During changing times it’s hard not to second guess our instincts, and small business owners need to keep generating customers, as well as respect their bandwidth. In this 3rd part of our talk with Justin Dunham from Ercule, we discuss gated content and how to keep Google loving your website.

Read the Full Video Transcript

Jill McKenna: Thanks everyone for joining us today. I am Jill McKenna. I’m the campaign marketing manager at Ruby. And I’m delighted to be speaking with Justin Dunham today from Ercule. Justin, thanks for joining me.

Justin Dunham:
Hey, Jill. Yeah, it’s great to talk to you today. I am, as you said, Justin Dunham, I started Ercule a few years ago and I work with the team and we are a content performance and SEO agency. So we focus on taking existing content marketing that people are doing and really making it work all the way up and down the content stack, and also optimizing the entirety of our client’s library so that they get the most out of that.

Jill McKenna:
So I just wanted to get your thoughts if you have any about gated versus ungated content at this time and how it’s working. And by gated, if folks don’t use it out there, asking folks to fill out a form or add their email to something in order to gain a piece of content like an eGuide or eBook. How’s that working in this environment and is that changing?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah, so gating is a very complicated topic. I would say a few things about it. Number one: just to get this out of the way, a lot of people are saying, you know, we don’t really think we should be gating our content. And the rationale there is that gating really hinders the performance of your content because all of your best stuff is unfindable by Google. It’s behind a form or somebody doesn’t necessarily want to fill it out, et cetera. And that’s kind of a bummer for all the best content that you worked really hard to produce. With that said, the way that if you did not use gating, you would engage customers, is you have to have a lot of faith and be very strategic that we’re producing the right things, we’re looking at metrics, and ultimately people are coming back and they’re reaching out to us. And that can take time to build and to know that you’re doing the right thing.

Justin Dunham:
So I think gating is kind of slowly going away, but I also think that it’s very understandable why people will be skeptical of not gating content. With that said, if you decide to gate content, there are a lot of things that you can do to make it work way, way better. So number one major thing, and I’d be saying this, even if I weren’t talking to you or talking to anybody, is having a live chat is really helpful for a couple of reasons; number one: if you can engage somebody through live chat, that’s a much more pleasant experience that having them fill out a form and get back to them. And so that could be a really good way to kind of make that experience better.

Justin Dunham:
Number two is when you have that experience with them, you’re typically able to move them through the funnel a little bit faster. You’re not relying on them to do their own education process you’re helping surface the right questions to them. So if you are going to gate content, live chat can really help. If live chat is not a possibility, and with the technology out there today, I have to say I think it is for basically everybody, and you are focused on the form or forms of just what you’re doing now, really the key things are you want to have as few form fields as possible. And there’s lots of technologies out there that can help you reduce the number of form fields you have. And you really need to explain, you need to do this whenever you post content, exactly why the content is valuable, what it’s going to help somebody do, and so on. That transaction of, you fill out a form and you get a content, is something you have to sell just like you have to sell your product later.

Jill McKenna:
Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense. I hope this doesn’t get us too far into the weeds, but we’re going to see.

Justin Dunham:
That’s great.

Jill McKenna:
Something I’m curious about. I know a lot of young entrepreneurs or small businesses that are really quick growing startups, they build a really dynamic website. That’s very important of course. It’s the front page of their business or the front door of their business. But I also see them get paralyzed by this idea of Google’s algorithm changing and this fear around I’ve built all of this stuff and one day it might not matter. Can you speak a little bit to that fear and how that actually unfolds when it happens?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. So a couple of things on that. First of all, absolutely justified. Like not absolutely justifying the sense of it’s definitely going to happen, but business owners have a lot of concerns and that could be one of them. And you could say the same thing about Facebook; cost per engagement on Facebook continues to go up. You can say the same thing about Twitter. You can say the same thing about all of these other channels. The nice thing about content is it really helps you build your audience so that you own your audience and get in touch with them without necessarily relying on other channels like that. However, it’s not really in Google’s interest to do that. And realistically, what we’ve seen is for people who are producing the right content, that’s again high quality and is authentic and intended to reach people and help them, we’ve only seen either neutral or mostly positive effects from algorithm changes.

Justin Dunham:
So if you are trying to hack Google, which we never recommend, and a lot of other SEOs do recommend it, we don’t, then yeah you might want to be a little bit concerned about that. But if you’re focused on consistently producing high quality content that comes out of what your value proposition is, that you’re uniquely positioned to provide, number one, probably don’t really need to worry about it because it’s not really in Google’s interest to deprioritize high quality content. Number two, content is an asset that you own and you can redeploy it wherever you want. So we don’t just talk about Google. We also think about social and Slack communities and email. We always tell our clients, you’re going to deploy your content everywhere, not just on organic search. And number three is it’s a good reason to focus on building your audience as quickly as you can, because the audience is something that you own. You can get in touch with them. And content and authority and trust are the best ways that you can do that.

