Jessica Tremayne

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

The million-dollar question about making an investment in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socioeconomics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“Having a list of essential job functions, periodic job functions, and the knowledge, skills, abilities and education required to perform the job should be posted in a variety of areas to make applying to a position appealing,” says Abel Garza, executive director, Office of Affirmative Action/EEO, University of Houston. “If relevant media exists that target minority and or female audiences, then businesses should consider advertising in those also. Other excellent sources are minority fairs, college university career services departments and professional references.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.

Why it’s important

Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“Consumers want someone they can communicate with,” says Rob Steward, vice president of sales, LatPro Inc. “LatPro.com is a niche job board for Hispanic and bilingual professionals — we post positions and network so employers and those seeking employment can connect. These types of sites are increasing because the population is changing in the U.S.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“People initiatives build the team,” says Aisha K. Washington, market diversity leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “If you live and breathe diversity and you make it part of your culture, you will be successful. You need to find a mix of affinity groups and networking for recruiting that best fits your needs. These insights will enhance your brand and improve creative innovation.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“If you have a Spanish-speaking customer base or want to reach a specific demographic, it would be smart to have staff that can effectively communicate with them,” Steward says. “With Web sites being used so frequently for daily business functions, companies can do business anywhere they want. Having a diverse team will provide insights to reaching people around the globe. Age diversity is equally important. In an interview, you’re not allowed to ask a person’s age, but they’re gender and race are very apparent. Try not to allow age to have a negative impact on your decision because your customers are old and young.”

What you need to know

Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive.

“If you have a nondiverse group of workers, it limits your organization’s thinking on issues,” Washington says. “Diversity is a business imperative, not a back-office or front-office thing, Washington says. “You raise your cultural IQ with cultural dexterity.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness Month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“Once you have a diverse team, you’ll want to utilize their skills,” Steward says. “Having affinity groups is the best way to encourage brainstorming among employees. You can provide employees with a specific project that you need help in reaching the customer. In an affinity group, employees may feel more relaxed to speak their ideas, too. Then as a group, they can present the consensus on how to approach the issue, which makes employees feel they’ve helped their community and employer, while the company can potentially profit.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force, considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“Don’t stop recruiting even if there’s a hiring freeze,” Steward says. “Gather a group of diverse candidates you’d like to employ — and be honest with them, noting your interest in connecting in the future. This is a great way to get the word out about your assets.” <<

Thursday, 26 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

 

The million-dollar question about making an investment in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socioeconomics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“By 2016, two-thirds of the civilian work force will be women and minorities,” says Billie Williamson, senior partner and Americas inclusiveness officer, Ernst & Young LLP. “You need an appropriate balance of employees that represent your clients. Having diversity also helps each employee fulfill their true potential in the company — but you need to know how to leverage the mix.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.

Why it’s important

Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“We all come away with different perceptions even if we’ve all sat in on the same conference,” Williamson says. “The way we focus, think about issues and our frame of reference is all different, so having these differences on the same team can provide insights that benefit the customer — in your services and products.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“If you have a Hispanic customer base, you might want employees with that background so they have the skill sets or language necessary to communicate,” says Harold D. Jones, shareholder and labor law expert, Law Offices of Anderson + Jones PLLC. “But most businesses want to appeal to any customer, so having the same diversity in the employees makes sense.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“Today, businesses don’t have the luxury of not appreciating diversity,” says Susan Frear, director of education for the Dallas Human Resource Management Association Inc. and adjunct professor at the University of North Texas and the University of Phoenix, where she teaches human resource management and human performance technology. “You must be able to speak to any potential customer or client or you risk losing their business.”

What you need to know

Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive.

“Making diversity work starts with resources from the hiring process,” Frear says. “Make sure you post positions in newspapers, blogs, Web sites and areas that may attract a variety of candidates. Also, a policy is necessary to plan a strategy and in order to post the standards and management, but for the most part, that’s just a technicality. The process needs to be a part of the way business is conducted. Always think about how you can meet your customers’ needs. For example, women typically write out household checks so in order for customers to purchase the more expensive specialty checks, designs are made that target a female audience. The women-targeted designs may not be as appealing to women if they were men’s rendition of what is interesting to women.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness Month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“You should be intrigued with the positive impact diversity can have on a business,” Williamson says. “In order to capture our hearts and minds, there must be a business case for diversity, and there is. A diverse and inclusive environment promotes useful ideas, and suddenly, you’re not just complying with diversity requirements, you want to do more. You probably have generational differences in your company, which makes the environment richer.

