The Buck Stops Here

Leadership

Leadership. Even the word strikes fear into the hearts of those stalwart leaders and managers who must lead us every day. If you're a member of the leadership club, we've rounded up a few great news links to help you lessen the fear and actually become a better leader than you thought you could be. Yes, you can!

Furnitureworld.com highlights an important leadership quality that I think is so often overlooked in many of the top leadership how-to books and even in most news articles about leadership.

"You hear it all the time … aspiring managers or vice presidents want to know the most important key to an esteemed business leader's success. Thinking the answer must be something like inspiring leadership, technological innovation, savvy marketing or far-sighted financial planning — all of which are important — their jaws drop when they learn the truth.

Generally, a savvy leader's success is directly tied to his or her ability to focus on the business fundamentals — the daily blocking and tackling that every company must master to be a winner in its field. Strong, effective leaders stress fundamentals like discipline, accountability, strategic alignment, managing to his or her values, and empowering employees. Additionally, these leaders have mastered the six basic functions of management: leading, planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and communicating. But what's the one golden thread tying all those functions together — and the most important key to great leadership? Clear communication."

The Wall Street Journal hits upon a radical approach to leadership: group leadership.

"It's a common corporate approach to a problem: Build a team of experts from different parts of the company and ask them to find a solution.

But these teams could be a lot more effective if companies took one radical step: Share leadership.

This concept, of course, flies in the face of the traditional idea of how companies should operate -- one person is in charge, and the others follow. But in a team of specialists, one expert usually doesn't have the know-how to understand all the facets of the job at hand. Instead, a better approach is to share the top duties, so the person in charge at any moment is the one with the key knowledge, skills and abilities for the aspect of the job at hand. When that changes, a new expert should step to the fore."

These are two really good ideas for leaders seeking a renewal of their skills while in the midst of layoffs and harsh financial times for their company or department.

Take heart, leaders. These are interesting times, but the ability to look outside of proven typical solutions to gain new, bigger results is really quite smart. And just so you know, that's another sign of a good leader. Kudos to you!

Can You Hear What I’m Saying?

One of the biggest issues facing businesses today and in the next few years is communicating effectively. The ability to communicate effectively is still the same: know your audience, speak in their language, and hear their questions.

But how do businesses do it?

The Business Ledger for Suburban Chicago discusses keeping current clients as the best way to navigate through the current economic conditions, and cites warmer, more personalized communications tactics as the best way to go.

"A continuing dependence on technology is also a barrier for attorneys to overcome when trying to develop more personal relationships with clients. With the emergence of e-mail as the primary communication tool in business, attorneys now must make a conscious effort to stay in close contact with their clients through phone conversations and face-to-face communication.

'I try to continue to have face-to-face contact with clients,' said Kenneth Clingen, a partner in Clingen Callow & McLean. 'Some younger lawyers are a little reticent to pick up the phone and call clients. They're more comfortable communicating by e-mail.

'It's an advantage to those lawyers who will continue to try to have face-to-face contact with their clients. If you don't have that, it may affect your ability to strengthen the relationship.'"

A surprising truth to most business leaders or managers seeking better ways to improve their leadership skills is learning to communicate.

Furnitureworld.com cites the importance of looking at communication as a two-way street and provides a helpful (and doable) list.

"First, you must realize and accept that clear communication is always a two-way process. It's not enough to speak clearly; you have to make sure you're being heard and understood. To facilitate this, use the following two-way communication primer:

1. Prepare how you'll communicate

  • Clarify the goal of the communication
  • Plan carefully before sending it or meeting in person
  • Anticipate the receiver's viewpoint and feelings

2. Deliver the message

  • Express your meaning with conviction
  • Relate the message to your larger goals
  • Identify the action to be taken
  • Confirm the other person understands

3. Receive the message

  • Keep an open mind
  • Identify key points in the message
  • Value constructive feedback and use it to grow
  • Confirm your understanding

4. Evaluate the effectiveness of the communication afterwards

5. Take corrective action as necessary"

In short, if you're talking in a vacuum, who is listening? You need to make business communications personal and relevant to clients, and above all, think of it as a conversation, not a lecture. Sometimes the most important things you'll ever learn about your business are things you'll "hear" from your own clients.

Another Multifaceted Approach to Team-Building

Channel 8 News in Austin recently reported on a story that highlighted the philanthropic aspect of team-building.

"It was a double surprise when dozens of Frito Lay employees thought they were assembling bikes Wednesday as part of a team building exercise.

Later in the day, rather unexpectedly, 44 kids turned a corporate exercise into a much more meaningful event.

With numbers in hand, the children walked into a conference room to discover the bikes were for them.

One Frito Lay employee said it was the most worthwhile team building exercise they've done so far."

The London Free Press reports on a team-building exercise that has seen marvelous results from participants.

