Posts by Joe Weppler

Credit Card Companies Are Cutting Credit Limits Due to COVID-19 Concerns

According to a report from CompareCards.com, nearly 50 million cardholders had their credit limits involuntarily reduced or even had a card closed by their issuer in April. The same survey found that 3 in 10 cardholders are using credit cards “more than ever” since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Considering the impact that COVID-19 has had on the economy, it’s no big surprise to see banks reduce their lending. In uncertain economic times, banks get nervous at the prospect of their borrowers running into unexpected financial circumstances. The precedent was set in 2008, just before the Great Recession, when economic uncertainty led to banks slashing credit limits and tightening credit standards. 

Unfortunately, these cuts can have a negative impact on your credit score by increasing the overall percentage of your credit in use. For example, if you have a credit limit of $20,000 across two credit cards, and you’re currently using a balance of $4,000, you’re using 20% of your credit – keeping within the suggested utilization rate of no more than 20% to 30%. 

In this same scenario, if your credit card limit is suddenly slashed to $10,000, you’re now using 40% of your available credit without ever having borrowed more or missed a payment. That change is going to negatively impact your credit score at no fault of your own. In fact, your utilization rate is the second-largest factor in determining your credit score – second only to your payment history. 

While there’s no way for a consumer to guarantee that a bank won’t reduce their credit card limit or close their account altogether, here are a few ways that you can mitigate the risk: 

Actively maintain your credit score: Continue to pay your bills on time and keep your utilization rate below 20-30%. By avoiding late payments and high utilization rates, your credit limit will naturally grow over time. 

Keep your cards active: If you have multiple cards, make sure you don’t let any of them become inactive for too long. Inactivity is one of the most common reasons you might see your credit card limit lowered. Your credit card limit is not set in stone when you receive you card – sudden drops in your credit score can lead to your issuer lowering your limit. This can be as simple as making a single purchase on your lesser used cards every few months before hiding them away again. 

Move recurring payments to an inactive card: One great way to keep your less-used cards active is to use them for small, recurring payments like subscriptions to streaming services, food delivery plans and monthly bills. Most recurring services have auto-pay options that can be used as a set-and-forget method of keeping your card active. 

Ask for a limit increase: While this may sound redundant, one method of countering the effects that a credit card limit slash might have on your credit score is by seeking a limit increase on another card. This can help maintain your utilization rate and mitigate a dip in your score. Issuers are less likely to approve an increase in your limit now – but it’s worth asking.

Reach out to your card issuer: Speaking of asking – if your credit card limit is reduced or your account is closed – reach out to your card issuer. If you can show them that you’re still employed, maintain a steady income and that you’ve been a valuable customer, you may be able to have the decision to lower your limit appealed. Often, these decisions are made by a computer program and can be reversed with human intervention.

If you’re struggling to pay your credit card bills, many credit card issuers are currently allowing their customers to opt into relief programs online. These financial hardship programs usually offer cardholders both short-term and long-term payment plans in exchange for immediate relief from their credit card bills.

How Are Telecom Operators Coping With Increased Traffic?

Rogers Communications Inc. recently told a House of Commons committee that home internet usage is up more than 50 percent compared to before the coronavirus pandemic. Voice call usage on the Rogers wireless network is up 40 percent, and 1-800 toll-free calls are up more than 300 percent. Rogers customers alone are making more than 50 million wireless voice calls per day. 

According to Akamai, a tech company that monitors web defenses, global internet traffic has increased by as much as 30 percent since mid-March. That’s almost an entire year’s worth of internet traffic growth in just a few short weeks. It’s important to note that this growth was experienced even with the loss of live sports streaming, which normally accounts for significant global traffic. 

When it comes to mobile data consumption, the trends are unsurprisingly similar – especially in areas with heavy lockdowns such as Spain and Italy. Italy – the first European country to go on lockdown – saw peak usage increase by nearly 90 percent. 

So how are telecom operators and content owners across the world stepping up to address the impacts of such significant traffic surges? 

Telcos everywhere have worked closely with their respective governments to provide increased internet services to the public to help manage the crisis. Engineers are working around the clock adding additional fibre-optic connections and servers to those invaluable central offices that house and reroute customer data.  