“It can take different generations to tackle a problem, but the group must be flexible. You can’t have the older employees say, ‘They’re too young; what do they know?’ and the younger employees say, ‘They’re so old; they can’t think anymore.’ Allow for affinity groups or employee resource groups to make contributions — there may be some finances necessary for these gatherings, but in general, they take place at the facility and during the employees’ regular workday.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“You never know who your future customer will be, so you want to be able to attract key talent and be able to appreciate what they can bring,” Frear says. “Being successful in diversity is just a mindset.”

Sunday, 29 March 2009 20:00

Debunking diversity

The million-dollar question about investments in diversity is: Will it pay back?

While experts say diversity in the work force is a business imperative, defining diversity by employees’ physical attributes won’t foster a functional or profitable environment.

In fact, the definition of diversity is always evolving. Twenty years ago, the word spurred thoughts of gender issues since men held a high majority in the work force, while today the gender gap is narrowed and is less of a concern. Diversity’s definition has expanded, and diversity of thought, education, socio-economics, religion and life goals are only a few of the seemingly endless list of terms people use when defining the term for themselves. These differences in your employees can make or break your business. If you foster an inclusive environment, where all employees can contribute thoughts and plans to improve your product or service in confidence, you will improve your bottom line.

A February 2009 Groundbreakers report by Ernst & Young defines diversity as an equation for success and notes that research has proven diverse groups outperform homogenous groups even in cases where the nondiverse groups have heightened abilities. Scott Page, a professor of complex systems at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, created the diversity prediction theorem, which says the collective ability of any crowd is equal to the average ability of its members plus the diversity of the group, claiming diversity is a sure way to attain a strategic advantage.

“You can’t just hire people that look and talk like you,” says Conrad L. Mallett Jr., president and CEO, Sinai-Grace Hospital. “Companies aren’t currently doing a great job of being diverse and making it work, and it can be as simple as networking, which is important to get a range of qualified, diverse candidates. Many just don’t realize the vast benefits.”

Still, the return on investment is the hard evidence you want to justify devotion of time and money. Some say it’s difficult to quantify diversity ROI, but metrics are attainable. If you start with a plan that establishes your company goals and maps out a strategy, you can document the benefits and obstacles of a diverse team’s functionality that will best benefit your business.
 
Why it’s important
Since the country’s demographics are continually changing, a failure to branch out and move past your comfort zone when hiring and communicating with employees will ultimately result in financial punishment for the business.

“Good service is what’s most important to customers, and if they don’t get that, you’re not going to get any points,” Mallett says. “You don’t have to sacrifice excellence for diversity and you shouldn’t. There are degrees of experience your employees will have and other diversity facets that make you a more complete business. There’s no doubt that a diverse work force helps produce better products and service, but you have to keep your eye toward the possibility for the minority and not just the mandate.”

U.S. Census Bureau reports show Hispanics are the fastest-growing population, with an increase of 121 percent since 1999. The Asian population nearly doubled since 1990 and the African-American population is predicted to increase to 65.7 million strong by 2050, an increase of 15 percent since 2008.

“If you always look for the best candidate and have made job openings available for viewing in a variety of arenas, you will naturally grow a diverse work force,” says Lori Walker, director of diversity, Compuware Corp. “Keep in mind the end result to acquiring a diverse team is morale, contributions and ideas. An entire staff of people who have had similar experiences will have similar ways of looking at and resolving issues.”

Affinity networks — employer-recognized employee groups who share a common race, gender, national origin or sexual orientation — are a great way to attract and retain diverse employees. Networking by affinity groups reduces turnover and gives companies insights to consumers they otherwise may have never understood.

General Motors Corp.’s People with Disabilities Affinity Group has been a consistent resource for providing input and support relative to accessibility of products and services. The group played a role in helping OnStar develop the addition of TTY capability, the text telephone for the hearing impaired, for OnStar-equipped vehicles. Another example of diversity was witnessed in PepsiCo Inc.’s Hispanic professional organization called Adelante. Its Hispanic employee network provided insights that resulted in the development of the guacamole chip. In the first year of distribution, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay division sold $100 million in Lay’s guacamole chips.