"Viewers of the Amazing Race know that participants rarely emerge from the contest unchanged.

Sometimes the twosome is drawn closer together, their friendship strengthened by the intensity of the experience. The more entertaining couples go the other way, bickering their way around the world, straining whatever relationship they began with.

The creative minds behind Conundrum Adventures Inc. hope their clients fall into the former category, working together to solve puzzles that lead them through downtown London.
‘It started with the idea of corporate team building, but we've also had a large family reunion do a Conundrum,’ says Teresa Boere, a recent addition to the company. She runs the London arm of the business, which is based in Toronto."

And to dig a little deeper into this subject, Ephraim Schwartz of InfoWorld.com talks about the essentials of global team-building, which focuses less on activities done together to build a team, but highlights essential education and knowledge required when going into a truly global team space.

"Just as a company puts a localization strategy in place when opening a new plant or launching a new product overseas, company leaders must learn about communication styles, attitudes toward meetings and deadlines, even the very notion of what makes a good leader in a given culture before entering into business negotiations with an organization overseas.

In the United States, a direct approach -- even when critiquing a team member -- is admired, but in most of Asia, directness is not regarded as highly. A leader who practices that approach humiliates the person she is criticizing; moreover, in the eyes of the other team members, she humiliates herself."

As business deals spread across the globe, taking care that your communication and assumptions are correct and appropriate goes a long way toward a strong team effort, probably more so than just solving a puzzle or building bikes for children. The essence of team-building is more complicated than a simple exercise, and we’ll be discussing this much more in the near future.

Happy 4th

We hope everyone enjoys a wonderful July 4th this year. Make sure to watch fireworks, eat hot dogs and spend some time with friends and family.

Happy 4th

Business Bending Toward Gen Y; Frustrating Other Generations

Generation Y vs Generation X

In the United States, learning to communicate between different age groups is the new challenge of business communications. Why? Generation X and Y groups speak differently than the Boomer generation.

- Diane Stafford, writing for the Kansas City Star, reports, "The entry of the techno-savvy Gen Ys is getting far more notice than the smaller, quieter absorption of Gen X, the demographic group sandwiched between the boomers and Gen Y.

Whereas Gen X pretty much got with the boomer program, Gen Y has a style of its own. That's created a cottage industry of commentary and consulting about the communication difficulties among the four generations at work."

In the 2008 World of Work survey recently completed by Harris Interactive Inc., workers were given "31 traits to choose from to identify co-workers in their same generation. The top five choices in the four generational groups showed just how differently the groups see themselves.

Gen Y most often described their own workplace personas with: Makes personal friends at the workplace; sociable; thinks out of the box; open to new ideas; and friendly.

Gen X's most frequent self descriptions were: Confident; competent; willing to take responsibility; willing to put in the extra time to get the job done; and ethical.

Boomers most often selected: Strong work ethic; competent; ethical; ability to handle a crisis; willing to take on responsibility; and good communication skills.

And the mature group self-identified with: Strong work ethic; ethical; committed to the company; competent; and confident."

The generations at the most odds, Gen Y, Boomers, and the mature group, have the hardest time communicating. Yet, "Gen Y was just about as hard on itself in evaluating its own work ethic and other 'serious' business traits as the older generations were in downgrading the Gen Y work ethic.

Gen Y is changing the face of global business, possibly the most dramatic upheaval in business culture since women entered the workplace during World War II. 'The significant factor is not how today's business views the newest members of the workforce … it's how Gen Y views business.'

'Gen X challenged the status quo. Gen Y chooses to press for more from their work life. They don't accept all the tried and true principles and practices. The old rules of thumb do not apply. Neither do many of the management techniques employers have used with previous generations.'"

Thus, the challenge in the next few years is for Gen Y to learn to understand how other generations view business and for other generations to allow Gen Y to redefine business in their terms.

Five Tips To Reduce Your Company’s Expenses

Are you feeling the squeeze as a business owner? The papers are full of talk about rising food and gas prices for consumers, but the business owners have to deal with those issues as well. Not only are consumers not spending right now, but the price of gas increases the price of other supplies that businesses require to operate. And the mood among small business owners is dour, so here's a few tips to pep up your day.

