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0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on May 31, 2012 | Categories:
Gary Haines’ Clarksburg Plumbing is only about four years old, but Gary’s been in the Maryland plumbing business for nearly 40 years. That’s long enough to prove that plumbing is almost as secure as death and taxes. People always flush the wrong thing, water always takes the path of least resistance, and a good local plumber is worth his weight in copper piping. “I enjoy helping people out of complex problems,” Gary says.
How has your spring been, business-wise?
In a good way?
Yes, in a good way. Business is picking up. Word of mouth is picking up. I’m back in the trade again.
Wait, were you out of the trade?
I started out in 1985. Wait, longer than that; gosh—in 1973. And then in 1985, I went into business for myself. I retired from that business, then I went to work as a code enforcement specialist for 20 years. Then I retired and started up a company with my son: Clarksburg Plumbing. I’m applying all that prior knowledge into this company and it’s working out very well. We’re going on our fourth year.
How and why did you become a plumber?
I basically came off of a farm. When I was a kid, we ran a dairy farm. My uncle was a builder, and through him, I was introduced into building. When I was 16, I decided that dairy cows wasn’t where I wanted to live. So I got into construction; then through construction, I got into plumbing, and that led to where I am today.
We always fixed pipes on the farm. As a farmer, you have to fix things for yourself. You can’t wait for someone to fix it for you. You have to be creative and innovate and everything else. Plumbing is a lot like that. It gives you a chance to push the powers of your brain to figure things out.
Can you elaborate?
You’re looking at existing plumbing, and you have to learn the flow characteristics of the piping, how it’s fitted, how everything works and flows—it’s quite an engineering feat for it to come about. We also do gas-fitting work, and you have to have designed systems for that.
It’s kind of hard to sum all that up in five or six minutes, but you need to be able to design a system, and you need to know all the codes in the different jurisdictions we work in. We operate off of the International Plumbing Code and International Fuel Gas Code. Both of those I’m very well versed in. We also have the International Plumbing Code with amendments that we use in Maryland. You have to be versed in all those codes to make these systems work.
One of the things that I excel in is figuring out problems in existing buildings, why they’re failing, and what we can do to correct them. You have a building that’s established; the plumbing has failed, and you have to redesign the system without destroying the building. I have that prior background and knowledge to replace systems without gutting a building. That’s what’s helping us to be very busy.
When I was in the inspection trade, we always had classes and plan review. That helped with prior knowledge.
Who are the majority of your customers?
It’s all across the board. It’s residential, industrial, commercial, restaurants, anything. Anything that has plumbing in it, we do it. Next week, we’re lined up to replace a fire hydrant.
How do you get the word out?
We belong to a couple of business networking organizations. One’s the Clarksburg Business Referral Team, a group of businesspeople that meet and share ideas and give referrals to one another. That’s like the BNI International group.
Clarksburg Plumbing’s tagline reads “Making the world greener, one drop at a time.” How does your work contribute to resource efficiency and ecological balance?
We try to replace these systems without destroying trees and shrubbery, with a minimum amount of impact to the environment as possible.
What about positive impact?
We promote the use of waterless urinals. A lot of restaurants and bars have urinals that use a lot of water. They’ve accepted and developed waterless urinals. So we’re saving that water for other uses. Then of course all the water-saving faucets and water closets—all the water-saving items on the market today, you have to install in in the home.
We also install greywater systems and drain-water systems too. That’s legal in Maryland—greywater systems—and we set up cistern tanks for lawn irrigation and such, to save on consumption of municipal water.
What do you love most about your job?
Helping people out of real bad, complicated problems. I just enjoy helping people out of complex problems. I also work as a consultant to local plumbing companies. By helping a lot of the other companies that need my knowledge, we get into situations where they have jobs they can’t do or aren’t equipped to do, so we step in and help. It’s a good marriage of people and resources.
