Implementing online customer service strategies

Quality customer service is major factor to having a successful business.  It also helps to attract and gain customer loyalty to ensure return business, and helps to develop your business as a distinctive brand in your industry. tele-working

More and more customers are turning to the internet to find a business as well as find out more about a business.  Online customer service strategies are also offering a means for widening your business’s current market base. Here are the four simple but highly effective online customer service strategies:


  • Make your website a one stop shop – every time you need to speak with a customer, it is costing you money.  Consider how you can make the most of your website as a customer service tool eg: Have all the information about your business on your website or have a Frequently Asked Questions page.  Ensure that your website is mobile friendly
  • Give your expertise to get your customers’ attention – People are time poor so when they need to find information, they want to find it quickly or find it serendipitously. You can do this by pushing out useful and interesting information via social email.  Use Google Alerts to bring the useful content to you, and then use Hootsuite to schedule the content. Alternatively, send it via email to your customers using Mailchimp
  • Automate your customer service strategies – through online services which allow you to text chat with your customers online in real time or by allowing your customers to self-service like booking them self into an appointment using or by registering for an event via Eventbrite.  You can also automate how you communicate with your customers by using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool like Salesforce so you can schedule regular email touch points to help your customer through their ‘journey’ eg reminders about when they need to change their water filter.
  • Collect the data and make your customer service better – by offering online customer service strategies via website, social media, email marketing services and online booking services and CRM services, you have access to amazing analytics about how your customers behave.  Use this data to determine what works best and worst for your customers and then put the time into improving your weaknesses


Implementing online customer service strategies takes an I-CAN approach:

  • I – Implement a strategy which is built upon by:
    • C – Committing to making your customers’ world a better place
    • A – Analysing what works and what doesn’t
    • N – Never let the technology be the focus – still make the experience human


Contact us now (email or [+61] 0400 732 270) to discuss how we can help you implement some of these online customer service strategies.

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Workforce planning is key to an innovative business

Innovation is important to any business as it helps to stimulate new ideas and solve old problems, thereby ensuring your business remains current and viable.  The key to sustaining innovation, however, is ensuring that you and your staff are prepared and well skilled to take on an innovative approach through workforce planning.

CC0 Public Domain image by Mohamed Hassan -
CC0 Public Domain image by Mohamed Hassan –

Here is how you can do this:

  1. Undertake a SWOT Analysis to determine your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses (internal context) and the opportunities and threats (external context) that innovation brings your organisation.  This will enable you to determine what the key areas your organisation will be focussing to be innovative.
  2. Determine the required skills and competencies your organisation will need to deliver innovative ideas.  This can be done by contacting your industry/business association/networks, by working with a training organisation to undertake a skills analysis, or by doing some research about future job skills in your area
  3. Determine how you are going to source these skills, either through:
    1. professional development strategies for existing staff such as formal learning through accredited training or informal learning opportunities where staff are involved in projects to trial and test new ideas
    2. recruitment strategies to attract new staff such as writing a new job description and aligning your business’s goals and culture to match your innovative direction, then pulling together a job notification which attracts the right people
    3. engagement strategies to hire external contractors such as writing an outsourcing project brief for engaging virtual workers, reviewing your HR policies and procedures, and upskilling your leaders to manage external staff

Now that you have determined your plan of attack, you are now ready to prepare an implementation, evaluation and reporting plan which should include:

  • What are you trying to achieve? When will you achieve this by?
  • Whether you need to involve others or get approval?
  • How will you communicate your strategies to key stakeholders?
  • What strategies, resources and funding you will need to implement your workforce plan?
  • What reporting techniques you will need to continue to build upon this approach?


Contact us now (email or [+61] 0400 732 270) to discuss how we can help you develop your workforce plan which will drive innovation in your business.

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Grow your business with government grants

Currently there some great Government grants available to grow your business such as Business Growth Grants and Export Market Development Grants.