  1. Check your utility bills for errors. Phone bills, water bills, electricity bills, any recurring cost of doing business expense has a bill and they are nowhere near fool-proof. Check them to make sure you're being charged the right amount. Check with the companies to see if they offer a promotion for being a loyal customer. Make sure you're paying for what your company is using and not extras that you're not.
  2. Renegotiate your contracts. This slides neatly into the second slot after number 1 above. Is there a better deal you can get by going with another company? If you pit two companies against each other, can you whittle them down bit by bit? Never be afraid to ask for a better deal. It's the name of the game. Especially now.
  3. Think outside the box. Rather than flying everyone to one location for a meeting, think about a conferencing service and instead of handing out cell phones willy-nilly, reconsider how many people in your company really need them. It only takes a little bit of brainstorming.
  4. Outsource. Trying to do it all as a small or mid-size business isn't smart and these days there are services for everything. Shop around and don't sign any long-term contracts until you know you'll use it. This can be for HR, teleconferencing, accounting, marketing, you name it. There must be one thing holding up progress in your company. Figure that out and the sky's the limit. And don't outsource everything; start with one thing.
  5. Show that you're cutting back. Be the example. Turn off the lights when not in the office. Eat a sack lunch twice a week. Print on both sides of the page. Recycle. And always praise employees who attempt to help you cut costs by doing any of the above. It goes a long way and builds morale, which improves productivity, which improves sales and on and on. You know the drill.

Going Green, Along With Everybody Else

It's the biggest buzzword of the year, and may end up the most popular trend of our decade: green.

And everyone's jumping on the bandwagon, including whole sectors of business, government, and media.

The Chicago Tribune reports a list of celebrities who have not gone green yet including: Celine Dion, Tiger Woods, Elizabeth Hurley, Al Gore, John Travolta, Madonna, the Beckhams, and Bill Gates.

Why do these famous people get cited? And what is with Al Gore ? Isn't this his pet peeve?

The Trib reports that each celeb on the list uses more than the usual amount of water, has larger than above-average homes, and uses up a lot of resources traveling the world.
According to the BBC, "David Beckham may have had the largest carbon footprint of all in 2006. Add on his wife's carbon footprint, and they could be one of the most eco-unfriendly couples in the world."

The San Jose Mercury News tells us that public school districts in Miami, San Francisco, and Chicago will benefit from a partnership between a television network and an environmental media company.

"CBS Corp. and EcoMedia of New York City announced Thursday that they will sell special advertising content and programming. They will use part of the proceeds to install solar power, green roofs and organic gardens at schools in the three cities. This is the first step in what will be called the 'Green Schools Initiative.' It will cost about $250,000 per school for the upgrades. EcoMedia wants to expand the program in dozens of schools nationwide over the coming years."

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on an upcoming initiative joining Seattle's blue collar workers together to create a new green economy.

"'This is hard-wired into Puget Sound's genetic code. We understand technological revolutions. We started one in aerospace in the '50s, and we started one in software in the '70s, and now we can start one in this,' said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who will address the conference. 'Against a backdrop that for decades seemed to pit environmentalists and labor groups against each other, greens, labor and their allies worked together in the last few years to help pass state laws to improve energy-efficiency and require use of renewable energy. Now they're looking to make sure the jobs those requirements spawn end up in the Evergreen State.'"

What green trends do you see in your neighborhood?

How to Go Back to School . . . and Still Keep Up With Life

There are so many options out there for getting that degree you never finished, brushing up on business skills, or even to retrain for a new career—all without changing your entire life in the process.

The New York Times reports on whether or not online education is right for you . . . and your current or future employer.

"While every employer is different, Susan Kryczka, director of distance education at Boston University, said that most treat online degrees as equivalent to degrees obtained by attending classes in classrooms.

Ms. Kryczka said that many employers would cover online education as part of existing tuition reimbursement programs, provided that employees could prove that the online degree pertained to their current job.

Once employees have completed their degrees, she added, many are rewarded with additional compensation for advancing their education. . . .

When employers are considering job applicants, online degrees are also becoming more accepted. Bob Leber, director of education and work-force development at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., says that when employers are evaluating prospective employees, most don’t ask applicants to specify how they obtained their degrees, just where they obtained them."

So how do you find a good program?

OnlineEduBlog.com rates online universities here. This rating service offers news updates, ratings, and links to a wide selection of online education classes that are available.

"OnlineEduBlog is an education directory and guide that provides exclusive information, reviews, tips and suggestions on choosing the best online college, online course and online education resources that will help you complete your higher education very conveniently along with the degrees they offer for various levels."
The Denver Post reports that with the rising cost of gas these days, online classes are becoming the preferred choice of prospective students.

"As the price of gasoline swells by the day, online education appears to be one industry that has grown sweeter for those hoping to get a degree.

The wait list at the University of Colorado Denver's online program is up 90 percent from last fall. The number of students enrolled in CSU's distance-learning courses is up by 300 students from last year."

What are you waiting for?

Does Your Customer Service Measure Up?

Measure Up

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article by business coach Maureen Moriarty provide a nice "next action" list for companies seeking improved customer service marks from their customers and their own employees.