Meet Jenny Carter. Jenny has been with AnswerConnect for over three years and lists helping people as one of her passions. “It’s in my genes to want to help people. I interact with people who are experiencing problems addressing their business needs. As a salesperson, I’m able to offer up multiple business solutions to help meet those needs. “
Our salespeople speak daily with medical practitioners, lawyers and business owners of all types; all concerned with one thing: finding an answering service that fits their needs while providing the best possible customer service. Several key questions come up often in these conversations. We thought we’d save you a little phone time by having one of our top salespeople answer the most frequently asked questions:
How does your answering service work?
When you decide to use AnswerConnect, you get a specifically assigned Setup Specialist to help with all of your setup questions. Then you get a Dedicated Account Manager who will work one on one with you your entire time as a client. We give you a toll-free number that is custom to your business. You can use that as your business number, or you can forward your existing lines to us. We then develop/customize a script with you detailing how you want us to answer your phones, the role you want us to play on those calls, any information you would like us to gather—or give to your callers—and the delivery method. We can email/text all of your messages to you, transfer callers, dispatch calls, set appointments, place orders and more. Also included with all of our service plans: live web chat and active response—two incredible features if you have a website.
What is the cost?
Depending on your specific needs, we have entry level plans for automated and live answering which fit almost any budget.
What will your associates say?
This is where we customize your account to meet your specific needs. We want to outline the reasons why a person is calling you. Each call type essentially has its own set of scripting. Based on the specific call type, we’ll build your account according to any information that you’d like us to gather or give to your callers.
What makes AnswerConnect different from the other competitors out there?
We have been in the industry over 10 years. We are a part of The Better Business Bureau, and have a great rating there. We answer our phones quickly, professionally, and are efficient on your calls. And all of our associates are US-based.
AnswerConnect is always on the cutting edge of technology. We offer mobile applications for the iPhone and Android phones, web-based scheduling through our SetMore product, chat support through our Conversion Support software and so many other applications.
While we may not be the least expensive, we are extremely competitive in pricing and definitely one of the best. I sell our service on quality and our desire to form long-term partnerships. We want to be the company that grows with our clients, no matter what service level they’re starting out on.
To speak to a salesperson live, head over to our website. If you have a question you’d like to see featured on our blog, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
0 comments | Posted by: Spencer on May 23, 2012 | Categories:
Steve Thomson, founder of Sweetwater Logistics, likens his business to that of an old-school neighborhood grocer, someone who knew your family and their needs. Sweetwater provides logistics and shipping services for start-ups, small businesses and entrepreneurs—their North Carolina-based warehouse lets them ship to 80% of the contiguous United States’ population within two days—but their underlying service, ultimately, is scalability. “If you have a great idea, you need someone on your operations side,” Thomson says. “I’d love to be known as the entrepreneurs’ secret to success to selling products on the Web.”
Which industries do Sweetwater Logistics primarily work with?
We provide services to really anything nonperishable that gets sold on the Internet. From an industry perspective, we’re open to everything. What I do—my niche, so to speak—would be start-ups, small-business owners and entrepreneurs. They recognize the value of outsourcing so they can focus on marketing. We focus on warehousing, setting up space, working with vendors, et cetera, so they don’t have to worry about it.
Our clients are start-ups and entrepreneurs. We’ve gotten into a really good niche; we’ve gotten well-known in subscription-based services. One of our clients has a subscription-based product for men, where every three months, you get a pack of new t-shirt, socks, and underwear. We’re a leader in setting up that type of service. We just had a client come to us, wanting to do that for pet food.
Before founding Sweetwater Logistics, you worked in international shipping. What did that teach you?
Logistics is a very simple thing: You move product from point A to point B. Many times, logistics providers try to make it as complicated as possible to prove their worth. But in reality, it’s pretty simple. It’s just a matter of knowing where you go to find the right answers. I don’t have to know everything about shipping. I just have to have the belief that something’s possible, and then find a provider to do that. That’s key to what I’ve learned in international shipping. It doesn’t matter what the language or the customs in the country are. The underlying principles are the same everywhere. It’s just identifying those processes and finding global nuances.
