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Three Tips for Holding Successful Customer Meetings

By: Avenu President & Chief Customer Officer, Louis Schiavone Jr.

Now that face-to-face meetings are rare, it’s more important than ever to think about how to hold a productive and valuable meeting with your client or customer. As with any meeting, preparation and consideration are key for virtual conversations. Here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Value your customer’s time.

If there’s one resource there’s never enough of, it’s time. If a potential or current customer asks to meet with you, consider it a privilege. You are being given their time, and the meeting should be handled with that in mind. This means returning that gift with full preparation and a readiness to provide true value.

If your meeting has been scheduled for one hour, don’t draw it out just to fill the time slot. A short, impactful meeting is always appreciated; no one ever regrets an extra fifteen minutes to take care of work or personal issues. And if you think you only need thirty minutes to accomplish the agenda, then only schedule it for that time period.

  1. It’s the customer’s agenda.

Be the master of ceremony, not the speaker. Prepare well before the meeting by doing your research on the customer and the topic at hand. If this is your first meeting, have a good understanding of the company, check to see if you have any mutual business connections, and know if there has been any recent media coverage on the company. Create opportunities for the customer to open up based on what you’ve learned through your preparation.

Don’t discuss solutions until the problem is completely understood and the customer asks to hear what your company can do.

  1. Be fast and furious.

Follow up immediately. Busy customers will move quickly onto something (or someone) else. Deliver post-meeting value, whether that’s a proposal, an idea, an action item or a follow-up meeting on a specific interest. If you’ve offered to send a proposal or document, don’t send it later than you’ve promised it.

It’s also a good idea to show appreciation by sending a note of gratitude that reflects your understanding of the discussion and itemizes the follow-up. It’s helpful for everyone to have a written account of the points discussed that they can save for future reference.

Your customer should come away from any meeting feeling that the time was productively spent, the discussion was useful, and their issues were heard and understood.

Customers that are respected, understood, and appreciated are more likely to listen to the solutions you bring to the table. Whether they choose your solution, the relationship and respect built along the way will pay off in ways you may not predict in the future.

How Technology Can Help With Government Revenue Enhancement

By: Avenu CEO, Paul Colangelo

“Local governments are in a budget crunch this year. Covid-19 has simultaneously decimated many municipal revenue streams and intensified the demands on local governments to provide effective public services. It’s a potentially devastating combination of falling revenue and increasing expenses. The National League of Cities estimates there will be up to $360 billion in revenue shortfalls for local city governments between now and 2022.

But for governments stuck in a pinch after the economic fallout of Covid-19, new technology of fers a way out. Digital processing and automated revenue management technologies can dramatically enhance government revenue while streamlining daily operations — providing cash-strapped governments with the means to succeed even under the most challenging of economic conditions. And beyond the budget, new technology creates a space where the private and public sectors can work hand in hand for the greater good of constituents.”

Read the rest of the article on Forbes.com to learn how digital processing and automated revenue management can increase government revenue during these challenging times.

We would love to help you implement a solution for your jurisdiction!

The Use of Reserves during COVID-19

By: Fran David, Avenu Advisory Board Member

Jurisdictions at all levels of government are experiencing or planning to experience serious gaps between revenue and expenditures related to COVID-19. These deficits may be caused by a shortfall in revenue due to the economic shutdown in response to the coronavirus, unexpected costs necessary to respond to the pandemic, or both. The most difficult and perplexing question many jurisdictions are asking is “when or if we should use financial reserves to address these deficits?”

Why is this such an important question when managing an immediate crisis? What difference does it make – the money has to be spent; the crisis must be addressed. The answer may be critical to the long-term financial health of the organization, indeed to its very long-term existence.

Two Types of Financial Challenges

Almost all public organizations face two kinds of financial challenges throughout their existence. One is cyclical is short term in nature, caused by a one-time or short-term event (e.g., unplanned-for occurrences such as a bridge collapse or a natural disaster or a drop in market demand.)  A cyclical crisis can be addressed using short-term tools with the understanding that the financial need will be short-lived (i.e., will occur in the current fiscal year only or over a defined and known short period). The second type of fiscal challenge is a structural deficit, which is longer term and will not disappear in one to two years, but rather continues across multiple budget periods. It is a fundamental flaw in the organization’s operating structure that has likely been building under the surface and cannot be corrected by a one-time infusion of cash (e.g., escalating employee costs like healthcare or retirement).