"Many companies espouse that they provide great customer service, but few deliver. The inconsistency often stems from a failure to model it internally. The quality of customer service that co-workers provide to each other invariably shows up with outside customers.
Sadly, not all co-workers treat each other with the same kind of respect and care that they treat their customers. Perhaps you've heard the relationship advice of, 'Treat your spouse/partner as if they were a guest in your home.' With co-workers (not unlike spouses), there are times we forget we are all rowing for the same team!"
Customer Strategy talks about research released by the Ken Blanchard group that reports that good customer service and developing good customer loyalty are not high priorities for businesses in the UK.

"Despite the fact good customer service could provide an all-important competitive edge in the current economic climate, when asked about their key employee development concerns in Blanchard's annual Corporate Issues Survey, only 10% of businesses identified it as their top management challenge for 2008. Overall, only 38% recognised it as any kind of priority at all, a 10% drop on 2007 survey responses.

Peter Brent, who overseas Blanchard's 'Legendary Service' customer service training in the UK described the figures as shocking."

And the Chicago Tribune talks about Zappos.com's newest effort to weed out uncommitted workers to improve their customer service experience.

"It's called 'the offer,' and here's how it works: About one week into a training program that every headquarters employee cycles through, someone steps into the room and asks the group about their experience so far.

'Is this living up to your expectations?' the trainer asks. 'Is this the right place for you? Because if it's not, we definitely have something for you, it's an early-resignation offer. We'll pay your time so far, plus a bonus.'

Zappos offers $1,500 to anyone who wants to quit, up from the $100 offer when it started the practice three years ago. Between 2 percent and 3 percent take the money and run."

I thought these articles were very insightful, especially in light of several customer service situations I experienced this week. One was stellar, establishing me as a very satisfied return customer, and the other? Not so much.

It got me to thinking, do we as small business owners (or even employees of larger companies) really know what it takes to retain our clients and customer? And do we realize how important retaining satisfied customers will be to us in the long run? Especially during this season of reduced economic growth?

What do you think?

The Downside of Upgrading

8.3 million. That's how many times the new version of Firefox was downloaded yesterday. We were part of the 8.3 mil. Probably millions downgraded - we did (5 out of 5 in our office). Why?

We use Firefox for the extensions. Without the extensions, we might as well be using Netscape 1.0 or IE. We'll gladly upgrade to 3.0, but only when the extensions catch up, if they ever do. We have to have our tab options! This seems eerily similar....does anyone remember the Vista upgrade headaches? We still have issues. Why can't UPS send us a Vista compatible version of their shipping program?

So who's to blame? The original developer (like Mozilla or Microsoft) by not sending out dev kits in time? Or 3rd party developers who haven't yet caught up with the platform? Or is everyone to blame? …for simply not hopping on a conference call to talk about it.

Before definitively pointing the finger, let's keep in mind "What makes a browser great?" Compatibility (ALL Types: Site, Application, Plug-in, & Platform) and Speed. In that order. Some users might wonder if Mozilla could include a ‘fatter' version of the browser with a certain level of compatibility with old extensions. Maybe simply warn about stability or security issues until extensions are updated.

From the Mozilla website: "When you install Firefox 3 all of your Extensions and Themes will be disabled until Firefox 3 determines that either a) they are compatible with the Firefox 3 release or b) there are newer versions available that are compatible."

This can't be the best policy.

Individual extension developers are usually not paid. Maybe they make some AdWords cash, but they are donating to the community and bring the biggest piece of the value pie. Is there more Mozilla can do to cater to these developers? Could they further open up what is being developed to the public domain and stay competitive? Trust in users could generate more brand loyalty and give 3rd party developers more reaction time. People love the name; dare we say they are as positive of a brand as Google. How is the beta/RC program working out? How soon DO developers get information? Is that soon enough or do unpaid extension developers simply ignore the idea of updating their code until they hear from users in their inbox.

As users, we can love extension developers and show gratitude for their time. Please let them know they are appreciated!

As platform developers, we can take some more time out of the busy rush to "release". Although this might "cost" the company, it would be invaluable. Imagine a "no-name developer" receiving a phone call or an email double checking about compatibility.

As third party developers we can bask in the billions of dollars being made from AdWords; or just continue taking pride in persistence. A job well done!

AccuConference |

How to Download Recordings

There are a few ways to download your audio conference recordings from AccuConference. For no charge, you can record your conference calls and they will be available on your customer account to download for thirty days. One of the things we get asked about is how to download the recordings from the customer account. Not just where they can be found but actually where do they go once you click on them.

There are a few ways you can download our recording files (or most files) from a website. Here’s how you get your conference recordings from our site.

Click directly on “Save”

When you click directly on “Save” the file will go to your “Downloads” folder on your computer. This is a special file designated by your preferred web browser to store any of the things you get from different websites.

When you download a recording directly from our website by clicking on “Save” the file will usually go into that folder. It might pop up on a bar at the bottom of your browser and you can double click and play the file or click and drag it to your desktop to save it there.