CC0 Creative Commons image by 3dman_eu -
CC0 Creative Commons image by 3dman_eu –

Grant funding is highly contested so make sure your application is given the best chance of being selected by following these ten top tips for writing a successful funding application:

  1. Contact the funding manager first and discuss your idea – even though you may think that you have the best idea in the world, if it doesn’t fit the funding criteria you could waste a lot of time writing an application simply to have it ‘knocked-out’ because it didn’t meet the criteria.  
  2. What’s your idea? – clearly describe your idea and how it meets the funding requirements.  Where possible, include evidence to back up your idea.
  3. Address all of the funding criteria – your application will be assessed against each and every one of the criteria, so ensure you address them appropriately.
  4. Less is more – be succinct – If you can’t write what you are trying to say in less than a paragraph you are going to lose the Selection Panel’s attention as they have LOTS of funding applications to read so get to the point quickly.
  5. Your team is Number One – run a business is like herding cats – so having the right people will make the difference between a success and a disaster of your idea.  State why your team will ensure your idea will be a success.
  6. Has it been done before? – your idea may be brand new to you but there’s a good chance that someone else may have already do it.  Find out if your idea has been funded before and see where you can ‘build’ on it rather than replicate it.
  7. It’s not all about the money – Grant funding gives you the time or expertise needed to develop your idea but you will need to demonstrate that you can achieve desired outcomes, so clearly explain how you will measure the success of your idea.
  8. Can you contribute? – the funding body provides funding to help build long term capability and resources so make sure that you are able to (and willing to) share the cost of funding your idea.  
  9. Can the idea go beyond the grant stage? – you will need to demonstrate how your business will have the ability to ‘sustain’ the idea beyond the initial phase … ie where will the funds come from to ‘rolling out’ or ‘scaling up’ your idea?
  10. Be realistic – Don’t see the funding as an opportunity to ‘boost your budget’.  ‘Boosted Budgets’ are very obvious to pick – they are usually for the exact amount for which the funding is available eg $50,000.  Don’t start with the funding amount and work backwards – start will a list of expense items needed to make your idea a success, then work out how much it would cost your business to make your idea a success.


For more Government Grant opportunities – read SmartCompany’s Top five government grants for startups


Contact us now (email or [+61] 0400 732 270) to discuss how we can help you grow your business through writing a killer government grant application or by providing the right business support to implement your government grant.

Stay up to date with the latest in being successful online by subscribing to our Digital Capability eUpdate or connecting with us online through Facebook and Twitter.

Gain, train and sustain to retain your team

It’s a satisfying feeling when we know we have completed something and done it well.  It’s a good feeling that goes beyond the immediate returns.

CC-BY Image -
CC-BY Image –

If feeling good about a job well done is so simple, why do we need to be concerned about job satisfaction?  Because, if you have a great team, you need to understand them in order to retain them. What is it that motivates your team?  Is it rewards? Is it encouragement?

Here are four key areas to concentrate on when aiming to retain your staff:

  1. Gaining the right staffing – To know how to attract the right people in the first place, you need to know why your current staff work for you and why they might leave you.  You can find this out by undertaking anonymous surveys, having informal conversations, asking the right questions during performance reviews, and conducting exiting interviews.
  2. Training your team to be their best – Research shows that your business will gain a return on investment of more than 30% through targeted training.  It will also mean that your team will feel more confident in what they does. There are many forms of training, including: Formal and informal learning, on the job learning, project/action based learning, and through community of practice
  3. Sustaining your team’s motivation – Your leadership style plays a big part in how you can motivate and sustain your team. People are more motivated by intrinsic motivators (eg praise, autonomy) than extrinsic motivators (eg money, holidays).  So consider this when you are using carrots to motivate your staff versuses when you are using a stick approach.
  4. Retaining your team saves you money – Replacing a staff member can cost your business almost two years of salary in fixed and hidden costs, as well as the time and energy involved in recruitment, so it’s crucial to realise just how important it is to retain your staff.  Great ways to retain your staff include offering things like Rewards programs, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), social activities and sharing good news stories through regular team notifications and emails.

Keep in mind that there are many reasons why people stay in a job, including: personal ambition, being recognised, having rewarding challenges and flexible working hours, having a supportive environment and the opportunity to be trained/given responsibility.

Collaboration is the key to success

A modern business operates in a very complex environment that requires its people to work collaboratively with one another if the business is to survive.

CC-SA image by Scott Maxwell -
CC-SA image by Scott Maxwell –

Collaboration is a process of shared decision-making in which all team members constructively contribute to workplace processes to achieve jointly determined outcomes.  Creating a collaborative workplace often results in a win-win situation, where everyone involved can gain from the experience through successful outcomes and the feeling of achievement.