Jill McKenna:
So when does a small business owner know it is time to hire a content creator for their team and when can they still keep using freelance and contract writers? What’s the right threshold there?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I would say that it really differs for every company. A lot of it depends on how complex the product is. And as a company matures, one of the things that tends to happen is the product gets more valuable, but also more complex and covers more use cases. And there’s lots of other things that at that point is where we see, Hey, we need to have somebody in house because we need to have somebody who has used the product, can talk to everybody and really understands it. So there isn’t one point that I would pick, but I would say the way to think about it is, do you feel like you have freelancers who are empowered enough to talk to customers and talk to people at your company and really understand the product at the level it needs to be understood and it has the potential to be understood at?

Justin Dunham:
And once you get to a point where you start building out these use cases, you start taking on enterprise customers that are larger and other things like that if you’re B2B, that’s again where you start thinking about, maybe I need somebody in house who can really have their whole brain dedicated to this.

Jill McKenna:
Great. That makes perfect sense. But that adds to the question of when does a company then know it’s the right time to use somebody like Ercule or call in a partnership with Ercule and create one? What’s the right point in time or development to start doing that?

Justin Dunham:
Yeah. And so we have the most success with clients who have usually, sometimes they’ll have a freelancer or two, usually having a full-time content marketer [inaudible 00:08:05] is a good time to bring us in. The way Ercule works is that we are meant to be a force multiplier for your content team. So we’ve designed our offerings that it’s extremely efficient, really focused on the fundamentals. Quite honestly, very competitively priced and much more effective than a lot of other solutions out there, agency solutions. And so the way we typically talk to clients is we say, well, you’re making an investment of X in your content. And if you think about the fully loaded cost of your content marketers, and you think about people are working on your website, you think about your demand generation people, put all of that in your content budget. And we come in and we’re a very small fraction of that larger cost, but we tend to increase effectiveness quite a lot, especially given the investment.

Justin Dunham:
So folks usually bring in Ercule when they’ve got, again, smallish content team. We’ve had clients who have a really good freelancer who’s focused. We’ve also had clients who have three, four or five full-time content marketers, and sometimes larger. And then we can come in and sort of answer very specific questions, help with the strategic aspect of things like how do we organize and think about our content plans? And also help with what is our strategy and what’s going to work to make sure distribution is effective. [crosstalk 00:09:23].

Jill McKenna:
All right. Thank you so much Justin. Take care.

Justin Dunham:
All right. Thanks a lot, Jill. It’s great talking. Bye.

Jill McKenna:
Have a good one.

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Long lines! Massive crowds! Packed airports and shopping malls! Doorbuster deals you can’t miss! 

Yeah, no. The hallmarks of the holiday shopping season aren’t exactly COVID-friendly. Right now, as coronavirus case numbers soar across the United States, the best thing all of us can do is stay at home and avoid any in-person gatherings that aren’t absolutely necessary. 

But that doesn’t mean the holidays are canceled this year. Although we may be stuck inside for a while, you can still get into the spirit, spread cheer, and even boost your year-end profits by allowing your customers to enjoy some old-fashioned seasonal consumerism. Here are a dozen ideas for doing just that:

1. Set the mood for your home office. 

Brew some peppermint tea, hot chocolate, or warm spiced cider. Hang some fairy lights. Play some melancholy Charlie Brown Christmas music. Seemingly trivial touches can lift your mood and help you embody the feelings you want to convey to your customers.

2. Send holiday cards.

Who doesn’t like receiving holiday greetings in the mail? All you need is a photo of yourself (bonus points if it features your family; extra bonus points for pets) and a brief message like “Wishing you happy holidays!” Hint: you can turn this into a sales opportunity by including your business’s website URL and a discount code.

3. Write a thank-you post on your blog. 

Now is a great time to publish a blog post looking back on 2020 and ahead to 2021. Don’t think too hard about it—two or three paragraphs can suffice. Greet your readers, acknowledge some of the challenges of this year, offer an optimistic message for the future, and make sure to express your gratitude for your customers. Make it their story—show them that their support is what sustains your business.

4. Personally thank the people who kept your business going this year. 

In addition to writing a general thank-you post, consider reaching out to the VIP customers who stuck with you throughout 2020. They kept your business going during one of the most difficult years in modern history, and they deserve love and recognition for it. 

Above all, be sure to thank the other people who helped you stay afloat: your mail person, delivery drivers, vendors and suppliers, grocery clerks, and all the other essential, often invisible workers who power our economy.

5. Think beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Lots of people eagerly anticipate holiday shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But you know what’s more exciting? What people don’t expect. By thinking beyond typical shopping days, you can distinguish your brand and reach customers in a more authentic manner. 

Take REI, for example. The outdoor gear retailer has earned significant press and customer loyalty over the past few years by making a point of closing stores on Black Friday and encouraging people to go outside. 

Now is a perfect time to try a similar strategy—to show that you value your employees’ and customers’ well-being more than commercialism—or to launch your big holiday campaign on a different day (Tax Prep Tuesday? Home Services Sunday?).

6. Invite your team together for a virtual happy hour.

Happy employees create happy customers. Brighten your team members’ day by bringing the holiday party online this year and hosting a virtual happy hour over your video-conferencing app of choice.

7. Host a virtual networking event.

Why stop at bringing your team together virtually? Get your company’s name out there and start building relationships by inviting friends, local business owners, and community leaders to a remote holiday meet-and-greet. If you’d rather not host the event yourself, you could see if a colleague (or even a competitor!) might be interested, or propose the idea to your local chamber of commerce or BNI chapter.