Video game companies like Sony and Microsoft are bottle-necking peak-hour downloads to help combat the congestion. Massive video streaming platforms like Youtube, Amazon and Netflix have adjusted their encoding rates, sacrificing video quality to help reduce the strain on telecom operators. This is especially pertinent, as major video streaming platforms are reporting massive increases in usage as people spend more time on the couch. The television industry as a whole saw a 20 percent increase in viewership in mid-March, and Amazon’s live streaming platform Twitch saw its total amount of hours watched jump from 33 million on March 8th to 43 million on March 22nd. 

In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission has granted temporary access to normally reserved mobile spectrum bands to provide additional broadband capacity. Similar steps are being taken across the planet, from Ireland to Brazil. 

AT&T has waived data overage fees in the United States. Vodacom in South Africa has invested $24 million to add network capacity to support remote workers. In Canada, Bell accelerated the rollout of its new wireless home internet service in rural areas. In Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus virus, China’s three major telecom carriers have set up 5G stations for health care workers in city hospitals. 

Businesses everywhere are experiencing unprecedented circumstances, and they have all had to adapt – whether to growth or loss – due to the pandemic. In these strange times, it’s comforting to see the international effort put towards keeping humanity connected.

The Benefits of Electronic Logging Devices

In the United States, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mandated in late 2017 that most commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds be installed with electronic logging devices. This is to enforce hours-of-service rules for truckers in order to help prevent crashes and injuries. North of the border, a similar mandate (with a few key differences) from Transport Canada comes into effect in June 2021.

If you’re involved in trucking you likely know what an electronic logging device (ELD) is, but for those unfamiliar, an ELD is a certified device that automatically logs a driver’s hours of service electronically. The ELD is able to automatically detect when a driver begins and ends a trip including time spent taking breaks. Beyond governmental compliance, there are several great benefits to installing ELDs in your fleet. Let’s take a look at some below.

1: More Road Time for Drivers

According to estimates by the FMCSA, drivers spend over 20 hours a year simply filling out their paper logs. ELDs not only reduce paperwork time for drivers and filing time for their carriers, but also reduce time spent on checking up on driver hours.

Plus, ELDs can significantly cut down on the time a driver spends in an inspection, because their hours are clearly readable for an officer and drivers won’t have to spend time digging through their paper logs to find violations or correct errors.

2: Added Value-Functions

ELDs don’t just log driver hours – they can come with plenty of value-adds that can save you time and headaches.

  • Driver-Vehicle Inspection Reports completed through an in-cab tablet before each trip to reduce time and increase accuracy
  • Driver behavior tracking to encourage good driving habits and increase the safety of both truck drivers and regular passenger vehicle drivers on the road
  • Fleet management capabilities such as automatic fuel tax reporting
  • Fuel efficiency monitoring to identify trends and save organizations money on one of the biggest expenses a fleet incurs

Not all add-ons will be useful for every fleet, so make sure you do your research and pick the ELD system that works best for your business.

3: Better Route Management and Live Location Tracking

ELDs allow fleet managers to track their trucks via GPS, giving them real-time locations of their drivers. That means fewer distracting calls to drivers asking for updates, increasing productivity of both the manager and driver. Plus, GPS tracking can help both managers and drivers refine and optimize their routes to make them as fuel efficient as possible.

4: Liability Reduction

Accidents happen on the road, which means even the safest driver could find themselves in a wreck. For companies with many drivers logging many hours on the road, lawsuits are an inevitability.

ELDs can help strengthen a truck driver’s case in instances where they aren’t at fault. The data recorded by the ELD can be used as evidence in court, and could be the difference between winning a lawsuit or paying out a hefty penalty through no fault of their own.

5: Road Safety and Insurance Costs

According to the FMCSA, ELDs save over 25 lives and prevent hundreds of injuries every single year. Plus, with vehicle and hour monitoring, ELD helps prevent even more accidents caused by driver fatigue or mechanical failure.

An added benefit to carriers is that with increased safety comes decreased insurance premiums. Fleets with ELDs installed should see their insurance costs drop as ELDs have been proven to increase fleet safety. Plus, with GPS tracking, the risk of stolen vehicles drops dramatically.

Schooley Mitchell are experts in electronic logging devices and fleet tracking, and we can examine your entire system to recommend the configuration that’s right for your business. If you’re outfitting your fleet with ELDs, contact us today to make sure you’re getting the right service for your business at the best price available – completely risk-free.

Are Electronic Signatures the Next Step for Your Business?

