Monthly Archives: August 2016

Bosses Must Avoid This Because Killing Company Culture

Bosses are letting their employees down.

New research finds that many workers seem to doubt the ability of their company’s leaders to make workplaces run smoothly, drive accountability and inspire risk-taking. And, more than 40 percent believe that individual employees, not leaders, have the biggest impact on a company’s culture.

A study by consulting firm Root Inc. reveals that less than 40 percent of employees feel their manager has established an effective working relationship with them, with just 26 percent saying their managers embody the same values that are expected of them.

Supervisors aren’t doing a very good job of motivating those who work for them, either. More than two-thirds of those surveyed feel that most of their company’s leaders are better at their own jobs than inspiring others to excel.

The study reveals that the strained relationships have left most employees with little faith in their company’s leaders. Less than a quarter of those surveyed feel that upper management truly has the best interests of most of their employees at heart, while less than half think that these executives are committed to the company’s vision.

“From connecting everyone in the organization to the strategy of the company, to creating the right culture that supports the behaviors and process that will achieve the strategy, to making training more relevant to the jobs that people have, there are clear, actionable approaches that leaders can take to transform their organizations,” said Rich Berens, president of Root. “The good news is that while it’s not easy to drive culture change or approach communication in a different way, it’s all possible, and every incremental change will yield significant results.”

More Information About Common Causes of Corporate Culture Crises

What’s the glue holding your business together? Chances are it isn’t money, but something more difficult to put into words — an underlying current that forms the basis of all your decisions and interactions. What is this intangible force? It’s called culture, and it has the power to make or break your business.

Culture is a powerful force that can have a huge impact on the success of any company, whether it’s a tiny online retailer or a giant corporation. But harnessing this force isn’t always easy. Kai Hammerich — an international headhunter with Russell Reynolds Associates in London — believes that, to get culture working for your company, you may need an outsider’s perspective.

Hammerich’s new book, “Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy” (Wiley, 2013), offers insight into how today’s business leaders can better understand culture — both their own and that of other companies. Hammerich and co-author Richard D. Lewis lay out the ground rules for making culture the center of your business.

In an interview with BusinessNewsDaily, Hammerich explains why your business needs a guidebook for navigating the nuanced world of business culture.

BusinessNewsDaily: What is your definition of culture?

Kai Hammerich: There are several definitions of corporate and group culture. The American guru of culture and leadership, Edgar A. Schein, defines organizational culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.”

From this definition, it follows that culture is learned, reinforced and handed to the next generation and new members of the group. Culture has a purpose in terms of achieving common objectives. Perceived success will reinforce the culture and make it stronger. A group will develop its own distinct patterns of behaviors and beliefs to support the culture and the internal socialization process.

BND: What purpose does culture serve in the business world?

K.H.: Corporate culture serves to guide the members of the group or the company in terms of accepted behavior, both internally and vis a vis the outside world of customers, partners and the wider public.

At its very best, corporate culture guides judgment and enables people to overrule man-made systems that otherwise would dictate decisions and encourage behavior, adversely affecting the organization.

BND: The title of your book raises an interesting point. Can you explain how a fish’s inability to see water relates to culture and corporate strategy?

K.H.: It is no longer a secret that the single biggest obstacle to successful globalization is the inability of most companies to understand the worldview and aspirations of partners and competitors. Their culture is opaque — it seems irrational. But so does ours to them. Surely we can see ourselves clearly — or can we? Can fish see water? Can we see our own cultural environment?

Where national traits are concerned, we are all experts and victims. Culture hides much more than it reveals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants.

BND: In your book, you mention that a business’s founder can play a major role in shaping the culture or core values of a company. Can you give us an example of where you see this happening today?

K.H.: The founders are often dominant in every aspect of company life during the embryonic startup period, and through this make a lasting impact on the corporate culture, which often will continue well beyond their own presence.

Sony rose to global prominence though a strong partnership between the founder and genius innovator, Masaru Ibuka, and his younger, more commercially and internationally oriented partner, Akio Morita. Both influenced the core culture. Similarly, the technology giants Apple, Oracle, Dell and Microsoft all were profoundly impacted by the personal values and beliefs of their founders.

BND: What are some examples of cultural traits that linear-active cultures (the U.S., the U.K., Germany) view in a positive light, but which people from nonlinear cultures (Latin America, Asia, Arab countries) might see in a negative light?

K.H.: One example is our focus on results over building relationships. Direct criticism, which may be rational and facts-based, may cause someone to lose face, and thus should be delivered delicately to become accepted in nonlinear cultures.

