Monday, 21 August 2017

I don't need a customer service app!

You’re a small business. You have a handle on all your messaging – You don’t need a customer service app! Think again. Have you ever sent a “please help me” message to a business and got frustrated when you never received a response?

Your business are your customers. Whether you’re a tech giant, an accountancy practice or small distributor, keeping track of messages from your customers, and more importantly, responding to those messages is crucial to keeping your customers happy. You need to quickly see messages whether they are emails, facebook messenger or Twitter messages and get someone on your team to respond.

Think of all the email addresses you see on websites - Hello@, Contact@, Sales@, Booking@, Events@, Support@, Operations@, accounts@, Careers@, Orders@, bugs@ , Feedback@, press@ , partners@ , marketing@.

Do you know where messages to these email addresses end up in your business and who, if anyone , is responding to them?

What is a customer service app?

At it’s simplest it’s just a way to keep track of who sent your business a message, assign it to someone in your team to respond and make sure it’s closed out and the customer is happy. That’s it. Of course you can add a ton of options but this is essentially what all customer service (or helpdesk) apps do. 

Something to think about:

- 220B emails sent every day
- Growing at 6-7% every year
- 55% business related.
- Facebook Messenger/Twitter messages of growing importance to businesses
- A website is vital to your business. Where do messages from your Contact us page end up?

But my business is too small

Really? If you have more than a couple of staff then things tend to get lost, people sometimes fail to follow up and get distracted. Do you really know what's going on with your customers?

Ask yourself these questions:
  • Have you ever wondered if someone did actually respond to that customer? 
  • What was the update? 
  • How do you know who is replying to these messages?
  • How do you know that the customer is happy?
  • Do you know which customer is taking up more of your time

You shouldn't have to ask "did you send a reply" , "did you cc me on that?" or "Can you forward that message to me?".  

Customer service apps or Shared Inboxes mean you never have to ask these questions again. You can instantly see who has responded, what they have sent and importantly, is the customer now happy.

They don't have to be complicated (or expensive)

Some are, but they don’t have to be.  Keeping it simple and focusing on the basics is what makes Customer service apps work for a business. You don’t have to train your staff, don’t have to roll out any complicated servers. Everything is in the cloud and can be up and running in minutes

Email is still king, it still vitally important to every business but don't forget that you need to be on the channels the customer likes to use. Whether this is Email, Facebook, Twitter or your website, make sure you connect to all your channels.

Some customer service apps are big on service level agreements, multi-timezone support. A small business doesn't need this added complexity. 

Getting the most from your Customer service app

A small business needs features that make sense to their business. You don’t need complicated SLA’s, handing off tickets to support staff in different time zones. Keeping it simple is what makes success come easier.

- Keep it simple. Less complex apps mean your team can be up and running faster and will enjoy using the app more.

- Don't treat your customer like a ticket! Instead make them part of the solution, part of the team and they will feel more connected to your business.

- It's a team effort. You don't have limitless resources. Make sure your app lets everyone on your team contribute to solving a customer problem, and learning from it.

- If the app supports "tags" or categories then use them. It will make a big difference when you try and figure out what is taking up most of your (and your teams) time.

- Use "due" or "Complete by" dates. We all get busy but by using close off dates you can focus your team to actively work on issues and keeping the customer happy.

- Analytics. Data is important. You need to look at who and what is taking up your teams' time and how you can make it better.

- Connect to multiple channels. Customers are changing. 10 years ago email was the only way to communicate with your business. Now Facebook Messenger and Twitter are gaining ground. Make sure you connect to all your business channels.

Capture first, respond second. Make sure your customer service app updates your contact manager with new contacts automatically. This will save you team and ensures you never lose a customer contact.

Remember the old saying - "It takes years to get a customer, only seconds to lose one". Make sure you have the right tools in your business to keep your customers happy.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

From customer pain point to solution in 30 minutes

Building connections to your customers or suppliers is getting easier - Many new tools are available for the SME to connect and share data, tasks and everything else that crops up during your business day.

At Apptimi, we’re always in conversations with business, listening to their issues , their pain points as we call them.

The Pain Point

One such customer had a major pain point - Sharing and managing forms with contractors and agency staff - This was a construction management business that managed many outside contractors and needed to record and track their training certifications before permitting them access to sites - Health and Safety training, Climbing at height, specialist training and more. Their current system used paper, lots of paper, the worlds favorite app Excel and you guessed it, a fax.

Managing this process took time. Time from everyone involved including the contractors, admin staff, health and safety and more. When they approached Apptimi looking for a solution we jumped right in.

