10 Microsoft Teams Tips for Small Businesses

Microsoft Teams is a communication tool within Office 365 that gives small businesses a straightforward way to communicate and collaborate with employees. For those who haven’t used Microsoft Teams, it can help to get some valuable tips and insights from experts in order to make the most of it.

Microsoft Teams Tips

Simona Millham is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and a trainer for IT learning platform CBT Nuggets. She shared some valuable tips for making the most of Microsoft Teams for small businesses in an email interview with Small Business Trends.

Minimize Email Communications

One of the biggest benefits of Microsoft Teams is that it lets businesses keep all of their communication organized in one place, rather than relying on long email chains that can easily get lost in the shuffle. So if you’re going to make the most of Microsoft Teams, use it instead of, not in addition to, email for internal communications.

Millham says, “If somebody sends an email to the team asking a relatively trivial question, and everybody responds, that generates an awful lot of email. Conversations are at the heart of Teams, making it easy to see threads at a glance, and quickly respond where relevant.”

Share Conversations with New Team Members

Microsoft Teams can also make onboarding new employees easier. When you make a new hire, or add an existing team member to a new project, you can share conversations from that thread or project with them so they can catch up easily, rather than forwarding them numerous emails or handing them cumbersome documents.

Stick with a Few Groups

Microsoft Teams allows you to designate different groups within your organization so that you can keep conversations with relevant team members. But don’t go overboard creating groups for every possible combination of employees right away. Consider who works together on projects most often and create only those groups that make sense so as not to overwhelm everyone with tons of options. You can always add more later.

Have a Goal for Each Group

If you’re struggling to determine what groups to start out with, consider what you want to achieve for each group. For example, you might want a group just for top-level management, which you’d turn to when making big strategic decisions. But you may also want groups just for specific purposes like IT support and social media marketing.

Add Groups as You Go

From there, you can always add groups as specific projects call for them. Say you’ve got a special client project that involves people from several departments who don’t normally work together. Create a group that’s just for that instance so those workers don’t have to communicate in a more general thread.

Set Up Audio Conferencing

Microsoft Teams also offers an audio conferencing feature so you can host voice meetings within specific groups or just with one or two team members. This can be an especially useful feature especially if you have some team members who work remotely. You can also use it to communicate with outside clients via a new guest access feature.

Create a Communication Strategy

Of course, Microsoft Teams isn’t the only Microsoft product that offers communication features like chat and audio calls. But Millham warns not to get too caught up in using every single option available. Instead, create a specific plan that outlines in which situations you’ll use Microsoft Teams for communication versus other platforms.

Millham explains, “I think one of the biggest challenges is helping business users to understand WHICH Microsoft Office 365 tool to use WHEN. There is overlap between the functionality of Teams, Yammer and Skype for Business which is really confusing for users, and they are likely to just default back to email without some guidance. So my recommendation is that the business takes some time to think through which tools will suit different parts of their organisation the best – and run some pilots with different groups of users – and then provide guidance and awareness to end users.”

Test Communication Strategies

As Millham mentioned, it can be beneficial to actually test out different communication strategies within your organization to see what works best for your specific team. For example, you might find that it makes sense to use Skype for client calls if most of your clients already have Skype IDs and don’t want to sign up for guest access with Microsoft Teams. But you could opt to keep all the internal calls within Teams for the sake of simplicity. Just stay open to employee input so you can optimize your plan to their needs.

Stay Up-to-Date with New Features

Microsoft Teams is constantly changing and adding new functionality that may benefit your team or change the way you use the platform. For example, Microsoft is currently in the process of integrating Skype for Business functionality into Teams. Millham recommends checking out Microsoft Teams documentation and practical guidance for more information and updates about any changes or new features.

Train Your Employees

It’s also important to make sure that your employees understand how to make the most of Microsoft Teams. And there are plenty of resources available for that purpose. CBT Nuggets provides one option for Microsoft Teams training.

Millham says, “For small business owners, it includes an overview of resources to consider when deploying Teams and encouraging user adoption. For employees, it covers how to use channels, conversations, meetings, file sharing, wikis and more.”

Image: Microsoft

This article, "10 Expert Tips for Using Microsoft Teams for Your Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

10 Microsoft Teams Tips for Small Businesses

Microsoft Teams is a communication tool within Office 365 that gives small businesses a straightforward way to communicate and collaborate with employees. For those who haven’t used Microsoft Teams, it can help to get some valuable tips and insights from experts in order to make the most of it.