8. Donate to a local nonprofit organization or hospital.

This one’s easy—and if your business is like most, there’s a good chance you’re already doing it. Supporting a nonprofit is a great way to drum up publicity for your business while making the world a better place. If you’re not sure how to give back, ask your employees or customers for ideas. People are more than willing to talk about the causes that mean something to them. And when in doubt, donate to your local hospital—they could probably use it right now.

9. Raise money for a cause.

Aside from donating directly, you can scale your impact by engaging other people to give. Host a fundraiser or pledge drive, or match donations from your customers, employees, and/or social media followers.

10. Give people something to look forward to next year.

One of the most powerful ways to instill hope is to work toward positive change. Maybe that means launching a new business initiative to serve low-income people in your community, or making your services more environmentally sustainable. 

But if you’re not quite ready for something that big, that’s okay. A new business offering, website, or brand refresh for 2021 can spur hope and excitement as well. Anything you can do to shift the focus from this year to next will help your customers feel optimistic and keyed into what’s ahead for your business.

11. Surprise your customers with small gifts and gestures.

This time of year is typically when customers can expect fun seasonal surprises like free cookies and gift raffles. Your business can (and should!) keep the spirit alive remotely. Mail little presents to random customers—not to be opened until Christmas, the first night of Hanukkah, or another holiday occasion. Make a donation in a client’s name. Offer a glimpse of 2021 by sending your mailing list a sneak peek of a new webpage, or a new product or service offering. 

Get creative and act charitably. No one ever went out of business by being a little more generous during the holidays—just ask Ebenezer Scrooge.

12. Take a break.

Finally, don’t forget to give yourself a gift—the gift of some quality time away from your business. Take a few days off (or more) to spend with your family, friends (responsibly and socially distanced, of course), a good book, or holiday TV and movie marathons. Then again, watching The Twilight Zone might not be so fun now that we live in it… 

Anyway, make sure to take care of yourself in the weeks ahead so you can start 2021 fully restored and rejuvenated. 

Delight your customers and get some much-needed rest this holiday season with Ruby. We’ll handle your phone calls and website chat for you, ensuring your business makes the most of every opportunity to connect with customers.

Interested in getting more customer experience tips? Download our comprehensive checklist and level up how you make your customers feel.

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When it comes to your website, accessibility and in intuitive navigation is key to a better user experience. Nowadays live chat is being considered part of the broader user experience (UX) plan meant to connect more closely with users on your website for better quality service.

User experience or UX has many different components and depths across different industries, but to put it simply: UX = how effectively a user interacts with a website when looking for information. The easier it is for users to navigate through your website the more satisfied they’ll be, leading to better converstions.


If we take a look at a recent survey from Statista Research Department covering global customer satisfaction with live chat from 2015 to 2019, 83% of respondents reported being satisfied with their experience. Knowing this and the potential return on success, a question you might be asking is: how can you leverage live chat and improve the overall experience of visitors and repeat customers on your website?

Make the Live Chat Convenient and Immediate

There are millions of websites online competing against each other for users making it that much more important to serve them efficiently. Customers’ expectations for quality service is rising with a recent survey from HubSpot Research reporting that 90% of customers expect an immediate response from a business and mark it as important or very important to them. Pair that with the 38% of users that will stop engaging with a website if they find it unappealing, and suddenly UX feels that much more important for your website especially if you want to maintain a good customer relationship.

Within a few seconds of landing on your website, most people will be forming opinions very quickly about the design, functionality, and value of the information. This is where live chat comes in as it is known to improve user’s opinion right away if implemented correctly. Several factors are considered to optimize live chat for speed and convenience on your website such as:

  • Prompt response time for every visitor
  • Simple chat box layout that is aesthetically pleasing and familiar to all users (similar colors or styles of favorite apps)
  • Chat agents that are ready with answers to FAQS
  • Making the chat box “call to action” button available on every page

It takes a bit of tweaking to find the right fit for your website, but convenience and speed are some of the most important factors when implementing a successful live chat.

Real, Live Humans, Ready to Help

Technology is continuing to advance and becoming more integral to our lives especially in the business, agricultural, and construction industries. Though bots can be extremely useful, users don’t always like them even if they have come to expect them on more and more websites.

For most websites, chat is an opportunity to bring a human touch to your visitors. Users who are less tech-savvy will be grateful for these live chat features especially when there are well-trained chat agents ready to improve UX by:

  • Welcoming visitors soon after they’ve arrived on the website
  • Using natural language customized for your business and customers
  • Working from talking points, not scripts
  • Sending personalized follow-up emails for better retention

The chances are that most people on your website won’t need a chat agent every time they land on your website. For the times that they do, especially new users, it’s important to provide the best quality customer service as a first-impression and no one does it better than a real live chat agent that knows your business and users.

Create Mutual Benefits with Live Chat Data

The best user experience is always data-driven. Examining customer feedback and webpage analytics should determine any changes you make, and ultimately be tied to results. Live chat offers a unique way to collect and employ data from customers landing and interacting with your website. And with more customers comes bigger expectations. In fact, according to the 2017 State of Global Customer Service Report, 2/3 of customers expect business to know about them and their purchase history when they reach out for customer support.

