The One Hiring Practice that Reduced Our Turnover

Since 2010, I have changed the way we hire. Previously, we screened potential candidates during the interview only, and we missed some skeletons which later haunted us.

For all new job posts, I add a simple writing assignment. What surprised me the most at first was that only 2% of applicants completed the assignment. I would have thought at least 50% of people wanting a job would read and follow instructions. However, this had an added benefit. It weeded out a lot of bad resumes and saved me a lot of time.

After reviewing the writing assignments, I choose the candidates to interview. One surprising thing was that almost every person I invited to interview would have been a good hire, and it's nice to have to pick between several awesome choices rather than having to settle.

Requiring an assignment for applicants can streamline your hiring process and provide you with the best potential candidates for employment.

Here is our last job post:

How to Apply:

Please submit a cover letter explaining:

  1. Why you want to work in customer support.
  2. Why you want to work at AccuConference and not somewhere else.
  3. A description of a great customer service/support experience you had recently, and what made it great.

Also, attach the following writing samples:

  1. Explain why would you encourage someone to use an 800 number for their conferences.
  2. Explain to a customer asking for a lower rate per minute that we are unable to lower their rate.
  3. A company wants a refund because their conference was smaller than they anticipated (we charge a minimum for large calls, even if the customer only has a few people on the call). Explain that this is not refundable.

Send everything above to iwanttowork@AccuConference.com.

The SimCity Mayors Guide to Public Relations

SimCity is a game that has been around for nearly as long as I can remember. In March of 2013, the latest version was rebooted and it wasn't met with the warmest of regards. Server crashes, the requirement to be 'online' to play, and small map sizes for your lots were just a few of the problems that the developers at Maxis and EA dealt with in the first few weeks of the highly anticipated launch.

As an avid SimCity mayor and the creator of many fine cities, it always seemed funny that the creators of the greatest city building games and arguably the most recognized franchise didn't do what their game has been teaching us about preparation forever.

Have a Plan

When you're a new mayor, you take a moment to sit back and determine where the best place for things might be. Which way is the wind blowing? You don't want to build your residential areas where the industrial pollution will blow. Where are your water supplies and other minerals? These are all important things when it comes to building a new city.

When you take on a new marketing strategy or start a new PR push, you need to have a plan. Going into it blind means you won't have a true understanding of what your direction should be. Is your goal to get national exposure for a brand or company? You're going to take a different direction that a client that has a goal of twenty thousand new Twitter followers.

Prepare for Disasters

For the SimCity Mayors we know that there is nothing more annoying than being in the middle of making tons of cash and then the screen starts to shake, or in your speakers you hear the inevitable horrible roar of the tornado warning sirens. That's right; it's time for SimCity to unleash a random disaster upon your humble town.

In public relations, it's not so obvious when there are warning signs. You can't always be prepared for something to go wrong in your marketing strategy or public relations campaign, but you can always plan around the "what ifs". Make a list of potential disasters (hopefully no Godzilla strikes) and then have an action plan for crisis management.

Give it Time to Grow

Once you've got the basics of your city in place and your cash flow is positive, there's a rush to build up your city quickly and increase the population, so that you can get more money. In life and SimCity, it's not always the best idea expand your small rural town to a big metropolis before you are completely ready.

Initial campaign success does not always translate into long term dollars. While you're enjoying increased exposure, give it some time to sustain before you hire additional staff or move into a new office building. That way you know your growth is sustainable and the additional staff or space is truly needed.

A new public relations or marketing campaign is challenging and exciting, just like being the new mayor of a virtual town. Putting your plan in place and being prepared to act from the start are often the best ways to manage things in the long run.

Identifying and Treating Speech Impediments

Growing up, my mother used to tell me to open my mouth to speak because I would never open my mouth to make certain words. I wasn't having any problems communicating and no one in school seemed to think it was an issue. I did a lot of exercises to try to enunciate but no matter what I did it just didn't help. So I just spoke at a higher volume, which my mother was equally not a fan of.

