Customer Experiences

Customers share both good and bad experiences

It’s a fact. Many of your customers are chatting with one another and sharing information through social media, smart phones, and a variety of Internet applications and websites. For many companies, that very connectivity has resulted in greater sales. The pool of potential clients has extended well beyond the confines of brick-and-mortar stores and locales. On the other hand, “word of mouth” has taken on an ominous new meaning. Treat customers well, and new revenues may flow from distant locales as your company receives “thumbs up” reviews. Treat customers poorly, however, and they may share their experiences with the world — quickly and with long-lasting effect. To keep your business from becoming the latest customer service joke on YouTube or MySpace, be sure to follow these tried-and-true guidelines.

  • Respond to customer inquiries with care. Customers need to feel that you’re listening to their concerns, needs, and complaints. If they call your offices and are shuffled around or put on hold while your latest marketing pitch endlessly assails their ears and wastes their time, don’t expect return sales. When they walk into your store, listen first, then offer advice. Even if they approach during a peak time, try to give them the courtesy of your undivided attention.
  • Don’t get defensive. Want to appear on somebody’s Internet video or blog? Be rude. Be irritable. Cut off customers before they have an opportunity to voice their comments or complaints. When customers have mistaken notions about your products or services, take a deep breath and explain the problem in a calm manner. Even if you feel personally attacked, never lash out at a client who, after all, has come to your business for help. Being cordial won’t please everyone. But most people respond better to honey than to vinegar.
  • Train your employees well. People aren’t born with good people skills. Such skills are developed. A good manager will take time to share his expertise with front-line staff by providing training classes and a personal example. If an employee can’t or won’t treat customers with respect, that person may need to be placed in a different position — away from clients. Good customer service also includes training staff on the technical aspects of your business. Employees should be fully conversant with your products and services, as well as your firm’s routine procedures and policies.

Your customers will notice.

2012 Financial Resolutions

Financial resolutions to make for 2012

Shedding unwanted pounds, recharging a golf score that’s stuck in neutral, nurturing a better relationship with your teenager — these resolutions and many more will appear on lists this coming January. Of course, some good intentions will fade before the flowers arrive on Valentine’s Day. But other decisions, if allowed to harden into habit, have the potential to greatly affect your financial future. For most people, incremental choices and a lifestyle of discipline are the key to attaining financial independence. Here are five suggestions for the coming year to help you achieve that goal.

  • Review your expenses. The start of a new year is a great time to take inventory of your finances. Track your expenses for six months or so. You may be surprised at the result. Do I really spend that much on coffee? Are my utility bills really that high? For many people, getting a handle on how cash actually flows through their checkbook can be a great motivator.
  • Build an emergency fund. Unless you plan to finance your “rainy days” with expensive credit card debt, setting aside cash in an easy-to-access emergency fund should be a priority. Many companies will allow you to allocate paycheck deposits into more than one bank account. Pick a savings account, designate it as your emergency fund, and start socking money away. Strive to accumulate a large enough balance to cover three to six months of living expenses.
  • Save — automatically. Retirement savings can be set up along similar lines. By making deposits directly into a retirement account, the money won’t show up in your checking account where it’s likely to be spent. Of course, if your employer offers to match contributions to a 401(k) plan, be sure to take full advantage of the matching amount.
  • Pay down debts. If you’re saddled with debt, you’re beholden to others. As the old saying goes, “The borrower is slave to the lender.” True, it’s often more fun to buy stuff on credit — you don’t have to wait. But by whittling away at debt, you can expect to cut your overall interest costs and enjoy more financial flexibility in the future.
  • Treat yourself. Most of us can’t live like monks. To stay motivated, budget some “fun money” into the mix. Make that meal at a nice restaurant or a weekend get-away your reward for the financial sacrifices you make the rest of the year.

Tax Breaks for Education

Tax breaks are available for work-related education

What have you learned today?

No matter what type of work you do, there’s always something new to learn — and when your education is related to your current job, you may be eligible for tax breaks in addition to the satisfaction of increasing your knowledge.

Here are examples of work-related education tax benefits.

  • Employer-provided reimbursements. Ask your employer about an educational assistance program. These formal, written plans can provide up to $5,250 of tax-free payments for graduate and undergraduate expenses, including tuition and books.
    Another option: working condition fringe benefits. Your employer can reimburse you for education expenses that you’d otherwise be able to deduct on your personal return. The expenses must relate to your current job — for example, courses taken to improve your skills or courses required for keeping your present position.
  • Individual tax deductions. Do you itemize? As an employee, you can claim expenses you pay for education directly related to your current job. Eligible costs include tuition, books, supplies, and travel.
    Don’t have enough to itemize? The tuition and fees deduction is available as an adjustment to income on your federal tax return — with no itemizing necessary. The maximum deduction is $4,000 and income limits apply.
    You can also receive tax benefits when you incur educational expenses in your sole proprietorship. Qualifying costs are deductible on Schedule C of your tax return.

Other education deductions and credits are available when you update work skills. Give us a call if you would like to learn more.  970-207-9724