A Letter to Our Customers

Reading time:

Dear small business owner, 

Where to begin? Putting a year into perspective is never simple, but this year…  

It’s safe to say the last several months will go down as one of the most turbulent periods in modern history. I’d like to imagine that 2020 will become a yardstick to measure challenging experiences. We’ll say, “Hey, at least it’s not as bad as 2020,” or “Watch out—it’s a real 2020 in there!” 

Of course, 2020 isn’t quite over yet. And the challenges that defined this year won’t instantly evaporate on January 1st. From ending the COVID pandemic to overcoming racial disparities and political divisions, there’s still plenty of work to be done in the days, weeks, and months to come. 

But whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: you can handle it. All year, you’ve proved you have the strength, the courage, and the creativity to weather unimaginable adversity. You’ve found ways to continue serving your customers and community during a global health crisis. You’ve adopted new protocols and new methods of doing business. You’ve stayed afloat in a profoundly uncertain economic environment. 

Take a deep breath and allow yourself a moment of recognition. As a small business owner, you have the most demanding job in the world—and you’ve done that job throughout one of the most challenging years in the 21st century. No doubt you’ve had to endure difficulties and make sacrifices of your own, all while remaining dedicated to your passion and your purpose. 

With that in mind, I’ll share two words you don’t hear often enough: 

Thank you. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you—for all you’ve done, endured, and sacrificed in 2020.  

Words alone cannot express the admiration and respect we feel for you here at Ruby. All year, we’ve been proud to support extraordinary people like you, to be the voice and ears of thousands of small businesses across the United States.  

Ruby’s receptionists and chat specialists love their jobs because they love working for small businesses like yours. Many of our customers serve on the pandemic’s frontlines: providing people with healthcare and education, solving legal and financial challenges, cleaning homes, installing ventilation systems—the list goes on. We love sharing in your successes and being a part of your life-saving, life-improving work. 

I want to thank you not only for keeping us going this year but for inspiring us with your superhuman skills and resolve. Thank you again for doing what you do. You and your company truly make the world a better place. 

As we look ahead to 2021, I’d like to take this moment to renew our commitment to you. Ruby’s mission has always been rooted in the needs of businesses like yours. We answer your phone calls and chat messages to give you more time in your day. We create meaningful human connections to build trust among the people you serve. We capture leads we know are so critical to your survival and make sure you have the chance to turn those into customers. 

We foster happiness at every opportunity—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s what is best for our customers as well as their customers and communities. 

None of that will change any time soon, or ever. And while we remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers and our values, it’s important to acknowledge how Ruby has changed in 2020.  

We’ve learned a lot over this past year. We’ve become more agile, flexible, and intuitive as an organization. We’ve learned not to presume what our customers need but to stop and ask and make sure our actions align with shifting priorities and realities. 

We’ve also gained a deeper awareness of how to navigate difficult conversations. Our team members have always been able to handle tough moments with grace, but 2020 was the ultimate crash course in de-escalation. We further developed our skills in acknowledging the frustration, making room for complicated emotions, and managing stress—our callers’ and our own. 

At the same time, customer expectations have evolved. People may be stuck at home, but their needs haven’t gone away, and they aren’t limited to one device or channel. Your customers want to access services and support wherever and whenever it’s most convenient for them. Chat is preferable to a call, for example, when you’re sharing a home office with your spouse or helping your kids stay focused on school. And although customers don’t demand perfection—are any of us even close to perfect right now?—they expect someone responsive, friendly, and empathetic on the other end. 

All of this means it’s time to embrace new technologies and new ways of serving customers. Human connections don’t take only one form or happen in a single channel. For that reason, we’re developing new industry solutions. Look out for more services from Ruby in addition to phone and chat answering in the next few months. 

How about you—how have you changed in 2020? What do you hope to achieve in 2021?  

No matter where you’ve been and where you’re going, I’d like to offer a recommendation: 

  1. Double down on your purpose. 
  1. Reinvest in your passion. 
  1. Get yourself financed (one upshot of the COVID pandemic is that our banking industry is actually paying attention to small businesses). 
  1. Build your online presence. 
  1. Get your brand and mission out there. 