When to Use Reserves

In the public sector, financial reserves have always been a topic of frustration, temptation, and potential misuse. Rarely are they maintained at levels recommended by public finance experts such as the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) and many others. Too often reserves provide a convenient, but inappropriate, solution for temporarily mitigating a negative impact of long-term financial problems. The consistent or long-term use of financial reserves usually masks a more serious underlying structural issue in the organization. And the matter can be further exasperated by the availability of one-time funds such as proceeds from asset sales, one-time state, federal grants, or “pay-backs”, or court settlements, etc. These short-term cash infusions also help mask the dangerous underlying cracks in the organization.

When a major crisis occurs, it raises the question of whether to use financial reserves to meet the needs of the organization. There are four tests that should be applied within the decision-making process of the organization’s leaders when making that decision:

  1. The Organization’s General Financial Health: Does leadership have a consistent and firm understanding of the organization’s long-term financial health?
    1. Was the organization on solid financial footing before the crisis occurred?
    2. Is there a structural deficit hidden within?
    3. Does the organization normally maintain adequate or better reserves (i.e., is there a “reserve policy” and does the organization normally adhere to that policy)?
    4. Does the organization have and use a well-constructed, up-to-date long-term, financial plan for all funds (i.e., based on tested assumptions, that are intelligently projected into the future, and which span at least five years)?
  2. Maintenance of Reserves: Is the use appropriate and can the reserves be quickly replenished without financially crippling the organization in the process?
    1. Does the organization have existing policies for the use of reserves and is the intended use of reserves consistent with those policies?
    2. Can the immediate crisis-related need be met with only a one-time use of reserves, or is there likely to be an on-going annual need?
    3. If reserves are used, can they be restored to healthy levels (according to policy) within a short time of the expenditure (e.g., one to three years)?
  3. Operational Health of the Organization: Does the crisis offer opportunities?
    1. Was the organization operating efficiently and effectively before the crisis?
    2. Does the crisis offer opportunities that the organization should be taking advantage of instead of funding business as usual?
    3. Are any of the changes in processes or practices forced by the crisis considered to be “keepers” (i.e., teleworking, virtual meetings, etc.)?
      1. What are the resulting costs or savings?
      2. Do they require an investment to make them robust and fully productive?
    4. Alternatives: Are there good alternatives to using reserves or is leadership simply taking the easier path?
      1. Reorganization
      2. Change in services or service levels
      3. Partnerships
      4. Downsizing
      5. Innovation or pivoting

The Complexities of the Pandemic

The conundrum of COVID-19 is not knowing the length or severity of the virus threat compounded by not knowing when the economy will return to “normal”. This makes it almost impossible to determine when the costs associated with the epidemic will diminish or stop and/or when the revenue stream will return to pre-epidemic levels, if at all. This in turn clouds the choices available to policy makers and their executive leadership to cover the financial gap.

We already know that jurisdictions are being affected differently by the COVID pandemic. Some communities have a better chance of a quicker recovery than others. Many cannot easily identify when their revenue stream may return to pre-pandemic levels or when their economy will grow to its previous robust health.

All this confusion provides both demanding challenges and opportunities. The use of reserves to mitigate the destructive impact of COVID-19 should not be employed lightly. Those organizations that can see a light at the end of the tunnel may be well within good financial management to use reserves to help their community survive the negative impacts of the pandemic and maintain service levels to their community. These would be communities whose tax base is not severely eroded by the pandemic, who can realistically project a swift return to pre-pandemic revenue levels; or communities that can securely identify an end to the need for spending from reserves, and have rigorously asked and answered Questions 1-4 affirmatively and honestly.

Communities that are experiencing a deep erosion of their revenue streams due to COVID-19 may need to strenuously avoid the use of reserves except in the most demanding and critical of circumstances. An example of such communities might be those dependent on revenue from the hospitality, convention, or restaurant industries. It is highly unlikely that those revenue streams will return to “normal” levels in the short term. At the very least, it is currently impossible to determine when the revenue stream may even begin to flow again. These communities should also rigorously ask and answer Questions 1-4.

However, after doing so, these communities will most likely need to focus on Questions 3 and 4 and plan for a vastly different future going forward. In this case, financial reserves should only be used as a small part of a much more dramatic survival plan. Such a plan may mean drastic cuts in staff or services, dramatic changes in service delivery, implementation of high-risk innovation processes, investments in new technology or processes, or even bankruptcy.

How Automation Can Benefit Local Governments

Across the country, cities are struggling to do more with less. The coronavirus crisis demands more of cities than ever before at a time when cities are experiencing unprecedented interruptions to their revenue streams. To engage their citizens effectively during this pandemic, cities need to simultaneously generate new revenue and streamline their services.

Luckily, there is one innovative solution that does both, as Christy Cato, our vice president of Tax Administration, explains in her latest op-ed for GCN. That solution is automated revenue management. By improving the efficiency of daily operations while cutting costs and enhancing the tax-paying experience, automated revenue management reaps huge rewards for governments and constituents alike. On top of that, most automation processes are self-funding and pay for themselves within a matter of months.