“Include elements of diversity in employees’ performance plans and evaluate them on that,” says Linda D. Forte, senior vice president of business affairs and chief diversity officer, Comerica Inc. “This will help employees understand the leadership’s guiding vision of making an inclusive environment work.”

What you need to know
Diversity isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about keeping your business competitive. “Diversity allows your business to attract the best new talent,” Forte says. “You’ll be more competitive because you’ll have a better understanding of customers’ needs. You’ll continue to understand who your customers are and how they can continue to be attracted to you.”

Keep in mind the customers who you want to attract and then investigate opportunities in markets in which you want to expand or improve business. If you’re interest is in attracting a broader customer base, employees should mirror the communities in which you want to expand. Forge relationships with diverse community organizations and let them know about opportunities in your organization. Sponsoring events that interest diverse groups makes your company more attractive to diverse candidates. For example, host events in coordination with Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year or Disability Awareness month, and make your business’s diversity interests and job openings known.

If you’ve established affinity groups within your company, they can also help with recruiting. They may be able to give you suggestions that will help your business attract more diverse candidates and offer ideas of where to post positions.

Starting an affinity group is easy.

“Diversity is often thought about as only a race issue, because that’s the area that has challenged our society the most,” Forte says. “But there are many components of diversity. You can promote employee resource groups (also known as) affinity groups that allow employees to meet about a particular issue. They can brainstorm about projects or ways to improve a service. The point is to get the perspective of female or disabled etc. employees to better serve those consumers. Make the groups worthwhile for employees — provide incentives and time for the meetings that doesn’t detract from their work or personal time.”

Hiring managers also need to keep in mind how to motivate and manage their staff as part of a recruiting plan. Experts encourage incentives for staff contributions to a diverse work force, considering employees’ job satisfaction can be your best advertising.

“Many business opportunities are made possible through diversity,” Walker says. “Diversity helps you compete at the global level — helping the company as much as the employees. Tangible benefits include productivity, retention and an end result of profit. Employees are a company’s greatest asset and allows them to be more flexible with services and products.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

The science of service

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the guy down the street next week. The products may be similar, but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.

“The secret sauce in any customer service program is having a crisp, clean conversation with customers,” says Brett Browchuk, senior vice president, service operations, CIGNA HealthCare. “At the end of the day, if you can’t make your current list of customers happy, you have little hope of obtaining more.”

If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are often treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

“Businesses need to re-evaluate how they treat and what they pay their customer service representatives,” says Rick Germano, senior vice president of customer operations, Comcast Cable. “It’s smarter to pay your employees $15 an hour and have them stay with the company five or 10 years rather than pay $12 and have to keep churning out new workers.”

Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace that person.

“Retail, hospitality and financial service companies are more focused on customer service than some other industries, but the rest are starting to catch on that it isn’t something that you can focus on if everything else is in order,” Browchuk says.

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.

“Even now that people are watching where they spend their money a little more carefully, consumers are willing to pay a little more if they feel the customer service is exceptional,” says Robert W. Wilson, president of ARAMARK Refreshment Services. “You can make money through your customer service if you are differentiated in some way, have market share majority or you’re a niche player.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“My personal beef is companies can be pennywise and pound foolish where they trim costs by lowering quality — one measurement is answering 80 percent of telephone calls within 30 seconds,” Germano says. “If I change that number to 70 percent in 45 seconds, I can save tens of millions of dollars in the short term but that is cutting into customer service quality and damaging long-term profit.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

The science of service

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the guy down the street next week. The products may be similar, but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.

“Customer service should be one of the top priorities for any company,” says Jim Ruppel, vice president of customer relations and Rapid Rewards for Southwest Airlines. “People always want to know that the service or product they received was a good value for the money spent. Customer service can be that differentiator between feeling you got what you paid for and feeling like you got a great value for what you paid.”

If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

“You can’t expect employees to treat your customers well if you as an employer aren’t kind to your employees,” says Mike Palkovic, executive vice president of operations for DIRECTV Inc. “When employees are given respect and the proper level of support and resources, they have the confidence and empowerment to perform their job.”

Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of the employee’s annual salary to replace.

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.

“The market will determine what you can or cannot invest in customer service,” says Robert W. Wilson, president of Aramark Refreshment Services. “If you need to reduce costs, you can still invest in customer service in ways that don’t require equity.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“If you are performing good customer service, you have an opportunity to be recognized for it through J.D. Power and Associates or ACSI, the American Customer Satisfaction Index,” Palkovic says. “Your customers may not be reading these studies. But you can make them aware through your own methods. Point out everything showing that you are different from the crowd.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customer’s concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customer’s requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

The science of service

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the guy down the street next week. The products may be similar, but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.