Rather than waiting for your customers to find you, meet them where they are—with humanity, authenticity, and integrity.  

You don’t have to do it alone, of course. Ruby will give you every possible at-bat with your customers and make sure you never miss a call, chat, or opportunity to create a meaningful connection. 

Your passion and purpose got you this far. Be bold and dream big. You made it through 2020, after all. Nothing can stop you now. 

With love and gratitude, 

Kate

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A job in a growing business doesn’t always feel safe. Bold leaders and entrepreneurs often pride themselves on this. They buy into the ethos of “move fast and break things,” proselytizing the value of innovation, agility, and big ideas over predictability and security.

This approach is certainly exciting. And it does produce big results. But if you’re not careful, that big result could be a massive failure—and the thing you break could be your company.

The value of safety.

The fact is that safety is a core element of organizational culture. Safety is the foundation for innovation, excellence, and growth.

I’m not referring to physical safety (although that’s essential, too—hello, OSHA), but psychological safety. Your people need to feel safe to speak up, to be their true selves at work, to share their ideas, thoughts, and opinions, no matter how difficult it may be. If your people don’t feel safe, they’ll leave—or worse, become disengaged, resentful, and entirely unproductive, obstructing rather than supporting your organizational initiatives.

In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle explains that psychological safety is one of three pillars (along with purpose and vulnerability) of positive organizational cultures, but that few leaders can recognize it for it what it is. Instead, he writes, “[w]e consider safety to be the equivalent of an emotional weather system—noticeable but hardly a difference-maker.” 

It’s about cues.

Smart business leaders are able to cultivate psychological safety on both the collective and individual level, effectively changing the emotional weather. How? Believe it or not, it primarily comes down to minute gestures and signals—what Coyle calls “belonging cues.” 

Examples include the following:

  • eye contact
  • forms of physical contact, such as handshakes, hugs, and high-fives
  • humor and laughter
  • active listening
  • “attentive courtesies” like opening doors or saying “thank you”

Together, these kinds of cues communicate “you’re safe here.” As Coyle writes, belonging cues “seek to notify our ever-vigilant brains that they can stop worrying about dangers and shift into connection mode.” This allows people to communicate more openly and genuinely with one another. Psychological safety is what creates chemistry.

How do you build safety?

“Building Safety” is probably my favorite chapter of Coyle’s book because it offers so many ideas for small, immediate actions that can improve culture and drive results. The ideas can apply to any team, any group of people—from employees to contractors to vendors to volunteers.

It’s not just about smiling or holding doors open. Belonging cues signal that an interaction is important, the person on the other side is valued, and there’s an investment in continuing the relationship.

Here are a few ways you can incorporate belonging cues and build psychological safety at your organization:

1. Take time to listen. Get to know your team. Use both your eyes and your ears, but really lean into your ears. Some of the most important indicators of psychological safety (or a lack of it) are silent. 

Look at who is in the room and who isn’t. Which kinds of people are and aren’t represented within your organization? Indeed, listening is a key aspect of any equity, diversity, or inclusion effort.

Go beyond the surface. Great teams tend to have both remarkable demographic and psychological diversity. Do you know which of your employees are introverts and which are extroverts? Do you know what genres of music they like, what types of books they read, what kinds of hobbies they engage in outside of work?

2. Give everyone equal access to the podium. This isn’t easy. Some people are natural-born speakers and leaders, but most of us need substantial, ongoing support and encouragement to speak up and share our thoughts. All those hand-raisers from school discouraged us from trying. Take on the role of a teacher and make sure everyone gets equal speaking time.

3. Set high standards. Establish an unwavering commitment to excellence, and hold your team to it. Your people might just surprise you—they’ll rise to the occasion and hold others accountable as well. After all, no one wants to do B-level work.

4. Demonstrate confidence. Encouragement and a positive attitude go a long, long way. You can propel your team to new heights with just a few words. The next time someone seems unsure about a task, rather than expressing doubt or offering assistance immediately, try saying something like “I know you can do this!” 

Note that confidence and vulnerability go hand-in-hand. The goal is to strike a balance—to create an environment where people can do their best work and ask directly for help when they need it.