Offices across the world have been trending digital for years now – and with the current coronavirus pandemic, people are even less inclined than ever to deal in physical documents. In the fast-paced business landscape, the convenience of computer screens and mobile devices have increasingly pushed paper to the wayside.

So what are electronic signatures, and are they right for your business?

According to one definition, an electronic signature refers to “data in electronic form, which is logically associated with other data in electronic form and which is used by the signatory to sign. This type of signature provides the same legal standing as a handwritten signature as long as it adheres to the requirements of the specific regulation under which it was created.”

In a paper for MIT written by David Fillingham in 1997, he outlined that the application of signatures, either handwritten or digital, was to achieve three main security services:

Authentication: A signature proves the signers identity.

The most obvious example being the signature on the back of a credit card indicating who the owner is, or on a check to indicate where the money is coming from.

Data integrity: A signature is assurance that the data of the document has not been modified since the signature was applied.

While a traditional signature itself does not provide data integrity, things like indelible ink and tamper-proof paper provide some measure of security. Digital signatures take this aspect a step further, since any modification of a digitally signed document will always result in verification failure.

Non-repudiation: A signature prevents the signatory from denying involvement in an agreement.

Providing evidence to a third-party that a signatory participated in a transaction or other type of agreement protects the parties within the agreement against false denials of participation. For example, a customer’s signature on a receipt from a credit card transaction protects the store and card-issuing bank from false chargebacks.

The objective of an electronic signature is to quickly and efficiently authenticate a digital document without the use of pen and paper. Electronic signatures are much quicker than the traditional electronic method of sign-and-scan, and according to a 2013 research study on signing productivity in high-volume environments such as sales, finance and human relations, replacing traditional methods with electronic signatures saves an average of $20 per document.

Plus, by using electronic signatures to authenticate your documents, you help to eliminate the opportunity for fraud. This leads to a considerably more secure process for documents than even pen-and-paper based signing. Electronic signature platforms also benefit from increased oversight, allowing you to centralize and monitor the signing process.

To recap – electronic signatures will help your business cut down on paper, postage and printing, save your business significant time and money, reduce overall turnaround times, protect your business from non-repudiation and provide increased security through better oversight and improved data-integrity.

If you’re interested in finding an appropriate electronic signature service for your business, Schooley Mitchell can make sure you find the right service at the best possible price. Reach out today for your risk-free consultation.

What Will Returning to Work Look Like?

The coronavirus outbreak has caused widespread concern and economic hardships for consumers, communities and businesses alike. The situation has evolved rapidly since it’s onset, and business leaders across the globe have found themselves tested on everything from their crisis management skills to operations and supply chain alternatives.

In a PWC survey, finance leaders across the United States listed their top three concerns with respect to COVID-19 as financial impact, a potential global recession, and the effects on the workforce/reduction in productivity. Indeed, some of the biggest companies in the world are preparing to tell their employees it’s time to return to work.

While some companies will undoubtedly reinvent themselves post-pandemic, for many it will be a race back to business-as-usual. Whether your business is taking a new path or trying to hold steady, let’s take a look at some of the changes that will likely stick around – even after things start returning to normal.

Working From Home

If there’s one thing that is certain, it’s that more businesses will note the effectiveness of employees who work from home even as offices reopen. While the flexibility that working from home offers can reduce turnover and increase productivity and morale, it also can greatly reduce a business’s overhead expenditures.

How many companies will close or dramatically reduce the size of their offices in favour of continuing to work from home after they’ve been forced to give it a trial run? Power bills, rent, office supplies, amenities – these are all expenses that are reduced or outright eliminated when your workforce works remotely. While there are certainly great benefits to having your employees under one roof, it’s likely that we’ll see a major increase in telework after the pandemic ends compared to before it started.

Online Shopping & Delivery

While online shopping isn’t anything new, social distancing has turned the dial up to 11. In particular, food courier and grocery delivery have seen major upticks in popularity as people strive to avoid public places. Everybody has to eat, after all.

Even as our businesses reopen, our shopping habits have likely changed for good. People across the globe have found a new appreciation for the ease of buying things online. While brick-and-mortar stores aren’t likely to disappear overnight, e-commerce will continue to grow at a rapid pace.

Service Industry Methodology

The coronavirus has the potential to permanently shift the way many service industries operate. Consumers across the globe will think much harder about the health implications of squeezing many people into small areas. Crowded restaurants, movie theatres, concert halls – the coronavirus has been a true test for businesses that depend on social gathering.

In Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak began, service industry business owners are finding that consumers are still reluctant to gather even as everything reopens. As the world’s population continues to grow every year, how can the service industry account for humanities newfound appreciation for personal space?

While the business world is eager, any and all return-to-work efforts will undoubtedly be a gradual process. The return will happen in waves as our demand for certain products and industries grow. These times are truly unprecedented – only time will tell how our coronavirus-induced anxieties will affect the world in the long term.

Disinfecting Your Home and Safely Disposing Waste

Cities across the world have been experimenting with different waste collection regulations since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Many have increased the household garbage bag limit, while others have suspended curbside pickup or opted to close recycling centers. Some governments are also issuing special waste disposal guidance to those who are in self-isolation with symptoms of COVID-19.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic recommendations, medical waste (trash) coming from healthcare facilities treating COVID-19 patients is no different than waste coming from any other medical facility. The CDC states that management of laundry, food service utensils and medical waste should be performed in accordance with routine procedures.

In other words, there is no evidence that waste generated in the care of patients with COVID-19 requires additional considerations for disinfection or disposal than routine medical waste disposal. This is because coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in healthcare settings as other viruses.

For those with symptoms of the virus, there are several steps you can take both when cleaning and disinfecting your home as well as when disposing of personal waste such as used tissues, face masks, and disposable cloths.

When cleaning and disinfecting, you should wear disposable gloves. Focus your efforts on routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Doorknobs, light switches, keyboards, countertops – these are all high-touch surfaces that you should be cleaning often.

After cleaning with soap and water, the CDC recommends the use of Environmental Protection Agency-registered household disinfectants. You can check if your disinfectant of choice meets the EPA’s criteria for use against the virus that causes COVID-19 by checking the list on their website at www.epa.gov. Diluted household bleach solutions can also be effective if appropriate for the surface. Not all bleaches are suitable for disinfection, so make sure to check the label to confirm.

When disposing of personal waste, the CDC recommends a dedicated, lined trash-can for anyone with symptoms if possible. You should use gloves when removing garbage bags and disposing trash, and always wash your hands afterwards. You can also consider double-bagging your personal waste by placing it in a garbage bag, making sure it is securely tied, then placing it in a second bag and keeping it separate from your other waste.

If you’re an essential worker and required to use Personal Protective Equipment in the course of your job, make sure you know the waste category your PPE falls under when you go to dispose of it. Management of contaminated infectious waste follows state and local bylaws, and there can be hefty fines for not properly disposing waste if it’s considered medical. Check in with your local health unit to confirm whether or not your PPE falls into the medical or general waste category.

It may also be prudent to refrain from putting out any unnecessary waste for the time being. As the weather heats up, many of us enter spring cleaning mode – but delaying your spring cleaning will help reduce extra strain on the system during the pandemic. While it may be tempting to get rid of our hoarded winter items, we should all do our part to keep our trash collectors safe and the system running smoothly.

Best Practices for Working From Home on a Team

We all have our strengths and weaknesses – and as more and more of us work from home, those strengths and weaknesses can be compounded – or even reversed. Maybe a change in environment is exactly what the procrastinator needed to become more productive. Or maybe it’s an excuse for them to focus on their household chores instead of the work they should be doing.

Either way, our strengths and weaknesses define us. They especially define how we work together. By playing to our strengths in a team, we become much more productive overall. But by giving in to our weaknesses, we can easily derail a meeting and negatively influence our overall agenda.

Here are some best practices (and things to avoid) while working from home as a member of a team.

Ideas – Yours and Mine

The only thing better than a team member having an excellent idea is when you have an excellent idea – but either way, both are to be encouraged and celebrated.

If your team member has a great pitch or idea for solving a problem – it’s important to build them up and expand. Ask questions and help flesh out how it will work practically. Be cognizant of the potential negatives, but instead of saying it won’t work, do your best to brainstorm with them to find the path through.

In the same vein, when you have an interesting thought, share it! Don’t keep quiet – bright ideas are always desired in a team setting. Invite your team to help you work through the issues, and you’ll inspire them to contribute too.

Keep in mind – your goal should not be to dominate the conversation. Don’t speak over others, and don’t interrupt. But if you think your idea is great, let it be heard. And let your team members work with you to make it even better.