“Technology is an enabler for good customer service to be performed,” says Steve DeBauge, director, customer and marketing support programs of Texas Instruments. “In today’s Web-based market, offering online self-help alternatives is a must. It benefits the customer when it is their preferred channel for support and ultimately lowers support costs.”

If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

“Training and incentives equals a happy employee and makes for a happy customer,” says Jason Few, senior vice president of smart energy and residential for Reliant Energy. “Rewarding your employees monthly in some way for good customer service will be incentive to perform at their best with all customers.”

Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of the employee’s annual salary to replace.

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.

“Customer service should really be the bread and butter of any business,” says Jennifer Howell, branch sales manager of Todays Office Professionals, a division of Spherion, a recruiting and staffing service.

“Training for great customer service differentiates you from other companies, and when done right, [it] makes the customer feel really good about doing business with you.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.

“All employees should want to solve customers’ problems,” Howell says. “There will be cases where the front-line employee can’t be the final stop, but they need to follow the request to the finish to ensure the issue was resolved.”

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“The range of methods of supporting customers has exploded over the years,” DeBauge says. “Many companies have implemented automated phone systems, voice recognition, online chat, call back and the list goes on. Some companies have coupled this with other tactics that leave the customer with an experience that doesn’t meet their expectations.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customer’s concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customer’s requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”

Monday, 23 February 2009 19:00

The science of service

If you’re looking at your budget and considering cutting back on support for customer service, you might want to reconsider. About 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t take the initiative to tell you they’re unhappy with your service, but they will tell nine other people and not return.

Customer service should be as important to you as it is to your customer, and customer service is second in importance only to product quality when it comes to satisfying customers.

The difference in today’s market is that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Businesses are making a new promise every day without credible reasons for the consumer to believe the promise. Customers make purchases because they believe you’re selling something they need, but they also know they have many options. A single bad experience with you can result in your customers making purchases from the guy down the street next week. The products may be similar, but the quality of your customer service can be why they prefer to make purchases with you.

“Customer service should be one of the top priorities for any company,” says Jim Ruppel, vice president of customer relations and Rapid Rewards at Southwest Airlines. “People always want to know that the service or product they received was a good value for the money spent. Customer service can be that differentiator between feeling you got what you paid for and feeling like you got a great value for what you paid.”

If customers have a good experience with your business, they’re more likely to return and spend money again. Positive word-of-mouth is one of the cheapest and most effective means of growing your business. It’s also much less expensive to retain a customer you already have than to attract new ones.

Customer service in today’s market entails doing business where and when your customers want to. The trick is to cut costs while being flexible with your ways of improving customer service quality across all avenues, including online and by phone.

There’s an easy formula for this, yet it’s not utilized. It starts with paying better wages. Then you have to invest in your employees’ ability to perform through education and train them to respond to customer needs.

Why a customer service program is important
Your customer service representatives have unlimited access to your customers, products and equipment, yet they’re largely considered dispensable and are often treated as such. This is the wrong approach. You can’t personally know who your regular customers are or what their preferences entail, but your employees do, so it’s important to retain them. Investing in customer training and rewarding them with a pay increase upon completion of the course or offering another benefit, such as time off, makes for a more enthusiastic employee.

Although many customer service positions are considered entry level, giving the employee the option to advance within the company will be an incentive for the employee to stay and can help you reduce employee turnover, which on average costs businesses 20 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace that person.

“Great customer service starts with the employee experience,” says Jasmine Green, vice president and chief consumer advocate for Nationwide Insurance Co. “Salary, engagement and treatment all play a role in how long the employee stays with the company and how they treat the customer.”

You may see investing in customer service training as a luxury in today’s economy, but experts warn that not doing so could lead to your company’s demise.

What you can do
The biggest error you can make is getting too caught up in cutting costs and other internal workings to see your business from the customer’s point of view. Customer service is what keeps the lifeblood of your business — the customers — coming back. Even when inevitable mistakes are made, customers return if the error is handled properly.

“Every employee is part of customer service,” says Pamela Pond, vice president of customer service, SafeAuto Insurance Co. “If your focus is not on retaining the customer and making sure that they’re happy, your profit and service reputation will suffer.”