5. Know that one negative person can impact the productivity of an entire team. Specifically, a slacker or other toxic employee can reduce productivity by 30% to 40%

If you can identify a negative contributor, don’t simply write them off or remove them from the situation. Think about their perspective, their issues, the needs they are and aren’t expressing. Try and coach them out of the behavior. Ask questions: “What’s going on? How can I help?”

Give them a chance or two to correct their behavior and meet the high standards of your organization. But don’t extend your patience infinitely. If you can’t do anything about that bad apple, get rid of them.

The fundamental truth in this chapter, and all of The Culture Code, is that culture is about people, not a person, singular—not the business leader, not a star employee, not the loudest talker. The best organizations are created for and by people, lots of people. They allow all kinds of people to feel safe, vulnerable, and connected to their purpose. 

Mostly, they give people what everyone wants: happiness. Today, over a third of our population has indicated they have to work multiple jobs to pay the bills. The result, work has become more than 50% of our life. If you can create an environment as an employer that embraces happiness through fun, belonging and growth, you’ll build a team that wants to come to work rather than needs to come to work!

That seems like as good a note as any to leave on! I hope you enjoyed this three-part exploration into The Culture Code. If you missed part 1, click here; for part 2, click here. 

For more articles about building your business, be sure to check out our blog. And if you haven’t already, I encourage you to join Ruby Reads, our monthly book club for small business owners.

Be well.

Sincerely, 

Kate 

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What does the word “vulnerability” make you think of?

I think of an aircraft carrier. 

Hear me out. In his book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle describes vulnerability not as a “touchy-feely” display of insecurities, but as a way of sending and receiving signals. According to Coyle, vulnerability is a channel for open and honest—and often mission-critical—communication.

Think of it as radio communication between an aircraft carrier and members of the fleet. The carrier has to send out constant beacons on its locations, speed, and conditions for landing. Pilots need to continually pay attention to and acknowledge receipt of those messages. And if either party encounters something that appears dangerous, unclear, or off in any way, the person on the other end needs to know, so aircraft can be rerouted.

The aircraft carrier can’t do what the people in the air do or see what they see. And vice versa. Only by working together can members of the fleet ensure things run smoothly and safely.

Our business runs on vulnerability.

The aircraft carrier metaphor can apply to practically any organization, including a business like ours. 

Here at Ruby, we currently have about a dozen major projects in the air, so to speak. Those projects are all highly interconnected to each other, as well as to our biggest project—our aircraft carrier. Every project needs to land on the aircraft carrier, one after another, in a specific order. If we don’t keep our channels of communication open, we run the risk of colliding into each other or letting a key initiative exhaust its fuel supply and spiral into the sea.

Vulnerability is what allows us to send and receive the information we need, when we need it. It’s how we stay tuned in to each other’s challenges, allowing us to offer support at a moment’s notice. Most importantly, it cultivates trust among the members of our team.

What does vulnerability look and sound like?

Communicating vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean telling other people you’re scared, or anxious, or overwhelmed, or that you feel unqualified for your job. Those feelings may be one component of the message, but they aren’t the whole message.

Here are a few examples of vulnerability in action:

“I’m not sure I can handle this alone. Can you help me?”

“Have you ever done this before? I’m new at it and want to make sure I’m doing it right.”

“I’m worried we won’t be able to get this done in time. What are our other options?”

I’m sorry I said that. I can see how it hurt your feelings and I regret causing you pain.”

“What do you think about this? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.”

“I take full responsibility for that mistake. I was wrong.”

The four rules of vulnerability.

In The Culture Code, Coyle presents stories that highlight a few key rules of vulnerability: 

1. Define your path. Vulnerability should serve an objective. It should help us get from “here” to “there.” You won’t know where you’re going unless you chart your path first.

2. You can’t prevent mistakes. We’re all human. Mistakes happen. Pretending they don’t doesn’t help anyone. Vulnerability allows us to look at those mistakes head-on and accept them, so we can actually do better next time.