Honestly, I’ve gained a deep understanding and belief that there is an answer and solution for every problem out there. No matter where I’ve been in the world, you can find the answer. And it’s usually not as difficult as everybody wants to make it out to be.
Why would logistics companies make shipping appear more difficult than it is?
Transportation has turned into a commodity. Going way back, the original industry involved moving something from the farm to the marketplace. That’s the very first thing, as a society, that we’ve done, and every economy requires it.
What I learned in international transportation is that it’s the knowledge of moving that’s important. You have to convince [your clients] that you’re the go-to person to do it. Your competitor has the same-sized shipping vessel and containers, and it takes them about the same time. So there’s perceived value in creating this veil of insecurity around your customers’ knowledge. You’re able to create a differentiator. And that made me sick to my stomach, knowing that was out there. There are so many other ways to differentiate in the market without creating that deceptive veil.
How does Sweetwater Logistics scale its services to work with home-based businesses and more mature, larger companies?
All of our clients are fantastic at making products that are unique and creating demand for those products. We help them focus on that. It doesn’t matter their size.
I have a client—she has one pallet. In between Thanksgiving and today, she sold five items. That’s perfectly fine. It can sit there until an order comes in, and when it does, it just goes through the flow. And we notice; everybody cheers.
Then we have other clients, they’ll move a hundred pallets in a day. Because of automation, we can scale dramatically. We can scale to any size.
My growth strategy is, if I can take away one or two constraints that are hurting expansion of small business in the U.S., I should be able to grow on that. My strategy is helping these guys thrive. They’re able to focus on growth by letting us handle all the other little stuff.
How do you cross-promote your clients?
Here’s a good example: We have one client that does skin care and body care products for men. We also have another client—Manpacks.com. They have a similar demographic. We introduced Anna from Raw Materials for Men to Ken at Manpacks. Ken actually sells Raw Materials products in his subscriptions. Anna could put a note into her orders, saying “Thank you. As a token of my appreciation, here’s your first month free at Manpacks.” Ken can do the same thing. Or Ken has a blog going out twice a week, and he mentions her stuff in his blog.
That’s something we actively do, making those connections. My success comes down to my clients’ growth. I get paid when my clients’ products get out the door. Cross-branding and introductions is part of it. Everybody wins. Ken or Anna can thank their clients and give them value that they otherwise couldn’t, and they get eyeballs in a new segment of the market that they wouldn’t otherwise.
Have you found it challenging to build a clearly focused brand?
When we created our logo, we actually did this exercise. We went out to our client base and crowd-sourced our logo from artists around the world. We got 150 images, all different. We asked our clients, “Which one of these matches your image of Sweetwater, and why?” I got great feedback. The underlying message was, as somebody summed it up, “That sign looks like a sign for a neighborhood grocery store in the ’50s, where the owner knows what you need and knows your family.” That’s exactly the brand I want.
Doug, one of our clients—he’ll call on a Friday afternoon to chitchat, talk about his business, his challenges, his big wins. He sincerely wants to share. Another client, Anna—I love the fact that when something big happens, I’m one of the first three phone calls she makes. She wants to share. I love being in that position. I love knowing that we’re considered a partner. And all the guys here want to hear that. They see products every day, going out the door. We packaged that DVD, that underwear, those socks, these boots. The guys here are the last ones to touch it before the customer. So they take great pride in that.
What direction is Sweetwater Logistics headed?
I’d like to continue with the same focus. Five years from now, I’d like to have 20 of our clients hit it and and be huge.
The nitty-gritty of it? We’re really selling scalability. The ability of an entrepreneur to entrust us, if we’re working with them. Say, right now, they’re selling 2-3 items per week. If they get to more than 15 per hour, that’s great. That’s what I sell: The ability to expand dramatically.
