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?

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.

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.

Why We Make New Year’s Resolutions and Why They Fail

We are already halfway through January. Many of you have probably made your New Year’s resolutions before the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. But how many of you are still sticking to them? Some studies show that roughly 78% of those who make New Year’s resolutions fail at sticking with them. I used to make New Year’s resolutions myself. But after a month or so into the new year, I went back to my old ways. So why do we keep playing this cycle of promises to ourselves when we’re only destined to break them?

The New Year Means It’s Time for Change

At least that’s what we’ve been programmed to believe. In reality, a new year just means that the number at the end of the date goes up one increment for the next 365 days. We all still have bills, jobs to go to, and families to take care of just like we did before the New Year was rung in. But we like to think that because we are starting a new year, we can make a bunch of changes to ourselves all at once. Most people make their New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Gyms love this time of year because it means a boost in their gym membership sales. Everyone is ramped up to slim down. But after the excitement of making the New Year’s resolution has faded, going to the gym or sticking to a diet means having to work at it. And that’s when most people start losing interest. If you want your resolutions to stick, then the best way to do it is to show up. Woody Allen was right when he said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. If you show up to the gym, you might as well work out.

We Like to be Ambitious

Wouldn’t we all feel so much better about ourselves if we achieved goals like running a marathon, climbing to the top of Mount Everest, or writing a 300 page novel? Of course we would. It’s in our DNA to be ambitious and try to accomplish extraordinary ventures. What we sometimes fail to realize is that we have to take baby steps to get there. Maybe not to the extent Bob Wiley took it to in What About Bob. But you can’t expect to run a marathon if you haven’t ever had any training. I would love to have a best seller novel published, but I’m guessing that’s not going to happen with the first book I write. It might, but it’s not likely. So I’m taking baby steps to get there. A couple years ago I tried out for a writing competition called NaNoWriMo where you are challenged to write 50,000 words within the month of November. I accomplished writing 15 thousand words my first time. That’s more than I have ever written for one outlet. This last November I achieved 25,000 words. This November, I may end up reaching my 50,000 word goal. I didn’t do it the first time, but I’m taking my baby steps to get there.

We all Want a Clean Slate

After going through twelve months of our lives becoming a habit, the New Year seems like a good time to start fresh and try new things. And why shouldn’t it? We buy new calendars that are clean and untouched of our appointments and meetings. We celebrate the night before with friends and loved ones on the hopes that the next year will be better than the last. We get caught up in the excitement of what the future holds. But no one says a clean slate has to begin at the New Year. If you have a desire to change something about yourself, whether it’s losing weight, being more organized, or trying something new, then run with it when it hits you. I started my weight loss goals in August and considered it to be an early resolution to myself.

Personally, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore. I just make resolutions. Any time during the year I find myself slacking in a certain area in my life, I make a promise to myself to change the bad habits I have slipped into. My health, my work, and personal aspects of my life shouldn’t have to wait until the New Year to be fixed. What experiences do you have with your New Year’s resolutions?

Does It’s A Wonderful Life Really Need a Sequel?

One of my favorite holiday movies has always been It’s a Wonderful Life. I remember growing up and watching that movie every year. To me, it wasn’t Christmas unless we popped in our VHS tape and watched George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, go through life as if he had never been born. And every time a bell rings, I can’t help but wonder if an angel got their wings. The sentiment of the movie is classically heartwarming. It expresses the gift of being alive and how you impact other people; no matter how big or small.

Now, 60 years later, there’s talk about a sequel being made by Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions. The premise is the grandson of George Bailey, who is somewhat of a Scrooge, is visited by his own guardian angel, his Aunt Zuzu. Zuzu, who will be played by the original actress Karolyn Grimes, tells her nephew that the world would have been a better place if he had never been born. After reading the synopsis, I had mixed feelings. Does It’s a Wonderful Life really need a sequel? Would it have been better as a reboot? Or should it just be left alone?

