FAQs About FAQs: How to Effectively Handle Customer Questions

Being responsive to your customers' questions is one of the most important parts of the job. Here are some FAQs from small business owners about the FAQs they receive, and tips on how to effectively handle them.

 

How often does a customer call, text or email you with a question? If you said “rarely,” then you’re either very good or very lucky. Stop reading now and go do something fun instead. If you said “often” or “a lot,” then read on—this one is for you. We are taking a look at questions small business owners like you have regarding customer FAQs.

Q: How important are customer questions?
A: Very!

Our operational assumption is that effective, efficient and engaging customer communication is essential for any business to survive, let alone thrive. That said, responding to customer questions quickly, clearly and courteously is a critically important aspect of customer communication strategy.

Customers rarely have the technical knowledge to assess how good your product or service is—that’s why they need you. But they can also quickly judge your company’s values by what you do and say in responding to their questions. 

Q: When should I expect questions from customers?
A: Any time and all the time.

Prospective and current customers will have questions the first time they visit your location, search your site or call in. They will also have questions throughout the shopping and sales process and long after they buy your product or service. 

So, you and your customer-facing staff need to always be ready to respond to questions consistently—and be sure to always follow your company’s strategy and plan. If you don’t have a strategy and plan for questions because you thought it was obvious, wrong answer. Always have a plan.

Q: What should I say?
A: Initially, Nothing! But then…

Instead of trying to jump in and answer their questions as they are speaking, be sure to listen intently to their comment or question. This is especially important face-to-face. You must not only actually listen, but you also must show them that you are listening. 

Once you have listened attentively, verify your understanding by saying something like “Let me make sure I’m understanding…”  or “So, what you’re asking is…”

Then, answer and respond clearly and concisely. And after you do so, don’t follow up your response by saying “Did I answer your question?” That implies you might not have answered the question. Simply say, “Do you have any more questions or is there anything else I can help you with?”

Q: What if I don’t know the answer or can’t respond immediately?
A: Say so! But then…

If you really don’t know the answer to a customer question, be honest and tell them that you don’t know. But then indicate when you think you will have an answer or response. Ask them if they would rather stay on hold/stay in the store or have you call them. Do what they ask. And a good rule of thumb is to always respond sooner than you said you would. 

If the right answer is “I don’t know,” consider instead choosing the words “I’m not exactly sure.” Selecting these words will be better for your credibility.

Q: Should I have an FAQ page on my website?
A: Absolutely!

Every business should have an FAQ page—just be sure it’s easy to find, clear and comprehensive. When someone calls you, ask if they’ve already visited the site. This is a subtle way to remind them to do so for next time. 

While an FAQ page is important, such a page is static—it sits there waiting for someone to read it. Consider including all of it or parts of it in regular customer communication. If they already know the answer, no problem. If not, they might appreciate the gesture. If you have a customer blog or e-newsletter, feature a regular FAQ section in each issue. And, once is never enough—keep repeating the important questions. Few people will notice the repetition and no one will mind.

Q: How do we know which questions are important?
A: They are all important!

Assume all customer questions are equal, but some are more equal than others, (Thank you, George Orwell). Keep track of questions manually if you have to or by hit frequency on your site. Usually the questions asked the most often are the most important, or at least impact the most customers. 

So, make the most of FAQs for your customers and your value proposition. Turn every frequently asked question into a frequently answered question. And make sure to send in your questions about questions (email Marie Zickefoose) so we can respond to them in our article next month. Any questions?

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   


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  • Next up: Federal Payroll Tax Deferral Guidance

    Federal Payroll Tax Deferral Guidance

     

    On August 28, the Department of Treasury and Internal Revenue Service released guidance (Notice 2020-65) that implements President Trump’s recent memorandum directing the Secretary of the Treasury to allow employers to defer certain payroll taxes if they so choose.

    The deferral applies to wages or compensation paid from September 1 through December 31, 2020.

    Employers that defer the tax collections from September 1 through year’s end will need to collect unpaid taxes from that period starting on January 1 and remit them by April 30.

    The guidance allows employers to defer withholding and paying the employee portion of the Social Security payroll tax if the employee’s wages or compensation during any bi-weekly pay period generally are less than $4,000, calculated on a pre-tax basis, or the equivalent amount with respect to other pay cycles.

    Additional tax relief related to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found on IRS.gov.

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  • Next up: Find Your 2020 Summer Intern

    Find Your 2020 Summer Intern

     

    The Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Internship Central program is again collaborating with Tri-C to offer GCP members the opportunity to participate as an internship host employer for Tri-C’s 5th annual Summer Internship Program. The internships will be 100 hours in duration, i.e. 20 hours/week for 5 weeks or 10 hours/week for 10 weeks, from May 26 to August 7, 2020. Employers are able to host more than one intern.