3. Don’t consider yourself the smartest person in the room. A leader is measured by their team. As the people in charge, our job is to be the “roaming catalyst.” We should encourage ownership of purpose in everyone. Rubys routinely hear me say, “You guys are so smart. I want to hear how you think we should solve this problem. I am not qualified to do your job.” And I mean that! 

4. Don’t feel obligated to give brutally honest feedback. There’s a big difference between being open and sharing every thought that pops into your head. Consider your audience and consider the usefulness of your feedback before you share it. Remember: vulnerability requires empathy. If you’re not considering the other person’s feelings and giving them something of value, you’re just being cruel.

How can you encourage vulnerability in your organization?

Based on The Culture Code and my own executive leadership experience, here are a few ways you can embed vulnerability throughout your business:

  • Align your team with subtle nudges. Encourage your employees to share their questions, doubts, hopes, concerns. Ask them how they’re feeling about their work. Lead through example—let others in on why you made that decision, give gratitude to someone who helped you complete something you couldn’t have done alone.

  • Offer support. At Ruby, everyone has an SOS button. If you hit that button, someone will turn around and ask, “How can I help?” This allows us to take care of problems as soon as they come up. And beyond that, people who get help often pay it forward—they take the time to say, “I just had this problem, and here’s how it got solved, so perhaps this can help you, too.”
  • Provide the environment and tools your team needs to collaborate. In addition to giving people the encouragement and room to ask for support, your business should provide helpers with the tools and space they need. (I’ll explore this further in my next article about building safety, so stay tuned.)

  • Eliminate blockages to honest feedback. Like many businesses, we are constantly innovating here at Ruby. However, innovation has a tendency to result in scope creep, and every new idea or opportunity cannot be additive without changing something else. We know that innovation is only one element of our purpose, and not always the most important element. So, we empower our teams to ask, “How does this link to our purpose? What is the priority relative to our other projects?” If the priority is higher, we demote the other task. If the priority is lower, we put it in the queue, behind the current task. If the priority of both tasks is the same, we talk about what additional resources we need to complete both simultaneously. Being honest and getting everything out in the open not only feels good, but also allows us to execute faster and smarter.

  • Encourage new ideas—of all kinds. As CEO, I hold office hours in each of our facilities to meet with everyone. At these meetings, topics are wide open—everything is on the table, from what kinds of cereal we have available in the morning to whether we need to change our PTO policy to help single moms.

  • Look for the real problems. Teams get stuck for all kinds of reasons. It’s on the leader to offer up a suggestion or acknowledge a problem. Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity around solutions and roles. Other times, it’s because of harsh office lighting—a problem we ran into the other day. At a staff meeting, someone asked the question: “Does anyone think it’s really bright in here?” People immediately started chattering: “Oh yeah, definitely!” “Yes, it gives me headaches all the time!” So we ordered some blinds on the spot, but ran into another snag: facilities told us it would take weeks for the blinds to show up. And then someone noticed that the window looked to be about the size of a large Post-it Note—which there happened to be a stack of nearby. We grabbed a ladder and solved the problem in minutes.

  • Make it clear that it’s okay to fail. Not every problem can be solved as quickly as our lighting issue, and not every solution will end up working. That’s okay. Life is a learning experience. Acknowledge the problem, acknowledge why it didn’t work, and move on. Take ownership and don’t assign blame. When people know it’s all right to make mistakes, they tend to realize those mistakes faster and solve problems gracefully. And, again, failing and learning—together—is how trust is forged.

Clearly, there’s a lot to be said about vulnerability. If I had to summarize Coyle’s chapter on the topic, I would say that being a great owner, manager, or leader means having three priorities in mind:

  1. alignment 
  2. encouragement 
  3. problem-solving 

With those ingredients in place, you have what it takes to steer the aircraft carrier and guide your team to safety and success.

Speaking of safety and success, those are precisely the subjects we’ll look at in my third and final article in this blog series about The Culture Code.

Until then, be sure to join Ruby Reads, our monthly book club for small business owners. And if you missed part 1 in this series, which covers the role of purpose in company culture, you can read that here.

Stay well.

Sincerely,

Kate

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The coronavirus & your Ruby service.