Step 1 Build a Database

Here’s what we did. Using our Database designer tool we created a database and form to record details of training. This database recorded everything from the Contractor, training dates, expiration and even allowed for attaching of training certificates and other documentation. We even connected the database to the Apptimi reminder app so that admin staff could be notified when a contractors training certification was about to expire.

Time: 10 minutes.

Step 2 Share the database

Next we created a Meeting Space - This is our Collaboration and Sharing app that allows a business to share,collaborate and interact with customers or suppliers. We shared the database in the Meeting Space so anyone invited to this Meeting Space can access the database.

Time: 1 Minute

Step 3 Add the Contractors to the Meeting Space

This is as simple as adding the contractor to the Apptimi Contact manager, then sharing the Meeting Space with this contact. That's it. No logins or passwords to manage and the contractor still has a secure and private Meeting Space to use. 

When this Contact connects to Apptimi they can open the database and add their training or update existing records.

When they fill in the database form, Apptimi updates the database and runs any notifications, workflow or other rules that have been added to the database.

Step 4 There is no step 4. We're live.

Time from start to going live with the first Contact/Contractor:  30 Minutes.

What Apptimi has done here is reduce a business activity that usually took days, much time and administration and support, and therefore cost and reduced it to something that only takes minutes to complete. It also moved the burden of managing training records from the business out to the contractor.

Meeting Spaces also provided another productivity improvement - Instead of endless emails back and forth between the business and the contractor, the Contractors used the Meeting Space to send messages. feedback and comments to the business. This put all communication between the contractor and the business in a single space, easy to search , update and share.

Endless Possibilities

To see how apps like this can work for your business simply substitute "Construction Business" for your business name and replace "Training Database" with Order Form, or Delivery Acceptance, or CV/Resume and you can see where tools like these can change how we do business. The possibilities are endless whether you manage a small engineering business, a school, training company or any other small business.

This is the productivity increase that a small business can get from using just some of the many tools available today, not just from Apptimi, but hundreds of Cloud software suppliers. - From CRM, to databases, collaboration and messaging there is no reason to be still stuck with paper and the benefits are huge.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Seeing the wood from the trees!

In my business I get to meet many business owners, from all industries and services. Whether they are IT focused, plumbers, builders, accountants or even schools - Each one has their own needs, their own pain points and their own requirements for their business.

The Conversation

Last week I met with a new contact. He was the business owner and was interested in how Apptimi could help him work better. To help him in the discussion he brought along an IT contractor who "spoke my language". The conversation that followed was interesting:

The IT pro started first:

Q1: Doe's it have an API?
Q2: Doe's it export in XML?
Q3: If so what standard?

Next was the Business owner

Q1: Will I need to train my staff
Q2: Will I need to spend more on IT integration?
Q3: Will it export to Excel and Sage?

The Lesson Learned

What struck me (once again) was the completely different perspectives on what was required. For the developer it was all about this standard and that standard, or about extending it to do other functions. He was looking at our products as a starting point and was already looking to extend and add in additional functionality. He was looking to start more development even before the system was even launched internally.

For the business owner it was can he get it installed and running now and will it work with his existing apps. He was looking for a solution for his needs now and how it would make his life easier today.  He was looking for something to make his business more productive today.

If the business owner wasn't present at the meeting what would have been the feedback from the IT guy about the suitability of the product?  Would we have been excluded because we didn't make his needs in the future? It was an interesting thought.

Seeing the Wood... from the trees

As technologists we are very at ease with technology. We are very comfortable with the vast number of different platforms, standards and where the technology business is going. We are also regularly in contact with other developers and other IT companies, and as a result we get lots of input on our tools and where we should be focusing. We also have our likes and dislikes and love passing our advice and knowledge onto others. Me included!

This can be a death sentence to any business. While I love talking to my fellow technologists and hearing what they are working on, what's important to them is not necessarily important to our customers. Relying on reviews or input from your own circle of industry experts can lead you in the completely wrong direction and take away your focus.

For the Business Owner

As a business owner you should take time to ensure your needs are being addressed and while IT professionals are great and their advice can be indispensable, it sometimes pays to ask the basic questions. Believe it or not but you know most about your business and what it needs today.

Developers - Staying close to the Coalface

The business owner is the person at the coalface. They are the people who work away each day to make their business happen and It is their pain points we need to be addressing and where we put our focus and our efforts. As developers and IT professionals we need to put ourselves into the shoes of the business owner and help figure out what's really needed, not what we would like to be working on.