It is not always wise to be too dogmatic or inflexible, even if you are right. In many cultures, ambiguity and flexibility may facilitate reaching an agreement more quickly. Don’t rush — you don’t build a deep relationship in one meeting.

Linear-actives are good at completing action trains. That is, when they have embarked on a course of action or project, they will concentrate on its completion and are reluctant to allow human interference while they are thus engaged. Multiactives are less single-minded about action trains but very much concerned with completing human transactions. Once they have embarked on a meaningful conversation or other significant engagement with a fellow human, they drop all other matters until the human errand has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

To illustrate the point, if an American businessman is on the phone when a close friend of his suddenly enters his office, he will wave his friend into a corner to wait until he has finished his phone call. An Italian, by contrast, will quickly terminate the phone call in order to greet his friend in a cordial manner.

BND: What’s an existential corporate crisis, and what’s the most common crisis affecting today’s companies?

K.H.: As we list in the book, there are seven common causes of a corporate crisis — poor strategy facing competition, poor execution, disruption (technology or process), success, time, change of leadership and navigating a transformation point.

Most companies understand how to deal with an isolated crisis. All of the above crises happens at regular intervals in most companies — and they deal with it. However, the most life-threatening situation is when a company has two or three crises at the same time. This is when the board and the management find it difficult to navigate the situation.

Sony, after the late 1990s, is a prime example of [a time when the following] three crises coincided: Poor execution relative to the newcomer, Samsung; a technology disruption within the industry (moving from analog to digital), which required new skills and capabilities and; the transition from the founder to a managerial regime. Sony still has not overcome those challenges completely.

BND: Your book focuses primarily on the differences between national cultures. But are there any overlapping cultural traits that you find interesting? Please share them.

K.H.: From the bazaar in Kabul to Wall Street, two truisms exist — a bias for action and being customer-oriented.

BND: How can the principles set forth in your book be applied, on the micro level, to small businesses?

K.H.: The book’s primary focus is on the international company, whether large or small. Though, many of the observations are highly relevant for any size domestic type organization— including the seven causes of a crisis, and the Cultural Dynamic Model.

Know More About E Commerce Shipping For Small Business

For any e-commerce retailers, shipping is one of the biggest and most pressing business concerns. Modern consumers are accustomed to instant gratification when they shop on their computer or mobile device, and they expect the companies they patronize to send out their orders just as quickly. This puts a lot of pressure on companies to streamline their order fulfillment and delivery processes — while still keeping costs low for customers.

“When it comes to customer loyalty, shipping speeds and costs are more important than ever,” said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, a provider of e-commerce and subscription commerce solutions. “Most shoppers still choose ‘free’ over ‘fast,’ but with a growing number of retail outlets — Amazon, eBay, and others — now combining those options, retailers of all sizes have to find ways to cater to every customer’s interests.”

Whether you’re just starting your business and don’t know where to begin with shipping, or you just want to make your shipping operations more efficient, here are the most important things retail businesses need to know about the process.

Factors that affect shipping

There’s a lot that happens between the time an item leaves your warehouse and the time it reaches the consumer. Getting a package from point A to point B requires numerous vendors, service providers and technologies, whether you’re directly involved with them or not.

“With shipping rates about to rise, small businesses in particular need to be sure they’re up-to-date on the most efficient, effective delivery processes,” Caporaso told Business News Daily. “Researching and implementing the best techniques can take time, but the savings — and loyalty — they can gain in the long run is worth it.”

Caporaso outlined a few of the major factors that can affect your shipping process:

Sales volume: What is the approximate number of daily, weekly, seasonal and annual sales you make?
Handling costs: What materials do you need to package your products — boxes, packing materials, labels, tape, etc. — and how much do they cost you?
Drop-off/pickup times and rates: How long does it take you to prepare orders for shipping? Can you save money if you pack orders at night and drop them off the next morning?
Distance from each vendor: How much will you save if you have to drive across town during rush hour to drop off shipments?
Shipping speeds: How many orders are time-sensitive? Can you save money and satisfy customers by choosing the slowest delivery times?
Range and average weight of shipments: How much will customer order weights vary, and how much might that affect your costs?
Tracking ability: Can you (and your customers) monitor the progress of your shipments?
Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, you’re ready to find vendors that suit your business’s shipping needs and budget.

Choosing your vendors

When you first start your business, you may have a small enough sales volume that you can just rely on FedEx or UPS to handle all your shipping needs. As you grow, however, you’ll likely want to look into multistep and vendor shipping options to get your deliveries out faster.