At thirteen, I went to the orthodontist and he discovered that I had a medical condition called Ankyloglossia. In non-medical terms it's called being tongue-tied. It's the presence of a small bit of membrane (called a frenulum) that attaches the tip of your tongue to your lower jaw. A quick little surgery removed it and I could speak clearly.

There are a lot of things that can cause a speech impediment. You may stutter or find yourself losing your train of thought when you speak. If you think you have a speech impediment, you can try to diagnose and correct it.

Start at the Doctor

There are lots of factors that can cause a speech impediment and you should start with a visit to your doctor. Your impediment could be medical or physical. A doctor would be able to refer you to someone that can help you. For me it was an oral surgeon but it might require a trip to an ENT, or even a neurologist. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and go from there.

Practice Your Speech

Once the cause of your impediment is determined, you can develop a plan of action to move beyond it. If your impediment isn't caused by a medical issue, you may be able to resolve some of the problems by making simple changes to your body language.

  • Good posture when speaking will help you maintain cadence and tone.
  • Reading out loud will help you maintain a good rhythm and can aid in treating a stutter.
  • Use tongue-twisters to help with a lisp. Lisps are especially prevalent with "s" and "r" sounds. Practicing with "Sue sells sea shells down by the sea shore" can get your lips and tongue used to making those sounds.

Find a Speech Therapist

Correcting an impediment in an adult is a difficult process because by the time we reach adulthood it becomes harder to change the habits of our brain, including speech. If you are truly concerned with improving your speech, you might need to find a therapist who can help you learn the mechanics of your speech patterns and make improvements to them. Your impediment might never be 100% gone but a therapist is trained to teach you how to manage it.

Having a speech impediment can be embarrassing, but more than anything, it's frustrating. Have you ever had a speech impediment? How did you address the issue?

Conference Call Services for After Your Call

So many times when I talk to customers after their conferences, they call in asking for information that they didn't realize was readily available to them. Is there a way to see who attended my conference? I think I missed some questions in the chat session; can I get a copy of that? Do you have the ability to send me my audio conference recording?

We do a lot of work with customers who are using conference call services to boost their business. These tools are a great way to reach out to potential clients, and while planning and hosting the webinar are two of the most important pieces – don’t forget what comes after the moderator terminates the call.

Is there a way to see who attended my conference?

Two options can make it easy for you to see who attended your conference. You can set up a registration page ahead of time and have participants sign-up for the call. This will assign each person a unique conference code which will help you identify who attended and who did not. It also stores specific information like name and email addresses. When your call is over you can go to your customer account and download your full registration details. Use the stored emails to send a thank you or reach out to the no-shows for your conference.

You can also sign up for an operator answered conference and we will greet your participants before taking their name and an additional piece of information, before placing them into your conference.

I missed some chat questions – can I download a transcription of chat?

If you're using web conferencing you can easily chat with participants and allow them to ask questions. When your call is over, download your chat history to make sure that everyone who submitted a question via chat was properly answered. If you see a great idea or suggestion floating around in the chat, reach out to the person directly and thank them for their participation or suggestion.

Can you send me my audio conference recording?

Set up your conference to automatically record when the moderator joins the conference. This recording is not only a great review tool for some of the information shared on the conference, but a great marketing piece for your company. Provide some of the bits and pieces of the conference on your website and encourage people to sign up for your next conference to hear more. Downloading your recording is easy and can be done by logging into your account and going to "Recordings". Find the date and time of the conference you need and click on "Save" to begin downloading the recording.

Don't Forget to Schedule Your Next Conference

Every time I've attended an event, once it’s complete, I get an email telling me 'thanks' and the bottom is always an opportunity to get an early-bird sign up discount for the next one. This is a great idea for participants who are "flying high" on the great information provided on the conference. When your conference is over, set up your next one, and send out the invitation while people have you at the front of their brain.