Another mistake is investing money in loyalty programs focusing on drawing in new customers, while losing focus on appeasing your current customers. If you don’t ask customers about their experience with your business, they’ll likely not tell you — but they will go home and tell others. If you stay flexible and listen to what they say by acting on their feedback, you can best design a customer service program that works for you.

What many companies don’t understand is that good customer service is rare. If you already have brand recognition, you can further your competitive advantage by listening to customers’ concerns and acting on them. You need to define what good customer service means to your specific set of customers before you can best meet their expectations. This can be achieved by polling them in a variety of ways, including comment cards, e-mail or an online form.

“Providing good customer service is a journey,” Green says.

“It’s not something you write a check-off list of and move on. It is constantly evolving because your customer’s needs are going to change. The best companies adapt.”

Even with well-trained employees and a list of customer recommendations, you still need your managers to be an integral part of your program. They should point out positive behavior and not just the negatives. Successes should be noted to encourage employees to do more than the bare minimum, and negative incidents should be handled immediately instead of waiting for an evaluation.

“Employees may repeat a behavior they’re not aware is undesirable,” says Liz Tahir, an international marketing consultant and speaker. “Having the proper communication with employees is essential. If you treat them well on a regular basis, they won’t react negatively when a manager points out an area that needs improvement.

“Employees treat customers the way you treat them. Ask yourself if you greet employees enthusiastically, interact politely and try to accommodate them in their requests.”

Making sure employees have the correct set of tools to perform their jobs is another important step in ensuring good customer service. Proper training and empowering employees to handle customers’ concerns or problems will build employee confidence while expediting the customers’ requests.

“Always putting yourself in the customer’s shoes when determining how to best resolve issues or respond to a request is the best way to resolve issues,” Tahir says. “All of the great companies have incorporated customer service in their core business philosophy, helping to brand their business as one known for great customer service.”

Monday, 26 January 2009 19:00

Sustaining momentum

Sustainability isn’t about saving the planet. It’s about saving your business.

Conducting business in a sustainable manner means you can spend less and increase revenue.

While sustainability does help the planet, the incentive of reducing your business costs by half is a strong reason to pay attention. The buzz is that traditional energy and other resources will be in tight supply in the future, resulting in volatile prices. By investing in sustainable efforts now, you can help ensure your business’s long-term success.

“If you just continue business as usual and don’t implement sustainable practices, you’ll be poorly equipped to deal with arising circumstances,” says Joseph Fiksel, principal and co-founder of Eco-Nomics LLC, an internationally recognized authority on sustainability issues. “You’re creating a risk management issue for your company.”

Americans compose 5 percent of the world’s population, yet contribute almost 25 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution, which scientists believe causes global warming. If everyone used and wasted energy and other resources this way, we’d need four planet earths to keep up with the demand. Consumers are finally taking notice of this egregious waste and are looking to buy from sustainable businesses, while more and more businesses are looking to obtain products from other businesses using sustainable practices. This is a time when your business can not only streamline production but also increase revenue by drawing in new customers.

“Barack Obama was so specific about forming an energy plan, we’ll be seeing things change soon,” says T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. “This means businesses have to get going on where they’ll be standing when this comes in to play.”

Fiksel says sustainability doesn’t cost anything.

“Any investment you make is done for business reasons,” he says. “Sustainability will save money and increase stockholder value in your company. A pet peeve of mine is companies placing sustainability practices on the back burner when the cost of gas or energy goes down. All motivation is lost because they’ll be paying less for the energy sources they have and alternative energy looks less attractive. This way of thinking sets them back further and further.”

All of the readers polled by Smart Business say being green is an important part of their corporate philosophy, yet almost half report that they’re not willing to invest in greener practices. Experts say spending money on green initiatives isn’t paying for an image; it’s a direct investment in a more economic way of running your business.

Why sustainability is important

Think of sustainability like the Internet. Fifteen years ago, when the Internet was emerging, it wasn’t pervasive, but now it’s everywhere. Eventually, sustainable business will just be called business and green building will just be known as building. Experts say that is the way it’s going to be and you have to adapt now.

If you want to know the value in sustainable management, think about the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. For almost a decade, Dow Jones has been providing sustainability indexes of businesses, which shows objective benchmarks for financial products linked to economic, environmental and social criteria. Sustainability indexes offer a performance baseline and an investment value for mutual funds, certificates, separate accounts and other investment vehicles based on the concept of sustainability. To date, the assets managed amount to approximately $6 billion.

