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Occasionally, we will receive questions from clients and fellow receptionists about how best to handle an issue, or approach a conversation. While we do our best to provide as much information as possible through our blog, the nuances of tone and language are often best communicated through a more auditory medium.

Which is why we are introducing “Paging  Dr. Ruby: The Video Series!” Each month, our crack team of receptionists and happiness makers will share tips on how to provide the best customer experience to callers. For our first episode, we explore ways to gather information, while avoiding annoying callers with too many questions.

Episode 2: What’s Your Phoneside Manner

Episode 3: Hesitations, Pauses, and Sighs. Oh, My!

Episode 4: How to Use Tone to Create Connections

Episode 5: Turning Frustrated Callers into Happy Ones

Episode 6: Create Connections with Positive Phrasing

Episode 7: Create a Great Mobile Caller Experience

Episode 8: Creating a Culture of Service

Episode 9: Setting Yourself Apart with Personal Connections

Episode 10: Customer Onboarding that WOWs

If you would like to be featured on a future episode of “Paging Dr. Ruby”, post your question in the comments below, send us a Tweet, or reach out via email. Dr. Ruby is in the house, and ready to help!

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Tabbed organizers, notebooks, calendar reminders, apps, scratch paper, the back of your hand—the methods and strategies available for tracking and managing tasks are endless. How do you determine what works best for you?

We decided to tackle this question by exploring the variety of time management styles being used in our own office. Join us on this organization-exploration as we venture forth on a journey into lists, organizers and digital tools—and share how they might benefit you.

Before We Jump In…

One of the first steps to creating successful lists is recognizing how you spend your time and prioritizing accordingly. Pareto’s Principle states 80 percent of results flow out of 20 percent of activities. As we shared last week, a helpful exercise is exploring Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. Try this practice for a week, with a focus on Quadrant 2, to hone your prioritization skills.

Lauren O’Neill & The Passion Planner

Another excellent life philosophy introduced in Stephen Covey’s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is to organize the week, not just the day. Ruby Sales Associate, Lauren O’Neill, has mastered this process with “The Passion Planner”. The planner is laid out in such a way as to promote weekly planning, as well as how individual tasks tie into larger goals. The sections are as follows:

  • Personal To-Do List
  • Work To-Do List
  • Daily Blocks of Time
  • Good Things that Happened
  • This Week’s Focus
  • Take Notes/Draw/Journal/Brainstorm
  • Inspirational Quote of the Week
Lauren's Planner

Outside of the weekly features, there’s a segment at the beginning of each month for new goals, as well as a space to reflect on and evaluate past goals.

Zach Martinson: Keeping Things Short & Sweet

Once you embrace the motto of important, but not urgent and get your weekly ducks in a row, you’re ready to tackle the day-to-day. Problem Solver and Happiness Maker, Zach Martinson, explains how to master your day with his tried and true technique—breaking it down. Big lists are intimidating, overwhelming the user with options. Studies have shown lists of four or less items are easier to prioritize and manage. Start by creating your big daily list, and then break it down into categories. Prioritization becomes a breeze, and you’ll successfully speed through tasks. Here’s a peek into a day in the life of Zach.

Zach's Lists

Michael Boardman: Going Digital

As our Level 10 Desktop Wizard, it’s no surprise Michael relies on a digital tool to manage his to-do lists. Michael uses Trello, a cloud-based task management tool utilizing virtual cards and labeled columns—similar to Zach’s method of fewer items under specific categories. Following Covey’s method of “organize the week, not just the day”, Michael spends time each Friday thinking through the next week’s tasks and assigns to the appropriate day of the week. Once a task is complete, it gets moved to the “Done” column, and he can enjoy the satisfaction of seeing what has been accomplished at the end of each week.

The flexibility of the app means he can move cards to the top of the stack to prioritize, or bump to the next day. And since Trello is based in the cloud, he can capture random thoughts and add cards on the go.

Michael's Trello Board

To-dos can turn into a complicated web of mismanaged time, post it notes, and scribbles from various sources. If you’re looking for a time management system, or even for strategies to optimize your current system, feel free to borrow from our Ruby team. Just remember:

  • Important—but not urgent
  • Plan the week, not just the day
  • Break it down

Now get listing!