What do you do after your conferences to help retain people’s interest and excitement? Attention spans are fleeting so capitalizing while you have the chance might help your next conference call too.

Have no clue what a registration page is? No worries. Check out our registration page information and video & web conferencing to find ways to encourage more interaction with your participants.

Speaking Tips for Shy Speakers

I love to talk to people. It wasn't always like that for me but now, if you end up in line with me, I will at least issue you a 'hello'. Being naturally inquisitive is part of the reason that public speaking has always been easy for me. Like all speakers, there are initial nerves but once I find a comfortable groove, it’s pretty easy to interact with an audience.

It’s not like that for everyone. In fact, I’m often surprised at the number of people who are successful speakers, but call themselves introverts. It’s not an easy thing to "break out your shell" in front of a group of people that you don’t know.

Shy speakers need to gain a bit of ground before they get comfortable and it will take them a bit longer to find their groove when giving a presentation. Here are some other tips for shy speakers.

  1. If you’re making hand written notes for your presentation, use an ink color that is calming. Stress-reducing colors will help bring you a sense of calm. Using an ink color like red will trigger your brain to make "stress-inducing" decisions and when you’re nervous about speaking, you don’t want to add additional stress to your brain.
  2. Encourage yourself. On your index cards or speech notes, include little words of encouragement. Put a note in the margin that says you’re doing a great job or that you've reached your favorite part of the presentation. It may be just what you need to read right when you need to read it
  3. Avoid "off the cuff" speeches when you can. Shy speakers are calmed by the ability to prepare and practice. Even if you’re doing a quick thirty second introduction of yourself, the sky speaker will need a moment or two to prepare. When asked to give remarks on the fly, don’t be hesitant to ask for those preparation moments. Those moments will give you some calm.
  4. Don’t be afraid to use a comfort item. I cannot speak properly without a pen in my hand (never the clicky-top kind though). A lot of speech preparations tell you to "use your arms and hands" which is a great tip, but those movements can sometimes come out looking jerky or robotic. Holding something in your hand, like a pen, can help your hands feel balanced and aid in letting you make more natural movements when you speak.

Of course, the biggest weapon for the shy speaker is to practice, practice, and practice.

Are you a former "shy speaker"? How did you kick the habit? What tips would you give someone looking to improve in their speaking confidence? Are those tips different when you're making a speech over a conference call or do you think the same delivery techniques can apply?

8 Open Ended Questions for Engagement

One of the best ways to get your participants involved on your conference call is to open up for questions at the end. Many times, I've seen even the most impressive presentations end up with 'no questions' at the end. I've talked before about what to do when no one asks a question on your conference and one of the tips I suggested before was to ask a friend or co-worker to be the first person to raise their hand.

Now, some may disagree with me about using a "plant" on your conferences to get the ball rolling for Q&A. I'd offer the counterpoint that it is human nature to be shy and that no one really wants to go first. Q&A is an opportunity to refine parts of the presentations and silence will hurt the chances to do so. If the co-worker or friend asks a legitimate question about the content, I don't see anything wrong with this kind of tactic.

An open ended question is one that cannot be answered with "yes" or "no". It's important that the question gives the speaker an opportunity to explain some of those finer details while giving the opportunity to spark questions in some of the other participants. Here are eight great ways to start an open ended question on your next conference.

  1. "What is the purpose of..."
  2. "Can you explain...."
  3. "How would you use..."
  4. "What judgment can we make..."
  5. "How would you estimate..."
  6. "Explain the changes that..."
  7. "How would you summarize..."
  8. "What statements support..."

These questions are great conversation starters because they are legitimate in reference to the content presented and they give the speaker that extra chance to go over those finer details or even mention something they mistakenly skipped over when going over the presentation. Additionally, I suggest only doing this once a session and only if you don't get any one else in the question queue. This is to get the conversation started, not to take it over completely. The goal of asking your co-worker to ask the first question is to open the door for others to come along behind them.

Have you ever "planted" your co-worker to ask the first question?

Is Your Presentation Busy Work?