This may all sound like a lot, but live chat makes connecting with your customers easier by having agents at the helm, personalizing every interaction. This could be as small as knowing their time-zone or any neighboring cities. Chat transcripts also help gather data that can directly identify UX successes and challenges on your site directly from your users and visitors.

Different Needs for Different Users

Even some of the best websites that are perfectly designed with all the right features will work differently for every person who visits. Some will love it and others might struggle finding their way through.

According to UX Planet, different age groups have different UX expectations and challenges, such as visibility, simplicity, and directness. Live chat is an opportunity to show people what’s available on the website and help guide your users to the right information, especially if they’re struggling to find their way round your site.

Live chat is also a great opportunity to support diverse groups of customers and potential customers, by helping them as soon as they land on your site. Some effective forms of supporting customers include:

  • Guiding users to low-tech, self-service solutions
  • Offering to continue conversations in different formats (such as phone or email)
  • Managing expectations for service and products
  • Multilingual support.

The more prepared your live chat agents are for a variety of customers, the more capable they will be to handle any requests or issues that come up for your users. The right live chat can be the difference between more conversions and customers that end up leaving your website in frustration!

In a growing world where websites are just as important to your success as the front door to your business,

utilizing live chat can provide many benefits to user experience. From providing better service to visitors as soon as they land on the homepage for faster solutions and requested information. They can also be helpful in the mere fact that users want to be talking to a person that understands them and maybe knows the questions they’re going to ask before they ask them. This is often useful for returning customers or frequent users. This is where data can be gathered to begin making an online data profile that is personalized for every customer to ensure that every user on the site is getting all their needs met in an efficient time and manner. All in all, live chat has been shown to be very successful with a positive improvement in UX for customers and business as a mutually beneficial relationship.

To learn more about live chat and how you can better optimize your website, download our ebook: The Rise of Web Chat to get the full scoop.

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You know you’ve arrived when you’re the answer to a trivia question at the Portland Business Journal’s annual 100 Fastest Growing Companies awards. Of this year’s recipients, Ruby has made the list the most at 13-years total. To qualify for the list, companies must be headquartered in Oregon and have experienced revenue growth over the last three years. Ruby experienced more than 60% growth from 2017-2019 with more than $60M in revenue.

We are incredibly thankful to continue to experience the rapid growth that has built Ruby from a four-person company back in 2003 to the premier provider of virtual reception and chat services employing more than 600 we are today. This honor goes out to our tremendous team who deliver on our promise of excellence every day, as well as to our customers and community that continue to support us.

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Humans adapt. Our species has an exceptional innate ability to not only endure hardship but learn from it and, eventually, grow stronger through it. 

All year, small business owners have exemplified this trait. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and the various turmoil 2020 has wrought, small business owners have found new ways to continue serving their customers and clients. Telehealth, contactless delivery, the resurgence of drive-in movie theaters—no one could have predicted any of it, but when needs emerged, businesses stepped up and provided.

2020 has been a hell of a year.

How has your business changed this year? 

How have you changed this year? 

Regardless of what’s shifted for your organization or you personally, your journey isn’t over yet. The coronavirus remains a major disruption and daily concern throughout the world. Even with a vaccine available as soon as early next year, we may not return to anything resembling pre-2020 life for some time

But maybe, rather than trying to bring back “normal,” we can imagine better ways of living and doing business.

Make 2021 your year—for real this time.

As you look back on the last several months and forward to 2021, now is the time to reflect on your growth and successes, as well as your opportunities to do even better for the people you serve. 

What strategies, processes, and tools can you put in place now to stand out and expand your business in the months to come? 

Here are a few creative and cost-effective ideas for improving how you communicate with customers, sell products and render services, and continue growing your business—no matter what 2021 has in store:

Record Videos

Video-sharing platforms such as YouTube are more popular than ever—and not just because they let us watch the dance scene from Kid ‘n Play’s House Party whenever we want. More and more people are using videos to connect with audiences and build online communities. If you haven’t tried it for your business yet, you have a powerful opportunity to reach and create value for customers and prospects.

Videos lend a face and voice to your business. At a time when most organizations have few moments to connect with their customers in-person, vlogging can fill the gap and bridge the distance. Just a 5-minute video every week or so humanizes your business and keeps people engaged.

Plus, video content tends to significantly boost businesses’ reach. It’s a key ingredient in any successful online presence, supporting search engine optimization, social media, and other digital marketing efforts. It can speed up your content production, too, as videos can easily be converted into different media such as blog posts and podcasts.

You could even make your videos into products or services unto themselves. If you run a law firm, for instance, you could record a short course on a basic legal topic and offer the video for a small fee. DIY home improvement walkthroughs for home services or real estate customers, mindfulness exercises for healthcare patients—the possibilities are endless.

A few more ideas to consider:

  • product demos
  • how-tos
  • educational courses
  • answers to frequently asked questions
  • commentary on news or trends in your industry
  • a weekly/monthly vlog
  • interviews with clients and colleagues

Create experiences at a distance.

Extraordinary businesses stand out for the experiences they create. That hasn’t changed as the world has moved online. In fact, organizations of all kinds, sizes, and industries have successfully transitioned to offering fully virtual or semi-virtual services without losing what makes them special.

