Time Marches On

I recently came across an article stating that the internet is divided on the movement of time.  Now we all know that “time flies”, “time waits for no man”, during the pandemic some of us had “time on our hands”, and we often “run out of time”.

If you have an upcoming appointment scheduled for 10:00 am and you receive a message stating the time has been moved forward by one hour, what time do you attend?  I would be there at 11:00 am because that is “forward”, however there are many who would say it was moved to 9:00 am. After all, when we “spring forward” we move the clocks ahead!

The article goes on to explain that there are two different perspectives on time.  Those with an “ego-moving perspective of time” would be there at 11:00 am, while those with a “time-moving perspective of time” would be there at 9:00 am.

While I find this interesting and definitely food for thought, my first thought was how poorly the change to the meeting time was communicated. As a virtual assistant working with multiple clients in multiple time zones I always make sure everyone is clear on the actual time for an event. If I were notifying attendees to a change in time I would never just say “it’s been moved forward by an hour” and leave it at that. “Dear attendee, our video chat scheduled for 10:00 am has been rescheduled to 11:00 am…”  This statement does not leave anything open to interpretation.

If I received notification stating “our meeting for 10:00 am has been moved forward”, I would respond politely, “Just want to confirm the meeting is now at 11:00 am”. That way I am sure of the time I am expected and it also gives the person who sent the notification a heads up that maybe we don’t all think of time the same way.

So how do you view time?

Technology – The Double Edged Sword

We all have days when we curse technology… whether because our computer crashes, the internet goes down or we are inundated with emails. During the pandemic I admit I suffered some anxiety even though I am a) a logical, fairly intelligent human being, b) I work from home and even prior to the pandemic had limited outside exposure, and c) I, and most of the people I know and love, were not at risk even if we did contract the virus. I cursed technology because without it we would not have been inundated with the repetition of what was, and currently is, happening in the world… the flood of not only information but misinformation feeds our anxiety, fueling our panic.

Before the internet and cable television, news on TV and the radio was offered during set times of the day and physical newspapers were printed daily. You could watch/read it or not. It wasn’t right there on your phone, on demand. It wasn’t calling to you from the TV in the next room. It wasn’t just a “click” on the keyboard.

But here is the other side of that “sword”…

Without technology…
– My business wouldn’t exist
– We wouldn’t be able to work remotely
– Remote teaching wouldn’t be possible
– Keeping in contact with coworkers, family and friends would be more difficult
– Research techniques and results couldn’t be shared as quickly
– I wouldn’t have an unlimited amount of reading material at my fingertips, thank you Audible and Kindle
– I wouldn’t be able to access “comfort” TV 24/7 (Definition of “comfort TV” = 1950’s and 60’s sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Leave It to Beaver”)
– More nursing homes/elder care facilities would have been hit harder because the speed of communication would be reduced

It’s the lack of control over a situation that feeds the anxiety and panic. But we can control how we approach it. I have friends in the arts who make a living playing gigs in bars and restaurants… they got creative by live streaming performances with a Paypal “tip jar” or a link to their Patreon site. Many of our local restaurants offered curbside pick-up and a local jewelry store offered curbside pick-up if you wanted to purchase a gift card. These people weren’t asking for a handout, they were just trying to make it through so they could continue to serve us in days to come. Wow! The pandemic brought out our creativity. We should remember the Renaissance came out of the Dark Ages – a rebirth of the arts and sciences.

So here is what I did to reduce my anxiety:
– I deleted my FB app from my cell phone
– I try to only check news once per day, which is difficult because my husband has a news channel on the entire day to “know what is going on”
– I watch and listen to talented friends live streaming on FB (check out epschwartz.com and kathleendooleymusic.com)
– I listen to lighthearted or educational Podcasts (check out “Old Guys Who Love Things” and “History Chicks”)

I’d love to know how you reduce anxiety or creative ways you or someone you know are adjusted.

Welcome Baby New Year!

Welcome Baby New Year!

Hello 2020! A bright shiny New Year and the start of a new decade. Personally we have made our resolutions and are embarking the journey into our next revolution around the sun. For our businesses year end signals the need to address once a year tasks and prepare for the year to come.

Year end is a good time to get your files (physical and digital) refreshed and ready for a new year. Unless you are completely paperless, and if you are please let me know how you did it, there are paper files to be dealt with. If you are keeping more than seven years of documentation and you have a large quantity to be destroyed, maybe it is time to schedule a shredding service. Many of them will come to your place of business to either pick up for destruction or, if you request, destroy the paperwork right at your place of business.

Now is the time to physically archive your files, moving prior years’ to banker boxes and storage and setting up nice new files for the New Year. If there is room, I find it is nice to keep the prior years’ files in a more easily accessible location at least for the first 6 months of the New Year before moving them to storage.

