Add a chatbot to your customer service team

The COVID pandemic has driven people online at a far faster pace than was ever imagined prior to 2021.  They are researching and shopping online in ever increasing numbers and they are doing so.  at all times of the day and night.

Research shows us that over 70% of consumers want the ability to solve an issue themselves – they want the information at their fingertips.

So how do you ensure that you don’t lose a potential client, a potential sale, because your team aren’t available to answer a query at 10pm or on a Sunday?

The problems with a 24/7 marketplace:

  • Team members are not always able to respond quickly to traditional emails that are generated from your website.
  • Team members are constantly answering the same questions taking up valuable resource time.
  • There’s no customer journey that guides them into a purchasing decision.
  • Customers want answers instantly.

The chatbot solution:

Implementing a chatbot on your website can be a way to engage customers and answer those recurring questions.

There are two main types of chatbots:

  • Rule based chatbots:
    • These can be setup where there is a regularity and formula to the type of questions asked. For example, if customers frequently ask “When are you open?” The chat bot can instantly respond with the businesses operating hours.
    • If a customer asks “How much is product x?”, a chatbot can instantly pull up the price and link the purchaser to the product.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered chatbots:
    • These bots are much more complex. They still require a level of programming however they learn over time by analysing past data and making assumptions. If a customer asks a question that has no direct answer set, it can be stored for future updates by a human programmer.

People are more and more comfortable interacting with chatbots – in fact over two thirds of consumers say they interact with an intelligent assistant or chatbot at least once a month.

Chatbots aren’t a substitute for your customer service team, but they are a great tool to guide an after-hours potential purchaser to make the decision to buy.


Updating your manuals

It’s a must.  But how can you make it easy?

We all know that manuals are critically important to having an effective, engaged team and a safe, respectful workplace.

Creating them and issuing them is just the start; you need to make sure they are read and understood. And you need to make sure they are up to date.

So how do you achieve this daunting task?  One step at a time and with a process.

  • Designate someone who is responsible for co-ordinating the manual updates.
  • Designate a subject matter expert (SME) for the sections of your various manuals.
  • At the beginning of the month, add manual updates to agendas that these SME’s attend and spend a few minutes discussing any changes to legislation, processes or the employer landscape.
  • Decide if any manuals need to be updated to reflect changes.
  • Task the SME with providing the Manual Update co-Ordinator with the changes, within a defined timeframe.
  • Co-ordinator makes the changes.
  • SME’s approve the changes.
  • At the beginning of the next month, the manuals are re-issued and all team members are alerted to the changes and asked to familiarise themselves with them, confirming their understanding.

Updating your manuals monthly is best practice.

For those areas where you don’t have a SME within your organisation, you may need to seek outside experts.  At FC, we have expertise to help you create your manuals, keep them current or just provide you with the expertise you need in the areas which SME’s lack.

Circle of trust

Circle of trust

As business leaders there are regulations and laws that control how you move an employee out of your business.  These rules were rightly put in place to curtail unscrupulous exploitation of people by some employers but the fallout means that good businesses who treat their employees well are often too worried about the potential ramifications to move an employee on when they have  broken their trust and are no longer an employee that they have confidence in.  This is hard when as an employer you are the one with the overdraft, the mortgage, putting in the long hours and taking the risk every day to build a business.

Over the years there is one lesson I have learned and that is that trust goes both ways.  Why should I put up with people in my business who are not trustworthy?  Why should I put up with their dramas that distract the whole team?  Why should I always keep giving and in return receive nothing?  Why? Because I am a business leader, and the law puts hurdle after hurdle in my way making it almost impossible to move on unproductive and untrustworthy people.

Team members, supervisors, leaders – it happens – their value to your business expires.  This is a fact of life.  Moving on is always easier when the team member calls it quits.  But we have all been in situations where they don’t make this decision because they are comfortable in their role, it’s too hard to move on, they fear they won’t get another job.  Meanwhile your business is carrying the burden of their employment.