    As an external host employer, the company would be placed with an intern that best matches your needs. Tri-C manages the HR functions of the internship such as hiring, placement, background check, and internship compensation. Students will be compensated by the college at $11 per hour.

    Other benefits to the host employer include:

    • Screening of interns for 2.0 minimum GPA, active student status and other requirements will be conducted by the College.
    • Speed networking internship fairs (opportunity for employers to interview potential interns) hosted by the College.
    • Students will be considered Cuyahoga Community College employees (on Tri-C’s payroll).
    • Thorough background check and drug screening conducted by the College.

    The host employer is responsible for:

    • Providing the internship job description by 12/6/2019, click here for the job description template
    • Attending an information session on 2/11/2020 (Metropolitan campus 9:00am-10:30am) to learn about the role of the host/employer, timelines for hiring and next steps
    • Providing supervision, coaching, feedback, and support to the intern during the internship period
    • Providing meaningful work and learning experiences for the intern
    • Developing and sharing a work plan for the intern, outlining objectives and deliverables throughout the 5 or 10-week internship
    • Ensuring the internship is complete between May 26, 2020 and August 7, 2020.
    • Providing a workspace and other resources (e.g. access to computer, reference materials, and telephone)
    • Attending ONE of the Internship Fairs. Attending an internship fair is essential because this is where you will meet and interview potential interns and make your top intern selections.
      • Metropolitan Campus (downtown Cleveland) – Friday, March 6, 2020,
      • Western Campus (Parma)- Tuesday, March 10, 2020

    Internship host opportunities will be filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.  If you are interested in hosting a student during summer 2020, please complete the Summer Internship Job Description and return to Angela Finding at afinding@gcpartnership.com by December 6, 2019. For questions regarding the program, call Angela at 216-592-2385.

     

     

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  • Next up: Rooted in Our Communities: First Federal Lakewood Helps Businesses Weather Uncertain Times for 85 Years

    Rooted in Our Communities: First Federal Lakewood Helps Businesses Weather Uncertain Times for 85 Years

     

    “Our vision and mission is that all people have a right to affordable housing,” said John Habat, President/CEO at Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity.

    First Federal Lakewood is helping Habitat for Humanity realize that vision with access to funding through a business line of credit and more recently, a loan through the CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 

    “Nobody was coming forward offering us a line of credit. I said, ‘Let me try reaching out to First Federal Lakewood.’ What they did was arrange for us to have a line of credit,” said Habat. “There’s just no comparison. You go into the bank and they know you.”

    Habitat for Humanity again turned to First Federal Lakewood to apply for a loan through the PPP to be able to keep its workers on the payroll. Habat said he was on the phone right away with someone at First Federal Lakewood. “In 10 days, we had our approval. When your banker comes through for you like that, that’s just the best,” he added.

    Helping Local Businesses Thrive
    Habitat for Humanity is just one of hundreds of organizations and small businesses First Federal Lakewood works with to invest in the local economy and help local businesses thrive.

    Thinking Cap Child Care in Cleveland is an all-female, family-owned small business that provides child care services. Thinking Cap’s relationship with First Federal Lakewood began with a PPP business loan. Since then, Jaishawna Bates, Thinking Cap Director, has opened business and personal accounts, and referred friends and family to First Federal Lakewood.

    “Receiving paperwork or an application can be so tedious. They gave me a little push and the reassurance that we would figure it out together. They go above and beyond in wanting to help. I think that it’s a wonderful thing,” said Bates.

    IT-services firm UCG Technologies, which is located in Independence, was looking to secure flexible funding. A business line of credit from First Federal Lakewood was just what the company needed.

    “We chose First Federal Lakewood primarily because of the people. I can pick up the phone and get them on the phone, send them an email or meet with them quickly in person. At other banks, that may not be the case,” said Jim Kandrac, President, UCG Technologies.

    First Federal Lakewood has been committed to Northeast Ohio for 85 years. As a mutual bank, First Federal Lakewood is owned by depositors and not shareholders, so the emphasis isn't on quarter-to-quarter results. That has proven especially helpful during COVID-19 in being able to refocus resources to serve the community directly, providing additional assistance and helping businesses and organizations navigate the CARES Act.

    “We continue to invest in our local economy and embody what it means to be a good neighbor and a mutual bank. We don’t just serve this community; we’re a part of it, too,” said Kurt Kappa, Chief Lending Officer at First Federal Lakewood. “We remain committed to helping our local economy and the members of our community get through good and bad times so they can thrive.”