On to the next conversation!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Getting A Grip on Your Data

Too much data
If you’re a business owner, then you know about data overload. As business owners, we produce way too much data in too many formats yet most of us lack the right  tools to manage all this this data. Whether it’s data generated from invoices, deliveries , time sheets,  expenses , site visits, development tools, customer support and lots of other sources most small businesses need more help to manage this avalanche of critical data.

There’s more to data management than Excel
Let’s face when, when most business owners are asked what they use to manage some of their most valuable data, the answer is often just Excel. Excel has been the go-to data collection and management tool for so many businesses for so many years. And while Excel is an easy option for the unskilled, it’s no longer of much real value to businesses that want to maximize the value of their data 

Push data so you don't have to look for it

Sharing is  caring
While spreadsheets like Microsoft Excel  are very useful and reliable tools, they are essentially financial planning tools. They are for capturing tabular text and numbers but what about everything else? What about sharing with other staff, or interacting with your customers and suppliers?

It is not just about numbers
When you look as your data needs you find more and more non numeric data is being managed - This can be sharing entire documents, pdf’s and even excel worksheets ( try attaching a PDF into Excel).  Add in the fact that we work in a time where we are interacting more with our customers, our suppliers and the need to exchange rich data with all players is critical to business success. There are more and more requirements to exchange information with other systems such as accounting, CRM and stock management applications. This is where a smart database with sharing and workflow integrated can make managing and sharing your data smarter and

Enter the Business Database

This is where having a database integral to the business can be critical to the success of your business.

Do you know your Mysql , Mongo db or  SQL?
Importantly  business database should not require a degree in IT to manage. Having to install Mysql , Mongo db or  SQL Server is ok for those that make a living out of IT systems, but for business owners and staff this low level tech is not their day job. You shouldn't need a degree in SQL query to be able to create and manage your own database.

Time = money
For most SME’s,a dynamic database builder tied with workflow can provide all that is required and yet are simple to set up and manage. These are key to the SME - Why invest additional time and resources in a database when time and resources are the two things you have the least.

10X better
When you share data what happens when it is updated or something is added? How do you get notified in a way that doesn't consume what little time you and your staff already have? This is where workflow layered on top of a flexible sharing tool-set can energize your business and increase productivity ten fold.

What can a database do for my business?

With a flexible database and query tools you can not only improve your productivity with your staff, you can transform how you work and interact with customers and suppliers.

A good cloud database and workflow solution can let your customers share your information, use forms to enter new requests to your staff, allow customers to order new products, or suppliers to update details directly to your database. All this in the cloud, 24/7 and with no software development required.

Endless opportunities to manage your data

Add in workflow for smarts
Small business  can be put off by Workflow applications - It sounds complex and takes too much time and resources to properly implement a sound workflow application. While that is true of some of the more complex workflow apps, many modern apps are more than usable for any small business owner.

Smart workflow takes the pain out of managing your business

Workflow gives you actions on your database - When an inquiry is added by a customer or a contact form is submitted who  receives a notification? Who is responsible for action on the form? By building simple workflow rules or actions on to your database you can transform how you business operates and increase your productivity enormously.

Features that every business database should have

When looking at a database solution for our business you need to keep in mind some requirements that will serve your business well:

  • Sharing in the cloud (access 24/7 from anywhere)
  • Supports both desktop and mobile users
  • Facilitates interaction with your customers, suppliers and contractors.
  • Rich data storage such as attaching documents, photos
  • Access management controls such as roles and groups.
  • Extensive Data security built in
  • Workflow for managing actions on your database
  • Import/Export tools for exchanging data with other systems
  • … doesn't require extensive IT skills to set up and manage.

Get a grip
Business data needs are going to only go in one direction and that’s ever increasing in both volume and complexity. Getting a grip on your data now will help your business manage it better in the future.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Managing health and safety shouldn't be difficult

We hear time and again from business owners that managing health and safety is difficult and takes too much time. The fact is, managing this basic business requirement isn't that difficult and when properly organised will take only a little of you or your staffs time. 

