A traffic light sign is nearly submerged by a massive flood—one example of extreme weather events caused by climate change

Hurricanes. Wildfires. Tornadoes. Droughts. Blizzards. Heat waves. These and other forms of extreme weather have always been facts of life on Earth. But until relatively recently, they were facts many of us read about or experienced once in a blue moon—not something we faced multiple times a year, with increasing intensity.

We’re talking about stronger and stronger hurricanes, wildfire seasons that get longer and more dangerous, hotter summers and colder winters—weather events that break records year after year.

The effects of climate change are facts of life for people throughout the world, affecting all sorts of businesses and communities.

Even the glass of Cabernet you enjoy in the evening to unwind isn’t climate change-proof. Take what happened to historic winery Napa Valley winery Chateau Boswell in 2020. Owner Susan Boswell dealt with unimaginable personal trauma and the devastating loss of revenue when the Glass Fire damaged her wine and grapes. Boswell lost the first vintages her late husband ever bottled and historical family letters dating back to the American Revolution. On top of everything, Susan had to work to rebuild her winery after the wildfire.

Sadly, countless businesses have similar stories, and the impact on our economy is impossible to ignore. Climate experts estimate that natural disasters cause more than $80 billion in damage annually. Like climate change itself, that impact is expected to worsen each year.

It’s time to get real about climate change. Here’s what to know about climate change and how to prepare your business and community for extreme weather events.

Climate change and your business

Napa Valley’s wineries are just one illustration of how climate change can negatively affect businesses. For another example, look to Texas. After a historically cold winter that shut down the power grid for days, the state and its communities took months to recover. The outages had affected everything from the state’s water supply to train lines to manufacturing. 

Around the world, climate change is accelerating the rate at which we see unprecedented storms and record-breaking temperatures. Seven out of the ten most expensive natural disasters since 1980 have occurred in the last 16 years. There’s a high probability your business will feel that impact in the future if it hasn’t already.

Even if your business isn’t located in an area at risk of fires or flooding, your business is often indirectly affected. A wildfire razing California’s farmland means higher produce prices for food suppliers, restaurants, and catering businesses. A statewide power outage disrupts manufacturing and transportation lines, causing shipping delays. These types of disruptions create a ripple effect that is often felt most acutely by small businesses that don’t keep a large inventory. 

As concerning as these trends are, they pale in comparison to the acute effects of a natural disaster. A catastrophe in your area can wreak untold havoc on your business and the people you serve.

Climate change and your community

A significant challenge for business owners dealing with climate-related disasters is concurrent business and personal losses.

Local businesses are crucial to recovery efforts. When a disaster strikes, people count on their insurance agents, contractors, plumbers, electricians, restaurants, and more to aid in picking up the pieces. Consequently, many business owners in disaster-prone areas find themselves aiding in the recovery efforts in their communities while rebuilding their homes and offices themselves.

It’s a special kind of stress: getting your customers’ heat up and running while your home is missing its roof.

One way businesses can navigate these challenges is good communication. If you have to close your doors for a few days or even a few weeks, make sure your people know that you have plans to reopen. Keeping your community aware of your efforts to rebuild and recover will go a long way for your business and community morale.

A disaster will change your business. A new office space, new working arrangements, or even finding new suppliers will be challenging. But not all recovery efforts are a loss, and not all changes are entirely negative. Some businesses facing down climate crises have even found new ways to help their communities and new angles for generating revenue.

How can you prepare?

Recognizing that climate change is a problem that will impact our world is an excellent first step. Here are a few more actionable ways you and your business can make a difference:

  • Make efforts to reduce your carbon footprint. Find a local agency to help you assess areas in which you can improve your carbon emissions.
  • Reduce your energy consumption by turning off your lights and unplugging unnecessary electronics. Consider turning your heat down in the winter and turning your AC up in the summer.
  • Consider switching to renewable energy sources such as solar panels for your office space.
  • Reduce company waste. Switch to paperless, opt for reusable cups and silverware for your office space, and place recycling bins around your space.
  • Repair broken electronics rather than replace them.
  • Search for greener infrastructure and suppliers. Switch to electric vehicles, energy-efficient appliances, and choose suppliers that share your climate values.

Making one or two seemingly minor changes at first and sharing your values with your team is a great way to start making business decisions that are better for the environment and the people you serve.

That’s one piece of the puzzle. How about natural disasters? How do you prepare for a possible climate hazard?

Start by reviewing your business continuity plan.

