Archive for January, 2011

South Carolina Considering Tax Credits for Angel Investors

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

According to media reports and political literature circling South Carolina, there is a plan to introduce a bill that would provide angel investors a tax credit for funding provided to start-ups within South Carolina.

The bill, introduced as H.3270 and H.3044 in the South Carolina State House, calls for a tax credit in the amount of 25% to 35%.

If I read the bill correctly, the max credit one could receive in one year is $100,000 per year and the unused portions of the credit can be used up to 10 years in the future until it has expired.

The credit would apply to investments made to entities primarily engaged in:

manufacturing, processing, warehousing, wholesaling, software development, information technology services, research and development, or a business providing services other than those described in subitem (g);

Those exclusions are:

real estate or construction; professional services; gambling; natural resource extraction; financial brokerage, investment activities, or insurance; entertainment, amusement, recreation, or athletic or fitness activity for which an admission or membership is charge.

A few representatives that we talked to said that they are looking into the bill and would support it, but it is truly dependent on the state of the budget.

As a side note, this is one of the majority caucus’ agenda bills and the Republicans control the House, Senate and Governor’s mansion.

Obviously, this would be excellent news for any start-up based in South Carolina.  It could be an instrumental component of your companies pitch to obtain additional funding to grow your product.

So Angel Investors, would a tax credit make you more likely to invest in a start-up in South Carolina?

Extras:
Upstate Angels Press Release
NFIB Release

Your Staff Matters

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

We have heard Gary Vaynerchuk talk about the value of thank you and caring about your customers. Many startups and small businesses have heeded his advice and reaped the benefits. The fact of the matter is that it applies to big businesses too!

I just finished the acquisition of a new vehicle from a local dealership that my family has done business with since 2005. The experience was amazing and I thought it would be interesting to talk about some customer service points that stood out during the process.

Knowledge

Whenever I’m looking into a new car I take time to research and compare multiple vehicles.  When I arrive at the dealership to talk, I try to know more than the sales rep I am doing business with.  Needless to say, I’m not always successful, which is the point.  When I’m talking about the car in question I want my sales rep to know everything possible about the car.  If not, I look for them to get the answer.  A sales rep that doesn’t typically loses my business.

Attitude

You can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you’re an ass, that’s a deal breaker.  For me this is hard.  My blunt personality leads to some awkward situations, often leading to an “ass moment”.

Our sales rep has always had a great attitude.  I know at some moment I have made a statement that was an “ass moment” and she has always handled it professionally.  Not only that, I have never seen her without a smile.  Always a gentle greeting and eager to get you in the car you need.

Customer Focused

Immediately when we walked in the door, we were greeted by the staff.  9 times out of 10, this really annoys me when I am car shopping.  I like to browse the lot and check the vehicles out.  Our local dealership knows this about me, so they will say “How are you doing, Gary?  How’s the family?” and will go on with their business.

When it’s time to talk business, they don’t ask for all of my personal information and perform an immediate credit check either.  I despise that process.  They discuss all options and when I finally say it’s time we do business.

Your Staff Matters

We continue visiting Vic Bailey Imports primarily because of the relationship we have built with our sales rep.  She’s been there since 2005 and is very successful.  Her friendly personality, knowledge, and desire to meet her customers’ needs are essential in her success. For me, I will continue doing business with them as long as she and others are still there.  I have no reason to go anywhere else.

Excellent Customer Service 101 – The Basics

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Catering to the customer and making them feel valuable is something that can set one company apart from the competition. Effective, approachable customer service is crucial to running any highly successful business, especially web companies. There are many websites that provide extraordinary customer service, such as Zappos and Mailchimp. However, for every company that providers great service there are at least 10 websites that provide subpar service, or no service at all (I’m looking at you, Facebook).

This is the first post in a series I’m going to write about how to provide your customers with the best service possible. Firstly, I want to look at the very basics of customer service, such as how you listen to and respond to your customers.

Ring for Service

Response is Critical

Any time a customer states that they have a question or a problem the clock starts ticking. The quicker the response the better for the customer. Just a simple reply from a human stating that you’re aware of their situation is reassuring to a customer. If a customer has to wait several hours before hearing anything he/she can start to doubt the reliability of the company and their products.

In addition to responding quickly, you have to respond in a way that satisfies the customer. All of your hard work is for naught if the customer still leaves dissatisfied. It may not always be possible to give a customer exactly what they want, but they should still feel that you did everything you can for them. If you can’t do something for them, explain to them why you can’t; always be truthful.

Listening on Multiple Channels

Your customers are using many different channels for communication, so you have to as well. Effective customer service means monitoring not only your support ticket system, but also Twitter, your Facebook fan page, forums, and any other site where users are talking about your brand. It’s absolutely critical to know when and where you have customers that have an issue. If someone tweets that they’re having problems accessing your site then not only are you at risk of losing that customer, there’s also the chance that the user’s followers will be negatively influenced about your brand.

Here are some tools that can help you stay on top of communications about your site.

  • Use Hootsuite for monitoring your Twitter accounts and Facebook pages as well as Twitter keyword searches. A customer may not @ reply to your account if they have problems, but they will almost always name your business, so keyword searches are critical.
  • Google Alerts are great at giving you near real-time updates on your keyword searches. This is a great way to find users talking about your site on both large and obscure forums, as well as blog posts mentioning you.

Excellent Service vs Average Service

Here are a few differentiating factors to look for when assessing the quality of your customer service team.

  1. Real people vs “nameless” agents. Customers should always be able to see that they’re conversing with a real person, not someone hiding behind an alias, such as “John” or “David”. A real person has a first and last name and even has a profile picture (if your helpdesk software supports it).
  2. Personalized responses vs canned responses. Templates definitely have their place in the support world. I would estimate that at least 60% of all support queries are repetitive issues. That being said, make sure that your responses refer to the customer by name and includes at least some content that is not from a template.
  3. Waiting for responses vs closing tickets prematurely. If there is any chance that your customer will need to contact you again regarding this ticket then I recommend setting the ticket status to “pending” or something similar. It can be an off-putting experience for a customer to see that their issue has been marked “resolved” or “closed” if they do not feel that is the case.

What are your thoughts on excellent customer service? Anything else that you’d like to see added to the list or discussed in the next entry?