These days it seems like every movie is getting "rebooted". Movies like Gremlins, Flight of the Navigator, and Robocop are all reported to be receiving Hollywood’s movie makeover. And while it might be cool to see how advancements in special effects will make these movies look (The Great Gatsby reboot was more visually enhanced than the original), it makes me wonder if every movie really needs to be rebooted. Annie, another movie that’s in the works to be redone, is probably one I would leave alone. If you’re not going to throw a bunch of money to make the special effects pop, there’s really no reason to hash out the same story unless you’re sure you can tell it better.

On the flip side, if film makers aren’t going to reboot a movie, then they’re probably going to make a sequel. In my opinion, it’s hard to make a sequel better than the first. If a movie is really good, then it’s going to have a strong following. And if you decide to make a sequel, you better do a really good job or you will be disappointing a lot of fans (Grease 2, Teen Wolf 2, pretty much anything that has a 2 at the end of the title). Besides, not every movie needs a sequel. And not everyone wants to see it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty excited to see Anchorman 2 when it’s released in theaters on December 18th, but I think that’s because Ron Burgundy is in his own league.

In my opinion, the sequel to It’s a Wonderful Life should be erased from the drawing board. The original is a heartwarming classic that I don’t think really needs a part 2 or a makeover. I think it’s perfect as is, and it’s familiarity can’t be replaced by Hollywood gimmicks. And apparently, Paramount agrees with me. Well, maybe not with my reasons but they do not support a sequel for the holiday classic. Paramount holds the license to It’s a Wonderful Life and they are willing to fight Star Partners and Hummingbird Productions to keep the sequel from going into production. Even Tom Capra, the son of Frank Capra who directed the movie, said that his father "would have called it ludicrous" if a sequel was made. The proposed date of release will be in 2015, so I guess we will see who will win the sequel battle. What reboots or sequels do you think should have been left alone?

Three Different Ways We Can Teach Ourselves

This is part one of our series on learning new things. This post talks about how we can teach ourselves anything with a little trial and error. Follow the links after the post to read the other parts of our series.

Learning something new isn’t always easy, but there are times we have to do it. And we may not have the time or money to sit in a classroom to be lectured. In these situations, we resort to the self-teaching method. The ways we go about teaching ourselves something can vary depending on our learning abilities and the subject. According to LearningRX.com, there are three different learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic (hands-on). After a discussion I had with my office colleagues, we found three different ways we can teach ourselves, and these techniques can relate to our learning abilities.

Copy Other People's Work

I'm not saying to steal someone else's work and call it your own. However, if you are a visual or hands-on learner, this technique might help. When I had worked for a security company eight years ago, I had received a promotion that required me to learn the fundamentals of SQL (Structured Query Language). SQL is the typical way analysts and report managers gather data for reports that companies need to help them function. I didn't have any background with SQL, but I was willing to learn to expand my professional background. How did I do it? I used queries that others had written and experimented with them. I broke them up in pieces to see what each part did. Then, I tried to write my own using the same syntax (linguistic SQL rules) to see if my queries would produce the same results. Once I was familiar with the basic SQL concept, I was able to efficiently write several queries on my own. Of course, when I was learning SQL, I would only test my queries in a development environment to avoid any potential catastrophic database issues. Learning this way allowed me to see how a query worked and I applied the visual experience with a hands-on tactic.

Take a Dive and Jump In

This technique is best for hands-on learners. People who learn kinesthetically are most likely to succeed when they can engage with the learning material. For example, a hands-on learner who wants to be a mechanic would want to jump in and start pulling out and disassembling a motor to learn how to put it back together. An article on Utah Valley University's website acknowledges that movement and activity helps kinesthetic learners remember their material. It can be an activity as small as swinging a leg to a more interactive activity like drawing a picture. The article states, "The more skin and muscles you use, the better you remember."