It’s maybe a wish, but if there’s somebody taking an entrepreneur course in school, I want a professor to say, “That’s a great idea. You should talk to Sweetwater. They can help you.”
We’re not peddling get-rich-quick schemes. If you have a great idea, if it’s sound, you need someone on the operations side while you focus on growing this idea and getting it out. You’re always going to be your idea’s biggest advocate. I’d love to be known as the entrepreneurs’ secret to hitting success to selling products on the Web.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the energy of entrepreneurs. I love their optimism. If I can surround myself with that every day, that brings me pleasure.
0 comments | Posted by: Harlan on July 6, 2011 | Categories:
Businesses searching for contact center solutions are frequently surprised by the wealth of available options.
Here are six concrete ways a contact center can strengthen your business.
Inbound services generate incoming marketing leads (the flip side to cold-calling and other outbound marketing efforts) by managing customer, vendor and employee interactions via phone, email and chat. Think of every knock on your business’ door as something an inbound service could handle: Customer care, technical support and help desk, e-commerce, even customer surveys.
Inbound services are an efficient investment for established businesses. But for start-ups with severely limited capital and resources, they’re a lifeline.
Dedicated agents are, of course, phone agents assigned to manage exclusive relationships with just one company or client. They’re highly trained in branding, culture, industry and procedures, presenting a seamlessly comprehensive experience to customers.
Each customer interaction—a question, an order, a complaint—gives your business an opportunity to boost sales. Inbound sales are consultative, rather than pushy, relying on knowledge and discussion to cross- and up-sell. Working with a trained team of phone associates is a terrific way to enhance your brand. Only be careful; not all contact centers are created equal.
Lead generation deals with actively engaging potential customers, turning inbound chats, calls and emails into sales leads. Good contact centers are concerned with cultivating long-time customers over one-time sales. A professional, consultative approach goes a long way toward that goal.
Lead Capture Tools
Lead capture tools integrate into your business’ website to generate sales. These tools typically comprise online forms like registration, click-to-call buttons or automatically scheduled call-backs, based on certain customer behaviors like clicks, purchases, page views, even shopping cart problems.
Customer Relationship Management
Customer relationship management tools integrate the contact center solutions into a single interface, managing customer and client interactions. Good CRMs facilitate smooth conversation. But great CRMs increase profitability.
All these solutions comprise a powerful toolkit to help businesses manage relationships with their vendors, customers and employees.
0 comments | Posted by: Terri on June 20, 2011 | Categories:
As call centers take advantage of high-tech innovations to expand their capabilities, the qualities of the standard inbound call center agent are adapting to the changes.
Stereotypes remain about call center employees. One persistent stereotype is that of a bored, young, highly caffeinated minimum-wage earning worker sitting in a cubicle, headset on, under fluorescent lighting. Or perhaps a stay-at-home mom, tucking her phone receiver between ear and shoulder as she irons shirts. Recent Discover Card commercials feature the character “Peggy,” a man with a limited grasp of the English language who (among other questionable quirks) takes great delight in putting callers on hold.
In actuality these days, call centers ask their employees to maintain a much wider array of skills than these stereotypes exhibit—certainly a much wider array of skills than in the technically simpler past, when answering services involved answering phones and taking messages, and that’s about it.
With the advent of VOIP, shared networks and CRM applications, remote business associates find themselves in the unique position of playing many different roles to many different companies: appointment setters, order takers, sales consultants or dispatchers, to name a few.
With this in mind, call centers have raised the bar on their hiring practices. They look for employees with the communications skills, poise and adaptability to handle a large variety of customers with efficiency and competence.
The new call center agent must be able to think quickly, as each call may require completely different handling than the call before. Agents must have superb listening skills and have the confidence to make informed decisions. They must be comfortable working with many different computer programs and software applications.
Most importantly, agents must remember that regardless of which hat they’re wearing, they represent whichever company for whom they’re taking a call or chat. A customer’s perception of that agent colors their perception of the company as a whole. Modern remote business agents are a far cry from Peggy.