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Employee appreciation ideas

When Tom Barnett won Burger King’s 2014 Franchisee of the Year, he didn’t buy himself a new car or fancy jewelry—those were provided by Burger King. No, instead Barnett, owner of 24 Burger King locations in Arizona, did the unexpected—he sold the brand new Corvette and Rolex to provide his employees with bonuses.

Barnett and his leadership team are shining examples of how great company culture begins with those at the top. His team understands they could not have achieved such an accolade without the hard work and support of each employee.

Your employees may be adults, but they haven’t grown out of the desire to get a gold star. Employee recognition is critical to building a strong, collaborative company culture, as well as maintaining morale and encouraging innovation. As a small company, you may not have the ability to cash in a Corvette to hand out bonuses, but there are lots of small ways you can show you care.

It’s Employee Appreciation Day, and we’ve got 20 ideas you can use to recognize your employee’s for the work they do each and every day!

1. Handwrite thank you cards to each employee.

2. Print an inspirational-style poster sharing how each employee inspires you.

creative ways to show employee appreciation

3. Create a treat bar for employees to snack on throughout the day. For the more health-conscious office, considering setting up a blender or juicer for a smoothie bar.

4. Recognize employees for personal achievements (e.g. community service, continuing education, child on honor roll, etc).

5. Pick out a theme song for each employee and have them walk into the office to it.

company party for employee appreciation

6. Organize an after-work happy hour on the company.

7. Bring in a mobile detailer to wash employee cars.

8. Host “Fashion Friday” and have each team/department choose their theme.

9. Hand out humorous awards based on office culture (e.g. Most Coffee Consumed or Fiercest Nerf Warrior).

Tokens of appreciation for employees: awards

10. Create awards based on your company values and hand out to employees who best embody that value.

11. Send a note to the employee’s family, praising the employee for their hard work.

12. Give each employee a standing ovation, or have a red carpet ready, as they walk in the morning.

13. Host a lunch carnival with games and small prizes.

14. Hire an artist to create superheroes of each of your employees and frame as a gift.

employee appreciation day cards

15. Secretly collect affirmations and compliments from clients or colleagues and give to employees in a scrapbook or as a poster.

16. Provide a “personal day” where employees can take a class in something that benefits them personally, funded by the company (e.g. Music lessons, financial planning, golf lessons, creative writing, etc.)

17. Pamper employees by offering manicures, massages, bringing in a personal trainer, makeup artist, or barber.

18. Donate to their favorite charity.

19. Hide notes around the office for employees to find throughout the day.

employee day ideas for employees to recognize each other

20. Encourage employees to recognize each other with a card marking station.

Consider keeping employee recognition programs going year round. One big blowout each year can be fun, but small tokens of appreciation throughout the year will build lifelong employees.

What are some unique ways you show your employees you care? Share in the comments!

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Time—that beautiful, wily, confusing measurement of life of which we never seem to have enough. We’re all given the same amount of time each day, so how is it some are so much better at managing it than others?

In his critically acclaimed book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Dr. Stephen Covey details a time management tool structured as a four quadrant chart:

• Quadrant I = Urgent and Important tasks
• Quadrant II = Not Urgent and Important
• Quadrant III = Urgent and Not Important
• Quadrant IV = Not Urgent and Not important

Jon Quadrants

As a well-respected authority on time management, I decided to give Covey’s quadrant system a try in an effort to organize this crazy thing they call “life.”

It took playing with my task list a little to fully understand how best to utilize these four quadrants. Preparing for an important meeting I have in a few weeks? Quadrant II. Calling my insurance company about the lovely fender bender I was in? Quadrant I. Within the first two hours, I had hit my stride, keeping the chart next to me and distributing tasks to quadrants as they came up.

Pros & Cons of the Quadrant System
A step above your typical to-do list, this chart provides a visual of what needs get done, organizing  “to-do’s” by importance and timeliness. With just a glance, you see which items are most pressing and require immediate attention. This is just one of the many benefits to the Covey system:

  • Prioritizes Tasks: Quickly and effectively prioritizes and categorizes your to-do list.
  • Ease of Use: This system is simple, and easy to pick up. As a result, you can easily integrate it into your day and are more likely to stick with it.
  • Visual: With its own visual compartments, it’s easy to identify where everything fits versus a long list of items.