Reading time:

To our Ruby Customer Community: 

As you have seen in the news or read in the headlines, new cases of the Coronavirus COVID-19 are starting to be confirmed in the U.S. On Friday, Feb 28th, Oregon had its first confirmed case, and because Oregon is home to two of our three receptionist centers and our headquarters, we’re taking this news seriously. 

We’re reaching out to let you know that we are here for you. Our goal is to make sure that we prioritize employee health and safety while also maintaining the legendary service that you rely on us to deliver.  

Here is what we are currently working on: 

  • Employee health and safety. We are taking extra precautions in our Portland and Kansas City offices to ensure surfaces are cleaned on a regular basis and cleaning supplies/hand sanitizer are readily available for all employees. 
  • Secure, remote access to our platform. We are making preparations to continue business as usual in a safe environment. Our Technology Teams are actively working on a secure and scalable contingency plan should we need to operate in alternate locations. 
  • Ongoing customer communication. We will be regularly communicating with you about any changes to our workforce that may impact our ability to meet your needs. At this time, we do not anticipate disruption to your service. But should that change, we will be transparent about what we are doing and the impact that might have on our services.  

We also know there is a lot of misinformation fueling the conversation about the Coronavirus COVID-19. The best resources for virus news include:   

Center for Disease Control & Prevention 

World Health Organization 

For the most up-to-date information about service availability, please access your Ruby account at my.ruby.com. We also encourage you to download or upgrade to the current version of the Ruby app to stay informed on the go (available at App Store or Google Play Store).  

Should you have any questions, our Customer Happiness team is available from 5am to 6pm PST, Monday through Friday. Please feel welcome to reach out to us at staff@ruby.com or 866-611-7829. 

Sincerely,

Kate Winkler

CEO 

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Here at Ruby, it’s fair to say we’re obsessed with company culture. From our Space Kitten Pizza Parties (you read that right) to our massive annual kick-off meetings to the methods we use in getting to really know who our customers are, when it comes to creating and maintaining our culture, we go all out. 

The work it takes to cultivate a community of employees eager to enrich and engage with our culture is often very fun, and always rewarding. We get to feel good here, and while that is a success in and of itself, we learned a long time ago that company culture fuels success.  

We’ve experienced it firsthand, and we can see it elsewhere. Look at any of the world’s top-performing organizations—they’ve flourished from a foundation of strong company culture. 

But what makes a company’s culture great? What can other organizations, including small businesses, learn from others who have, well, cracked the code?

Danny Coyle’s The Culture Code, the latest book featured in Ruby Reads, got me thinking about all this. True to its title, The Culture Code offers insightful—and often surprising—answers to the questions above. 

Coyle spent four years studying exceptionally successful groups and comparing their characteristics to less successful groups, wondering: “Why do certain groups add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, while others add up to be less?” 

Coyle’s subjects range from big to small, from Pixar Animation Studios to a band of bank robbers. 

He finds that each successful group has three critical elements in place: 

  1. Safety—people feel safe and comfortable speaking up and voicing their opinions, even if it means potential conflict.
  2. Vulnerability—people are willing to share their deeply-held doubts, fears, and insecurities; to ask for help when they need it.
  3. Purpose—people know what they’re doing and, more importantly, why they’re doing it.

Each of these themes is worth their own blog post, which is why I decided to break this book review of sorts into a three-part series. The Culture Code is so chock-full of valuable information, it seemed like a disservice to our readers to stuff everything into a single article.

Let’s go in reverse order, starting with purpose.

What is purpose? 

Purpose is the reason you made the bold decision to start your own business. It’s the thing—a physical object or an idea, vision, dream—you’re most passionate about.

A purpose doesn’t need to be incredibly specific, but it should serve as your North Star—an inspirational motive that supports everything you do. 

Let’s use Ruby’s purpose as an example. Some people would say our purpose is to answer the phone and respond to live chat for small businesses. That’s not quite right. Answering the phone and engaging in chat are services we provide. Our purpose is to cultivate great relationships, from first impressions to lasting loyalty. To help small businesses thrive in a hundred different little ways. To make meaningful connections. 

How do you build purpose?