By now, it should be clear that we all need to prepare for just about anything when it comes to keeping our businesses running during hardships. Climate change and natural hazards should be a part of your business continuity plan.

For a deeper dive into preparing your business for the unexpected, read about business continuity planning here.

Suppose you find yourself amid a climate emergency. In that case, communication is key. Help your customers or clients set the right expectations. If you’re open, make sure they know they can call on you to help in an emergency. If you’re not open, let the people you serve know your plans to reopen, and reassure your community that you’re sticking around for the recovery.

In either case, optimal communication and customer experience are essential. You might not be able to provide the people you serve with the solutions they need, but you can invest in effective communication tools to keep people safe and informed.

Finally, lead by example. Commit to taking action to reduce climate change and positively impact the community and customers you serve.

Remember: we’re all in this together. Help out how, when, and where you can, and you’ll contribute to a more resilient economy where everyone has the greatest opportunity to thrive. And if your business or your community has experienced a disaster, help is available.

Halfmoon Heart_small

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Price, shmice. Brand, shmand.

These days, the number one differentiator is customer experience.

If you can make the people you serve feel happy, cared for, and enthusiastic about working with your business, you’ll outperform the competition every time. There’s a reason—or more precisely, a hundred little reasons—most people will pay more for a better customer experience. 

So how you make it happen? How can you center the people you serve in everything you do? 

It starts with a friendly hello. From there, the job is to listen intently to the other person and do everything possible to give them what they want.  

Simple enough, right? In practice, however, things can get rather… complicated. Every conversation is a new adventure, and wowing each customer demands a different combination of ingenuity, finesse, and nerve. Take it from Ruby’s connection-making, gift-giving, personalized-tour-hosting team.   

We have no shortage of tips and tricks for delivering extraordinary customer experiences. Here are a few of our favorite stories about how our virtual receptionists and Customer Happiness team members have boosted business by going above and beyond.  

Table of Contents

Reaching out when customers are in need—before they ask for it

Good customer service is proactive customer service. That means reaching out to help people before they ask for help—even when it means helping them pay less for your services, product, or solution.  

At Ruby, we’re not fans of charging our customers for more than what they actually need, as Carly Stringer of Stringer Law found out: 

It might feel like a loss of revenue, but this approach pays dividends over time, as a customer or client is more likely to stick with you and recommend you to others. With that mindset, it’s relatively easy to guide someone toward the most affordable option—just tell them how to pay less. Other forms of proactive customer service are equally powerful, but entail more steps and require other skill sets.  

For example, one of our virtual receptionists, Noah, recently noticed that a customer was manually flagging robocall after robocall on the Ruby app. The customer hadn’t realized that flagging doesn’t automatically block the numbers, so Noah reached out and offered to help. He not only took on blocking the calls in Ruby’s proprietary software, but created a quick script that automated the process, blocking nearly 300 numbers at once! The business owner was able to get back to work quickly and rest easy knowing that fewer unwanted calls would go through. 

Using real customer communication to create better FAQs

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) on your website empower your customers or clients to help themselves, saving themand your businessprecious timeNot every company shows visitors the most relevant FAQs, however, and many websites lack them altogether. 

That’s because some businesses feel they lack the capacity to create FAQs for everyone they serve, while other businesses may not have the perspective to understand what a prospect would want to know. Either challenge can be solved with an attitude shift. Rather than thinking of a conversation as a one-off problem to solve or an interaction to get through, see it as learning and data collection opportunity.  

Consider changing your definition of “frequency” as well. Remember that for every person who raises an issue, there are approximately nine more silently dealing with the same concern. Your customers or clients are always telling you how you can better serve them, if you’re able to listen to them. 

Of course, engaging in customer communication does take time, which is why we’re here to help. A virtual receptionist provider like Ruby can help you create, modify, and enhance your FAQs.  

Trust us—answering frequently asked questions is what we do for a living. A typical Ruby receptionist takes hundreds of calls per day, and each of our chat specialists handles a comparable number of online conversations. We can tell you what information your customers or clients are looking for, so you can make that information more readily accessible to website visitors. Many of our customers have used Ruby to do exactly that, improving their bottom lines as a result. They not only save time, but help clients and customers set the right expectations up front.   

One customer told us that adding FAQs based on real conversations has significantly reduced the number of irrelevant calls her business receives, so she can make the most of Ruby and focus more energy on connecting with actual leads. And she’s not alone—our most commonly-added FAQ addresses what services a business does and doesn’t provide, weeding out real prospects from poor fits.  