When working collaboratively, a team needs to:

  • have a shared vision to work towards which has been jointly determined
  • have clearly defined goals which outlines what they are trying to achieve, and
  • which builds upon, and develops, the interests and skills of each team member

Collaborative workplaces don’t just happen – they are created through effective leadership by:

  • Collectively deciding upon team goals and outcomes
  • Participating in regular meetings to discuss the team’s progress and collectively make decisions
  • Undertaking activities which promote individual accountability
  • Encouraging the equitable sharing of the workload
  • Determining the mutual benefits for both the individual team members and the team as a whole
  • Building trust within the team by providing encouragement and praise of all involved

A collaborative workplace also recognises that people are different and these differences should be valued and accepted.

The commitment and involvement of other leaders is also very important.  So is the inclusion of other stakeholders from the different parts of organisation. This inter-dependence of all stakeholders will result in mutually beneficial solutions and outcomes being reached.

Creating and supporting a collaborative workplace takes time, and conflicting interests or when interests of a few are allowed to drive an agenda can derail the collaborative process, so it is important that as the leader, you help your team stay focussed on what’s important eg providing the best product or service for their customers that you possibly can.

CC-SA image by Scott Maxwell -
CC-SA image by Scott Maxwell –

Support your team’s ongoing development and growth

The world is an increasingly complex place where people need more and more skills to be effective contributors to the workplace.  To develop new and higher levels of skills, people need to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn continuously throughout their lives. 

CCO Creative Commons image by johnhain -
CCO Creative Commons image by johnhain –

Learning no longer only happens in classrooms, with around 70% of learning happening as informal learning in the workplace and beyond. The time has also come where learning needs to shift from simply listening to others share their second-hand experiences through lectures and books to actually experiencing things first-hand.

This ongoing development and growth is critical to the success of individuals and businesses but this will only happen if it is supported by a ‘culture of ongoing development and growth’ at an organisational level.

For your business to succeed, you need your team to be able to:

  • find and determine what is relative information from different sources through critical literacy skills
  • develop informed opinions and be able to articulate them through written and verbal communications using various multimedia and social networking technologies, and
  • be creative and innovative by using their imagination to solve complex, unscripted problems with others

This ever-changing environment needs your team to increase their capacity to deal with new and unknown situations through the skills and knowledge they have gained in their informal workplace and/or daily life experiences, as well as participating in formal education at ever higher levels.

This requires your team to have self-directed learning skills.  Unfortunately, self-directed learning cannot be solely left to the individual to manage as learning rarely happens in isolation.  In order to help your team manage their own learning, you need to create an environment which directly supports them to reach their potential. Goleman (2002, p. 18) states that “getting the best out of people pays off in hard returns” as learning ensures an organisation remains relevant. Without the creation of these learning environments and the involvement of others in self-directed learning, “lasting change can’t occur” (Goleman, 2002, p. 111). The key to managing this change is by creating a culture of ongoing development and growth in your organisation.


This post is an updated version of the very first post on this site in January 2012 called “Looking to the future … creating a culture of ongoing development” – interesting that the need for ongoing development and growth has only increased since the original post.

Good communication is complex

Good communication is complex so it is important to keep this in mind when you are communicating important messages to your team.

How you communicate with others is based on the assumptions you have learned over your lifetime.  However, these assumptions can seriously impact how you communicate with others. 


For example, different cultures have different ways of communicating with one another.  Some cultures show respect for others by not giving them eye contact. However, in White Australian culture, this communication style is seen to be rude and disrespectful.   

Your ability to effectively communicate with others is an important skill, especially when you need to engage people to do things that they might not want to do.

In order to communicate effectively, it is important to really understand your audience and clearly articulate your message by ensuring you provide all parts of the information needed to effectively get your message across.  

While verbal communication is a very rich means of communication, your non-verbal communication skills often influence others more because your body language makes up two-thirds of the way you portray messages to others.

The key component of good communication as a leader is providing feedback to your team, especially constructive feedback, so that the person can ‘hold face’ in their job role following this feedback.  

You do this by:

  • Taking your emotions out of the conversation and only focusing on the facts
  • Providing the feedback in a private place so others cannot hear the conversation
  • Providing the feedback promptly so the feedback can be taken on board quickly and the behaviour is less likely to be repeated
  • Focusing on the specific behaviours which need changing
  • Ensuring the person receiving the feedback understands what the appropriate behaviour should be by providing examples or role models
  • Assuring the person receiving the feedback that you trust in their ability to do their job
  • Articulating the steps needed or the solution required so the behaviour does not happen again
  • Documenting the feedback for future reference

Leadership is multi-dimensional

Leadership is about inspiring and influencing others to work together towards a common goal while allocating scarce resources to achieve change.  Leadership is your business’s core competency in meeting the many challenges it faces. 