Having a mission statement is one thing, following through on that mission is another matter entirely. You need to determine not only what your purpose is, but how you build, achieve, and maintain it. 

Coyle offers the following tips:

Take a moment to sit down and write your purpose. Think about your purpose and put it into words. You may find that it’s easy to articulate your purpose, or more difficult than you first imagined. Perhaps you’ll need to revise it several times, try out different phrasing, or come up with several options and pick your favorite.

Collect feedback. Treat your purpose like a theory. Ask your team or people familiar with your business to test it, improve it, and build on it. When you invite your employees to engage with your purpose, they’ll take ownership of it and run with it in ways you may have never imagined. Perhaps they’ll unearth important elements you hadn’t considered, or articulate it in a way that gives it an entirely new meaning.

Support your purpose with values. Your purpose needs to be linked to everything you do. It’s essential to come up with a set of Core Values, which connect your overall mission to real-world priorities, projects, and actions. Core Values give life and specificity to the purpose, and reinforce it over time. This isn’t a “set it and forget it” situation. Incorporating your Core Values into your every-day hustle and using them as guides in your decision-making process will keep you aligned with your purpose, and ultimately reinforce your company culture. 

How we do it here at Ruby. 

At Ruby, we take purpose seriously—it’s baked into our daily working habits, employee interactions, and external communications. Just like Danny Meyer and his restaurants, which The Culture Code profiles in-depth, we’ve established a set of Core Values that support our purpose:

  1. Foster happiness. We foster happiness internally, which empowers and fuels us to foster happiness externally. Happy people are infectious!
  2. Create community. We endeavor to create a sense of community at every opportunity. We consider ourselves a family—and our customers an extension of our family.
  3. Innovate. We hold ourselves accountable for creating an environment for both Rubys and our customers to share their ideas, aspirations, and goals. Everyone in our organization has the power to instigate real change in how we do what we do. The best ideas with the biggest impact have often come from our receptionists.
  4. Grow. There are so many ways to engage in growth! Grow your business, grow your skills, grow your team, expand your perspective. The world is not static, and we believe change is a good thing.
  5. Practice WOWism. This is a major one. For those unfamiliar, WOWism is a Ruby term coined by our founder, Jill Nelson. We practice WOWism in ways big and small. Sometimes, it’s surprising someone with an unexpected gift or bit of above-and-beyond service. We’ll give directions before someone asks, send a blanket and herbal tea to someone who’s sick, we aim to fulfill unexpressed needs in a way that leaves someone wonderfully surprised—enough to make them say, “Wow!”

Our Core Values are unique to Ruby and incredibly specific to our purpose. We go the extra mile to make sure that we’re doing what we can to generate a positive effect in the lives of one another, in the lives of our customers, and in the lives of our customers’ customers. We call it the Ruby Ripple effect, and it’s the kind of work that rallies our people around a greater purpose. Practicing WOWism is so much more than answering a phone or responding to a chat—we’re building a meaningful network while helping entrepreneurs actualize their big, small business dreams.

Note that these Core Values are meant to be challenged. We encourage every Ruby to push the boundaries and establish new and better ways of delivering on our values. This is what it means to Grow! As our Rubys change and our customers change, our values remain intact–enabling our company to evolve in tandem with our community. (After all, this is part of what it means to Grow.) As our Rubys change, as our customers change, as the company changes, our values remain intact—but they evolve in tandem with our community. 

If I can offer one last piece of advice, I urge every business owner out there to celebrate your purpose, to acknowledge when your people are living and breathing your company’s Core Values. Every quarter, Rubys nominate one another for our Core Value in Action awards. We share the winning “WOW” stories throughout our offices—literally framing and hanging the stories in our breakrooms. These actions give us a reason to keep going and pushing ourselves to be better than we were yesterday. 

Establishing your purpose can be the first step in catapulting your business to new heights. 

But purpose doesn’t mean much if people aren’t ready to be honest and open with one another. In the next article, I’ll explore the second pillar in The Culture Code—the role of vulnerability in organizational culture. 

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, be sure to join Ruby Reads, our monthly book club for small business owners. We’ve got some exciting plans in the works and cannot wait to share them with you! 

Sincerely, 

Kate

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