The only downside  to the quadrant system I experienced is its lack of portability. As I chose a whiteboard for my quadrants, I can’t easily transfer the system between the office and home. I could use a notepad, but then would have to create the quadrants again each day. If you plan on using this at multiple locations, consider how and where you will be using the system to determine the medium that works best for you.

Want To Try For Yourself? Here’s a Few Tips!

Consider a reusable version. I created my chart using sharpie on a miniature whiteboard at my desk, making the chart permanent but the tasks erasable.

Keep it in sight. Your chart is most effective when it is in a place where it can be easily referenced. My chart is next to me at all times while I work, providing constant reminders.

Start each morning by analyzing your tasks for the day. The quadrants are meant to be flexible, so take time each morning to reevaluate your tasks and think about the appropriate location for new assignments.

Concentrate on Quadrant II: A good rule of thumb is to spend the majority of your time in Quadrant II (Not Urgent and Important). These are the tasks that not only help accomplish present activities, but set you up for future success by focusing on tasks that prepare you for upcoming deadlines.

Through using Covey’s system, I am focusing my time more on what matters, and am investing my time on long-term goals, making me much more productive.

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“Hey, do you have a minute? I just have one quick question.”

How many times a day do you hear those fateful words? One minute turns into 15, one question becomes several, and you end up losing big chunks of your day trying to refocus on your projects. In fact, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task once you’ve been distracted.

It is tough to say “no” when an employee approaches you with a question. You don’t want to come off as rude or unsupportive, but you’ve got things to do! How do you strike the delicate balance between being accessible, and being productive?

Focus On What You CAN Do

Ruby strives to provide the best experience possible for each caller, and that means focusing on what we can do to help the caller out. For example, instead of responding to a caller with “I can’t connect you to Ms. Smith,” a Ruby receptionist would say “Ms. Smith is away from her phone, but I’ll be happy to take a message!

A key part of politely letting someone know you can’t devote time to them at the moment is setting parameters for when you can. Instead of responding to a colleague with, “I can’t talk about this right now,” try “I’m in the middle of something right now. Can I check back with you tomorrow morning?

Another option is to host dedicated office hours where employees are encouraged to come meet with you in an environment in which you can give them your undivided attention.

Prioritize Communication Channels

Technology is able to connect us in more ways than we ever imagined—which can be detrimental to productivity. All is not lost, however. Turn the number of communication channels from a burden into an asset by assigning each channel a priority level, and then sharing this process with your team. Here’s an example of a communication priority system a web developer friend of mine utilizes:

  • Email: Low priority projects, tasks with a longer lead time or projects requiring input from multiple folks. Suggestions for company improvements or thoughts on culture should also be sent via email.
  • Internal Chat Client: Reminders of tasks awaiting my feedback or meetings. Chat should also be used to ask if I’m available to talk.
  • Text: Should be used when I’m out of the office for an issue requiring my immediate attention.
  • Desk Interruption: Reserved for high priority tasks that must be fixed immediately, or bringing work-related grievances to my attention.

This system will require some conditioning and practice to be successful, but is a great way to empower others to help in organizing your day.

Plan for Distractions

One of the first companies I worked for used a notecard system to track individual tasks. Each card included an estimate of hours for the particular task, so the team could track their overall productivity. During a particular sit down with my boss, I expressed how unproductive I felt each day, as I was getting interrupted so often I couldn’t complete my notecard tasks. He suggested, as part of my planning each week, I include a notecard labeled “Interruptions” with an hour estimate. Then, I would use a time-tracking software to record these interruptions.

After a few weeks of tracking, I was able to accurately predict the time I needed to address these interruptions, and I began blocking out this time in my weekly planning. Suddenly I felt more productive, as interruptions were now incorporated into my schedule, as opposed to tacked on as extra time.