Keep the Ball Rolling

One of the worst feelings while participating in an online meeting is looking at the clock, realizing you’ve hit your allotted time for the meeting, and noting that your team hasn’t accomplished anything. Whether there were distractions, arguments, or confusion – it doesn’t matter. The time was unproductive, and you’re nobetter off after the meeting than you were before it.

One of the most valuable skills you can have in a team setting is being aware of everyone’s time. Encourage your team members to focus on the agenda. If a distraction comes up, try to shift the focus back to the issue at hand – respectfully. Online meetings become much less fun when you think your time is being wasted. Endeavour to be the person that keeps the team on track, and everyone will thank you for it.

If you do have someone that often derails the conversation, whether on purpose or by accident, remember to kindly thank them for their input on the topic, but encourage them to share their thoughts on the actual issue at hand.

Step Up and Take Action

Awkward silence can be the death of a productive meeting. When no one else is willing to speak up, strive to be the one that does. By taking action and moving the conversation forward, you encourage others to participate and you make sure that your meeting doesn’t run short with nothing of value said.

Use the tools you’re given to keep people engaged. Send photo examples or use the virtual whiteboards and other tools that modern video conferencing apps have en masse. If the conversation grinds to a halt, shift to a different angle and re-approach the issue. No matter what you do, by simply taking action, you’re providing a great value to all your team members. It’s much easier to work off of a catalyst then silence.

Again, the flipside here would be the quiet team members who seem to just be along for the ride. Some great methods for getting your quieter members to speak up can be assigning them something to research beforehand so they can prepare, or simply asking them directly to share their thoughts during the discussion. There generally aren’t any right or wrong answers during a meeting – it’s all about getting everyone’s input and crafting your solution to the problem in turn.

Remember to Keep It Light

Let’s face it – most meetings are boring. But they don’t need to be. While it’s important to focus on the task at hand, don’t be afraid to make jokes or show off your pets on camera. A little lightheartedness can go a long way – especially in these difficult times. Aspire to be the one that brightens the mood. You might be shocked at how much more productive and valuable a meeting can be when everyone isn’t dour and serious the entire time.

Above all, make sure to remind yourself and your teammates that while things may be tough right now, you are all resilient and you will make it through to sunnier days.

Coronavirus Scams Targeting You and Your Business

“If you are a small business that has been affected by the coronavirus, press “1” to ensure your Google listing is correctly displaying. Otherwise, customers may not find you online during this time.”

If you’ve received this call or something similar in the past few weeks, you’re just one of the millions of businesses across the U.S. and Canada that have been targeted by robocall scams designed to exploit people’s COVID-19 concerns.

In fact, both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Secret Service have issued warnings that scammers are imitating companies, government agencies and healthcare providers in unprecedented numbers – and cybersecurity experts say that the attacks are just getting started.

Here are some scams you should be looking out for in order to keep you and your business safe:

Robocalls:

According to the FTC, any robocall trying to sell you something is illegal unless a company has your written permission to call you that way – excluding some calls such as candidates running for office or charities asking for donations. And if someone is already breaking the law by robocalling you, there’s a good chance it’s also a scam.

These calls are running the gamut from offering fake COVID-19 testing kits and free sanitation supplies to fake government financial support. The only correct response to these robocalls is to hang up – do not press any numbers, even if directed to in order to remove you from the call list. By pressing a number, you confirm to the scammers that your number is active and you open yourself up for more scam calls in the future.

Note: There are no anti-robocall laws in Canada, but they are subject to CRTC regulations. Regulations include a clear message identifying on whose behalf the call is made, a mailing address, and a number at which a representative can be reached.

Business Email Scams:

Uncertain economic conditions lead to confusion, panic, and irregular transactions. Scammers are taking advantage of the confusion to double down on business email scams. An example from the FTC is the CEO scam – wherein an employee gets an email from their boss directing them to do something – wire money, transfer funds, send sensitive information. Except the email is actually coming from a scammer that has spoofed the boss’s email. The issue is made even more difficult with the massive influx of professionals working from home. A puzzled employee can’t just knock on the bosses door to confirm the request.

The best way to combat these scams is to make sure staff has a central contact that they can reach out to in order to verify any requests they may receive – irregular or not.

