Good small business reads #14: How to provide great customer service, preparing for disasters and more

Here is this month’s potpourri of articles of articles that should be of help to small business owners. We start off with “10 Commandments of Great Customer Service” by business author Daniel Kehrer. Every now and then I see an article that asks whether customer service is dead, and sometimes it does truly seem like that when dealing with giant corporations. But here’s where small businesses can have a real edge. And as Kehrer points out, while you can’t always compete on price, you can compete on customer service. Many of the commandments he offers will cost you absolutely nothing at all yet will reap huge rewards in terms of customer loyalty.

Given the numerous disasters that have struck the United States in 2011, I urge you to carefully consider the advice offered in “6 Ways Small Businesses Should Prepare for Disaster,” by Vivian Giant writing for the American Express Open Forum. She quotes Karen Mills, an administrator at the Small Business Administration, who says, “There is a tendency to think that a large-scale disaster is not going to happen ‘where I live.’” As someone who lives very near where tornadoes ripped through Western Massachusetts on June 1, I am certain many of the small businesses affected by those horrible storms weren’t prepared. Nor probably were businesses in Vermont ready to face the damage done by the flooding that followed tropical storm Irene. Please do read this article and make sure you’ve done all you can to protect your business in case disaster strikes.

It seems that every few months we hear a story on the news in which some employee did something amazingly stupid on a social media site and was fired as a result. In “When You Can and Can’t Fire Employees for Social Media Misbehavior,” Forbes staff member Kashmir Hill reports on the evolving law around this topic. She provides examples of cases that the National Labor Relations Board wrote about in a recent report on this topic, which is linked to in the article. I found some of the decisions surprising. I recommend reading the NLRB report so you’re up to speed on this important issue. Serious damage can be done to your company’s reputation by a disgruntled employee using social media, but before you fire someone, you need to know whether doing so is legal or a violation of his/her right of free speech.

Finally, the most thought-provoking piece I read in the past month by far is “What Is Your Default?” by Polly LeBarre, writing on ManagementExchange.com.  She talks about having the courage of your convictions in business. What are the convictions you won’t compromise on, no matter what? Successful companies – including employees from top to bottom – know what these values are and stick to them like glue.

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