“Sustainability makes economic sense,” says John Seryak, president, Go Sustainable Energy LLC, an energy-efficiency company that works to find cost-saving opportunities.

“Companies that do not look into sustainability are exposed to commodity prices, and if they’re not looking into sustainability, there are probably other liability issues they’re not addressing.”

The need for sustainability has already created thousands of jobs stemming from business consultants to waste managers. Experts say we’ve only scratched the surface of what sustainable practices can do for businesses. While solar and wind power commonly come to mind, sustainability includes using recycled products when building, collecting rain for watering purposes and designing your business’s landscape in a way that minimizes the need for upkeep and conserving resources.

“Industry leaders are sustainable businesses and are considered visionaries,” says Pat Thompson, president, Green Business Insurance Inc. “Those who invest in sustainability enjoy reduced costs and more insurance options. Those who don’t look into sustainability are shortsighted and will likely only address the issue when they absolutely have to.”

While reducing waste has its obvious benefits, reduced insurance rates are another benefit to sustainable businesses. In fact, sustainability consultants predict business insurance will be more difficult to procure as nonsustainable practices are looked at as a risk.

In a 2008 report by SAB Miller, one of the world’s largest breweries, a survey of 4,000 senior executives showed 70 percent place corporate sustainability at the top of their priority list. That still leaves more than a quarter of businesses delaying action.

What you need to know

When initiating a sustainability plan, think about who your customers are and what they want. Consider how implementing sustainable practices can lead to more business. The challenge is making decisions that are financially, socially and environmentally intelligent. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan, having a sustainability expert evaluate your business is a jumping-off point.

The Global Reporting Initiative is another ally for businesses seeking a sustainable route. It’s an organization that provides a framework companies can follow to measure and report their economic sustainability performance and monitor the performance of other companies. The organization sets the principles and indicators that businesses can use to measure and report their sustainability performance. GRI is growing as an international standard for corporate sustainability reporting.

“CEOs are sending the right message to employees when they do more with less,” Thompson says. “Right now, many businesses are letting sustainability take a backseat and they’re just trying to keep their doors open, but that’s not a great business approach. Sustainability can be a topic that brings enthusiasm and positive energy in difficult times.”

Another source for information comes from the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which was established in 2002 as a member-led, nonprofit organization that presents projects to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development. Projects featured by the council create value through economic returns and environmental and social benefits.

A sustainability consultant can help you identify what sustainable methods are available. After an assessment, you, along with department managers or those hired for the assignment, can construct an operational analysis that details your plans with set goals and deadlines. This will include your estimated ROI time frame. Make sure your sustainability plan describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks and opportunities, including supply chain topics.

Even if you don’t implement everything in your sustainability plan today, you can re-evaluate and implement more sustainability methods in the future.

Make sure you are meeting all local and national protocols while setting some of your own standards. Define sustainability issues for your business based on your industry and the department. For example, if your business uses a lot of water, utilize rainwater recycling to minimize the amount of water you must purchase.

“Lack of information stops businesses from being sustainable,” Seryak says. “This means less services and products.”

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

The power within

The days are long past that energy was so cheap you could afford to waste it. Now, financial and environmental concerns have made saving energy a priority for every business. When done right, you can expect to achieve a savings of 20 to 30 percent off your current monthly utility bill, with minimal investment.

Getting started on saving can be as simple as making employees aware that energy efficiency is a priority for your company. Employees who regularly turn off lights and computers at home don’t bring that same mindset to work. By recruiting employees to help manage your company’s energy usage, you can start to save money.

Sixty-six percent of readers surveyed by Smart Business say they expect energy costs to continually increase over the next 12 to 18 months. Full dedication to efficiency is necessary to maximize savings, as energy authorities say halfhearted efforts get similar results.

“Energy efficiency is a mindset,” says Hal Snyder, vice president of customer programs, Southern California Gas Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric. “Being energy-efficient is important to the community you serve and helps your ‘triple bottom line,’ — people, infrastructure and company.”