    Paycheck Protection Program
    When the PPP was announced, First Federal Lakewood’s business team quickly got up to speed to be able to help as many local businesses and organizations connect to PPP loans as possible and weather the ensuing economic storm. The results through early July speak for themselves:

    • 1,259 total loans
    • $105.5 million in total PPP loan dollars
    • $83,722 average loan amount
    • Helped businesses retain 12,377 jobs in our communities
    • 93% of loans less than $250,000
    • 40% of total loan dollars to women and minority-owned businesses
    • 80 non-profits secured loans of more than $12.6 million

    “We believe local businesses, non-profits and local economic development departments are the fabric of our community, working to make each community better. We have been proud to support our neighbors in securing loans through the PPP and a variety of other ways to support our local communities,” said Kappa.

    He said relationships are a hallmark of working with a mutual bank, where clients get the knowledge and service of larger banks along with community knowledge and small-bank relationships—and the ability to form relationships with the decision makers at the bank.

    Jim Kandrac from UCG Technologies agrees with that assessment. “At the end of the day, people buy from people and it’s about relationships. First Federal Lakewood stepped up to the plate, addressed our needs and got it taken care of,” he said.

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  • Next up: Five Small Changes to Uncover Your Blind Spots: How Business Owners Can Become More Effective Leaders

    Five Small Changes to Uncover Your Blind Spots: How Business Owners Can Become More Effective Leaders

    Many small business owners are asking how to thrive within a world where we are over-committed, over-scheduled and over-whelmed. Especially now, we are experiencing a new world since the COVID-19 pandemic struck and we want to know how to move from barely surviving to thriving.    

    At the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, Executive Director, Patrice Blakemore has advised over 500 business owners and has had the opportunity to witness business owners transform their lives and businesses by making these five small changes. 

    Here are five ways you can uncover blind spots to become a more effective leader:  

    1. Start with your purpose – “What do I love to do and why” will help you articulate your purpose.  Once you answer this question, you gain clarity that lifts the fog of doubt.  In the future, when you have questions about what you should do, you can ask “Does this help fulfill my purpose?”  The answer to this question will guide you.  

    An owner of a disaster recovery company realized that her mission is to improve the quality of people's lives, but her purpose is to protect people's health by improving their indoor environments. Her mission focuses on what she does, while her purpose concentrates on why she does it. Once you determine your purpose, you can use it as a barometer for all of your decisions.

    2. Look in the mirror – When you are faced with challenges, ask yourself what part you have played in the challenge.  You are no longer asking “Why did they do this?” but rather, “What can I do to solve this problem?”  

    A different owner realized that her company’s revenue had been on a decline for years and it would fail if she did not increase sales.  She hired a sales person and now her revenue is increasing every year.  

    3. Be comfortable being uncomfortable – Growth means being uncomfortable.  If you are not growing you are stagnant.  Never stop learning and appreciate discomfort in learning new skills and exposure to new experiences. 

    One owner wasn’t able to discuss her exit strategy because she had an unresolved issue with a family investor.  After a few urgings, she finally had a conversation with the family member and resolved the issue.  She was then emotionally free to explore her future without feeling that selling her business would lead her family investor to shun her decision. If you want different results, make the commitment to do something differently.

    4. Know your end goal – Where do you want your business to be next year at this time? Now, reverse engineer the steps you need to take to achieve that goal.

    An owner’s end goal was to position her company to sell.  She put safeguards in place, created projections and within 3 months, she sold her company, much sooner than she had expected.  Where you want to be in the future is just as important as where you are now.  

    5. Choose good company – Surround yourself with good colleagues, co-workers or employees.  Coworkers are like family, you don’t get to choose them.  But you do get to choose who to trust.

    All of the business owners in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program appreciate one another because there is a sense of camaraderie and respect.  They support one another, refer one another and become one another’s clients.  You deserve to have positive people in your life.  Be selective on who you choose to be in your circle.

    As you continue your journey, be compelled to choose one goal at a time and most importantly, don’t be afraid to thrive. 

    Heidi Szeltner
    Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses
    216.987-3162

    This month’s Guest Column contributor is Heidi Szeltner from Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College. To learn more about how you can use the 10,000 Small Businesses program as you plan for this new business world contact Heidi.Szeltner@tri-c.edu or visit www.tri-c.edu/10ksb


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  • Next up: Financial Relief as the Pandemic Continues: Round 2 PPP Loans Meet Small Business Needs

    Financial Relief as the Pandemic Continues: Round 2 PPP Loans Meet Small Business Needs

     

    Small businesses continue to struggle as COVID-19 takes its toll. While no business is immune, it’s the smallest who face the largest hurdles. Recognizing the need to provide more financial relief, the government released a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans in January. This round has similarities to the first round but specifically targets small businesses most affected and includes some changes to loan caps, usage and loan forgiveness.