An easy way to perform this exercise in your business is with a notepad. Keep a notepad by your keyboard with the hours you will be working written on the left side, one per line. Each time you are interrupted, put a hash mark on the appropriate hour line. Do this for two weeks, and you’ll have a good idea of when folks are most likely to be distracting you. Then, plan your schedule accordingly by scheduling office hours during those high-traffic times or moving your bigger projects to before or after those blocks.

Do Unto Others

Of course, if you want to be treated a certain way, it is important you practice what you preach. Show you value other’s time and avoid initiating an interruption when possible. If you do need to interrupt someone, give them the option of turning you down without appearing rude. Instead of “I just have one quick question,” ask “Is now a good time to talk?

Creating a culture dedicated to transparency and learning can mean employees are more likely to interrupt your day with questions, but this doesn’t have to be an unpleasant affair for either party. You may not know when or where these disruptions will happen, but you can be prepared by setting expectations, placing buffers in your schedule, and having a kind phrase that ensures the employee knows you are happy to answer the question…in a little while.

Of course, Ruby is here to help reduce distractions too! Our smart and friendly virtual receptionists will handle each of your callers with care, and take care of messages, transfers, even basic questions about your business.

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ruby staff meeting

As a company that prides itself on bringing human interaction back and personal connections back into business, it’s important our internal culture encourages those connections among our employees. As Ruby grows, our team is always looking for more ways to keep employees connected not only to each other, but the company’s mission, vision and goals. One way we achieve this end is through our quarterly staff meeting, during which the whole company gathers to celebrate achievements, discuss goals, and just hang out.

Looking Back at 2014
Our first meeting of 2015 kicked off with a keynote from Ruby founder and CEO, Jill Nelson. Jill reviewed our 2014 goals, many of which we not only met, but exceeded. Our company grew to nearly 200 employees, with another year of greater than 30% client growth. Here are a few additional highlights from 2014:

Ruby By the Numbers

Our biggest achievement, however, remains unchanged year after year—100% of our client’s calls being answered by a live, friendly person.

Looking to the Future
Ruby’s unique company culture is a key factor behind our ability to deliver exceptional customer experiences. Protecting and building that culture is an important part of continuing our growth, and will be a focus for 2015. Our goal is to build Ruby into a legendary workplace, where employees feel supported, valued, and take an immense amount of pride in their work. This means expanding our professional development and leadership programs to provide ongoing formal training for every employee. Our experience has shown time and again happy employees go above and beyond for clients, and seek out ways to improve service that benefit the entire company.

Looking for Ideas?
No matter the size of your company, regular meetings are a great way to ensure all employees are invested in and aligned with your mission. Here are a few tips we’ve picked up from our meetings to help in planning your next company gathering:

  • Start by recognizing achievements. Each Ruby quarterly meeting is kicked off with our 5-Year Service and Core Value In Action Awards. It really gets the energy going and folks excited for the day.
  • Set aside time for personal and/or professional development. Bring in outside speakers on common struggles, such as financial planning and creating healthy habits. Empower individual employees to teach other by presenting on productivity tips or providing a refresher on customer service best practices.
  • Break up sessions with fun activities that get employees to move around and engage with each other. “Find the Person” is always popular with our staff. Be sure to throw in some specific questions that are unique to your employees to make it even more fun!

Here’s to a successful 2015!

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HS1MarleyMajcher-largeRuby clients pursue a wide variety of passions, and we enjoy learning more about their motivations for starting their own companies. Today, we are excited to share our interview with Marley Majcher, CEO of The Party Goddess! Inc, and Ruby client since January 2014.

Tell us a little about what The Party Goddess offers.

The Party Goddess! is a full service event planning and catering company based in Los Angeles, and we are very happy to travel!  We handle any aspect of an event from concept to completion. Think social, corporate, weddings, and lots of cool celebrities.

Why did you choose to start your own event planning company?

I had been in the restaurant business and started a catering company. Then I decided to take it one step further and be full service. I rebranded as The Party Goddess! in 2000. Plus, I’m psychotically passionate about food, amazingly interesting décor, and entertainment that no one has seen before.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love, love, love making people happy. That moment when they see their event for the first time and their jaws drop—it’s divine.