Why managing energy use is important

Energy efficiency is a prime example of what you don’t know can hurt you. Few people are aware that energy-efficient business desktop computers are available that cost about $10 a year to operate and are about 75 percent more efficient than typical PCs. Installing certain models of smart thermostats allows you to program them wirelessly through the Internet, allowing for temperature adjustments without physically being at the facility. Also, new smart electric meters translate energy wattage use into dollars and allow you to track energy use online.

“Companies struggle with the return analogies,” says Scott Lyle, senior vice president of operations, Arden Realty Inc. “Get started with the low-hanging fruit, tackle the easy-to-fix energy issues and build from that.”

ENERGY STAR, an Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, along with your utility provider and local city hall can help you reduce energy waste by providing regional energy-efficiency tips, financial incentives and energy audits of facilities.

ENERGY STAR endorses more than 50 types of products, which are identifiable by a label that indicates the amount of energy it will require during average use and will tell you the savings you can expect by choosing that product over products that aren’t approved by the ENERGY STAR program. Purchasing the proper equipment and carrying out good habits will reduce your energy expenses exponentially. For example, you will use 30 to 35 percent less energy using an ENERGY STAR battery charger or power adapter over conventional products.

By changing purchasing habits and being more cautious of efficient equipment operation, you’ll immediately reduce your energy bill. By purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products, you’ll use about half the amount of electricity that would be used without the efficient product. For example, when a computer is placed in sleep mode, it uses 75 percent less energy and a copier uses 40 percent less energy.

Most businesses use 25 percent of their energy on lighting. Compact fluorescent bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and use 75 percent less energy. Even if it means renovating your entire lighting system, you’ll see a return on your investment in anywhere from five months to three years.

“Perception of energy efficiency holds more businesses back from pursuing plans,” says Glen Mounts, certified engineering operations executive, Marriott Hotel. “In the early days of energy-use awareness, the use of compact fluorescents didn’t perform as well as expected. Compact fluorescents have come a long way since then and is having to prove its worth again.”

What you need to know

Performing an energy audit of your business is the first step. This is often performed for free or at a minimal cost through your utility provider. In this audit, you’ll learn what areas of your business are using the most energy. You’ll then be able to work on a strategy to reduce waste.

By visiting the ENERGY STAR Web site at www.energystar.gov, you can compare your company’s energy use to similarly sized companies within your industry and region.

“Everything that consumes power needs to be looked at for efficiency and is monitored by your utility provider,” Lyle says. “ENERGY STAR is accessible online and provides tips and can direct you to organizations that provide rebates.”

After your energy audit, you’ll need to strategize a plan of action and goals, and then formally deliver the message to employees.

“Every two to three years, technology makes itself more efficient,” Lyle says. “Think about that and consider the age of the equipment you’re using. After you’re aware of all available finances and what requires capital to fix, start setting goals and benchmarks. Document progress and hurdles in your energy plan.”

Assigning an employee to manage energy initiatives and communicate them to the staff will help keep everyone involved and informed about the process. You may want to take things a step further and provide training to employees that can explain operating methods and procedures to reduce energy use, along with ways to monitor and report collected data. ENERGY STAR provides free online training sessions for employees and is a good place to start.

“Get as many people involved as possible,” Mounts says. “Educate them with energy-minded staffers or use online and utility provider tips to back ideas up with actionable steps.”

If you’ve ever thought about improving your company’s energy efficiency, now is a great time to get started.

“It’s a great time to jump aboard the energy-efficiency train,” Lyle says. “There’s money being offered for you to basically help yourself save more. Educating employees is a big part of the process. While every employee may not touch the process, they will need to be behind the mandate.”

When establishing a project timeline, consider attainable energy grants, rebates and tax breaks weighed against necessary operational changes to accomplish goals. Once you know what you need to change to be more efficient and what finances you have available, you’ll be able to better chart progress and predict the time frame for the return on your investment.

“Social consciousness is greater now than ever,” Snyder says. “Wearing a tie-dye shirt doesn’t cut it. You’ve got to be more aggressive and be open to free information, which will save your business money, while making wise environmental decisions.”

Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

The power within

The days are long past that energy was so cheap you could afford to waste it. Now, financial and environmental concerns have made saving energy a priority for every business. When done right, you can expect to achieve a savings of 20 to 30 percent off your current monthly utility bill, with minimal investment.

Getting started on saving can be as simple as making employees aware that energy efficiency is a priority for your company. Employees who regularly turn off lights and computers at home don’t bring that same mindset to work. By recruiting employees to help manage your company’s energy usage, you can start to save money.