Aligning your schedule with customers’ schedules

More actionable FAQs are just the tip of the customer-centricity iceberg (try saying that five times fast). Listen closely to clients or customers, and you’ll uncover ways you can tweak your business to better serve their needs. 

Say you’re a family law attorney, and many of your clients and prospects reach out in the evenings after putting their kids to bed.  

Or you’re an HVAC professional who receives tons of calls on weekends in the summer.  

Or you run a different business entirely, and for whatever reason, Tuesdays have become your new Mondays—communication spikes in the middle of the week.

Rather than sending people to voicemail or waiting until the next available business day to follow up, you can shift your hours to correspond better to your customers’ or clients’ schedules.  

Better yet—if you don’t want to work early mornings, evenings, and weekends—use a solution like Ruby to handle those conversations for you. 

We act as a seamless extension of your business, indistinguishable from an in-house receptionist. That makes it easy for you to remain 9–5 (or hey, what about 10–3, or whenever-you-want to whenever-you-please?) and nonetheless provide customers or clients with 24/7, personalized service.  

Making it (super) personal

Speaking of personalized service, the best virtual receptionists are experts at making every person they’re talking to feel like the most important person in the world.

A little while back, for instance, we heard from a customer who was concerned our chat solution wasn’t working as desired. When Lin, one of our Customer Success Specialists, received this information, she flew into action. She connected with the business to find out what was going wrong and learned they were unhappy about the amount of time it took them to receive information about their website chats. They expected Ruby to connect every new lead to their office within a minute or two of the chat window closing.  

This sparked a conversation about what we could do to better serve the customer. Together, they discovered we could bypass a few steps and give the customer the results they wanted. It paid off. A few months later, the customer informed us that Ruby had generated $100,000 in revenue for them in a single month, thanks to Lin’s efforts and changes. 

Lin’s outreach to the customer required time and effort—and so did changing their account processes—but she was happy to do it because it made the customer’s life easier. Moreover, as the results bore out, those efforts delivered serious return on investment for everyone involved.  

By listening to every person you serve and focusing on how you can better help them, you’ll bring your business to new heights. An individualized approach ensures every customer or client gets the maximum value out of your offerings. And when a seemingly minor change can translate to a six-figure benefit, as it did in this case, it’s a no-brainer.

Taking time to truly listen—as much time as the customer needs

I could write at length about other tricks of the receptionist trade (such as sending thoughtful follow-ups and gifts), but you know what’s really powerful—and takes no money or special training to do?   

Listening.

Seriously. In nine interactions out of ten, what a customer, client, or prospect wants is for someone to listen to them. I’m referring to real listening—active, supportive, empathetic, judgment-free listening—and letting the talker talk for as long as they need to. 

This one’s not too difficult to practice at your business. Show up with an open ear, mind, and heart for someone who contacts you and you’ll be surprised at what you hear. People will tell you things that alter your perception of your business and your purpose. 

We’ve experienced the power of listening time and time again at Ruby. 

  • There was the time Tiffany W. listened to a caller talk about her wrongful termination claim. Although our customer couldn’t take the caller’s case, Tiffany took the initiative to ask for another resource and was able to connect the caller to the National Employment Lawyers Association.

  • Another time, Jasmine T. had a much longer conversation than usual with a caller she realized needed an empathetic ear—it seemed he had primarily called just to talk to someone. Nevertheless, she took detailed notes from the conversation and passed them on to our customer. Days later, the customer informed us that the caller had converted into a client thanks in large part to the helpful person he talked to on the phone.

  • And then there was the time Maddie T. spoke to a frustrated-seeming caller who told her, “We’re on a time limit here.” Instead of getting defensive, Maddie took a deep breath and reminded herself to be gentle and supportive. She listened to the caller, took notes, and read them back. As it turned out, the caller was terminally ill. They were given a few months to live and were calling an attorney to finalize their end-of-life plans. By the time the conversation was over, the caller was laughing and telling Maddie how now the only thing they had left to do was to buy passes and go to Disneyland every day until the end.

Ultimately, these kinds of stories are what great customer experience is all about: people receiving the service, compassion, and kindness they deserve. And our “secrets” aren’t so secret—they all tie back to customer experience fundamentals: showing up, listening, and making a sincere effort to help.

Most businesses already know these secrets. And countless business owners would love to implement them at every opportunity. They would love to go above and beyond to serve customers and clients… but it doesn’t always seem possible or cost-effective. 

Ruby makes it possible. And with our proven ROI with growing businesses, you can trust Ruby to make connections that translate directly into revenue. 

See how it works. Book a free consultation with us.   