Microsoft Teams Tips

Simona Millham is a Microsoft Certified Trainer and a trainer for IT learning platform CBT Nuggets. She shared some valuable tips for making the most of Microsoft Teams for small businesses in an email interview with Small Business Trends.

Minimize Email Communications

One of the biggest benefits of Microsoft Teams is that it lets businesses keep all of their communication organized in one place, rather than relying on long email chains that can easily get lost in the shuffle. So if you’re going to make the most of Microsoft Teams, use it instead of, not in addition to, email for internal communications.

Millham says, “If somebody sends an email to the team asking a relatively trivial question, and everybody responds, that generates an awful lot of email. Conversations are at the heart of Teams, making it easy to see threads at a glance, and quickly respond where relevant.”

Share Conversations with New Team Members

Microsoft Teams can also make onboarding new employees easier. When you make a new hire, or add an existing team member to a new project, you can share conversations from that thread or project with them so they can catch up easily, rather than forwarding them numerous emails or handing them cumbersome documents.

Stick with a Few Groups

Microsoft Teams allows you to designate different groups within your organization so that you can keep conversations with relevant team members. But don’t go overboard creating groups for every possible combination of employees right away. Consider who works together on projects most often and create only those groups that make sense so as not to overwhelm everyone with tons of options. You can always add more later.

Have a Goal for Each Group

If you’re struggling to determine what groups to start out with, consider what you want to achieve for each group. For example, you might want a group just for top-level management, which you’d turn to when making big strategic decisions. But you may also want groups just for specific purposes like IT support and social media marketing.

Add Groups as You Go

From there, you can always add groups as specific projects call for them. Say you’ve got a special client project that involves people from several departments who don’t normally work together. Create a group that’s just for that instance so those workers don’t have to communicate in a more general thread.

Set Up Audio Conferencing

Microsoft Teams also offers an audio conferencing feature so you can host voice meetings within specific groups or just with one or two team members. This can be an especially useful feature especially if you have some team members who work remotely. You can also use it to communicate with outside clients via a new guest access feature.

Create a Communication Strategy

Of course, Microsoft Teams isn’t the only Microsoft product that offers communication features like chat and audio calls. But Millham warns not to get too caught up in using every single option available. Instead, create a specific plan that outlines in which situations you’ll use Microsoft Teams for communication versus other platforms.

Millham explains, “I think one of the biggest challenges is helping business users to understand WHICH Microsoft Office 365 tool to use WHEN. There is overlap between the functionality of Teams, Yammer and Skype for Business which is really confusing for users, and they are likely to just default back to email without some guidance. So my recommendation is that the business takes some time to think through which tools will suit different parts of their organisation the best – and run some pilots with different groups of users – and then provide guidance and awareness to end users.”

Test Communication Strategies

As Millham mentioned, it can be beneficial to actually test out different communication strategies within your organization to see what works best for your specific team. For example, you might find that it makes sense to use Skype for client calls if most of your clients already have Skype IDs and don’t want to sign up for guest access with Microsoft Teams. But you could opt to keep all the internal calls within Teams for the sake of simplicity. Just stay open to employee input so you can optimize your plan to their needs.

Stay Up-to-Date with New Features

Microsoft Teams is constantly changing and adding new functionality that may benefit your team or change the way you use the platform. For example, Microsoft is currently in the process of integrating Skype for Business functionality into Teams. Millham recommends checking out Microsoft Teams documentation and practical guidance for more information and updates about any changes or new features.

Train Your Employees

It’s also important to make sure that your employees understand how to make the most of Microsoft Teams. And there are plenty of resources available for that purpose. CBT Nuggets provides one option for Microsoft Teams training.

Millham says, “For small business owners, it includes an overview of resources to consider when deploying Teams and encouraging user adoption. For employees, it covers how to use channels, conversations, meetings, file sharing, wikis and more.”

Image: Microsoft

This article, "10 Expert Tips for Using Microsoft Teams for Your Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

USPS Announced New Prices For 2018

The price to send a letter may be going up a penny early next year — making it a full 50 cents for a stamp.

USPS Announced New Prices For 2018

The US Postal Service proposes that increase and a nickel across-the-board hike on Priority Mail Flat Rate packages, too. If the changes are approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the new prices will take effect on Jan. 21, 2018.

For small businesses, postage and shipping costs can account for a significant expense. This, of course, depends on the type of industry you are in.

The changes are minimal but for small businesses that tread a thin line on profit margins on products they have to ship, that nickel could have some impact. If your company offers free shipping, the hike on Priority Mail packages is another cost your company has to absorb.

Nominal increases on mail could impact small businesses that use the mail to communicate with customers for billing, invoicing or even marketing.