Learn with a Specific Goal

Sometimes we learn best if we know what the goal is. Auditory learners use this method by being told how to reach their goal. A musician is a great example. Someone who is learning music already knows how the piece should sound. They then break the music apart and learn when to play which notes and for how many beats. Their overall goal is to make their instrument sound like the original piece. The Bepko Learning Center gives some helpful tips on how auditory learning can improve their learning habits; one of them is to listen to instrumental music while studying.

Once we are able to see what our learning style is, we can apply these concepts to our study habits. Even being out of the school atmosphere, we still learn at our jobs and hobbies. If you would like to learn more about finding out what your learning style is, check out the links below.


You can find the other parts of our learning new things series by following the links below:

Part Two: How To Learn From the Internet - By Maranda Gibson.

Part Three: Why We Are Afraid to Try New Things - By David Byrd.

Uber Car Service Controversy

"Make easy money just by driving with Uber!" That was a Facebook post I saw that was made by one of my friends. Of course, it grabbed my attention. How could you make money by driving? More importantly, who is Uber? My curiosity started kicking in, and I decided to do my research. According to their website, Uber is a service created in 2009 that connects its users to its drivers through a mobile app. Basically, Uber contracts a set of licensed drivers. An Uber user can request taxi-like services by pulling the app up on their phone and contacting an Uber driver that's closest to them. The user can then rate the driver based on their experience, and they pay the driver by linking their credit card information to their account so their fare is automatically deducted. Drivers for Uber can create their own schedule, though the site suggests being available during peak hours to make more money. I assume "peak hours" are when bars are closing or after a concert or sporting event.

The service itself seems pretty innovative. For the driver, they have the freedom to set their own hours and don't have to deal with cash. For the user, they are able to hand-pick their drivers that are close to them and/or are highly rated. You can't quite do that by calling a traditional taxi service.

Although it has gained popularity with the public, many city officials are not too happy with the tech company. In Los Angeles, Uber received a cease-and-desist letter this last June telling the company that they are "operating an unlicensed, for-profit commercial transportation service..." Uber has also had to deal with battles in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and most recently Dallas. The City of Dallas initiated an investigation that ended up with 61 citations being issued to 31 Uber drivers as of August 28, 2013.

Since Uber came to Dallas in 2012, members of the City Council have tried to regulate its transportation-for-hire services. More recently, city staff members had placed an unscheduled item into the Dallas City Council meeting agenda. When agenda items are scheduled, a committee will study the issue and get the public’s input before it would ever reach City Council. However, a memo  was placed into the August 28, 2013 agenda to propose changes to the current Chapter 10A of the Dallas City Code bypassing the usual procedure.

Along with city officials, taxi and transportation companies are not too fond of the service either. A representative from LADOT (Los Angeles Department of Transportation) said that these drivers for Uber "...are not required to pass background checks or have their vehicles inspected for safety." Arthur Hollingsworth, an investor for Yellow Cab also argues that "Uber drivers don't have to pay the same taxes, insurance fees and licensing fees that taxi drivers do." Both are pretty good points if the primary concern about the whole issue is fairness and public safety.

It seems that after the August 28th City Council meeting, the issue has simmered down a little in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reported on October 23, 2013 that the 61 citations have all been dropped and the City of Dallas is backing off Uber as the interim Dallas city manager, A.C. Gonzales, has been getting a lot of heat for not handling the issue appropriately. So, the question still begs to be answered. Should Uber be treated like a taxi company and pay the same fees or follow the same regulations that taxi drivers are subjected to? Or are they merely a middleman for the for-hire transportation driver and the Uber user?

David Byrd thinks, "Uber is a new service that wasn't possible before cell phones. Now, you are getting customers from a market that didn't exist. So, is it really competition to taxi services?  I don't think so since I would be willing to use Uber when I wouldn't consider a taxi. I don't see Uber eating into taxi business for people at the airport, or at hotels. So, I don't think they should be restricted by the same rules."