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Freelancers are a lot like jellyfish. We live solitary lives, swimming blindly through the choppy waters of our careers. Many people find us strange or mysterious, but our day-to-day existence is pretty uninteresting. We’re content to mostly just float around and do our thing.

That said, if you ever come into contact with us, you need to handle us carefully.

No, I’m not going to sting you. What’s more likely to happen if you mistreat me is that I’ll collapse into a pile of goo in your hands.

I’ll explain in a moment. Let’s back up before we dive in. Maybe put on some sunscreen first.

The ocean is full of freelancers.

I’ve been a jellyfish—er, freelancer—for about a decade. I’ve worked for dozens of clients, from big businesses to individual entrepreneurs; from tech companies to law firms to authors, coaches, and psychologists. I run my own business, make my own schedule, and pay my own income taxes.

It used to be I was the only person I knew who lived and worked like this. But these days, everyone seems to be growing tentacles.

With millions of people unemployed right now, and countless businesses looking to cut down on labor costs, more and more people are becoming freelancers, and more and more organizations are contracting work out to them.

Indeed, hiring one or more freelancers can be a smart move for your business, particularly in this economy. By outsourcing certain tasks and projects, you’ll save significant overhead while maintaining quality—or, in many cases, improving it. I mean, you’re engaging with an already-skilled professional rather than training and developing someone in-house, and you only need to pay for their productive time. Did I mention the tax savings?

Freelancing can be good for workers, too, in terms of greater independence, flexibility, and autonomy. Plenty of people who work for themselves also cite “increased earning potential” as a reason for freelancing, but I’d rather not comment on that one personally.

For these reasons, it’s no surprise that many employers are switching from employees to freelancers, or converting some or all of their workforces into independent contractors. A September 2020 Upwork survey found that over a third (36%) of American workers now freelancetwo million more than in 2019—and market analysts expect that number to continue growing.

Using Ruby in Your Office

Why do freelancer relationships go wrong?

But it’s not all dollar signs and freedom and BMWs. There are gooey, messy realities to hiring freelancers:

  • How do you make sure they do the work?
  • How do you avoid getting overcharged?
  • Do you need to sign written contracts with them?
  • How do you keep them happy and motivated?
  • What does it mean to be a good client?

Too many businesses overlook these sorts of questions and assume the freelancing arrangement will simply work out. They soon discover they’re not getting what they hoped for as quickly, reliably, or cost-effectively. 

Other times, companies squeeze their freelancers too hard, and things fall apart. Pop—there goes the jellyfish.

Here are a few tips from a freelancer for treating your freelancers well, getting the most out of them, and keeping them aligned with your business goals:

Know what you’re getting.

Know who you intend to work with before you hire them. I realize this sounds obvious, but you may be surprised how many people decide to engage with freelancers on the strength of a referral—or even a gut feeling—alone. Someone might have a glowing recommendation from a friend or colleague, but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically the perfect fit for your business.

Ask a freelancer the following questions before you hire them:

  • What’s your rate? (Or: How much do you charge?)
  • What does your current availability look like? Do you expect your availability to change soon?
  • What’s your turnaround time?
  • How long have you been freelancing?
  • Have you worked with companies like ours before?
  • What information do you need from us before we get started?

It never hurts to ask for work samples or a link to the freelancer’s website. This is especially important when you’re hiring someone to do creative work, such as graphic design, writing, or video production, where subjective taste and tone make a huge difference. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for an estimate, proposal, or scope of work before delving into the first project. Get a sense of the person’s skills, style, time, and costs—and set your expectations accordingly—and you’ll avoid potentially painful conflicts later on. 

You may also want to draft a contract that covers matters such as payment terms, ownership of the work, noncompetition, and other issues you’d rather not engage in legal disputes over later. Any freelancer worth their salt will be happy to sign a contract, so long as it’s drafted fairly, but may want to negotiate details first. (If someone refuses to sign any agreement with you, consider it a red flag.)

Trust freelancers to do their best work.

You hired the freelancer you hired for a reason. Maybe you liked their portfolio, or believed in their proposal, or thoroughly enjoyed your connection with them over the phone. Whatever the case, trust in your decision, and have faith that your freelancer is doing their best to turn in the work you requested on time and under budget.

In other words, don’t micromanage. Try not to check in constantly, or ask to see work before it’s ready. Be patient and remain calm. Keep in mind that freelancers value their time and space. Hopefully, assuming you vetted the person thoroughly, you’ve hired a pro.