The USPS said in the release, “While Mailing Services price increases are limited based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Shipping Services prices are adjusted strategically, according to market conditions and the need to maintain affordable services for customers.”

Check out the full list of proposed changes to mailing and shipping rates from USPS:

Mailing Services Price Changes

The cost of a letter would go up to 50 cents, from the current 49-cent price. That’s the cost for a 1-ounce letter. Each additional ounce will still cost 21 cents.

Metered letters will go up from 46 cents to 47 cents. Postcards will increase from 34 cents to 35 cents.

There is no proposed increase for outbound international letters. They’ll still cost $1.15 for a single ounce.

Domestic Priority Mail Flat Rate Retail Price Changes

The proposed changes from USPS also include a flat nickel rate increase on Priority Mail Flat Rate packages. Flat Rate packages allow you to ship anything that fits inside a specified size box (provided by the Post Office), for a fixed price.

If they’re approved, the new cost to ship a Small Flat Rate Box will be $7.20. It will cost $13.65 to ship a Medium Flat Rate Box.

Large Flat Rate Box rates will go up to $18.90. While prices for a Large Flat Rate Box bound for a U.S. Army, Air Force or Navy installation will go up to $17.40.

These prices also affect special envelope packages.

Regular Flat Rate Envelopes will cost $6.70. A Legal Flat Rate Envelope will cost an even $7 and Padded Flat Rate Envelopes will be $7.25 to send.

If you want to look at the price filing and the proposed changes with the Postal Regulatory Commission, you can do so here.

USPS Van Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "USPS Rate Hike Could Cost Businesses Nickel More on Priority Flat Rate, 50 Cents a Letter" was first published on Small Business Trends

4 Tips on How to Improve Customer Relationships

Anytime we’re dealing with people, life is going to be messy. This truth is clear to anyone who has worked in customer service. People can be downright nasty sometimes.

But most of us have also experienced terrible customer service reps who have made us never want to return to a particular business again. Fiascos such as the one United Airlines dealt with a few months ago are still fresh on the public mind.

Any company that hopes to succeed must learn how to truly value its customers. Doing so includes turning potentially explosive situations into victories.

But it also means that companies already doing a pretty good job of building customer relationships can get better. While succeeding in some areas, they might be blind to ways they are falling short.

Tips on How to Improve Customer Relationships

Here are few tips for small businesses that want to improve how they are serving their clients.

Don’t Let Touchpoints Distract You from the Big Picture

Are you aware of your average client’s journey with your brand beyond the touchpoints? Your customers interact with your product when you are not around.

They could be frustrated during certain parts of their journey without you being aware of it. This frustration might be causing customer churn without you knowing why or even that it’s happening.

Harvard Business Review notes that “A company that manages complete journeys would not only do its best with the individual transaction but also seek to understand the broader reasons for the call, address the root causes, and create feedback loops to continuously improve interactions upstream and downstream from the call.”

It is essential that companies apply “tailored metrics” for each part of the overall customer journey. Be sure to gather information about both employees and customers to determine where customers are most dissatisfied.

One example of this type of problem is a company making a successful sale of a TV installation, but then the customer experiencing difficulty with the installation.

Even though the client can call to resolve the issue, the company could have explained the installation process better in advance. The salesperson could have eliminated the reason for the call, as well as the time and energy the customer spent resolving the problem.

An extremely important point to note here is that the source of customer service issues is internal. Because the problems arise from employees (even if unintentionally), employees must play a key role in coming up with the solutions. If they do not, the solutions will not last.

Reduce Unnecessary Pain Points

Another example of what it could look like to take steps to make your clients’ lives easier is implementing a tool such as a client portal.

An all-too-common frustration in the business world is following up on payments owed. Beyond that, there is the challenge of keeping documents organized and keeping sensitive information, such as W-2s and NDAs, secure.

It’s probable both you and your customers spend quite a bit of time on the phone or email trying to keep track of this type of data. Dealing with information in this way leaves room for miscommunication. Issues with payment and invoices are often a major point of dissatisfaction.

Using a client portal puts all of your pertinent documents in one place. This makes it easy for your clients to access them on their own time. They won’t have to wait to get hold of you if they have questions. If either of you needs to look up whether or not an invoice has been paid, it will be extremely easy to do so, and you can avoid confusion and embarrassment.

Client portals are also useful because you can see what actions your clients take on the portal. Software such as this can go a long toward eliminating customer frustrations that simply do not need to exist.