CC-BY image by Scott Maxwell - LuMaxArt Silver Guy Phone Support -
CC-BY image by Scott Maxwell – LuMaxArt Silver Guy Phone Support –

But Leadership is also multi-dimensional, so here are 10 top tips for leading your organisation:

  1. Have a clear vision or understanding about what you are trying to achieve –  Without having an end goal in mind, it is hard to determine what direction to take
  2. Have a very good understanding of your environment, both internally and externally –  This will provide you with the insight needed to make appropriate choices, and it may provide you with creative ideas and strategies to sustain your organisation’s competitive advantage
  3. Take an entrepreneurial orientation by really understanding what your core business is and who your target market is – as this technical expertise will provide you with mechanisms to cope with complexity and change.  It will also provide you with insight into what your competitors are doing or what your organisation could be doing
  4. Understand the legislative/regulatory environment of your industry and organisation – These external rules provide frameworks/guidelines by which you/your organisation must function because to work outside of them puts your organisation and your staff at risk
  5. Develop/understand appropriate organisational policies and procedures that reflect the culture of the organisation – because these operational guidelines provide exemplars of best practice which allows your staff to consistently do their job properly by providing quality products and services to your customers
  6. Understand your own leadership style and work preferences – so you know how tthey influence your decision making, work outputs and your relationship with others
  7. Develop effective communication strategies and networks – as this will ensure that you are emulating the right messages which will instil trust in your team.  Effective networks will also provide you with sounding boards and opportunities
  8. Understand your teams’ work preferences and ways of working – humans are unique so each of your team members will have their own ways and styles of working.  Understanding these means that you can help match the right people to work with one other, while also determining what their individual needs may be
  9. Knowing your team beyond their job and the workplace – by understanding your teams’ physical/psychological needs you can take these into account when making decisions
  10. Take many approaches to performance management – humans thrive in the right situations and with right rewards and recognition.  This comes from understanding the lay of the land in the workplace and how people are functioning in that environment

Leading – You’re not always in control

Being a leader means that you need to inspire and influence others to work together towards a common goal.  However, there are many internal and external factors which influence your leadership style.

Internal factors – The culture of your business is based on its vision and

CC0 Public Domain image by quicksandala  -
CC0 Public Domain image by quicksandala –

values which then evolve into strategies and decisions that ‘set the scene’ for how your staff will function in your organisation. Consider how your business’s vision and values impact how you need to lead to achieve these.

Your business’s competitive advantage strategy also dictates how your staff will produce your products or deliver your services. Whether your business offers the cheapest or the best quality, this will impact how you inspire or influence your staff to interact with your product or deliver your service.

All business thrive on the information they have about how the business runs and who their customers are etc.  How your business manages this information determines how your staff can access it.  For example, if this knowledge is all in your head, then they are always reliant on you to provide this information.  If you get it out of your head and into policies, procedures and databases, then your staff can ‘self-serve’ and contribute to this knowledge.

The communication systems you have are also important as people absorb messages in different way.  Using a range of communication systems eg meetings, emails, briefing documents etc, will ensure that your message has many ways to filter through to your staff.

External Factors – All businesses are impacted by globalisation in one way or another, eg new international competitors. The political and economic environment of your region also impacts your business, so it is important to know which government policies and laws which affect it.  

Other external factors include the bargaining power of suppliers and buyers, the threat of new entrants if the entry and exit barriers of the industry are low;  the possibly of other substitute products/systems offering better value propositions, as well as the competitive advantages of your competitors – so keeping an eye on what happens outside your business.

While you may think you control your own leadership style, remember the many and varied internal and external factors which also influence it.

Unleash the creativity which leads innovation

Creativity and innovation play an important role in the survival of any business.

Creativity is the connecting or viewing of things in a different way than the status quo.  Creativity is not only about solving a problem, but also about providing better aesthetics, happiness or for the betterment of people, animals and the environment in general.

Innovation is about taking creative ideas and/or processes and turning them or making them into reality – which is the backbone of any successful business.