Whether you’re able to serve your customers online or not, consider the virtual experiences you can create. Beyond merely having a website or managing transactions online, think about how you can add personal touches and imbue your organization’s values in the process. 

Is there a small gift you used to offer in-person that you can replicate or provide a replacement for online? If you used to have free coffee in the lobby, for instance, you could include a $5 Starbucks gift card with purchases over a certain amount.

Are there opportunities to personalize the experience? The more you’re able to tailor your approach—e.g. by using customers’ names in prebuilt forms or recommending products and services based on past purchases—the more your customers will feel comforted and cared for.

Like videos, experiences have a bit of money-making potential of their own. You could present a live virtual webinar or training session, or hold a mini-conference, for which you charge for admission, for example. 

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It doesn’t even have to be directly related to your main line of business. If you’re confident (really confident) in your culinary skills, you could offer an online cooking class. Or you could pull an NPR and start a wine tasting club for your business. Donate some of the proceeds to a good cause to maximize participation and goodwill for your company.

A few more ideas to consider:

  • virtual happy hours or Q&A sessions
  • online fundraisers
  • website profiles/accounts for customers, with personalized landing pages
  • a public Spotify playlist featuring music in rotation at your office
  • freebies included in orders (tea bags, candy, branded pins and stickers, etc.)
  • handwritten thank-you notes, or 30-second thank-you videos

Reward Your Most Loyal Customers

Your customers deserve recognition—especially the ones who stuck firmly with you throughout 2020. 

Why not reward them with a discount code or free product or service? Or, how about asking them if they’d like to join a “premium” mailing list to receive special newsletters and updates featuring exclusive offers, bonus content, sneak peeks, and so on? You could even make them “preferred” customers who enjoy priority status in receiving services or get early access to new products.

Many people love earning these kinds of perks—so much so that they’re willing to pay for them. That means you can boost your bottom line by allowing customers to pay for their own rewards. It’s the same business model that airlines, credit card companies, and—more recently—Kickstarter campaigns and Patreon accounts use to drive customer interest, loyalty, and retention.

A few more ideas to consider:

  • discounts or rewards for referrals
  • different reward program tiers
  • a “secret” page on your website only accessible to people with the right code, or people who know where to look

Use Live Chat!

Live chat is the fastest and most effective way to connect with customers online. It helps website visitors find the information they need, gathers useful information for your business, and initiates customer service and sales conversations. 

If you do business online, live chat is essential. In our virtual-first world, it’s no longer a nice-to-have but a necessary component of any online experience. It’s the equivalent of a friendly, capable front desk receptionist greeting people as they walk into your business’s physical location. 

Uses of live chat:

  • clear up questions about product and features
  • explain your pricing structure and incentives
  • connect visitors to the right specialists and departments
  • invite visitors to take advantage of exclusive deals
  • answer FAQs
  • offer real-time support for any website issues
  • make online transactions seamless 

Ruby has the live chat services you need to build your business and create unforgettable customer experiences in 2021. Our live chat is powered by friendly, professional, US-based agents. We’re trusted by more than 10,000 small businesses to deliver an above-and-beyond, exceptional customer experience, every time.

We train each of our specialists to deliver tailored responses to establish and support your brand. They spring into action within 60 seconds of receiving a chat request, using the information you provide to support your customers. Think of us as an extension of your team, except we’re available 24/7/365 at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee.

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Going Virtual: A Complete Guide

Reading time:

Thinking about sticking with your virtual office? Great!

Going virtual can maximize your organization’s flexibility while saving you serious cash. Indeed, making the switch could be one of the best decisions you ever make for your business, your workforce, and the customers you serve. 

But you can’t simply maintain a set up that was designed to be temporary. You’ll need to rework what going virtual or operating as a remote company really means for your business in the long term. 

Download our comprehensive guide to the virtual office to discover what you need to thrive, from anywhere.  

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It happens at some point to everyone who talks to customers. One day, you pick up the phone, start speaking, and suddenly find yourself in a painfully awkward conversation.

“Hey bubby, how’s it hanging?”

“What? Did you just… call me… ‘bubby?’”

“Oh, I, uh, oop. I mean, oops.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, I… Cool. Cool. So, how are you?”

“I’m fine. I guess?”

“That’s cool! I mean, great!”

“Is it?”

“Sure thing. I’m— *yawns*

“Um, are you okay? Is everything alright?”

“Yes, I’m so sorry. Can we start over?”

“ *Laughs* Yeah, maybe we should.”

I’ve had more exchanges like this than I’d like to admit. I’ve called people by the wrong names, made jokes that didn’t land, overshared, interrupted, lost the thread, and so on. And so on. 

Ugh. 

Memories of the worst conversations linger in my brain for months, even years, after the fact. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, remember a two-minute phone call I had in 2012, and think oh my God, I can’t believe I said that. But then I take a breath and remind myself:

Awkward conversations are normal.

Messing up a conversation with a customer (or anyone, for that matter) is an entirely human thing to do. Few people consider themselves conversational whizzes. Many of us experience some level of social anxiety and dislike—if not loathe—small talk. 