I have a few thoughts on this:

  1. If trust is gone, I cannot come back from this. It’s in my DNA. So, I need to resolve it.
  2. If I can put my hand on my heart and know that I have been ethical, supportive, communicative and fair – then I will not invest more energy in trying to fix it.
  3. Full transparency and honesty is required. I have no problem telling a team member that I have no trust left, my respect for them is diminished and it’s time for them to consider their options.
  4. My decision is made so I now work with the team member to help them reach a similar conclusion.
  5. I accept that it may end up in a nasty situation and am ready to live with that. Sometimes the fear of a hefty pay out paralyses us, but when you weigh up the cost of a toxic team member who is not doing their job, is destabilising your team and eating into your energy, then sometimes it is better to pay for the problem to go away.  Having said that, if your processes are sound, you’ve kept notes and followed process, then it’s my experience that FairWork Australia are a reasonable organisation to deal with.

It’s always vitally important that you, as an employer, have lived up to your end of the bargain and have treated the employee fairly in all instances, but when the circle of trust is broken despite this, then it’s time to move that person on.


Put it in writing

You’ve found the perfect person to join your team – you’ve agreed on the role, the remuneration, and so on. Or have you?

While you have discussed both your expectations in interviews and agreed on a path moving forward, you need to put what was decided in writing so there are no misunderstandings and to protect yourself from possible legal action down the track.

A Letter of Engagement, or an employment contract, is a way of ensuring that both the employee and employer are clear about the rights and responsibilities that go with working for your business.

This document should be sent to the new employee BEFORE they commence and signed off by them prior to starting.

The Letter of Engagement should clearly outline all the details around their employment.

  • Job title
  • Status – casual, permanent, part time, trainee
  • Who they report to and where they will work
  • Any applicable award or Agreement
  • Probation
  • Rate of pay (inclusive or ex-super) and any promised salary reviews
  • Any allowances
  • Hour and days of work
  • Leave entitlements
  • Confidentiality and intellectual property protection
  • Non solicitation clauses (if applicable)
  • Workplace safety obligations
  • Termination of employment clauses

Having a clear, well-structured Letter of Engagement ensures that the new team member understands their terms and conditions of employment. It’s spelt out so that if you do need to take disciplinary action – including dismissal – down the track, and you have upheld your end of the bargain, then this document will go a long way to protecting you against potential damages.

A Letter of Engagement should be backed up by a detailed position description as well as comprehensive (and current) HR, Workplace Safety, policy and procedure manuals.


An induction process to protect you and develop great team members

When you welcome a new employee to your team, you have already invested a considerable amount of time (and probably money) into selecting them. So it makes sense to give them the best chance of settling into your business and contributing.

At the same time, as their employer, you have significant responsibilities for how your new employee behaves in the workplace. It’s critical that you have a process to cover off every expectation you have of them.

Start with your Letter of Engagement.
This should clearly outline all the details around their employment. When they start, who they report to, what they are paid, their hours of work etc.

Position Description.
This needs to lay out what are your expectations of the employee in this role. It should be attached as a schedule to the Letter of Engagement. Both you and the employee should refer to this frequently during probation, to ensure that any skills gaps that emerge are addressed with training. Tip: When a team member changes roles, then a new Position Description should be issued.

Policy and procedure manuals.
This manual (or manuals) should detail everything that an employee needs to know about working for your business. From HR policies on uniform, how to apply for leave, expected behaviour in the workplace through to procedures on locking up the office, carrying out a manufacturing process or how to post on social media, for example.

Workplace safety manual.
Sometimes this is included in a Policy and Procedure manual and sometimes it is stand-alone. It should clearly detail your expectations of your employee to adhere to all workplace safety requirements including reporting any potential hazards. Any hazards and risks specific to your industry and your workplace should be addressed.

The letter of engagement, position description and all manuals can be sent to the employee before they commence with you, so that they have the opportunity to read the manuals. Make sure you include a document where they sign that they have read and understood the manuals and keep that on file.

Induction and orientation

The first day, first week, first three months in fact – are daunting for a new employee. Make a real effort to ensure they aren’t left floundering. An employee who feels insecure may walk out the door.

Welcome them and make sure that all your team members know who they are.

Have a checklist that is signed off, ensures that every aspect of their onboarding is covered within a short period of time.

Starting with setting them up on the payroll then giving them the tools they need to hit the ground running. This will vary from safety equipment to a computer, server access, email address. Organise a timetable for them to spend time with those people from whom they need to learn their role.

Remember, it’s not just about their role: they also need to know about your company, your values and your culture of respect. They need to be immersed in what you stand for. It’s also about the branding, your colours, the products, your client service expectations. Explain why you have certain rules and requirements rather than just demanding them.