Right Click and Select “Save Link As” from the Pop Up Menu

This method allows you to save the file in a specific location, rather than having it go directly into your “Downloads” folder on your computer.

After you click on “Save Link As”, you will be able to choose a folder or location on your computer. You can create a folder on your desktop for your conference recordings or save them directly to a shared drive and make them available for all of your co-workers.

Recording your conference calls is a great way to keep everyone accountable and once you have the file on your computer, they are yours forever. You can use them for podcasts, put them on your website, or have them transcribed to meet any disclosure requirements. What will you do with your conference recordings?

Four Inexpensive Tools for Customer Service

If you're considering reevaluating your customer service strategy your main focus is figuring out where you can improve. A business' customer service strategy is not just about what information you're giving customers.

If you want to change your customer service philosophy, here are four inexpensive tools you can implement right away to make a change. I can give the seal of approval on all of these because we use them right here at AccuConference.

Knowledge

One of the most important parts of customer service is that your employees are familiar with your product and your company. When a customer calls in with a question or a concern, your goal is to make sure this is the only call that has to be made. Getting it right the first time makes a big impact on your customers and step one is educating your employees.

Trust

One of the best things you can do is trust your employees and this starts at the very beginning of a hiring process. We have a very specific hiring process that helps us to determine candidates that have the same philosophies and feelings about customer service that we have as a company, and because of this my managers trust me to handle some things on my own and to take a concern to a higher level when I need to.

Voice

This is AccuConference and we are not the droids you’re looking for. (Hah!) We don't use scripting. Sure, we have standard responses to things, but they aren't the product of a script, they are the product of our experience. This is a big difference. Not being on a script gives us the chance to develop a rapport with customers and let them get to know us.

No Bait, Just Fish

An advertisement, whether it is a commercial, a print ad, or even a tweet sets a tone and an expectation with your customers. If you can't deliver on a promise made in an advertisement, then you're suddenly in a position where your first interaction with a potential customer may be viewed as a deception. This isn't a good way to start a relationship and can take a lot of extra work to repair. This is why when someone sets up an account with us they find a low rate, all of our features, and our undivided attention.

How do you approach customer service?

Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Customer

Sometimes we can say things that can be taken the wrong way. When helping a customer, what we say can be the difference between resolving an issue the customer is having or making the customer furious and escalating it. There are words that can have a certain tone or connotation that we may not recognize when we say them.

Blog writer, Keith Agnew, lists words that he believes can kill your credibility. And he makes a valid point with one word in particular. When you start a sentence with the word “actually”, it can potentially have a condescending tone. That’s something you want to avoid when speaking with customers. For example, if you have a customer who believes they have paid their balance in full when they really short paid their bill, you may be tempted to start your rebuttal with “Actually…”. You’re probably just stating a fact, but the customer might think you are being patronizing. Instead, empathize with the customer’s frustration and start your sentence off with something like “I’m sorry for the confusion…” or “Let me see what happened…”. You’ll end up saving the customer the irritated feeling of not being heard and you still get your point across.

Another phrase you shouldn’t use would be “We can’t do that”. Even if you can’t do what the customer is asking for, giving them a flat no isn’t going to solve anything. The customer knows that you can’t perform miracles, but they do like it when you’re able to come up with a solution that fits their needs. I had a customer who needed to have an international call and wanted to use our International Toll-Free Service on their account. There was a problem though. They had a custom conference line with a custom greeting and they would lose the greeting if I added the service to their account. Instead of telling the customer “We can’t do that”, I started my sentence with “The only problem with doing that is…” and explained to them the reason why we couldn’t keep the custom greeting if they switched. I then suggested that they could still have their international call and keep their custom greeting if the moderator outdials to their international participant. Instead of telling the customer we couldn’t do something, I provided a reason why what they wanted wouldn’t work and offered a reasonable solution.

There’s a list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer when you are trying to help fix their problem. People have even written books about customer service etiquette. Which tells me that those who recognize the importance of what they say and how they say it will have a better chance with understanding their customers’ needs. What words are on your list of things that you shouldn’t say to a customer?

The Fake Smile

Only those who know you, recognize it. It is a disguise to protect you and mask your true reaction. It is frequently used when facing a loss; whether it is a job, a promotion, a loved one, your youthful appearance or even your hair.

Recently, I had a fake smile day. I found myself dreaming most of it and not getting much done. I am a "Doer" not a "Thinker", so checking off a list at the end of the day has always been important. This day, I allowed myself to dream. Dream of what could have been, should have been and what I still want to be. I allowed my dreams rather than my actions to be a better part of the day. It made me cherish existence a little more when I was able to snap back to reality.

I started my day with a fake smile and somewhere along the way. I felt the smile and allowed it to be real. I set this feeling free. It is a not a great day, but I challenge myself to make it a good day, because I realize that life is a gift and a dream can make it even better. If you can use the fake smile long enough, it may evolve into you actually feeling like smiling. And if you take some time to dream, you may find a reason to smile.