In her op-ed, Christy Cato outlines just some of the way that automation can transform business-as-usual. Automation has always been on the horizon for government, and there’s no question that automation will define the future of work in both the public and private spheres. But COVID-19 makes the need for automation all the more pressing. By automating now, local governments can make the best out of the challenges they face today and emerge stronger to face tomorrow.

Read on here.

Q&A with the CEO of Avenu: Managing a Crisis and Preparing for Disruption

Through his work at Avenu, CEO Paul Colangelo has seen his fair share of major crises and provided invaluable guidance to cities and organizations looking to stay strong during a disruptive event.

What is the first priority for government entities and organizations worried about a crisis?

Maintaining a steady revenue stream while ensuring your employees are prepared to work under unprecedented conditions is key. Large scale crises directly threaten existing revenue structures. At the same time, work efficiency is undermined by disruptions to the normal work patterns. For these reasons, a crisis can easily overwhelm a poorly prepared organization. The very first priority has to be putting a plan in place to unlock new revenue and keep employees efficient.

How should organizational leaders approach crisis preparation?

The core task of a leader during a crisis is communication. You have to communicate well, both internally or externally, in order to weather disruption and thrive under conditions of uncertainty and change. Good communication is simply indispensable; even the most robust organizations will fumble a major crisis if they neglect to communicate.

What do organizational leaders need to know in order to prepare the most effective crisis communications?

Every organization today thrives on good data, and so internal data collection and data analysis are crucial to building up the specific knowledge base you need to act intelligently and communicate effectively. Organizations must perform internal risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities, and they must study and understand their own inner workings. Many government entities, for example, are sitting on hidden revenue simply because they don’t have the data available to identify lost tax revenue streams or discover regulatory non-compliance. Being equipped to unlock that hidden revenue could be lifesaving in a crisis situation.

What tools can organizations use to better prepare?

Automation is an invaluable tool in any organization’s toolbox. Automated revenue management systems and automated data analysis can both eliminate costly human errors and provide more transparent data. At the same time, automated systems can free up human work hours for more valuable labor and allow organizations to direct employees towards essential tasks during a crisis. And automated systems are disruption proof; good automation can mean the difference between success and failure where flexibility and continuity are key.

What other resources should organizations consider in preparing for a crisis?

I think that partnerships are an often overlooked and unduly neglected aspect for crisis preparation. Many third-party vendors can provide additional services at scale that can help an organization overcome any internal weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Public-private partnerships, and even public partnerships between governments or districts, enable resource sharing and coordinated problem solving at a level that can be vital when revenue is tight and the crisis presents unprecedented challenges.

What is your final takeaway?

In my many years of experience, one thing in particular has impressed itself upon me: most cities and organizations simply aren’t prepared for a crisis, and once a crisis happens, it’s almost always too late to start preparing. Organizational leaders have a responsibility to act early. That will mean making investments in infrastructure and technology. There’s simply no substitute for doing so.

New Revenue Management Strategies are Crucial to Overcoming Budget Shortfalls

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted tax revenue streams for many cities. That’s because tax revenue depends upon a flourishing and active local economy. But social distancing and lockdown regulations have dampened local economies, and many cities must now contend with anticipated budget shortfalls for their 2020-2021 budgets. These shortfalls threaten the ability of cities to provide valuable services and maintain engagement with their constituents.

To overcome impending budget shortfalls, cities need new revenue. The good news is that new revenue streams are within reach. By taking the right steps, cities can tap into and recover revenue lost to tax and licensing non-compliance, inefficient revenue management processes, and inaccurate data.

In his most recent op-ed for RouteFifty, our CEO, Paul Colangelo, discusses the six steps cities can take to generate new revenue. The key is for cities to take a proactive approach to maximizing tax compliance while improving the transparency of their internal data. Millions of dollars in revenue can be retrieved through software improvements, data reviews and automation, all of which can enhance every city’s ability to collect tax revenue and identify sources of funding.

Read on here.

 

 

Q&A with the President of Avenu: Communicating During a Crisis

In his long career, Avenu president Louis Schiavone Jr. has weathered many crises, including several global ones, and helped thousands of customers weather their own.

 

Have you found this recent crisis to be more difficult than others in the past?

COVID-19 has been unlike anything our country has seen before. Many businesses, organizations and local governments were not prepared for the pandemic, the economic shutdowns, the loss of revenue and the rapid shift to remote work. Crises are usually unexpected, but they’re often short-term. The combination of the unexpected, the uncertainty and the long-term has made this recent one much more difficult for our clients.

