Successful small-business owners are adept at juggling competing priorities while keeping a keen focus on making customers happy and coming back for more. Connecting with customers is becoming more critical in our increasingly online world, and you need to find the best ways to communicate with them.
Office 2010 programs can help small-business owners and managers better handle information coming in so they can focus on what goes out so and keep their customers content. Office 2010 makes it easier to communicate with customers wherever you are — in the office, at home, or somewhere in between. This article gives you some tools and strategies to reduce inbox clutter, market your business, and communicate with customers better than ever.
Tame your inbox
Some exciting new tools in Outlook 2010 will help you get the clutter out of your inbox so you can concentrate more on serving your customers. For example, let’s look at the inbox for the owner of a small business called Wide World Importers.
E-mail messages are coming in fast, and they need to be dealt with. The first thing to do is view messages in Conversations View, where conversation threads are folded into one heading. Now this inbox has been condensed from 11 e-mail items down to six. Better.
You can see a conversation entitled “Lunch options for the meeting.” The problem is that you aren’t going to be around for that meeting, so you are not interested in what they are serving for lunch. You want to get off this conversation, and you don’t want to receive any more e-mail messages about this subject either. With Outlook 2010, you can choose to ignore not just e-mail messages you have already received on a particular thread, but future e-mail messages on that thread as well. Simply right-click a message in the conversation and choose Ignore, and future e-mail messages in this thread will go directly to your Deleted Items folder. Now we are down to five items in this inbox.
The next item you want to address is an e-mail message from Chris Preston asking if you need any cleaning supplies. In the past, you would have had to reply to the message and then go back and delete it. Outlook 2010 allows you to combine those two steps by using a new Quick Step shortcut that combines multiple steps into one called Reply & Delete. You reply with your cleaning supply request and then the message is automatically moved to your Deleted Items folder. The great thing about Quick Steps is that you can use the ones provided out-of-the-box, such as Move To, Team E-mail, Mark as Done, and To Manager—or you can create your own for things you do every day.
Now with a sigh of relief and only four items left in this inbox, we are ready concentrate on customers and suppliers.
Demonstrate your commitment
I am old enough to remember when cell phones were new (and huge). One day I talked to a customer who was picking blueberries and talking to me at the same time. I envied his freedom, mobility, and ability to multitask. Well, you can impress your customers and suppliers with your commitment to keeping them happy by being able to do business from your mobile phone wherever you are. I don’t mean just being able to talk to them on your mobile phone, I mean being able to send and receive e-mail and share work documents with them.
Many smartphones today can connect to Microsoft Exchange Server or other e-mail servers. The illustration below is a screenshot pulled from my Sprint HTC Diamond cell phone (and enlarged) that shows the same Outlook inbox and messages on my phone that I would see if I was at my desktop computer.
Having Outlook Mobile on your cell phone enables you to send and receive messages and update your Contacts and Tasks wherever you are. You can also receive attachments. For example, the message shown below contains a Word 2010 document that requires immediate review.
I simply tap the link to the document and it opens in Word Mobile, a special version of Microsoft Word that was made for Windows phones and select other mobile devices. I can review the document and even make minor edits.
It may be a lot easier to review a document on your desktop or laptop computer, but having the ability to use your mobile phone to access important documents in a pinch really comes in handy when a computer isn’t available to you.
Share with your customers
I am also old enough to remember when documents were always on paper, and to progress from stage to stage they had to be sent to each party by courier. These days your customers expect information to flow freely to and from the companies they do business with. Office 2010 programs take information sharing to a whole new level with connections to online services such as Windows Live and blog sites such as Windows Live Spaces, Blogger, and WordPress.
Centralize storage online
The new Backstage™ View in Office 2010 applications, which you can access through the File menu, is the place to go to create new documents, print, and share. Sharing files on an online service such as Windows Live SkyDrive is easy because once your free SkyDrive site is set up, you can use the Save and Send area in the Backstage View to save directly to a specific folder in your workspace.
You can either choose to have everyone access your folder, or only people you choose. The SkyDrive service will even send links to your SkyDrive site to members you choose.
A major enhancement to Office 2010 programs is the online companions to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote 2010, called Office Web Apps. That means that if your customer doesn’t have Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote installed on the computer where they are working (such as in a public location or library), they can still open their Office documents and make light edits via the Web.
Office Web Apps also make it easier for you to access your work documents when you aren’t in front of a computer with Office 2010 installed. Better yet, when you open the document back up in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or OneNote 2010 after someone has edited it online, you get excellent fidelity of the edited document — online editing does not harm the document’s functionality or features.
Make sure you are on the same page
The OneNote 2010 digital note-taking program is a great way to make sure that you and your customer or supplier are in agreement on what needs to be done in the future. You can publish your OneNote notebooks directly to your Windows Live SkyDrive, grant your customer or supplier permission to access it, and then you can collaborate on meeting notes and to-do lists and share research. You can also send meeting notes to customers in an e-mail as a way to commemorate your meeting and confirm action items.
Blogs are online diaries for you to use to post your thinking on key items or recount recent events. Blogs tend to be a less formal way to communicate with customers and are usually written by a named person (where it is understood that, although they are writing on behalf of a company, their opinion is their own).
Word 2010 makes it incredibly easy to post blog entries on one of many supported blogging sites (such as Windows Live Spaces, Blogger, WordPress, Community Server, TypePad, or SharePoint sites). Sure, you could use their online posting forms, but using Word 2010 instead offers you three big benefits:
- Spell Checker. If you write your blog in Word, you get all of the goodness that Spell Checker brings to your document.
- You don’t have to find the URL to your blog and open a new browser session; if you do most of your work in Office programs, then why not stay in them to blog?
- Most blog sites require you to upload photos and then link to them. When you blog in Word 2010, if you insert a photo into your blog, it is automatically uploaded to the blog site when you publish.
Save time and money on travel
Once upon a time I traveled extensively for work. Most of my trips were to meet customers and potential customers face-to-face to deliver presentations on new products or services being offered. With the pervasiveness of conference calls and online meeting services such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting, the need (and the expectation) to handle presentations face-to-face has lessened greatly. With PowerPoint 2010, that need lessens even further because you can now deliver PowerPoint presentations online to users with a Windows Live ID on any computer with an Internet connection and a current web browser.
PowerPoint 2010 makes it easy to share presentations with the PowerPoint Broadcast Slide Show. It provides the server for you to post your presentation via a Web browser for your customers to pull the views from. The service is free to PowerPoint 2010 users.
To broadcast your presentation, you simply choose the Broadcast Slide Show option from the Backstage View. The service will send by e-mail a link to the presentation to specified customers, and after they click the link, the presentation will open in their browser as illustrated below.
As you advance through your slides, the viewer’s browser similarly advances through the slides. Combined with a phone call so the customer or supplier can hear your voice, Broadcast Slide Show is a great way to deliver presentations from afar.
Start communicating better today
Use the suggestions in this article to get control of your inbox, market your business, and communicate better with customers. But first, try Office 2010 today.
About the author
Nancy Buchanan is a freelance marketing consultant who specializes in customizing SharePoint intranet sites and developing content for product launches at Microsoft. Before moving to a rural island community in Washington state with her family in 2002, she was a product manager at Microsoft for eight years. She has been in high-tech sales and marketing in the Pacific Northwest for more than 25 years.