These feelings of discomfort, along with the embarrassment that follows awkward moments, sting particularly sharp right now. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all been stuck inside for months. If you’re like me, you’re feeling socially rusty and on edge. 

And then there are the various charged political topics currently on people’s minds. It’s all too easy for conversations to veer into sensitive territory—and you may not realize the other person disagrees with you until it’s too late.

All of which is to say that at a time when “How are you?” is a loaded question, difficult conversations are bound to occur.

You don’t need to agonize over calling Mike “Steve” or giving Nadia too many details about your cat’s litter box habits. Weird exchanges with customers happen. It’s okay. It might even be a good thing sometimes. 

As a matter of fact, you can spin an awkward conversation into an opportunity to create a deeper connection with the other person. It all comes down to your attitude and ability to react carefully and authentically in the moment. 

Here are a few tips for recovering from awkwardness and overcoming conversational roadblocks when talking to customers.

Lighten up.

Your attitude is your greatest asset in customer service. A positive, enthusiastic outlook not only helps your customers feel welcomed and comfortable, but keeps you motivated to continue answering the phone even when the last conversation (or three) didn’t go as anticipated.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. People are drawn to people with senses of humor. If you can laugh at yourself (without wallowing in self-deprecation), you’ll make your customers feel at ease. And ultimately, what they’ll remember most when the conversation is over is how you made them feel—not what you said, word for word.

When you do make a mistake, laugh it off with a quick acknowledgment—“Oh, oops, that’s not your name, is it?”—and then…

Let it go.

Move on. There’s no reason to draw out an awkward moment. Keep the conversation rolling along and maintain your lighthearted attitude.

Again, it’s important to put the self-seriousness aside. You should take your responsibility to your customers seriously, but you don’t need to center yourself—or your conception of your self-worth—in executing that responsibility. 

Customer Service Audit

Need a deeper dive on all things customer service? Start with our checklist.

Download

In other words, remember that it’s about them. Any conversational faux pas only matters insofar as it negatively impacts the customer. A minor mistake doesn’t mean anything as long as you provide the other person with outstanding service and a positive overall experience.

Apologize when you need to.

Sometimes, mistakes and awkward moments do cause problems. Calling someone the wrong name, for instance, could hurt their feelings. Giving someone incorrect information can create frustration and confusion. 

In these sorts of cases, you owe the customer an apology. Say you’re sorry and take responsibility. If necessary, offer an explanation and communicate what you’ll do to remedy the situation. It helps to empathize with your customer and verbally acknowledge their feelings. 

Keep it direct, personal, and brief, and then usher the conversation towards practical matters. For example:

  • “Oops, I’m so sorry, Dr. Martinez. I got you mixed up with another client and had the wrong information on my screen. I’m looking at your file now. Let’s try that again. How may I help you today?
  • “I’m sorry, Sam, you’re absolutely right about that. My fault—I should have listened to you more carefully the first time. Let me know if this sounds better…”
  • “Ms. Phan, I want to sincerely apologize for your experience today. We didn’t hold ourselves to the standard we’ve set for customer service. I can imagine how disappointed you probably feel. I’ll make sure we handle any future interactions in a more professional manner.”

Be patient and listen.

Not every conversational blip, awkward moment, or customer issue will be resolved immediately. Sometimes, the best option is to listen and let silence happen. Stay calm and be patient and present in the moment. Instead of filling the silence, pause for a beat and see how your customer responds. If they take the lead, great! If not, then it’s time to jump in and steer the conversation in a new direction.

Also, be patient with yourself. You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself for them and, if you can, learn from them. 

Reflect on your experiences: What were you feeling when you said that? What caused the awkward moment to occur? You might discover that the reason the mistake happened was that you hadn’t met your own needs. Maybe you were hungry or tired, or weren’t in the right emotional state for the conversation. 

Take the time to understand and grow through the experience. The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to serve your customers.

Use words and phrases that build trust.

The words you choose to say matter much more than the ones you utter by accident. Try using phrases like these to draw attention away from small mistakes and build connections in your customer service conversations:

  • “I understand.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Of course.”
  • “Absolutely!”
  • “I appreciate it.”
  • “That makes sense.”
  • “Is that right?”
  • “How may I help you?”
  • “What can I do to improve your experience with us?”
  • “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Create connections every time with Ruby.

At the very least, an awkward conversation is a memorable conversation. But there’s no reason you need to wake up at 3am cringing about uncomfortable moments with customers. 

Sign up for Ruby and we’ll take care of customer service conversations for you. You can rest easy knowing the people you serve feel are connecting meaningfully with your business and experiencing unforgettable customer service exchanges—in the best possible way. 

Experience Ruby’s legendary customer service for yourself.

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Even those of us in the business of customer service have a difficult time putting a hard-and-fast definition around the magic that happens when things go right. And everyone on all sides of the customer service equation knows when things go wrong. Given that, the complexity of today’s world (everyone’s busy, all the time!), plus the fact that in so many areas digital interactions have replaced face-to-face interactions, you might be wondering: “How did we get HERE?”.