“Small businesses should take the time to identify the right shipping mix for their business needs,” added Amine Khechfe, co-founder of shipping solutions company Endicia. “FedEx and UPS are only a part of the shipping mix. While using just one carrier may seem like a simple solution, it may not be the most cost-effective one.”

Khechfe recommended that e-commerce businesses consider the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) as an alternative to private carriers, especially if they regularly ship bulky products. Business owners should take surcharges into account for services like weekend or rural delivery, and use this information to determine the most economical options for meeting customer delivery expectations, he said.

Drop shippers and other third-party logistics (3PL) providers can also reduce shipping costs for small e-commerce businesses. Drop shipping — in which a retailer sends customer orders to a manufacturer or wholesaler that then ships the product out from its warehouse — is a particularly attractive option for businesses that want to boost their shipping volume without increasing the space needed to store their inventory. Similarly, 3PLs can leverage the combined inventory volume of a group of smaller merchants to offer better shipping alternatives, said Jose Li, CEO of shipping insights and analytics firm 71lbs.

Smaller online retailers won’t have the resources to build warehouses or contract drop shippers all across the country, but building smart, strategic relationships and using technology can help these businesses find the right balance of price and convenience.

“The little guys have to act like the big guys,” said Frank Poore, founder and CEO of online merchandising and fulfillment platform CommerceHub. “They have to do things systematically to minimize costs and transit times.”

For instance, Poore said, depending on the package weight, your fastest, least-expensive delivery method might be to have a private carrier take it part of the way, and have USPS make the final delivery. He also suggested looking for suppliers and drop shippers in areas that are closest to your customer base, to minimize the distance between the origin and the destination.

Shipping technologies and analytics

Shipping has come a long way in recent years. Thanks to technology, businesses can now carefully monitor every step of the delivery process, and update their customers on a shipment at any given time. This not only benefits the customer, but ensures that you’re not held liable for any errors that occur after your product leaves your business.

“One of the biggest challenges is knowledge of what has been happening all along the supply chain and being able to confirm it,” said Hedgie Bartol, retail business development manager of networked surveillance solutions company Axis Communications.

Traditionally, if a customer reported an incorrect or damaged product showing up, you really could only take their word for it. Now, Bartol said, businesses can use video surveillance, real-time scanning/tracking and other analytics tools across their entire supply chain, and can even add some intelligence behind the system that can offer object recognition, bar code readers and other tools. You can use this information to optimize your system and reduce discrepancies and inefficiencies that slow you down.

Providing tracking details for customers is crucial, as they want to know exactly where their purchases are, said Jarrett Streebin, CEO of shipping solutions provider EasyPost. He advised focusing on getting your orders packed and shipped within 24 hours whenever possible, and sending out tracking numbers immediately.

Caporaso said retailers should evaluate their shipping strategy every six months to ensure that it’s operating at peak efficiency and delivering the best possible value to customers at the lowest possible cost to the business. An ongoing program of data collection and analysis is an invaluable part of that effort, he said.

Other shipping considerations

Packaging. In 2014, FedEx and UPS switched to a dimensional pricing model, meaning that shipping costs are determined by both the package weight and its size for ground shipments. Kevin Lathrop, CEO and president of shipping company Unishippers Global Logistics, said that many businesses made a lot of adaptations to optimize their packaging for this reason, and if your business has not done so, now is the time to start thinking about it.

“You want to use the minimum amount of space you can,” Lathrop said. “Package for safety and density, and put [your items] in an appropriate box for the load.”

Lathrop also said that if you’re shipping multiple items on a shrink-wrapped pallet, it’s important to label each individual box in case the load is broken up before it reaches its final destination.

Return policies. Because they’re unable to test or try on items they purchase on your site, Caporaso noted that e-commerce customers are more prone to returning their purchases than in-store shoppers are. Creating a customer-friendly return policy that includes free return shipping may cost more up front but could go a long way in creating customer loyalty.

“You don’t want to absorb more costs, much less encourage ‘frivolous’ returns, but offering free return shipping, especially to your best customers, will give them greater confidence, knowing that you stand behind your products,” Caporaso said.

Customer expectations. Your customers’ expectations should be at the core of every shipping decision and deal you make, Caporaso said. A carrier that saves you money in the short term but provides poor service will cost you customers, and therefore money, in the long term.

“Online shoppers practically demand free shipping these days, and if they can’t get that, they expect — at the very least — that their orders will show up on time and in excellent condition,” Caporaso said.