Do you remember elementary school? I can recall the days when our teachers spent afternoons having us do math worksheets, grammar practice, or simply sitting at our desks reading quietly. The goal of busy work was to require the students to be silent and focus on work.

Sadly, I've seen some presenters doing this with their presentations on conference calls or at events. A quick search for "tips on presentations" will bring up a lot of great resources, but many of them fail to mention one very simple and important tip.

Don’t Use PowerPoint For the Sake of Using PowerPoint.

This one tip might make your life a little easier and make people enjoy your conferences a bit more. Using a PowerPoint for every single presentation renders the visual element useless in the long run. How can you tell if your PowerPoint has become busy work – something that is only there to force participants to follow along with you?

Ask Yourself Do Your Presentation Slides:

Serve as Your Script?

If they do then you should introduce yourself to index cards. What is the point in taking the time to make a presentation if you're just going to write down everything you're going to say? Reading word for word from your slides is a waste of everyone's time. If reading from slides is your plan, simply hand out the slides and then tell participants to contact you if they have any questions.

Have more than zero fancy flashy transitions? (Yes you read that right)

Sure, the temptations to have each of your slides fade in and out, appear in a splash of animated fireworks, or accompanied with musical fanfare is always there. These can be distracting and look unprofessional to certain groups.

One thing I've seen that works really well in presentations is to use an image slide instead of a flashy transition when you need to shift gears to a new topic or draw the attention of the audience to the point you're about to make. It's less distracting than a bright flash or a new slide that flies across the screen, but it still grabs the audience's attention.

Rely too heavily on the bullet point as the common "theme" of each slide?

If every slide is featuring a bulleted list you are running the risk of overloading your participants with too much information in one presentation. A good rule of thumb is to use a presentation to present one overall or main idea, and let the slides support that common theme.

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions take a step back and ask yourself why you are using a presentation. If the goal in including slides with your presentation is to "make people pay attention" you are creating PowerPoint busy work.

Get More Engagement: Even if your presentation topic doesn't need a twenty page PowerPoint presentation, you can still use a one page "landing" slide with your company information and logo. Visuals can be powerful for participants, even if you’re just using your contact information.

What other ways have you seen PowerPoint's used as busy work?

What's Your Content WAR?

I'm a big baseball fan and recently I’ve gotten interested in Sabremetrics. It's a lot of math but the interesting thing about it is how Sabremetrics is being used to determine a player's value in terms of their on-field contributions. Did you ever see Moneyball? Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s patched together a team using the values within Sabremetrics. One of the most interesting metric is that of WAR.

WAR stands for "wins above replacement" and is used to determine a player's value based on their total contributions. Let's say there is a player who never commits errors, hits doubles on a consistent basis, but doesn't hit a lot of homeruns – WAR is a statistic that helps the front office determine if that player contributes more than a replacement player (someone on the bench or in the minor leagues). There is much more to the WAR stat than that, but the important thing to remember is that WAR paints a clear picture of a player's ability based on all of their field abilities.

What is Your Content WAR?

Look at your content in terms of WAR. You want to see something that is providing an overall value. Content doesn’t need to hit a home run every time it comes up to the plate. You want consistent and shareable content.

Look beyond links to see the full picture of what your website is doing for you. A page that gets a lot of traffic but not a lot of conversions may not be ready to DFA (designate for assignment) when the traffic is going to another page. Use your analytic tools to see where that traffic goes next and then use all of the numbers to determine if that content still has value. Inbound links is not the only metric to determining what content performs well.

Follow your keywords to see if you could make slight adjustments to you page to gather more of that traffic. When a baseball player has been doing well offensively the manager might decide to move him up in the batting order because he’s getting on base more than someone else. By following the long-tail keywords that is getting people to your content, you can discover ways to move that page up in the batting order.

Remember that WAR is about value and not about one stat or another. When we evaluate the progress and the success of our content we often want to look at it with the question of "where are my links?" but I don’t believe content marketing is that black and white. I think it's more about the value created.