It’s hard to believe that there actually was a time when, to be successful in business, all you had to do was make more of your product as fast as you could. Speed was what customers craved and if you could make a lot of whatever you were selling and make it fast, you could beat out your competition based just on that tenet. This is why Marketers at that time (we’re talking way back, in the 1900s), focused so much on product’s features. They weren’t thinking as much about what a customer needed when assessing the product, purchasing it and even after the purchase. If it was new and cool, customers were in. And it usually was a product and not a service.

Today, consumers want more from companies than swift production lines. And brands are genuinely trying to meet them where they are—striving to deliver simple, seamless and satisfying experiences. To say that the world of customer service has evolved (and continues to change) is truly an understatement. Early on in technology’s disruption of the industry, many people dreaded reaching out for help via the phone let alone online. And those channels are now commonplace and preferred. We’ll dive into these game changer but first, a brief history of customer service.

Globalization Gains Pace

In the 1960s, businesses focused less on what they were making and how to get it distributed. Globalization became a reality and companies began assessing the economics of manufacturing products in other countries. This made distribution more complex and the crux of customer service during this time. If a company could distribute products more places, to more people, they had the world in their hand, quite literally. This moved the focus from products to customers but still didn’t get anywhere near customer service as we know it today. It wasn’t even in the ballpark.

Time for Tech

As technology grew, naturally, businesses shifted their focus. Technology, first in the form of the phone, provided tools that meant business could really dig into who their customers were. And vice versa. All, simply because it was easier to contact each other.  

That’s right, the telephone (not even as we know it today, constantly on—and on us) was the first big shift in how customer service was delivered. While it certainly saved travel time, the switchboard, known to us today as the phone tree, was less than ideal. Enter call centers, toll-free numbers, off-shore customer service teams and customer service scripts. Companies experimented, customers provided feedback and those that adapted, thrived.

Around the Clock Customer Service

Phone-based customer service has come as far as the phone itself—oftentimes it’s the 24/7, front line of sustaining a fulfilling customer journey. Customers looking for help, guidance and problem solving operate on their own timeframes and time zones. This fact doesn’t lessen the expectation for a swift response, either. And we all know that ultimately, the customer will determine when, where and how they need a customer service representative. So the advent of the Internet made things even more  interesting.

Whereas businesses perhaps thought the phone would be abandoned in favor of instant messaging and email in the early days of the Web’s inception, instead, these channels all came together as a series of tools that customers would use (and use freely).

World, Meet Internet

A brand is no longer what it says about itself—it’s what its customers say about it. Scroll through any customer review site or business’ social media page and you’re sure to see plenty of what consumers have to say about customer service, good and bad. This is a long way of saying: when it comes to these conversations, today, the customer takes the lead. The most customer-oriented organizations started using social media to connect with their customers and keep up—another huge leap forward for customer service. So oftentimes, the customer-customer service interaction is happening out in the open.

For companies that can’t keep up in terms of channels or messaging, the introduction of the Internet meant there was no longer anywhere to hide.

Our Story Ends

Here we are, today, in a world where customer personas are at the center of business decisions, the needs of the customer are what Marketing teams focus on and options for products and services abound. Customer feedback is taken into account at every stage of the journey—all the way through to the close. And rightfully so, because customers know your products and services sometimes better than your own business does. That trickles down, too. When customer service shines, or you have the best deal, customers can be your biggest advocates. As a result, customer service, experience and reviews are key to business success. Ready or not, we are truly living in: The Age of the Customer.

While this is where our stroll through the evolution of customer service ends, the tools you need to succeed in this realm are far from finished growing. That’s a sure thing where Ruby has anything to do with it.

Ruby: Creating Lasting First Impressions

Need help meeting your customers where they are? Want to be able to respond quickly to consumers whether it’s online or via phone? That’s where Ruby comes in. While we began as a small company working to help companies build lasting first impressions over the phone, we now also help you communicate online, via live chat.

Why do we do it? Because that’s what consumers demand. How do we do it? With industry-leading live answering services and a team of remote receptionists ready to represent your company and create meaningful connections with the people you serve.

Ruby’s virtual phone and live chat services mean customers can connect on their terms whether your business model is remote, brick-and-mortar, flexible, or something else. Our platform is available 24/7/365, staffed by real people who sound like they’re in your office. But Ruby is no one-size-fits-all solution. Custom greetings, call handling procedures that fit into your existing processes are all a reality with Ruby. Over 10,000 businesses will attest to it.

Interested in learning more about customer experience? We’ve got a resource for that.

Download our Customer Service Checklist
& run a comprehensive audit of your customer service offering.

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In the college environment, there are many moving pieces that keep the campus thriving. Students, faculty, and staff all play unique role within the university system, roles that require near constant communication.

Naturally, there are many questions and inquiries that come up in the everyday life of a student either attending or thinking about enrolling in a university. As communication channels proliferate, meetings between students and staff or between faculty members are no longer confined to in-person, on-campus meetings. Zoom calls, phone calls, emails, and instant messages are all being utilized to keep people connected.

As we move into a new decade, the enrolling class will mainly consist of Gen Z students, a generation more digitally savvy than its predecessors.  For these students, text & chatting online is just as familiar as a phone call or in-person meeting. Many would even prefer the channel to a traditional meeting.

So, how can institutions meet these students where they are? Is live chat worth the investment? What should you consider when searching for a live chat software for the college website? Will students and parents both utilize chat as a means of connecting with the campus? 