A good example of this is when Jack Ma, a Chinese school teacher, used his creativity to believe that he could revolutionise how the Chinese could buy and sell online.  However, the real innovation happened when he brought together a team of people who had the skills and processes to make this vision happen through his company, Alibaba.

CC0 Public Domain by Flash Alexander -
CC0 Public Domain by Flash Alexander –


Where does creativity come from?

The application of creativity requires three components (Amabile 2012):

  • Domain-relevant skills – some expertise in the area of creativity
  • Creativity-relevant processes – skills and attributes to be a divergent thinker
  • Task motivation – the ability to thrive on intrinsic or ‘self-satisfying’ motivation

Everyone can be creative, however, creative people can be described as having the following traits:

  • Come up with more than one idea or way of doing something
  • Using a variety of thinking styles to see things differently
  • Do not automatically follow conventions or assumptions
  • Are intrinsically motivated
  • Appreciate diversity and uniqueness
  • Are willing to push the boundaries and take risks

Unlocking the barriers to creativity

Unlocking the barriers to creativity is understanding what creates the barrier to creativity in the first place, such as (Davis, 1999):

  • Learning and habit barriers – humans are creatures of habit which they have developed through positive responses to correct behaviours – this barrier provides a ‘comfort zone’ of familiarity
  • Rules and traditions barriers – social, cultural and legal norms are needed to guide human behaviours, however they also present restrictions on how people feel they can act in different situations
  • Perceptual barriers – through a lifetime of learning from, and being influenced by others, humans have a predisposition to perceive things in a certain way based on their interest, biases and values
  • Cultural barriers – social expectations and pressures to conform to the status quo, and the desire to know what one’s identity is, means humans are susceptible to following what others have done before them
  • Emotional barriers – emotional blocks of fear, anger, love, hate, and anxiety have the ability to block a human from thinking clearly or beyond the status quo
  • Resource barriers – shortage of essential resources such as time, money and supplies, can create a demand or conflict for these resources, preventing people having the freedom they need to be creative

Luckily there are many ways to prevent barriers to creativity, such as:

  • Reducing competition between people and asking people for input into how a team functions
  • Providing people with the opportunity to practice being creative in a safe and non-threatening way so they can play to their ‘A’ game
  • Helping people appreciate how other people process information so you can tailor communications so the message is understood more clearly by the receiver

Individual vs Group creativity

Individual creativity has traditionally been seen to be focussed on a lone genius who was sought after to fuel the innovative energy room of an organisation, such as Steve Jobs at Apple or Bill Gates at Microsoft.

It is now, however, more widely accepted that group or collective creativity, whereby people from diverse backgrounds, personalities and experiences are brought together to come up with and produce new ideas, is the secret to a business’s innovative success

Whether we participate in creativity as an individual or within the context of a group is a bit like the question: “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?”  

Consider this – an individual’s creativity is built upon how their senses have made ‘sense’ of the world around them, and the people they interact with.  While the group is made up of individuals expressing their creative ideas and solutions, and it will be the skills of a good facilitator who will be able to harness these ideas to take them to the next level.

An example of this is where organisations allow their employees individual ‘R&D’ time to work on a project of their own creation. However, it then requires the individual to work and rely on the ‘team’ and other key stakeholders (eg customer participating in prototype testing etc) to bring about billion dollar creative ideas.  

This model of individual creativity leading into group creativity is a great motivator for employees to want to do great work as it provides them with a challenge, a feeling of accomplishment and an opportunity to be acknowledged among the crowd of employees.

Creating the right environment

Core elements to support individual and group creativity can include:


  • Openness to experience new things and ideas
  • Passion with emotional stability
  • Adopting ‘right brain’ thinking strategies


  • Openness to share information 
  • Reflective dialogue
  • Diversity
  • Facilitation and effective leadership

While everyone is creative in one sense or another, it is important for business leaders to lead their organisation’s creative capital, both within individuals and groups, by facilitating the opportunity of right brained thinking people to work effectively with left brained thinking people .   

This can be done through Stanford University’s Jim March’s Theory of Novelty (Amabile, 2008) by providing:

  • Stack – the time and resources to experiment
  • Hubris – managers having the confidence to take educated risks
  • Optimism – having a shared vision which is better than the status quo


Contact us now (email or [+61] 0400 732 270) to discuss how we can help you unleash the creativity which leads to innovation.

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