Follow Your Instincts in Customer Service

A few weeks ago, something interesting and terrifying happened while refilling my gas tank. When I looked down, there was a puddle of gasoline under my SUV and gas was dripping down the wheel well. Since defects in gas tanks are actually pretty rare I suspected that it had to be overflow from when I was filling up.

Still, something didn't feel right. Even as I told myself that it was simply an overflow issue, I didn't fully accept it as the answer. After driving a block and half, I realized my miles to empty display had dropped nearly ten miles. I decided to take the vehicle to the dealership and lo and behold, there was a crack in part of my tank that needed to be replaced.

Cracks and defects in the gas tank are rare in vehicles. Who knows what could have happened if I had continued to drive around slowly dripping gas? I went with my instinct that something was horribly wrong, and I was completely right.

Instincts are a huge factor in why and how we do something. No matter if you want to call it your intuition, sixth sense, or your gut feeling, we do put a lot of importance on our instincts. They are a piece of us and driven by our personality and our makeup, so there are different instinctual reactions for everyone. Using your personal instinctual reactions at certain time when dealing with customers can be a boost to how you provide service for them.

Jump in When It's Right

If your instinct is telling you that your customer needs help, don't be afraid to go with your gut and jump in. Recently, I was walking a customer through some of the steps and after some of his questions indicated he needed a little extra help, I offered to put his invitation together for him. I want my customers to learn how to do things and I'm highly dedicated to not just answering their questions, but educating them on how everything works. There is a time and a place for education, but there is also a time for taking care of it so the customer doesn't have to.

Step Away When It's Not

It is possible to be unable to adequately communicate with a customer. As a customer, you think you're asking all of the right questions. As the operator, you feel like you're answering them, but you're both getting frustrated. Letting the customer talk to someone else doesn't mean that you're passing the buck, it means that you’re going to send the customer to someone that might have a better approach. We all learn differently, we all have ways that we are comfortable, and there might come a time when you are not able to speak to the customer in the way they need. Don't be afraid to step away from a client if your instinct is telling you that the conversation is going downhill fast.

In Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, he talks about how our spontaneous decisions can sometimes be better than the ones where we agonize over every little detail. Once we become an "expert", according to Gladwell, we can "thin slice" and use limited information to make a decision. This cuts out a lot of the information that can sometimes cause us to over think a solution. Instincts are a powerful tool in making a decision.

Do you trust your instincts?

Stop Procrastinating and Get Your Hands Dirty


Have you ever looked at your to-do list and put off the things that you’re not the least bit excited about doing? Of course you have. I do it, too. We all do. And even though I put off those tasks for later, I know I have to eventually get to them before they start piling up. Whether it’s work related or in our personal lives, procrastination seems to tempt us at one time or another. But if we know we eventually have to get our hands dirty, why do we wait until the last minute?

The Task is Outside of Our Comfort Zone

Psychiatrist, Phil Stutz, and psychotherapist, Barry Michels, have asked the question as to why we procrastinate. They point out that many of us hold off on certain things because it’s outside of our own comfort zone. One job I used to hold was an analyst position. I always procrastinated on the detailed excel reports because the math that went into all of it was overwhelming. And all of the formulas and equations had to be triple checked because those reports were sent to senior executives. It caused a lot of pressure on my end and sent me mentally outside of my comfort zone. I would wait until the last minute to do the reports and cause myself needless stress to have them done by their deadlines. I always met my deadlines, but I made myself sick in the process. Now, I take a different approach. If I come across something that I feel is overwhelming, I take a deep breath and dive in. I find it’s better to tackle the most stressful tasks first and save myself from the unwanted stress.

We’re Waiting For the Perfect Moment

Sometimes we tell ourselves that right now is not the right time to do something. And in some cases, we’re right. Right now may not be the right time for you to buy a house or start a family. But for lesser life changing events, like filing your taxes or asking for that promotion, procrastination won’t benefit you. If you want that promotion, you have to show that you’re not only ambitious but that you deserve it as well. If you procrastinate because you don’t think it’s the right time to ask, then you’re letting the chances of a better future slip through your fingers. Instead, make that leap and take a chance. The worse that can happen is you’re told no, but you can walk away with the confidence knowing that you at least tried.

The Task is Too Boring

Honestly, I hate doing laundry. It’s one of the most boring chores I ever do. I find folding and hanging clothes to be so tedious and mundane. But I know that it has to be done. When I first lived on my own, laundry would be the last chore that I would do. What I then realized was that I was having to stay up late to make sure that all of the laundry was done, making me pretty tired the next day. It was then that I learned that if I wanted a decent night’s sleep, I would need to start doing laundry earlier. I also decided to incorporate music into my laundry routine. So now I rock out to Maroon 5 or some classic Depeche Mode to help push myself through a chore I’d rather not do.