Fake Cures and Public Health Scams:

Teas, essential oils and colloidal silver all have something in common – none of them are a cure for COVID-19. The FTC and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have jointly issued warning letters to seven separate sellers of unapproved products claiming they can prevent or treat the coronavirus. The companies that have received these letters have no evidence to back up their claims, which is required by law in order to advertise their products. The FDA states that there are no approved vaccines or drugs available to treat or prevent the virus.

Furthermore, scammers are sending messages claiming to be from public health offices and officials aiming to steal confidential information or installing malware on your computer. They are asking for Social Security numbers and Tax IDs. They are sending “infographics” that are actually keyloggers in disguise.

Remember not to download any attachments or click links in any unsolicited emails.

Fake Charities:

During difficult times, incredible charities and non-profits often step up to the plate and provide crucial assistance that keeps our most vulnerable safe. Unfortunately, for every legitimate charity working for those in need, a fake one pops up looking to take your money.

They use websites that look legitimate, with real emails, signature blocks and phone support lines. They even use names similar to real charities in order to trick you. And during times of need, such as pandemics and natural disasters, they are even more active.

Before you give money to a charity, make sure you’re doing the proper research to ensure your donations are going to the right place. Websites like CharityWatch and SmartGiving seek to give you information on avoiding scams and point out the red flags. For example, most real charities will accept credit cards or checks, because they’re safe and easy. Any charity that will only accept wire transfer or cash should be immediately suspect.

Tips to Increase Online Sales for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers

According to Digital Commerce 360’s analysis of U.S. Department of Commerce data, the percentage of total retail sales made online compared to in-store rose from 6.4% in 2010 to 16.0% in 2019. With businesses being forced to close their doors to the public during the current COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no doubt online sales will continue to trend upward.

While the younger generations were already living exceedingly online lifestyles, the steps consumers must take to keep themselves and their loved ones healthy is forcing people of all ages and outlooks to rethink how they live – and how they buy.

For retailers and many other business owners, now is the time to re-imagine how your business can maintain a stream of revenue to survive this changing dynamic – if you haven’t already. Investment in your online strategies is a major piece of the puzzle. Here are some tips for retailers on how to grow online sales while their brick-and-mortar stores remain closed: 

Minimize Required Steps 

If you’ve spent time researching online purchasing, you’ve probably heard the term “the checkout cart is where sales go to die.” Every extra click, every redirection, and every new page that a customer has to maneuver through up until the point they click “Confirm Purchase” is another opportunity for them to change their mind.

The easier you make it for a potential customer to navigate from “I want this item,” to “I’ve purchased this item,” the better. Remove the hurdles, make the checkout process as simple and streamlined as possible, and you’ll get more impulse buys and fewer checkout carts abandoned.

Focus On Clear Calls-to-Action  

Speaking of carts – the “Add to Cart” button on your product page is about as direct as you can get with a Call-to-Action – but you shouldn’t stop there. Contact pages and live chat portals, “learn more” dropdowns and email newsletter opt-ins – these are all examples of softer Call-to-Action buttons that will increase engagement on your website and lead to more sales over time.

While your process should be as streamlined as possible, you also need to provide your customers with plenty of opportunities to interact with and learn more about you and your products. The more positive contact they have, the more likely they are to buy.

Implement Cart Recommendations

Cross-selling is important. It leads to higher customer satisfaction and increased exposure to your products. When selling online, cross-selling can become even easier with the use of in-cart recommendations. When a customer adds something to their cart, make sure they also see related and suggested items. This can be as simple as side dishes for a restaurant taking online orders, offering item bundles, or even suggesting larger sizes of products.

By suggesting great related items for your customers, you not only increase your sales but you may even remind them or clue them into other necessities that they hadn’t even considered when purchasing the product in the first place.

Don’t Let One Sale Be the End

If you’re selling a product online, there is most likely some sort of contact information being shared from your customer to you – usually an email address at the very least. While you need to pay close attention to the anti-spam laws that apply to you, simple order confirmations don’t need to be the end of the conversation.

Sending out coupons, product suggestions and newsletters to happy customers can be an excellent way to bring them back to you for future sales. While you need to be tactful, if you play your cards right, the customer will be very appreciative of your outreach. And a happy customer is one that will buy from you again and again.

 Don’t Give Up Hope

According to Harvard Business Review, a Chinese cosmetics company called Lin Qingxuan was forced to close 40% of its brick-and-mortar locations during the crisis, including all of its locations in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak. Despite these closures, Lin Qingxuan redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors affected by the store closures into online markets, using digital tools such as WeChat to engage customers.