If a freelancer isn’t quite delivering or meeting your expectations, that’s when it’s time to start a conversation. But keep your feedback constructive and specific—and check your assumptions. Ask open-ended questions rather than leveling accusations. For instance, instead of saying “this isn’t what I wanted,” ask if the assignment was unclear, or if they could use more information or resources from you, or what their intentions and goals were in doing something a certain way.

Lackluster work, overcharging, and missed deadlines do happen. But they’re more often the result of poor communication rather than willful negligence on the part of the freelancer. Assume that the person you hired is working in good faith, and use that initial disappointment as an opportunity to learn and improve the relationship. If it turns into a regular pattern, however, know when to end things.

Keep the lines of communication open.

There’s a difference between respecting your freelancer’s autonomy and leaving them entirely in the dark. Everyone, no matter how busy or self-reliant, can use the occasional check-in.

I like to talk to each of my clients over the phone or video at least once a month. In an ideal world, we would meet more frequently, but work and schedules tend to get in the way. These conversations are essential—not just for aligning people on projects and priorities, but for maintaining camaraderie. Hearing from the people I work for helps me feel valued and connected to the work.

Communication also serves to help freelancers manage their time and money. I can get urgent projects done faster and better if I know about them in advance. If a client is reducing their freelance budget, having that information allows me to shift things around and hopefully pick up additional work to make ends meet. 

I can’t tell you how many times a client has ghosted me and then returned several months later with a new project I don’t have room for. If they’d sent just one email before disappearing to acknowledge the situation, I would have at least been able to anticipate that the work might come back.

Understand the differences between freelancers and employees.

There are important legal and practical distinctions between freelancers and employees. While both may work for your company, the two differ significantly in terms of how you’re allowed to manage and pay them.

This is a topic that deserves its own article (or several), but here’s a quick overview of the differences between freelancers (AKA independent contractors) and employees:

A freelancer…

  • is self-employed
  • pays their own taxes and benefits
  • controls when they work
  • controls where they work
  • controls how they work
  • uses their own tools
  • may work for several different clients

An employee…

  • is employed by an organization
  • has their taxes and benefits withheld by the employer
  • works on the employer’s schedule (e.g. 9am–5pm)
  • works where the employer decides (e.g. on-site or in a virtual office)
  • adheres to the employer’s rules and training
  • uses tools owned and paid for by the employer
  • usually works for just one company (or two, maybe three, on a part-time basis)

(If you’re not sure what your workers classify as, read this IRS article.)

Perhaps the most important distinction here is control. Freelancers control their schedules and working arrangements—you can’t decide for them. Essentially, freelancers give up stability in exchange for independence. If you can’t provide someone with reliable employment, you can’t expect them to be available whenever you want. 

But that also means freelancer payment terms are a bit more flexible than employee wages or salaries. Work with your freelancers to determine how and when they’d like to get paid, and come to an agreement that works for you both. No matter what, be sure to pay them on time. After all, they can walk away whenever they want.

Remember that freelancers are human.

Above all, when working with a freelancer, honor the person’s humanity. We all make mistakes. We all have bad days, emergencies, and mental health struggles now and then. Recognize that sometimes, life can get in the way of work, and that’s okay. A freelancer should never be responsible for a mission-critical process, anyway—that’s a job for an in-house team.

Be kind to your freelancers when they’re having a hard time. Better yet, be kind all the time.

Respect, warmth, and a little humor go a long way. Professionalism matters, too. I’ve received a fair share of emails that are nothing more than blunt requests (“please turn in by EOD”) or curt acknowledgments (“received”), or where the entire message is in the subject line (“can you check out this website and send me your thoughts ASAP”). I much prefer working with someone who addresses me by name and asks how I’m doing.

I understand why clients forget this part sometimes. I work with some people I’ve never met in-person. And we’re all accustomed to getting certain things done through online software and bots. But I’m not like your bank or your Amazon shopping cart. I’m not an app. 

I’m a jellyfish. 

I mean, human. Definitely a human.

Author Bio

Matt Lurie is a writer, editor, and designer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more about his work or hire him for your next project, visit mattlurie.com.

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About Ruby

How Ruby’s 24/7 live chat solution grows your business and saves you time

Why empathy matters for your business: person listening to another person in cafe with laptop, papers, and coffee
Small Business Tips

Why empathy matters for your business

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Small Business Tips

SEO and branding: star-crossed lovers

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Ruby partner feature: Authentic small business marketing with Scorpion

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Small Business Tips

4 ways to leverage live chat as a sales tool

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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 canceled 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. Some restrictions may apply.