    The expanded eligibility criteria, delivered through a wider scope of lenders and community resources and programs like microloans mean that more of the $284 billion will enable businesses like those with fewer than 10 employees applying for less than $25,000, live venues and non-profit organizations previously excluded from PPP loan programs can benefit from this round of funding.

    Repeat borrowers can qualify for a second draw loan during this new round of funding.  In addition to eligibility criteria outlined below, these businesses have to have used or intend to use their first round funds during the applicable covered period.. New borrowers must meet the eligibility requirements of first draw under the second round of funding. Both groups of borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness when certain criteria are met.

    PPP is a complex loan program that has already undergone guidance changes from the SBA. Although much was learned during the first round of application and borrowing, understanding the requirements for this round will make the application, borrowing and forgiveness process more efficient for borrowers and lenders. The relationship you have with your bank or financial institution is the best bet for staying up to date on the process, requirements, approval and loan forgiveness.

    Eligibility

    For first and second draw borrowers, round two is designed to allocate funds to the hardest hit and smallest businesses and organizations. This wider range of eligible entities includes businesses, sole proprietors, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, certain 501(c)(6) organizations, seasonal businesses that meet timing and gross receipt guidelines, tribal organizations, veteran’s groups, faith-based organizations with less than 150 employees and housing cooperatives that employ less than 300 people. Publicly traded companies are not eligible for PPP loans.

    Businesses applying for the second draw are eligible to apply for one second draw up to 2.5-times their average monthly payroll or 3.5-times for the food and hospitality industry, up to $2 million per borrower. The business must have:

    • 300 or fewer employees or less than 300 employees per location if the business operates multiple locations
    • Used or will use the full amount of their round one PPP loan before the second draw is disbursed
    • Show a 25 percent gross revenue decline in any 2020 quarter when compared with the same 2019 quarter
    • Been in operation before February 15, 2020 and not be permanently closed

    To be eligible for a first draw, the business must not have received a round one PPP loan and employ fewer than 500 employees. The salary calculation for first draw borrowers is the same 2.5 times average payroll, with a capped loan amount of $10 million. Exceptions may apply to restaurants and hospitality businesses.

    There are nuances and some exceptions within these general eligibility criteria for both second and first draw borrowers. Lenders and other financial professionals can help navigate the complexities to determine eligibility.

    PPP Loan Terms

    PPP loans carry terms favorable for small businesses looking for financial relief. For maximum flexibility, borrowers may choose the length of the covered period. Beginning when the loan is disbursed, the covered period is the time during which at least 60% of loan proceeds must be used for payroll. In addition, PPP loans:

    • Carry a 1% interest rate
    • May not have fees charged by lenders or the government
    • Have a five-year maturity
    • Do not require collateral or personal guarantees

    Loan payments will be deferred for borrowers who apply for loan forgiveness until the SBA remits the borrower's loan forgiveness amount to the lender. If a borrower does not apply for loan forgiveness, payments are deferred 10 months after the end of the covered period for the borrower’s loan forgiveness.

    Loan Forgiveness

    As in the first round, borrowers may qualify for loan forgiveness using a 60/40 cost allocation between payroll and non-payroll costs.  Eligible costs include some of the original costs and a few expanded categories.   Payroll costs, mortgage, rent, utility payments, covered operations expenditures such as software and accounting costs, covered property damage costs due to public disturbance and not covered by insurance, covered supplier costs such as contracts, purchase orders, or orders for goods essential to the recipient’s operations, and covered worker protection expenditures and adaptive investments incurred during the covered period are some of the high level costs that can be included in the forgiveness calculation.

    One of the improvements made with this round of funding and forgiveness is that businesses with PPP loans less than $150,000 will complete a new simplified forgiveness one-page application instead of a lengthy and complicated form.

    Get Started Now

    It can take time to gather documentation and submit a PPP loan application. Starting now will ensure businesses meet the March 31 deadline. Many banks are eager to help small businesses thrive in their communities. These institutions can provide guidance and checklists and tools to ensure an application includes the required documentation, certifications and signatures. Submitting a complete application is the secret to a smooth borrowing experience. Incomplete information creates log jams and can result in loan request rejections.

    March 31 is the second round PPP loan application deadline. Reach out to your financial institutions sooner than later to take advantage of a second or first draw loan to help your business.

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