So play on, content marketers, and in the words of Babe Ruth, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."

Keys to Being An Effective Listener

I have a bad habit of not looking up from my cell phone when someone is talking to me. I am listening, yes, but I am not giving that impression. When I keep my attention on my phone, I’m sending the non-verbal message that I am not listening.

In communication studies the person talking is called the “sender” and the person listening is called “the receiver”. When the receiver has their head down, looking at their phone, or doing something else, they are not as engaged in the conversation as the sender might like. I need to teach myself how to put down the phone and become a better receiver. Here are three keys to becoming an effective receiver.

  1. Take a moment to digest the sender’s body language. When a message is being delivered, a lot of it is going to be inferred through the non-verbal messages displayed by the speaker. Your job as the receiver is to make inferences to what is being said and how it is being displayed by the presenter. Your sender’s body language is going to tell you a lot of things that are "unsaid" in the presentation and it’s important to watch for those signals, and not just listen to the words with your head down in your laptop or your smartphone.
  2. Resist the urge to finish the sender’s thoughts or sentences. When listening, there is a temptation to try and think about how you are going to respond. The problem with this is that you develop preconceived notions of the message that is being sent and it’s not always an easy task to dismiss the assumptions you’ve made when you “think ahead” of the speaker. You don’t want to miss the message because you’re trying to figure it out. Bonus: One way to practice this is to wait 5 seconds after someone talks before you respond. We don’t recommend this as a permanent fix because it will feel awkward and you might look crazy.
  3. Give the sender some feedback. No, you don’t need to interrupt the sender to give them feedback. Much like how you will be watching their nonverbal movements to make sure you are also sending non-verbal signals. Make eye contact or nod along with your speaker to show you’re actively engaged.

In order to be an effective receiver, you need to focus on your active listening skills. Beyond these tips there are plenty more things you can do to be an active listener.

What other keys necessary to be an effective receiver?

When Bad Customer Service is Good

I’m sure the title of this blog might throw you off a bit, but trust me when I say I’m not making this up. A few days ago my husband and I were having a nice conversation about customer service. He and I get into conversations about this a lot, since I work in it, enjoy it, and he would rather… well, do anything else. One of the things we ended up talking about was his favorite place to pick up items – the local QuikTrip.

Why? Because it’s efficient with none of the frilly customer service niceness we have come to expect. It’s easy for me to think that because I expect a cheerful person who wants to chit chat while doing my transactions, and for him a "need anything else – want a bag – here’s your receipt – have a nice night" conversation is perfect.

In this case, for someone like my husband, what I would consider to be bad customer service is actually good for him.

So how do you figure out when a little bit of "bad" customer service might be good for the customer?

Learn How To Read People. When I worked in the rental car industry, I got really good at reading people. I could tell when someone walked in and wanted me to hand them keys, walk them to their car, and wish them a fond farewell. I could spot the customers who might be willing to listen to a little idle chit chat and a sales pitch. I knew the boundaries and when to respect them.

Here are three great blogs offering some simple tips for reading people:

Respond Appropriately to the Issue. When someone calls me with an issue like feedback playing into their conference, it's not the time to chat them up and make that connection. This customer wants me to identify and (when I can) correct the problem. Something interrupting their conference call is the main issue and my job is to fix it.

Follow Up When You Get a Chance. Being intimidated by the customer who wants to handle their business and move on isn't the way to handle things. Sure, you can respect their need to get their business conducted quickly, but at some point, you should check in with them. A simple email or phone call later on that day to simply check in to make sure you solved their problem and that the don’t have any more issues keeps the relationship open.

What works for me when it comes to customer service, doesn't work for everyone, and I know that. I want a chatty person on the other end of the phone who will laugh at my jokes and chat with me as we work through a problem.

For others, it is not what they expect or what they want. You just have to know your customers and not all of them will be the same. Get good at reading them and you’ll know just how to provide what they perceive to be great customer service.