In effort to answer some of these questions, we’ve created a list of FAQs to give you a better understanding of what live chat is, and how it can benefit your students, staff, and faculty.

Can it handle a wide range of inquiries?

When you’re working with students on a university campus, you get a range of undergraduates in various departments of study. Often, many students have the same questions and issues that come up as part of the regular student life. Many are worried about financial aid or how to progress in their current field of study.

Some common departments a student might be trying to access on your website could include:

  • Finances
  • Academics
  • Admissions
  • Library Services

As questions with different levels of complexity come in from prospective and current students alike, it’s important to be able to redirect these questions to a place where they can all be answered efficiently and accordingly for the benefit of the students.

A live chat software implemented onto your website can help students find what they’re looking for with less search times and excessive wait times for in-person staff meetings or phone calls.

If we look at a recent study about the business impact on customer service in the U.S and several other countries, people overwhelmingly agreed that good customer service can positively impact their decision to do business with a company. If we apply this to a college campus or university website, it’s likely that more students will be satisfied and feel taken care of if there are prompt response times and available staff at all times.

In the same study, 1/3 of respondents preferred self-service options over high-touch customer service. For Millennials that number seems to be higher with more of the generation moving towards being independent and more digitally savvy, along with Gen Z.

When a live chat service is at the helm, your institution can keep the line moving. Students get basic information quickly and are directed to the people who can help them with more nuanced questions. This eases up the workload for your internal staff and negates student frustration.

Will it accommodate diverse visitors?

Your website is the front door to your university for a range of people with a wide array of needs. Incoming students, alumni, parents eyeing universities, and currently enrolled students are looking to navigate their way through the new school year.

Many of these visitors face a variety of school-related challenges on a daily basis. Gen Z in particular is the most diverse generation in US history and with that comes unique experiences, discrimination, and racial inequality.

These types of challenges require new tools, methods of communication, and resources for handling individual situations. Some s needs may include:

  • Parents of incoming first-years that are nervous about their child’s safety in a new town or distant campus
  • Current students feeling stressed and overwhelmed about finances
  • International students unfamiliar with the local town or campus
  • Students unsure if they can enroll in a new course

Every college and university want their students to feel welcome, answering any incoming questions to ease any ongoing worries. Live chat gives you the ability to connect with your students with friendly, attentive service agents so every inquiry that comes in can be answered accordingly.

What is the (live human respondent) availability?

Your college website is a resource to help your students get a feel for what your institution stands for, and how this might translate into an on-campus experience. Live chat is a way to offer a welcoming experience to any visitor, while increasing accessibility to your faculty and staff.

When you’re striving to create an environment online, responsiveness it key. Prospective students may leave your site with unanswered questions, and the presence of web chat can be the difference between curious browser and applicant. Increasing availability of your staff for more engagement with your students and any users on your website can help make busy periods more manageable. Traditionally high-volume timeframes, such as right before the new school year, the beginning of new terms, exams weeks, & holidays can be made much smoother for over-burdened staff and eager students

The faster the inquiries can be resolved, the greater the experience for students and staff alike, a trend that bears endless benefits. According to the QSES 2019 International Student Survey, 73% of future students want to communicate using real-time chat when making an inquiry.

This is because live chat benefits prospective students & even alumni by helping them bypass any excessive wait times and connecting them directly with someone who can help them. Often times this is all a prospective student needs to help them have a positive first impression with your university through your website.

Ruby’s live chat features offers round the clock service to keep your students attended to and taken care of. Learn more with some of Ruby’s most frequently asked questions!

What data can live chat track for you?

One of the biggest advantages that you can gain from having a virtual team or online live chat software is being able to document metrics such as engagement & traffic. This helps you adapt and service the campus community in ways that were never possible in the age of landlines. It’s easy to forget how useful metrics can be in determining future improvements & solutions when you’re so busy doing what you do best.

Some of the valuable data & metrics that are available for tracking can help you make informed decisions down the future. These metrics can include:

  • Chat volume over time
  • Users profiles and engagement history over time
  • Chat transcripts
  • Message records

If you’re interested in staying connected with your students and making your website more accessible, you’ll be interested in live chat software. When doing a simple search for a live chat system that you can implement on your college website, you’ll come up on many different services with varying features.

Keep in mind you’ll want a live chat tool that is able to handle a variety of questions and inquiries based on the diverse population of students on university campuses. Living on campus also means that students need service availability at all times in case they are trying to meet a deadline or find support. Last but not least, the service you find for live chat should have the ability to gather data to help you learn and continue improving your website and campus.

Ruby wants to help you best serve your college community and help your campus thrive with our 24/7 live chat service. That’s why we offer unmatched service & excellence with our Ruby staff & services.

Interested in learning more about live chat?
Download our guide to get the full scoop!

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Sales Support
Legal_Final

The Secret to Successful Law Firms

The inside scoop on Clio’s latest legal trends report.

Already a Ruby customer?

Let’s get started.

Ready to turn more callers into customers?

Missed connections translate to lost revenue. With Ruby, you have a partner in gaining and retaining customers. Plus, we’re so confident you’ll love our service, we offer a 21 day money-back guarantee*.

*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.