“When considering energy efficiency, the savings don’t stop within altering actions within a facility,” says Brian Falony, director of marketing, Habif, Arogeti and Wynne LLP, a 350-employee accounting firm. “By allowing employees to work from home part time, you’ll save on operational costs, and they’ll be happy to save their fuel.”

Why managing energy use is important

Energy efficiency is a prime example of what you don’t know can hurt you. Few people are aware that energy-efficient business desktop computers are available that cost about $10 a year to operate and are about 75 percent more efficient than typical PCs. Installing certain models of smart thermostats allows you to program them wirelessly through the Internet, allowing for temperature adjustments without physically being at the facility. Also, new smart electric meters translate energy wattage use into dollars and allow you to track energy use online.

Applying new technology can help, but don’t overlook the traditional things.

“It is best to concentrate on basics first, such as high-efficiency lighting upgrades, HVAC improvements and building controls, then progress toward alternative energy, such as solar and bio-fuels,” says Richard Crowther, energy efficiency manager, The Coca-Cola Co. “Considering energy costs have increased substantially over the last five years, it’s easy to build a positive business case for energy efficiency, but a focused, long-term strategy is key.”

ENERGY STAR, an Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy program, along with your utility provider and local city hall can help you reduce energy waste by providing regional energy-efficiency tips, financial incentives and energy audits of facilities.

“Energy rebates are available in Georgia as well as additional incentives from the federal government and utility companies,” Crowther says. “This provides a catalyst for action, especially when new technology is involved. I would encourage all businesses to learn of what incentives exist and take full advantage of them.”

ENERGY STAR endorses more than 50 types of products, which are identifiable by a label that indicates the amount of energy it will require during average use and will tell you the savings you can expect by choosing that product over products that aren’t approved by the ENERGY STAR program. Purchasing the proper equipment and carrying out good habits will reduce your energy expenses exponentially. For example, you will use 30 to 35 percent less energy using an ENERGY STAR battery charger or power adapter over conventional products.

“Businesses are largely unaware of all options to save energy,” says Fred Fox, president, Fox Independent Energy LLC. “There are circumstances in which investing in alternative energy sources can be profitable in the short-term. By calling local solar and other renewable energy dealers, you can make an informed decision for your business that spans beyond today.”

By changing purchasing habits and being more cautious of efficient equipment operation, you’ll immediately reduce your energy bill. By purchasing ENERGY STAR-qualified products, you’ll use about half the amount of electricity that would be used without the efficient product. For example, when a computer is placed in sleep mode, it uses 75 percent less energy and a copier uses 40 percent less energy.

Most businesses use 25 percent of their energy on lighting. Compact fluorescent bulbs last longer than traditional bulbs and use 75 percent less energy. Even if it means renovating your entire lighting system, you’ll see a return on your investment in anywhere from five months to three years.

What you need to know

Performing an energy audit of your business is the first step. This is often performed for free or at a minimal cost through your utility provider. In this audit, you’ll learn what areas of your business are using the most energy. You’ll then be able to work on a strategy to reduce waste.

By visiting the ENERGY STAR Web site at www.energystar.gov, you can compare your company’s energy use to similarly sized companies within your industry and region.

After your energy audit, you’ll need to strategize a plan of action and goals, and then formally deliver the message to employees.

“Set goals based on local rates acquired through your utility provider,” Falony says. “Rewarding employees when individual goals are accomplished is important, because it provides an incentive for them to be cautious of energy use.”

Assigning an employee to manage energy initiatives and communicate them to the staff will help keep everyone involved and informed about the process. You may want to take things a step further and provide training to employees that can explain operating methods and procedures to reduce energy use, along with ways to monitor and report collected data. ENERGY STAR provides free online training sessions for employees and is a good place to start.

“Employee training is probably easiest through a third source,” Fox says. “By contacting ENERGY STAR, you can get free statistics detailing operating costs of companies similar to yours and also downloadable information that takes you through energy-efficiency changes step by step.”

When establishing a project timeline, consider attainable energy grants, rebates and tax breaks weighed against necessary operational changes to accomplish goals. Once you know what you need to change to be more efficient and what finances you have available, you’ll be able to better chart progress and predict the time frame for the return on your investment.

“While new technologies represent great potential, most of them will not yet support themselves without incentives,” Crowther says. “Make sure you are making financially intelligent as well as environmentally smart choices.”