As I move old files to a new location, I look to see if adjustments are needed to my current filing system.  Is there a file of paid bills called “Supplies”? If by the end of the year it is bulky and unmanageable, maybe you determine if it makes sense to make separate files by vendor for the New Year. One of my clients is a manufacturer. Generally materials and services are purchased from the same suppliers every year. Locating an old invoice is much easier if the number of different vendors in the “Supplies” file is smaller and if major suppliers have their own file.

Another once a year task is generating W-2s and 1099s. Most likely you have an accountant or bookkeeper who handles this, however it will improve their efficiency if you confirm you have all the documentation they need for the process early in the year.  This is a good time to follow up with former employees for updated address information. This is particularly true if the reason they are no longer employed is because they moved or retired.

Speaking of taxes, are you aware that in 2020 a new W4 form will be required for new employees and any employees whose status has changed.  Visit the IRS website for more information:  https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/faqs-on-the-2020-form-w-4

For Contractors (1099s), a good practice going forward is to request their W9 information when they first begin working with you. You can then forward it to your accountant when you start issuing checks to them and at the end of the year, you and the accountant will have current information.

If you are a sub-contractor to another business, get in the habit of sending them your W-9 when they sign your contract so they have accurate information.

This is also a good time to look at your digital files and organize them so that each time you are trying to locate a file you don’t have to scroll through all the previous year’s files to find it.

If you are like me and subscribe to email newsletters and never read them, now is a good time to reduce the number of emails landing in your inbox each day.  As these emails hit your inbox, look at each one and determine right then if you read it. If you have subscribed for a year and still haven’t read one, go to the bottom of the newsletter and click “Unsubscribe”.

Need a hand going into 2020 as a more organized business person? Contact me at vicki@youdeserveahand.com for more information.

Please Leave A Message After The Tone…

Automated answering and voicemail have long been a part of our world. We all prefer to talk to a real person with the hope they have the knowledge to answer our question or solve a problem. With unemployment at an all time low, finding qualified staff (or any staff for that matter) is becoming more challenging. For small businesses it may not be economically feasible to hire a full time person to answer phones. Today’s technology allows employers to cover some jobs people used to handle, and phone communication is one of them.

Voicemail is a necessary evil that many of us hate, but since it isn’t going away these tips may reduce your frustration.

Most of my frustrations involve a) large corporations whose “customer service” (CS) reps are call centers located outside the US, and b) any business that has no means of leaving a voicemail or “XYZ’s mailbox is full”. I have no easy remedy for b), except to remind everyone to clear out your mailbox once in a while and if you are a business, periodically check to make sure your system is working. And for those overseas call centers, well, that is probably fodder for a separate blog!

Today we are talking Voicemail and what to keep in mind when making those calls to customer service or to schedule a service person to come out. Some of my advice is specific to Voicemail, while others can be applied to conversations with LIVE people.

Having been both the “customer” making the call and also the service provider, I can actually speak from both sides. For the majority of my career I have been heavily involved with the telephone – from making collection calls when I was 16 to answering the main phone line for a municipality to tracking down furniture orders. I think the only times my job wasn’t tied to a phone were the eight years I spent in the IT field.

So here goes!

Be Prepared! Before you pick up the phone make sure you have any information you could possibly need to assist the person answering the call. I’ve developed a handy checklist that you can download from my site.

  • Order number
  • Date order was placed
  • Item ordered
  • Any account numbers
  • Any confirmation numbers, reference numbers, etc.
  • If you talked to someone previously or were referred by someone, that person’s name
  • A pen and paper (or if you prefer entering it into you electronic device have it ready)

Okay, you are now prepared to make the call.

  • WAIT! Before you pick up the phone, keep in mind that often today’s phones pick up background noises very well. Is the TV on? If you can turn it off, if not, see if you can move to another spot that is not as close. Is the dog barking, the parrot squawking, the baby crying? See what you can do to make the atmosphere quieter. This will help both you and the CSR by providing less distraction.
  • NOW pick up the phone.
  • Note the date and the number you called on the piece of paper
  • If a person answers, be sure to get their name and ask if they have a direct line you can call them on. Note all these things. Why? Because the likelihood is you may need to follow up with them to make sure they did what they said they would do or to check status.
  • If they are able to help you right away, thank them.
  • If they have to “check and get back to you”, get a commitment from them on when you can expect to hear back. Note it on your paper.
  • If they transfer you to another department, write it down. If they mention the name of the person in that department, note that also.
  • If they give you reference numbers, confirmation numbers, return authorizations, etc., note them AND ask if they could send an email confirming it. This serves two purposes: it is now in writing and you can double check to make sure all the information is correct. It also may not be a bad idea to try and get their email address so you can document the conversation in an email.
  • If they are getting back to you, follow up close to the date they gave you. I always try to give them some leeway of about a day, especially if it is not an urgent matter. If Sally says, “I’ll get back to you on Thursday”, I wait until Friday to follow up because… life happens.