As a result, its sales in Wuhan achieved 200% growth compared to the prior year’s.

This isn’t to claim you’re going to double your sales simply by offering your products online. But Lin Qingxuan is an excellent example of the power of online sales and the benefits of being agile and flexible when it comes to how you do business.

Enabling Your Employees to Work From Home

Last fall, a study conducted by Owl Labs projected that nearly half the U.S. workforce would be working remotely for at least a portion of their week by 2025. The rise of remote work across the world compared to even five years ago has been climbing a pretty smooth slope.  But with the rapid spread of the Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutting down work facilities, transit and childcare, that slope has turned into a spike.

With lock-downs and self-imposed quarantine rapidly becoming the standard response to try to limit the spread of the virus, remote work is becoming the new normal. Here are some tips for employers on how to make sure your employees are setup and prepared so they can do their work just as effectively at home as they do from the office:

Clearly Communicate Accountability Guidelines:

Trust in your workforce is paramount, but the key to developing an appropriate and effective remote work policy that ensures productivity and efficiency is in the planning.

Clearly communicate your remote work policies, have employees sign-off on these policies, and be vigilant in setting and maintaining your expectations. Also make it clear when, where and how employees are expected to track their work. Accountability is key on both sides of the arrangement.

Use Communication and Collaboration Tools:

Cloud-based and mobile-friendly technologies are the norm for remote workers. While remote-working has several benefits, a lack of the right equipment and tools can lead to inefficiency, isolation and a collapse in communication. Here are some great tools for everything from project management to workforce communication:

SharePoint: SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform that is directly integrated with Microsoft Office. Its primary use is as a highly configurable document management and storage system. If you have multiple employees accessing the same files or spreadsheets that need to be updated from multiple sources – SharePoint is a great solution.

Google Drive: Team members can view and edit presentations, spreadsheets, documents and work forms all from the same platform with Google Drive. It also offers limited free storage, making it a cheaper solution for smaller teams.

Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams is a communication and collaboration platform that combines workplace chat, video meetings, file storage and app integration all into one place. It ties in with your Outlook email and calendar and also works with SharePoint storage. Teams is an excellent communication tool if your team is already using other Microsoft Office programs.

Slack: Slack is a program used all over the world to increase productivity and communication. It integrates with hundreds of different apps, and it enables you to archive and index emails, messages and other information to make them easily searchable. Instant messaging, voice and video calls, and screen sharing making Slack another great option for a collaboration-focused communication tool.

Think About Phones:

If you already provide your employees with mobile phones, they can likely use those for calls for the time being. But if you don’t provide employees with their own phones, you need to put a plan in place so your staff isn’t racking up massive long distance and data fees. Whether that’s simple research into adequate long distance plans and reimbursement, a VoIP solution or directly purchasing mobile phones from your telecom vendor, you need to weigh your options.  Also – do some research into the steps your vendors are taking to reduce the impact of this pandemic on your workers. Many vendors are waiving long distance and data fees to support their customers. Take advantage of these while you can to help keep your costs as low as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind: with the influx of people working from home, cell phone networks are going to begin being flooded and connection will deteriorate. Do you have an adequate line of communication open with your vendor if problems arise and your staff can’t make the calls they need to? You need to find out now before the issue arises. 

Be Wary of Bad Internet:

Are your employees sending files, spreadsheets and info back and forth? Are you using a communications platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams that requires a stable internet connection? Do you need to make video or conference calls to clients or customers?

Even in today’s hyper-connected world, plenty of people struggle with poor, patchy and slow internet connections at home. Adding an entire work setup to an already struggling home connection can be a recipe for disaster.

Setting up Wi-Fi signal boosters, limiting bandwidth-hogging apps, swapping to a new DNS server and troubleshooting your hardware are all things you and your employees need to consider if their connection at home isn’t as stable as it needs to be to remain efficient.

Keep Lines of Communication Open:

These are trying times for everyone – from the business owner to the brand new employee. The most important thing you can do as an employer is to keep lines of communication open. Make sure employees have a clear path forward to getting the information and instruction they need – whether from you, your managers, or their co-workers. Encourage questions, collaborate on brainstorming, be understanding of the unique needs and situations of your employees, and above all, be safe!