 

What should be a company’s first communications priority during a crisis?

Reach out to your clients immediately. Never wait for the client to call you. Ask what their biggest challenge is and come prepared with solutions you can offer. Remind yourself to remain calm, clear and consistent in all of your communications.

 

Do you have any tips for leading these crisis calls with clients?

Keep the messages simple. Prepare a list of talking points before speaking with a customer. These should be simple and straightforward. Don’t add stress with complicated communications.

 

What is the best way to respond to a client with difficult demands or needs?

Always be true to your word, and don’t overpromise. Only promise if you can deliver on that promise. Be honest about what you can do and can’t do. If you know you can’t deliver on something, or you aren’t sure, it is better for both you and the client to be upfront about this.

 

What is something you’ve learned during the recent crisis?

Consistency is key. Scheduling a regular call with your customers is especially important during times of crisis. And maintain this consistency after the crisis has subsided. A crisis call shouldn’t be the first call you’ve had in a while.

 

What can companies do now to prepare for the next crisis?

Always have a crisis playbook that can be adapted to any situation. We might not be able to predict the next pandemic, or weather situation, or power outage, but companies should have a foundational plan and predetermined chain of command for dealing with things like rapid shifts to remote work; evacuations; damaged servers; ransomware; and more.

 

Do you have any other tips for client-facing businesses?

Don’t take anything personally. People deal with crises in different ways, and you never know how a person is being affected personally. Maintain your calm, be empathetic and do the best you can do. Listen more than you talk. If you keep these points in mind, you can gain and build on stakeholder trust that will last long after the crisis resolves.

 

Louis Schiavone Jr. is president of Avenu Insights & Analytics.

Digital Initiatives Can Help Local Governments Deliver High-Quality Services

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted the American workplace in both the public and private sectors. Now more than ever before, companies that invest in digital technology can enjoy a significant competitive advantage over their non-digital competitors. That’s because digital technology is key to ensuring business continuity and efficiency in an era of remote work, telecommuting, and social distancing.

Ann Kirkbride, our Senior Business Unit Owner for digital processing services, recently addressed the importance of a digital transformation for local governments. In a June article for Government Technology, she highlights the ways in which digital technology can streamline daily operations, improve efficiency and prepare public sector workforces to weather any crisis-situation, whether it’s a pandemic or a natural disaster.

Through digitalization, local governments can transform costly and time-consuming operations into low-cost, efficient and user-friendly services for their constituents. Digitizing court documents, for example, can enhance the efficiency of criminal justice by enable judges, attorneys and law enforcement officials to scan digital databases for information. Meanwhile, digitizing public records can ensure that public information is easily accessible and immune to physical destruction.

With so much to gain and so little to lose, the digital transformation of government operations and records will define the future of effective public service.

Read more here.

Steps Avenu is Taking to Support Clients and Employees During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a fluid situation that has everyone on alert. Avenu’s number one concern is maintaining the health and well-being of both our customers and employees, while continuing to ensure the continuity of all business services.

As you are aware, an expanding number of government agencies and commercial businesses are taking steps to impose curfews, ban large gatherings, regulate travel and enact other restrictions that are reasonable and necessary to protect public health and the welfare of their citizens and employees.

Avenu is no exception.

Here are the steps Avenu is currently taking:  

  • Communication
    • Providing updates and best practices to employees to mitigate exposure and contagion
    • Sharing information with our customers on any changes in our operating levels
  • Operations
    • Deploying technical solutions to continue operational support for our customers
    • Ensuring all critical business functions have both primary and secondary employee assignments
    • Verifying that all critical vendors have plans to maintain normal operating levels
  • Travel
    • Canceling all non-essential air travel and assessing risks of any business travel
    • Limiting the attendance and exhibition at conferences to reduce social exposure until further notice
    • Postponing plans for large internal meetings
    • Videoconferencing for meetings when possible
  • Work from Home
    • Allowing/Requiring employees to work from home where situationally appropriate
    • Having employees who fall under the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) guidelines self-quarantine for 14 days

It’s important for you to know that we are closely monitoring the situation and prepared to further activate our Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity, Visitor Access and Pandemic Management plans in the event more action is needed.

This is a unique time in history, and we are hopeful that the proactive actions by everyone around the world will help reduce further illness and disruption.   We sincerely wish you, your families, employees and citizens the best of health.

California – Implementing New Business License Laws in 2020

Issues includes:  SB 234, related to family daycare homes;   AB 1607, gender discrimination notifications when issuing a license, SB 205 regarding verification by locals for stormwater discharge program enrollment; and others.  Read the full report here.