What if you end up getting Voicemail instead of the Real Person?

  • Leave a message – don’t just leave your name and phone number. Give some details regarding the reason for your call and if you have any order or reference numbers (which you should if you prepared) include those in your message. This may seem useless because you are “talking to a machine” but most likely the CS rep will appreciate knowing your order number and/or why you are making the call. This allows the rep to gather information before they pick up the phone to return your call. They can be prepared for your questions. If you are calling to get a ship date or order status, they can give you the answer quickly when they return the call without putting you on hold while they check with the shipping department or returns department, etc.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate.
  • Repeat your contact number
  • If an email response will work for you, tell them and leave your email address. If you have an email address like one of mine, with lots of e’s, c’s, and t’s, make sure it is clear (t as in Tom, d as in dog, etc).
  • Allow them time to return the call. If the call isn’t an emergency, and I don’t use that term lightly, I allow 24 hours for call back. This allows for research on their end, the fact they may be in meetings that day, etc.
  • Mark your calendar to follow up and DO IT!

If you spend a great deal of time making calls to CS as part of your job, as I used to, I suggest downloading my form and modifying it to serve your needs. You can even use is as log to document your calls just in case you need to escalate to a higher level.

If you have a good experience and the call was relatively painless, please let the rep know. I recently had to call American Airlines to make some flight changes. I was dreading the experience, but I had all my information in front of me and the young man at AA was pleasant and appreciated my efforts. At the end of the call I thanked him for his ability to turn what might have been a horrid experience into one that was pleasant.

Between the tips in this blog and the checklist, I hope your next phone experience, whether with a person or voicemail, is a little less stressful. Do you have any tips for voicemail or calls to Customer Service you would like to share? I’d love to hear them, email me at vicki@youdeserveahand.com.

Communication – What Does Your Alphabet Soup Spell?

Acronyms and abbreviations are everywhere in our lives. But how do they impact our ability to communicate clearly?

My husband has a retail facility as part of his water feature business. This week he needed me to cover the shop while he made some deliveries. While I usually help out at his annual sales, I am not completely familiar with his product lines so working there always involves some type of learning curve. This time a customer came in to purchase fish food. The cash register is set up so I can just type in the first few letters of the product and then select from a drop down list. First I looked at his price book, oh no, multiple brands of fish food in 40# bags including private labels. I called him to find out which price to use.  “It’s XYZ Growth,” he said. But the only XYZ Growth I found was XYZ Growth med. I told him, “There is only XYZ Growth medicated on the list”.  “No, it’s not the medicated food. Just XYZ Growth.”  This conversation went on for a few minutes before he said “That’s the only one (as it was the only XYZ listing 40# bag). I rang it up even though the abbreviation med (medicated) was included in the description. After the customer left, I asked why it said “medicated”.  At that point he informed me that medicated food is no longer on the market and med stands for medium pellet.  My frustration and the whole scenario could have been avoided if the word medium had been spelled out.

Part of my career included employment by a family law practice. One of my first days on the job the senior partner called me on the phone and asked me to pull the “quadro” from Mrs. Smith’s file. I had no clue that a QDRO was a Qualified Domestic Relations Order and the attorney assumed that I knew what this document was and wasn’t forthcoming with what the acronym stood for.

All industries have their own terminology and collection of industry specific acronyms. Our government churns out acronyms at what seems to be the speed of light. Texting is full of abbreviations and acronyms. They are everywhere!

Of course, everyone knows what CIA stands for – Central Intelligence Agency. But if you are a chef the CIA may be your alma mater – Culinary Institute of America.

Where would you go to get a CD – a bank or a library? Is a DOE a deer, a female deer, or the Department of Energy?

Acronyms and abbreviations aren’t going to go away so how can we ensure our communications are delivering the entire message?

  1. Remember your audience. This is particularly true with verbal communication. When speaking with someone outside your specific industry, make a conscious effort to replace acronyms with the actual term. If you are trying to educate someone about your industry, state the word or phrase and then add something like “We call the Veterans’ Administration the VA. So if I say VA, that’s what I mean.” It has been my experience that your listener will appreciate this, because people really don’t want to show they don’t know something that seems so obvious to you.
  2. In written communication, even within an industry, it is a good idea to always reference the first use of an acronym within a document by fully spelling it out and placing the acronym in parenthesis – ie. Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). Subsequent instances of the phrase in the document can then use the acronym because the reader has a point of reference.
  3. If using an abbreviation in a written document, question whether this abbreviation will possibly be interpreted as something else. If you have any doubt, spell it out.

Try these three simple steps the next time you have a mouthful of alphabet soup – I think your rewards will be appreciated.