A thorough induction and orientation provides a solid basis for developing team members who are productive, effective and want to stay with your organisation.

Ticking off all the legal aspects of employment will help protect you from workplace wrangles and possible legal actions down the track.


Are you running on empty?

When we’re driving, we’ll notice the flashing light that tells us that we will need to fill up soon. We note the milage left and set a mind map that allows us to fill up with petrol before we run out, leaving us stranded, frustrated, missing appointments and losing that precious commodity we call time.

As a business owner, we need to recognise when our internal light is flashing telling us we’re running low on energy. Our full tank, which keeps us motivated, engaged and enthusiastic can start to be used up if there’s no balance to our lives.

Just as cruising on a freeway helps us preserve fuel, lots of stops and starts, speeding and braking can gobble up our fuel. The trick is to work out a balance that will give you more of the smooth times. A way to concentrate on the important things in your business and not get side-tracked by unproductive distractions. Work out how to delegate, allocate time for family and friends and physical fitness and then you’ll find that flashing light doesn’t come up as often and you’ll enjoy your life – business and personal – much more.


Is there still a place for virtual events?

They saved the day during the pandemic, but are they still relevant?

COVID19 lockdowns forced businesses to embrace the concept of a virtual event. Whether that was an annual awards celebration, a conference, a farewell or a largescale training session, for example, the only way to deliver was online, and many companies took up the challenge and fashioned events that were inclusive, engaging affairs.

Now that a vaccine is rolling out and Australia is operating in COVID Normal, should the concept of a virtual event be shelved in favour of face-to-face gatherings, or can we take the lessons we learned from our period of forced online events and incorporate them into our schedules?

The advantages:

  • Less or no travel time for participants. This is a big one because people are more prepared to commit to an event if it doesn’t entail a long commute – whether that’s driving to the venue or catching a plane. For online awards celebrations, people may elect to gather in small groups in someone’s home, or for training in their office – but other than that, it’s just a short stroll to the study.
  • Less expense all round. For the organiser, there’s no venue hire, no food and alcohol costs. You might want to hire a small studio if it’s an event to impress and still provide entertainment (but that will be cheaper if they don’t have to travel.) For the attendee, there’s no ticket cost, no travel costs or parking fees
  • There’s no limit on numbers. But if you are going big – as in thousands, best ensure your technology is up to it.
  • More flexibility on timing. If you aren’t competing for venues, you can set the date and time that suits.  Also, you can record the event and people who were unable to attend can watch it at a later date.
  • Access to the world’s best. The money you are saving on venue and catering can be used to access a higher level of guest speaker or entertainment. It doesn’t matter where they are in the world, as they can join your virtual event at the click of a button and you don’t have to pay for their airfares and accommodation. Win-win!

The challenges:

It’s one dimensional. Meeting people face-to-face and being immersed in the atmosphere isn’t something that can be duplicated online.

Lack of networking opportunities. Large online events don’t deliver those priceless opportunities to network when you are physically present at an event.

No accountability. While people may log in to an online event, you have no guarantee that they are actually watching it – especially if they turn off their camera, and sometimes limited bandwidth, this will mean they have to.

No live audience for presenters to bounce off. A lot of guest speakers base their presentation around interaction with the audience. Whether that’s getting people up on stage; asking for a show of hands to hammer home a point; or asking for life examples from the audience. While the past year has forced them to re-think their approach – it’s often less dynamic.

I believe there’s definitely an ongoing place in the business calendar for virtual events. The benefits are significant – not the least of which are on the bottom line – and the challenges are real, but manageable.

  •  Develop protocols and behaviour standards around online events – e.g., dress code, cameras on, mute on, using the chat function etc.
  •  Experiment with allowing people to talk and interact rather than muting everyone; or, if that’s not possible because of the number of attendees, word up some participants beforehand to provide feedback to those presenters who need it – and allow them to manage their own mute button.
User Manual 1

Manuals are not a dirty word

When you mention manuals, whether that’s policy, procedures, workplace safety, operations – eyes often glaze. And yet manuals are a business’ best friend – they are critical to the smooth-running, growth and profitability of a company. They are vitally important information conduits and deserve the sort of attention you would give to budgeting and cash flow.