Be Personal

Being personal is somewhat easier for small businesses, but is nevertheless an important priority for any company, whatever its size. After all, what would be the point of an article on bettering customer relationships that neglected to mention the qualities that are key to relationships?

Any healthy relationship has certain characteristics, such as clear communication. The people in the relationship are not so focused on making money or getting ahead that they neglect each other. Instead, they support each other in their goals and do what they can to improve each other’s lives.

While the parallels between personal relationships and customer-business relationships do break down at some point, there are basic principles that apply to each situation:

  • Show your clients that you value them
  • Listen to their praise or complaints and respond accordingly
  • Offer rewards or discounts

Make sure you are not only meeting your customers’ needs but are also going above and beyond their expectations.

You can also offer free education on some topic pertaining to your business. You might do so through your blog, through white papers, or through webinars.

Take the Long View

You should implement all of the above strategies with a view to keeping your customers around for life. It is much more profitable to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones. Retention will more quickly grow your customer base. With this in mind, you need to have someone on staff who is accountable for keeping track of customer retention.

If you don’t measure how and when people are leaving you, how will you know if your tactics for keeping them are working? If you’re not getting feedback from your customers, how will you know if they are unhappy with something you’re doing?

Be aware that it might initially be worth spending more on marketing to first-time buyers than they are going to spend on their first purchases. This might feel like a loss at the time, but if there is a high likelihood that they will stay with you for life, this strategy is worthwhile.

Focus on Lifetime Value

The overall lifetime value of your customers is more important than each individual sale. Calculate how much money they spend over time minus how much you spend on marketing to and acquiring them. When deciding how to market to your audience, choose one or two scalable marketing channels. Focus your energy exclusively on those channels before expanding to others.

Instead of just cross-selling a related item, try selling people more of the same item by using incentives. Creating an entirely new sale, even if the product is related, is more difficult that selling more of the same item.

You should also consider putting a phone number on your website. Some potential buyers are interested in your product but are unwilling to buy from or contact you online. Providing this opportunity for people to call you allows you to acquire customers you might have lost otherwise and whom you might find to be a significant part of your audience.

Don’t Assume You Have No Room to Grow

While building relationships in any arena of life is hard, the benefits of doing so in business are undeniably worthwhile, and not just for the purposes of making money. There is inherent value in helping someone else.

Even if you are already taking steps to build strong customer relationships, consider ways you could bring even more value to your clients and get them to stick around long-term.

4 Tips on How to Improve Customer Relationships

Pub Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "4 Areas You Need to Assess to Improve Customer Relationships" was first published on Small Business Trends

What Can You Do for More Effective Meetings?

If you are working, there is a good chance you are part of the up to 56 million meetings taking place today. And as the new infographic from Cincinnati Bell Inc. (CBTS) indicates, you also might be part of the 76 percent that thinks they are unnecessary meetings.

This brings us to the title of the CBTS infographic, “How to Master Meetings.” Being able to master meetings in today’s collaborative workforce is extremely important. Small and large businesses alike are holding more meetings because of the readily available technology, remote work, and easy access to global resources. But how do you master meetings?

First, let’s take a look at some of the problems CBTS pointed out.

With 11.8 hours spent in preparing and attending status meetings in a 40 hour week, there is a lot of room for improvement. Because as it stands now, the yearly cost of ineffective meetings to the US economy is $70 to $283 billion.

So what makes an ineffective meeting? When it comes to in-person meetings, pet peeves such as not staying on topic, repetition, and people taking calls irks 59, 58, and 51 percent of participants respectively. And if the people attending the meeting are peeved, it won’t go well, making it less effective.

Other behaviors that are just as bothersome are eating lunch, check personal emails, responding to work emails, and performing other tasks while on mute in conference calls.

This, of course, can lead to ineffective communication, and the infographic points that out too. Only nine percent of employees leave a meeting with a clear understanding of what to do next all the time. More than a third or 34 percent say some of the time, 10 percent rarely, and two percent never. If two percent of the people attending a meeting leave completely clueless, it is a big problem

What Can You Do for More Effective Meetings?

Getting the right technology is a start because 83 percent depend on it to collaborate. Meetings can be more engaging. Plus the right technology will lower the stress associated with connectivity problems, incompatibility, technology failure and unnecessary complication.

Some of the other recommendations CBTS makes are to make the best of the resources you have, upgrade your technology (if possible) and train your employees to use the same program and tools.

You can take a look at the rest of the data on the CBTS infographic below.

What Can You Do for More Effective Meetings?

Images: CBTS

This article, "There May Be 56 Million Business Meetings in America Today (INFOGRAPHIC)" was first published on Small Business Trends