Regardless of whether you offer free shipping, you need to set and manage your customers’ expectations. Your shipping policy should be easy to understand, and easy to access on your website. Caporaso also cautioned businesses not to promise more than they can deliver, especially during peak times like the holiday season.

“Establish firm, achievable shipping deadlines, and stick to them,” he said.

The Best Live Chat Solutions for Small Businesses

Want happier customers? Using live chat software can keep customers satisfied, while helping you grow your business online.

Live chats provide fast, on-demand customer support right on your website, giving you an opportunity to immediately address customer concerns, answer questions and even close sales before customers click away. In addition to speeding up customer support, live chat systems let you monitor visitor behavior to provide personalized service, convert browsers into paying customers and improve your website to increase sales.

Many live chat solutions, however, aren’t made for small business. They primarily target large enterprises, making them too complex and unaffordable for startups and entrepreneurs. Instead, here are seven live chat solutions that offer big business features on a small business budget.

1. LiveHelpNow

Businesses can choose from a standalone live chat service or as part of an on-demand customer support bundle. LiveHelpNow offers an entire suite of call management and ticket-based email help combined with a robust live chat service. The live chat service comes with a comprehensive set of features, including automatic call routing — so customers are taken to the right department, such as general support, billing, sales or tech support — agent monitoring, document sharing, mobile access, real-time foreign language translation and reporting. In addition to live chat, LiveHelpNow also offers live text support as part of its chat-based customer service platform. LiveHelpNow starts at $21 per month for per agent. A free 30-day trial is also available.

2. LiveEngage by LivePerson

Live chat is all about making support more convenient for customers. If you’re looking for a flexible solution, check out LivePerson. The company’s LiveEngage live chat software lets customers contact you on both your website and their mobile phones using an app (iOS and Android) or via mobile Web. The product is also scalable, so you can choose different plans and services as your business’s needs grow. Features include the ability to resume conversations — for instance, if their Internet connection drops and the chat ends — and view real-time progress to see if issues have been resolved. Customers can also leave feedback, rate the representative they chatted with and score their satisfaction at the end of each chat session. LiveEngage plans start at $49 per month.

3. My LiveChat

Most live chat providers require a monthly subscription, but if you’d like to give live chats a test drive, free is always a good place to start. My LiveChat offers a free live chat that doesn’t compromise on key features. In addition to real-time visitor monitoring to help personalize chat sessions, My LiveChat also makes live chats more efficient by letting agents hold multiple chat sessions at a time, send pre-written responses to frequently asked questions, keep chat histories and send email transcripts. My LiveChat is also customizable to fit your brand, allowing you to upload your logo to appear on instant messages and customize greetings and other automated messages.

4. Olark

Having full control of live chats is key to delivering quality customer support. Olark’s Targeted Chat feature lets chat representatives both control how many chats are received and select which customers to chat with, for instance, to prioritize cart abandonment prevention or to boost sales. The software also provides key information reps need, such as which page a customer is viewing, their browsing history on the website and how long they have been on the website. With this information, chat representatives are fully equipped to provide excellent service and close sales. Olark starts at $15 a month.

5. ClickDesk

Live chat doesn’t have to be limited to instant messages. ClickDesk offers an enterprise level live chat system at a small business-friendly price. Make customers happier by letting them choose how they want to receive support, whether it’s through the traditional live chat pop-up on your website, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) voice chats or video calls (none of which require any additional installations on the customer’s part). Agents can also choose to answer customers using ClickDesk’s live chat portal or using Google Hangouts. ClickDesk starts at $12.99 per month. A free version is also available, but is limited to one agent and voice chats.

6. WhosOn

In addition to providing immediate customer support, live chat software can also help you grow your business using customer data. The WhosOn live chat system lets you easily monitor individual visitor behavior on your website, so you can track their “journey” as they browse. For instance, agents can pinpoint those who are simply looking at different products and may need help deciding, as well as those who are already in the checkout process, but may be hesitating or having trouble with the purchase. Doing so can help target customers to close sales — the company claims to reduce cart abandonment by 10 percent — reduce bounce rates and give you an idea of how to improve your website. Contact WhosOn for a custom pricing quote. A free trial is also available.

7. SnapEngage

Need a live chat system that works with your workflow? SnapEngage integrates with your workflow, streamlining customer service with other parts of your operations. From productivity to social, SnapEngage connects to more than 20 business apps. These include customer relationship management (CRM) software Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics and Highrise; helpdesk systems Zendesk, and UserVoice; and collaboration and project management apps Basecamp, and Jira. Businesses can also chat with customers directly from their Facebook page. SnapEngage starts at $60 per month.