What is the most unique party you’ve thrown?

We had one fabulous wedding that was winter wonderland themed—complete with a clear, Plexiglas covered pool and live penguins. It rocked. We also had some star studded ones on the beach in Malibu for Pierce Brosnan. Dreamy.

What do you like best about working with Ruby?

I am so, so, so impressed with how friendly, thorough, and consistently trained everyone is. Ruby is just this amazingly well run machine.

Thanks to Marley for taking the time to chat with us! Marley was also recently interviewed by ‘The Sales Evangelist‘ on tips for selling to the luxury market, where she shared her ‘WOW’ experience with Ruby. If you’d like to learn more about Marley and The Party Goddess! Inc, feel welcome to check out her website or you can also follow her @ThePartyGoddess on Twitter and Instagram.

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True Calling

Ever wondered about the reason behind our receptionists’ sunny demeanor when they answer your calls?

Ruby founder and CEO, Jill Nelson, will share the secret behind what makes Ruby such a great place to work—and how a strong company culture positively impacts customers—at the February 12th EO Talks event here in Portland.

The event will also include presentations from fellow Entrepreneurs Organization members in the Portland area, including the founders of Salt & Straw, Nutcase Helmets, Little Big Burger, and Anvil Media. Hear from Oregon’s best about the critical steps they’ve taken to build a thriving business.

EO Talks
Thursday, February 12th
7:30am-9:30am (Continental breakfast will be provided)
The Nines Hotel
$25 per ticket

Register Now

 

About EO
Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is for entrepreneurs only—it’s a global organization with over 10,000 entrepreneurs in a connected network of dynamic entrepreneurs who support one another professionally and personally. In Portland, there are more than 95 entrepreneurs connecting via peer to peer learning forums and once-in-a-lifetime experiential events. EO Portland is a place where entrepreneurs share the good, the bad, and the ugly in a completely confidential atmosphere.

Speaker Lineup:

Jill Nelson | CEO and Founder | Ruby Receptionists
“Call Someone who Cares”
Ping-Pong tables. Dress up days. Over-the-top parties. Sure, Ruby has ‘em. But if you asked employees why Fortune Magazine named Ruby Receptionists a top-three best place to work for three years running, these wouldn’t make the list.
—-
Kent Lewis | CEO and Founder | Anvil Media
“Pivoting to Prosperity | The Anvil Credo”
In early 2013, Anvil President & Founder Kent Lewis was at a crossroads with is 13 year-old marketing agency. He was disconnected from his team, clients and his passion. He realized something needed to change. Late one night, he wrote what became The Anvil Credo, as a way to reconnect his Why to Anvil’s mission, vision and values
—-
Michael Morrow | CEO and Founder | Nutcase Helmets
“Big Bang Nutty Brand: The 15 year overnight success of Nutcase”
November 16, 2000 was a fateful day for Michael Morrow. After 10 years at Nike, he was leaving to start his own brand strategy agency.
—-
Kim Malek | Owner and Founder | Salt & Straw
“Creating Great Neighborhood Places”
Laying in a warm grassy field in Billings, Montana when I was 12, I realized that I’d like to create my own great neighborhood place someday…where even if you weren’t from there, you felt connected. Fast forward to 2011, I moved to Portland for love and had the chance to realize that dream in the form of an ice cream shop.

Katie Poppe | Owner and Founder of Little Big Burger, Blue Star Donuts and other culinary ventures
“14 restaurants in 4 years – an introvert’s recipe for becoming a restaurant mogul”

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As we learned from Inc. this week, there’s never been a better time for solopreneurs. Technology has enabled more individuals to strike out on their own, conducting business from home, coffee shops, and shared workspaces. The experience is liberating and exciting, but can also be isolating—particularly when you hit a brick wall. To help keep you motivated, we’ve got 20 tips on how to give yourself a boost and find inspiration when you’re in business for yourself.

Solopreneurs: 20 Ways To Keep Yourself Motivated from Ruby Receptionists

We’d love to include your tips on how you stay inspired as an solopreneur or small business owner in future slideshows. Share your ideas in the comments!

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*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the cancelled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner.