office/office space, furniture, fixtures) just to name a few.

While planning and budgeting for potential investments does not guarantee that business owners will be able make those investments into their business at any specific time (ex: due to financial constraints, weak business performance, unforeseen circumstances), business owners should still be proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps the investments may not occur in the first or second quarter of the year but may be possible in the third quarter.

In some situations, business owners may need to front-load the investments to achieve future business performance gains. For instance, if your business is a design firm relying heavily on up-to-date technology, but you are running outdated computers and software, you’ll need to make investments in technology to get updated computers and software NOW, so you can get the work done. If you can’t get the work done, your business will be unable to stay afloat. Likewise, business owners may need to hire an additional employee to help in critical areas to get work done and meet timetables. The successful completion of a client project can result in future projects (and additional income) but failure could mean the loss of the client (and loss of significant income). In these situations, business owners MUST make the investments immediately rather than postpone or delay them to a later date.

To help manage the business, business owners should utilize financial projections. Income projections (and if needed, cash flow projections) can be an extremely useful tool in helping to manage the business but keep in mind that projections are exactly that – A PROJECTION. The more reliable financial information that you have available, the better your projections will be; however, projections are NOT SET IN STONE!

Business owners who are unfamiliar with financial projections should work with their lead or senior Accounting/Finance person (ex: CFO, Director of Finance, Accounting Manager, Head of Accounting/Finance) to create/prepare financial projections for the business for the upcoming year. If you don’t have a lead or senior Accounting/Finance person, consult with your Accountant or CPA Firm for guidance. While preparing financial projections is not overly difficult, it does require a level of experience.

Co-Working Spaces, An Option for Startups and Small Businesses

If you’re a startup or small business, finding the right office space for your business can be challenging. In addition, depending on where you are located, commercial office leases can be quite expensive. For commercial leases, landlords will typically require at least three years of financial information (ex: balance sheets, P&Ls, tax returns) from your business as part of the review process. A security deposit will be required at the time of signing (typically two to three months of rent). Landlords will also require the business to show proof of commercial liability insurance coverage and will want the building owner, landlord and management company named on the policy as Additional Insured.

Let’s not forget additional costs that may come with leasing an office space including utilities, cleaning, a HVAC maintenance agreement, property taxes and escalations. Many landlords will also require a lease commitment. While some landlords may allow for short-term leases (1-3 years), many will seek long-term leases (5-10 years).

As a startup or small business, you may consider running your business out of your home. While that may be suitable for some businesses, it certainly won’t be suitable for all. In addition, if your business requires frequent meetings with clients and vendors, having access to a professional office space and conference rooms become a necessity.

Co-working spaces have been growing quickly over the past several years. Companies like Regus, WeWork, TechSpace and The Yard, just to name a few, have swept up commercial real estate spaces and converted these spaces into turnkey co-working office spaces. Offerings may include virtual office space (access to a physical mailing address, phone number, voice mail, call answering service), day passes (day access to the facility, general meeting area, high-speed Internet), dedicated desk or office space of varying sizes (typically requires a monthly fee and commitment terms vary from month-to-month to 3, 6, 9 or 12 month increments) and flexible access to their other facilities and locations.

For startups and small businesses, turnkey co-working space agreements provide greater flexibility than typical commercial lease agreements, which help business owners manage tight operating costs. Co-working spaces may require a security deposit; however, they typically won’t require three years of financial information from the business. The monthly costs will generally be lower than a typical commercial office lease since you are only paying for what you need. Some co-working spaces may require that you carry commercial liability insurance coverage; however, the costs are generally more affordable since the office space will be significantly smaller. Utilities and cleaning services are usually included in the monthly fee and some conference room access (hours) may be included in the monthly fee. Some spaces may also include complimentary coffee, tea and water. Additional services may be purchased a la carte.

All-in-all, co-working spaces don’t sound too bad at all . . . so why even consider leasing a commercial office space?

While co-working spaces can be beneficial in the short-term, there are plenty of reasons why you’ll eventually need to find a suitable commercial office space.

First . . .  SIGNAGE! You’ve worked hard to make a name for yourself and your business so you’ll want your business name prominently up at the entry way to your office space. Unfortunately, the first name you’ll see with most co-working spaces will be the name of the company that provides the co-working space. While you may place signage for your business on the door to your individual space, you typically won’t be able to place any signage in the Reception area for the co-working space. This can be a major drawback for new business and potential business prospects.

Second . . .  Costs can add up quickly! The two major areas where your costs can quickly add up even if your office space needs don’t change will be conference room hours and Internet bandwidth. If you have a monthly agreement in place, it will typically include a fixed number of conference room hours as well as Internet bandwidth. If your business requires meeting with clients or vendors frequently, your conference room hours can add up very quickly. Likewise, if your business requires a lot of Internet bandwidth for uploads, downloads, streaming, etc., you could be faced with a ridiculously high overage bill for your Internet bandwidth usage.

Third . . . PRIVACY! Co-working space means there will be plenty of other businesses sharing the overall office space. Some co-working spaces don’t have fully enclosed offices. This means you can hear the activities of your neighbors. If you are able to find a fully enclosed office space within the co-working space, this might not be a big deal. However, if you happen to be in one of the spaces that are not fully enclosed, you might feel quite uncomfortable discussing business plans, strategies and so forth where nearby neighbors can hear those discussions. Granted, most co-working spaces may include privacy spaces (ex: phone booth-style privacy space); however, if you’re paying a monthly fee for an office space, you shouldn’t have to pop into a phone booth-style privacy space to have a conversation.

One other reason for eventually needing commercial office space is if your business grows, you will outgrow your co-working space. Sure, you may be able to find a larger office space within the co-working space; however, if that happens, you could be paying just as much (probably more) for the co-working space as you would for commercial office space. If that’s the case, finding suitable commercial office space will make much more sense.

Lastly, let’s not ignore the fact that there are alternatives to co-working spaces. For instance, you could lease part of an office space from another tenant (Sublandlord). While similar to a co-working space, the number of other businesses that operate within the office space will be limited, you may be able to work out signage at Reception, there could be more privacy and you can split/share the costs of overhead which will be mutually beneficial to both the Sublandlord and SubTenant.