There are some basics to get right first. These are your obligations under law and are the minimum you must do:

Health & Safety Checklist:

  1. Take out employers liability insurance. Make sure you display the certificate where your employees and contract staff can see it.
  2. Assign a competent person to manage your health and safety requirements. A competent person need not be an outside consultant. Any member of your staff who understands the workplace and the health and safety requirements can be viewed as a competent person.
  3. Create your health and safety policy. This is a plan on how you are going to manage your health and safety.
  4. Create your risk assessment. This is a list of anything (a hazard) that can harm an employee, a contractor or a visitor and the chance or risk of this happening. This is your risk assessment.
  5. Consult with your staff and employees on health and safety. Remember that health and safety is a shared responsibility. Your staff need to be aware of any risks and also inform you of new hazards.
  6. Display the health and safety poster in a prominent place so that your staff and visitors can review it.
  7. Put in place first aid arrangements
  8. Maintain an accident log for any workplace accidents
While this may seem like a huge effort it is really isn't and once set up should work with minimum effort. Some of these requirements vary depending on your business size so check the relevant legislation or contact and we can help you.

Record keeping is the key to good health and safety

Remember that the basis of good health and safety is good record keeping. You need to record information such as accidents, hazards, maintenance issues and anything else that impacts the safety in the workplace. In the event of an accident or an audit by the health and safety executive will go a long way to showing how good you are at managing your workplace safety.

Going online

Many of these tasks can be done using a paper based system but moving to electronic format brings many benefits.

  • Record keeping is ensured and backups are always available in the event of an audit
  • Staff can use the tools to record any hazards or maintenance issues and ensure you are made aware of them
  • Maintenance issues can be recorded and fixed before they become a safety hazard
  • Health & Safety policies can be created and shared with your staff regularly
  • Your hazards, risks and safety policies are organised and instantly shareable.

Again good record keeping is the basis of health and safety and having tools available that are easy to use will ensure that your staff will share some of the management load. 

If you have any questions on workplace safety you can always contact us @apptimi and we will help you in any way we can. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Keeping it simple - If it needs a training course it's already failed.

We hear a lot about cloud computing and how it will empower every business, large and small. About how it will change how these businesses work and grow in the future. 

While I agree with some of the messages that cloud computing brings, I also see problems with the reality. A lot of cloud applications come to the SME market from the larger enterprise companies and bring with it a complexity that is not needed by the SME.

Cloud computing or web servers (or whatever name you give to it) at their most basic level need to just work for the business. The SME typically doesn't have an IT department and can't invest time and resources into getting applications up and running. It usually uses contract staff that come in and out of the business and full time staff fill in for those that are absent for any length of time.

For the small or medium size business, web applications bring a promise of increased productivity, flexibility and a cost reduction that they could never enjoy previously, but to be successful these applications need to work, right out of the box.

I visit SMEs every day and try and observe how they work and operate. I watch what tools they use (or don't) and how their staff move from role to role, picking up the slack as and when required. From A4 pads to post-its, to the ubiquitous spreadsheet the SME will use whatever tools are available provided they do the job quickly and productively. They can't and don't waste time on expensive applications simply because they find something easier and cheaper to use. 

For an application to be successful it needs to do it's job and do it well. It needs to fit how the business works so that it doesn't become a barrier in itself. Applications that are overly complicated mean staff will avoid it and use something else. 

The benefits of cloud (web) applications to the SME are huge but it needs to be the right solution with the right features and at the right price. 

Keep it simple -  If it requires a training course then it's already failed. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Build any application in 5 minutes with no coding needed

Business applications, web or mobile tend to take a long time to design, code and test. They can also cost a lot. Even simple web applications take time and resources which means a lot of businesses either do without or fall back to the age old staple - the mighty spreadsheet.

One such example was a local company that built a travel request application - This took them almost 2 months from specification, to design and then implementation. They then had to wait for the software developers to schedule the development. Add in the ongoing support for the application and the costs mount up. And all this for only one app.

We set about to change this by building an application builder to give any business the ability to build a form, add in whatever fields required, create business rules around those forms all in something that can have their application up and running in under 5 minutes. But we went a little further by making the forms builder integrate with other applications such as the contact manager, ticketing system, staff list and so on.  Most form builders are standalone but to really work in a business environment it needs to integrate with your other business applications.

That same travel request application that took 2 months to go live is now on and took less than 10 minutes from start to go live.  

Where next with the forms builder? We are currently working on building business rules to the forms so that the business owner can define what happens not only to a form but to individual answers provided - step back to another question/section,  jump forward to another field, chain to another form, send a notification to another team or application, connect to another 3rd party application. We've no doubt our customers will come up with many suggestions that will make these kinds of applications just as powerful as any custom designed product. 

Small business software needs to not only be good and useful but it needs to be affordable, agile and easy to deploy. In today's business environment waiting months for an application to get developed and tested means a potentially wasted business opportunity.

For more information on the forms builder see