No matter what the excuse is, procrastination really does nothing more than prolong the inevitable. If you’re ready to take charge and get things done, make one of your goals this year to be to stop procrastinating. You may find those things you were holding off on doing really weren’t that bad to begin with.

Leadership Lessons Learned from Olympians

Jared Zezel.

Does that name ring any bells?

No? Okay, how about Allison Pottinger?

Allow me to shed some light on our mystery guests. Jared and Allison are members of the 2014 USA Olympics team who will compete for Sochi gold in the sport of curling.

Heh? Curling? What's that? I was exposed to curling during the Salt Lake City winter games and while it may not seem very exciting, I've found it to be more edge of my seat than some of the other winter sports. (Maybe it's because I have no idea how it's judged but I find myself waiting to hear the teams calling out instructions and then cheering as one stone slaps against another.)

There's no one who wouldn't agree that in order to be an Olympian you have to work your tail off, but the curling champions of the world compete in a sport that lacks a sexy or romantic flair. Major brands are not going to approach the gold medal curling champion and ask them to promote the hot new car or next big thing. No, brands and advertisers want Shaun White flipping over the top of a BMW or Gracie Gold cutting figure eights around a bowl of cereal. (Editors Note: IOC regulations prevent Olympians from promoting products during the Olympic Games, but the games are an opportunity to make a "name" for yourself.)

People like to think that athletes are in it for the money and the sponsorship deals. It's a bonus, yes, but we can learn a lot about drive and leadership from the champions of both popular and the little known Olympic sports.

Hard Work and Dedication

Nothing comes easily and we would all do a lot to remember that we can't just wish for our dreams to be fulfilled. We have to go out and fall on the ice or face plant into the snow. When you get up and brush yourself off, you try again, and you have a better idea of your mistakes. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication to be considered as the "elite" of anything - be it curling, writing, snowboarding, or basket making.

Set Goals Early On

Not all athletes want to be Olympians. Not all Olympians dream of a day when they can enter their sport professionally. No matter what they want, they decide at a young age what they want to be. Going pro versus being an Olympian might take you to different circles of competition or choose a different coach. Setting a specific goal from the get-go can help you determine the path that you need to take, rather than just wandering in the weeds with no real direction.

Success is What You Make of It

The champions of the sport of curling will likely never get a multi-million dollar deal to promote a brand or product. The Jared and Allison's of the Olympics will likely never be featured on the front of cereal box, but yet, they are still competing with all of their hearts and souls. Success isn't always about being the biggest, baddest, and most well-known name in a field. We won't all get to that point and in truth, almost none of us will. Set your success along the way in a manner that you can be happy with them. Reach for more, of course, but understand the importance in making strides in a consistent manner. For many athletes, being an Olympian means more than being the "face of the Olympics".

I highly encourage you all to watch the lesser known events during the Sochi Games and be sure to get to know Team USA as we go for the gold in 2014.

Three Ways to Boost Your Conferences in 2014

Towards the end of 2013, I had a customer call in and ask me one simple question: "Is there anything we’re not taking advantage of?" There are a number of features we include, but customers might not know about. We went over a couple of things that I noticed he wasn’t using and suggested using things like web conferencing and conference call recording for his calls in 2014.

Here are three of my favorite features to suggest to customers.

Brand Your Conference Calls

Add a custom greeting to your conference line so you can brand your events to your company. You can also use it to share news and events. It’s easy to do and we can update the message as often as you like. A lot of our customers like this option because the participant knows who is hosting the conference and is reassured that they have dialed into the right call.

Custom Hold Music / Greetings

A customer in financial planning uses custom hold music to play a recorded message about the different services his company offers. This is a great use of a free option to turn the waiting room before the conference begins into a virtual billboard. You can also upload some of your own music and participants can jam out while they wait for the call to begin.

Registration Pages

One of our customers sets up luncheon events and uses registration pages as part of their invitation. These pages can be fully customized to add your logo, images, links to your site, speaker information, and more. Using a registration page lets you track attendance and know if you’re marketing your conferences to the right audiences by giving you a metric to measure your response rate.

All of these features can be a part of your next call with AccuConference. If you have questions about them, please give us a call 800.989.9239, or just give us a call to see if there’s anything more you can do with your conferences to get your participants involved. (Seriously, we like helping you.)

Sticking To Your Goals

Recently, I wrote a post about why it’s hard for us to stick to our New Year’s resolutions. Now, I want to take a look at some ways that might help you follow through with your goal planning. Here are some tricks that can help you stay on track.