Manuals shouldn’t be thousands of words with the occasional bold heading. They need to be engaging. Use diagrams, photos, highlighted blocks to summarise important points. If they are digital manuals (and they should be where possible), then use technology to embed videos or QR codes that take the reader to more in-depth information; have links to external documents; additional research, detailed processes etc. Make them succinct but meaty.

Keep your manuals current – they need reviewing regularly. Make it the responsibility of someone in your organisation to update them as soon as there is a change of process, legislation or procedures.

Keep your manuals relevant. They need to be reviewed by experts in all the area that your manuals cover. No point in having a well written, engaging manual if it doesn’t reflect the position on the ground and doesn’t talk to the people who need it.

Make your manuals accessible. Having your manual in digital format on an intranet allows you to track who has read or downloaded a manual. Some instances will require hard copies, but make sure as soon as you do an update to your digital version, all old, printed copies are destroyed and replaced with the latest version.

Manual writing is a real skill, but if you don’t want to engage the services of an expert, here are a few tips as to how to write and what to include in a procedure.

  • What to do: the overarching task
  • Why do it: what is the purpose or intended outcome, who benefits, legislative obligation, and so on.
  • When to do it: ad-hoc, periodically – weekly, fortnightly, etc.
  • How to do it: the process, the steps, the tools, etc. This should include any supporting documents, such as screen shots (of processes), videos, images, checklists, forms, reference guides, etc.

Give manuals the attention they deserve: make them clear, engaging, interactive and accessible, and they will reward you with a team that is educated, process driven and has confidence in their ability to find an answer to any situation.


Tell me what you do and why

Why do so many business owners, who are well established and successful, find it hard to tell me, in less than one page, what they do, why they do it and what their goals and priorities are? This is elementary stuff that should be front and centre of an entrepreneur’s mind. Business owners are a brave and courageous group of people. It takes effort, risk, determination, and sheer guts to go out there and build a business – to stay inspired and motivated every single day. The one-page business plan should be the easy bit.

Not only will it help you tell me what you do and why – should we meet, but, more importantly, it will help you clearly define your goals and purpose. To reduce things down to simple language is an exercise in clearing the vision or goal of the dross and floss and hyperbole that is obscuring the pureness of your purpose.

Find a colleague, friend or mentor and spend a few hours talking over your goals for the next year. Walk away with a one-page document that will hold you accountable to grow your business, to grow yourself as a business owner and to help you stay relevant in your category.

the businessman removes / dismisses the employee from the team. management within the team. wooden blocks with a picture of workers. control arm. leader. resignation

How to handle a rogue employee

A rogue employee is usually someone with a degree of authority within your organisation, whose actions are quite capable of destabilising your team and affecting your business.

We’ve all run across them, either as employers having to deal with their undermining of your authority, or as employees having to avoid being manipulated by them. They believe they are smarter than the employer and work to seed discontent in your workforce.

When you become aware that you have a rogue on your team, you need to make a decision. Will you move them on, out of your business or will you try and manage them, to hopefully adjust their attitude? Are they likely to become severely disruptive – for instance, passing on your commercial secrets? Or are they just someone who is always discontented, sly but not likely to resort to criminal or unethical activities? Make sure you make the decision that is best for your company. Often employers will put up with a rogue employee because they are talented or have unique skills, so they prevaricate about addressing the problem.

If you decide on the attitude adjustment, then the first thing you need to examine is whether someone – yourself or their direct manager – is holding them accountable for what they are supposed to be contributing. Chances are that’s a no. And that needs to be addressed.

But first you need to confront them, let them know that you are aware of their
behaviour. See if you can find out why they are behaving this way. There’s always a reason, but it’s not easy to find out if they aren’t prepared to share.

At the end of the day, you can’t help them if they won’t share, and so you then bring in the control. Re-visit the position description, set KPI’s and review them regularly. Be clear about their responsibilities and expectations – not only with your rogue but with the rest of the team. If they see that the outlaw is not doing what is expected, then the ability to manipulate team members into rebelling is significantly diminished.

Throughout all of this process, ensure you keep comprehensive notes on all your actions and the interactions with the employee.

If you decide that moving the employee on is the only way, then you need to get advice as to how you can do this within the Fairwork framework, so that it is not an Unfair Dismissal. Your notetaking will be very valuable in proving that you have tried to resolve the problem in a fair and equitable manner.

My final piece of advice is don’t ever delay taking action when you feel you have a disenfranchised employee. The damage they can do is significant.