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Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams – Part 2: MS Outlook Tips

1/14/2015

In the previous blog , I stated that business professionals seeking efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, can upgrade not just systems or processes, but also employees , through skills enhancements.

This type of upgrade starts by observing your best employee(s) and writing down the attributes that you believe make them your “A” players. What is it that they do that you believe gives them a “leg up” over their peer group?

The next step is to then sit down with each employee and ask them what they believe are their greatest skills. Be sure to ask them what they do to ensure success in their daily workflow. Is it their attention to detail? Perhaps it’s the way they start off each day, with a few moments spent prioritizing their tasks before getting knee-deep in the day-to-day activities of the business. Business-Teamwork-Casual-Office

Next, consider how these “cream of the crop” employees might improve themselves, as well (because there’s no such thing as an employee who can’t). How do they interact with the organization’s business system (e.g., ERP system)? How efficiently are they using the other applications on their computer or virtual terminal?

Because a majority of the front-line employees in almost any distribution or manufacturing organization use Microsoft Outlook, let’s take a look at some best-in-class features in Outlook that can increase an employee’s efficiency exponentially:

Organizing folders
How does the employee manage their e-mail inbox? If while looking over an employee’s shoulder, you see only the Inbox and the Trash folder, you’ve got A LOT of work ahead of you! Employees should be using folders broken down into a tree structure that makes sense to not only them, but to others, as well (i.e., if they win the lotto and take off to Tahiti, the company needs to be able to access the e-mails quickly and find what they need).

Quick search tools (e.g., Ctrl + Shift + F)
Ask an employee to find that one e-mail you know they received six months ago or more, and you’re likely to see them spend 30 minutes plus tracking it down by searching frantically in an unorganized fashion. Outlook has a very powerful search tool that you can access by hitting Ctrl + Shift + F. The search query window that pops up lets the employee search by any number of fields, date periods, folders and subfolders, and the results come back very quickly.

Managing tasks
Did you know you can click and drag an e-mail onto the Task icon in Outlook and it will create a task for you automatically? There’s no need for yellow Post-Its when it can all be kept within the confines of the computer screen. Outlook tasks allow employees to create deadlines for themselves, set reminders, assign tasks to others, and even track progress of a project to completion.

Creating calendar events
Employees who understand not only how to create a calendar invitation, but also how to confirm availability of other employees they want to invite to an event, will save time avoiding countless back-and-forth e-mails. There are a number of fields and functionalities available throughout the Outlook application, such as color-coding, which can be used as prioritization tools. It only takes a minute to establish the meaning of each color.

Creating rules
Quite possibly the most controversial functionality in Outlook is the ability to create rules. I’ve witnessed many a horror story on how a critical e-mail was missed because an employee had inadvertently created an e-mail rule to forward any e-mail with “X” in the subject line straight to a special folder for later review.

Creating rules can be of great benefit with the right education on the impact and power of this tool. I’ve seen individuals create multiple Inbox folders, each with its own purpose. For example, they’ll have their main Inbox, an “Inbox – CC” for any e-mail where they are in the CC field of the e-mail, “Inbox – Outside” for any e-mail where the sender is from outside the company, and “Inbox – Invites” where any Outlook calendar invitation goes.

The argument can be made that you are simply increasing the opportunity for errors, but I believe there are ways to leverage this functionality to increase efficiencies. By setting these various folders as Favorites, and retraining ourselves to manage our e-mails from the Favorites drop-down, you can prioritize and focus on the folders that mean the most to you (which will vary by company, for obvious reasons).

Stay tuned for more posts on skill sets (Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) to improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

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