Broadcast You Resolution

I’m not talking about paying for an expensive TV ad to let others know what your plans of change are (although that might help make you more accountable if you did). But telling your friends and family and posting about your resolutions on Facebook or Twitter may help you commit more to your goals. It gives people an idea of what you plan to do, and it may even encourage them to do the same thing. In addition, you can post weekly or monthly updates so people can see how well you’re sticking to your guns. Posting your updates might even make you feel better about your ambitions and help you gain the encouragement you need to follow through. It may also help if you’re seeking advice from people who have accomplished goals similar to yours.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

An article from The Baltimore Sun suggests setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Think about it. If you tell yourself that you’re going to lose 50 pounds in 2 months, you’re setting yourself up for failure. While the goal is specific with the time and the number of pounds you want to lose, it’s not very realistic nor is it very healthy. However, if you tell yourself that you’re going to lose 10 pounds in 2 months, you will have a greater chance of achieving your goal. And you may leave yourself some room to surpass your expectations.

Prepare for Setbacks

Sometimes life throws us a curveball and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. So we have to prepare for the setbacks we’re faced with. Many times, people find themselves faced with a setback and it discourages them from continuing on with achieving their goals. While setbacks can be frustrating, you shouldn’t allow them to derail you. Take the late Steve Jobs as an example. During the beginning stages of Apple, Steve encountered many setbacks. A notable one would be in 1976 where he confused his first order of 50 Apple I computers. He delivered 50 circuit boards instead of finished machines. He could only take partial payment for the order, which gave his company a financial setback. However, he didn’t let that stop him. By the end of the year, they delivered 150 finished computers.

Saying you’re going to achieve a goal and actually accomplishing it are two different things. One takes thought while the other takes action. If you’re having a hard time following through with the goals you have planned, try using these steps to make them more attainable.

Is Your Smartphone Making Life Worse

I love my iPhone and my iPad. I use them to listen to music, play games, text with my friends and family – in fact, I can freely admit that I will choose to text someone rather than make a phone call. It's quick, it’s easy, and it doesn't distract me from something else. Recently, I realized that I checked my phone before I walked out to go down to my car and once I got into the drivers' seat, I checked it again.

Why? Did I really think I was going to miss something that was that important in a time span of three minutes? No, I didn't, but I’m addicted to checking my phone.

Recent studies suggest that the average smartphone user checks their phone 150 times a day.

We use these kinds of devices for everything. We keep our lives organized in the calendar applications, read all of our books on screens, and we share messages and videos with friends and family right from the palms of our hands. It's great to live in an age where being able to talk to my brother while he was deployed was as simple as an internet connection, but our reliance on technology is not all fun and games.

Smartphones have recently been proven to cause insomnia. Harvard researchers published results on how our dependency on technology has crept to the bedroom and is now throwing off our body's "light-dark cycle", which is spurning an increase in insomnia. Head researcher, Charles A. Czeisler, reports that as we expose ourselves to more artificial lights we "dramatically changed the timing of our endogenous circadian rhythms."

Overexposure to devices that think for us have caused an interesting phenomenon dubbed by Psychology Today as "The Google Effect". Research from a 2011 study found that people are encouraged to think less as we have more access to search engines right in our hands. Have you ever watched a movie and thought "hey I know that guy" and then turned to Google to type in a long and vague question to see what pops up, rather than trying to recall his face in your memory bank? That is the Google Effect.

Your brain at rest can actually be one of your most creative and productive times. Research in the early 1990s showed that your brain never really stops, even when your body is at rest. A resting state allows your brain to entertain ideas that seem random in nature. In contrast, when you are focused on a detailed activity, your brain devotes most of its energy to the task at hand. I think that being constantly tired to a device limits the ability of our brains (at least my brain) to allow those random thoughts and ideas to flow.

It’s not just your brain and creativity that can suffer from overuse of your smartphone. An Auckland chiropractor reports a rise in cases of cervical kyphosis. The curvature of your spine at the neck is developed as baby during "tummy time" when you practice holding your head up. Cervical kyphosis is the straitening of the vertebrae at the base of your neck, and many medical professionals are cautioning cell phone users to the dangers of looking down all of the time.

That's not to say that smartphones don't do a lot of good for us and social networks. Studies have been conducted after disasters (like tornadoes) that give credit to social networks and text messages for helping to get messages to those in the paths of dangerous weather to seek shelter.

The development of applications for your phone range from games to technology that allows you to save money – like with the Nest learning thermostat or can even keep your medical information on hand in the event of something happening to you. Applications allow you to store your current medications, dosages, and even if you have an allergies. In the event of an emergency, EMTs or doctors can have quick access to your medical history so that they can best attend to you when you arrive at the emergency room.

Smartphones can enrich our lives but I think it's always important to remember that too much of a "good" thing can be bad. Change your habits by putting away your phone for thirty minutes to an hour when you get home and letting your brain "idle" or delete applications that you’re constantly checking.

Are you up to the challenge? (I don’t know if I am but I'm going to try.)