I think as long as the Uber drivers have the necessary background checks done (they don’t have any warrants, are not reckless drivers, and are properly insured) then they should be allowed to offer their services. The transportation market is changing as it should with technology. I think it’s great that Uber users are able to see their driver’s ratings and can hail them quicker than they can get a cab. It’s just a different way of doing business.

Five Ways Working Out Can Make You Feel Better

A couple months ago I won free personal training sessions. Well, my husband was actually the winner, but he graciously gave the personal training package to me because I’ve been wanting to get back in shape. Before I could even start my sessions, I had an initial interview with the personal trainer as well as a fitness assessment test. Talk about an eye opener. One part of the test was to jump rope for a minute. Seems easy enough, right? Well, if it’s been a few years since you’ve really done any exercise, it’s not as easy as you might think. I could only go 45 seconds before I had to stop. My heart was racing, my legs were burning, and I thought I was going to pass out. The fitness assessment gave me a reality check. I was really out of shape.

After the test, my personal trainer drew up my work out schedule and food management program. He likes to call it a "food management program" because "diet" sounds too restrictive to him. Now I’m about a month and a half into my personal training, and I can honestly say that I feel so much better in so many ways.

I’m Sleeping Better – Before I started working out, getting a good night’s sleep was nearly impossible unless I took a sleeping aid like Unisom. But if I did that, I usually woke up groggy and tired. It was always a struggle to get out of bed. Now, I find myself not needing a sleep aid as often as I used to. Working out helps me burn the energy I get from the food I eat during the day. In turn, that helps me sleep much better than before.

I’m Stronger – Even after just 6 weeks, my strength has significantly improved. Just the other day I was lifting several 30 pound boxes and didn’t feel too winded. If it was 6 weeks ago, that would have been a different story.

I’m Smarter – Ok, maybe my IQ didn’t rocket to genius level, but I can tell that my thoughts are more clear and concise and I’m able to problem solve more efficiently. I’m sure it goes along with being able to sleep better, too.

I’m Eating Better – Yes, every now and then I’ll cheat and have a slice of pizza or a reasonably sized bowl of fettuccine Alfredo. But for the most part, I’m eating more salads and veggies and have cut the carbs back as much as I can. Of course, I’m also a Type 1 Diabetic so I can’t cut back too much.

I’m Losing Weight and Inches – So far I haven’t dropped a lot of pounds, but I have lost a lot of inches. This means one thing. I’m gaining more muscle and becoming more toned. It’s true when experts say you can’t rely just on how much you weigh. If you’re losing inches around your waist, your hips, and your arms then you are on the right path to becoming more fit.

Of course, not everyone likes going to the gym. Some may see it as a trivial routine or a chore. But there are different ways to get your exercise in. Maranda Gibson kills two birds with one stone. “Getting exercise doesn’t always mean you have to leave the house. You can easily get your heart rate up by putting on your favorite songs and dancing around. As someone who is a neat freak at home, you can burn a good amount of calories by tackling those chores you’ve been putting off.”

David Byrd takes a different approach with his personal fitness that keeps it interesting. “Since starting ballroom dance, I have lost 20 pounds and had to buy all new pants (my old ones were too big). In addition, I sleep better and think better. The nice thing about dance is that it's not like going to the gym and having to do repetitive exercises for an hour. It keeps me interested, especially since I get bored quickly.”

Whether you’re on the elliptical, vigorously cleaning house, or perfecting your dance moves, the most important thing is that you’re being active. Find an activity that you enjoy and run with it (pun intended). Most likely you’ll feel better, have more energy, and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

How Good Is Your Memory: Three Reasons to Record Your Calls

Some people have eidetic, or photographic, memory. They can recall almost everything they’ve ever seen, heard, or read. These special people could attend or host a conference call, remember everything that was said, and go on with their day.  So, for the rest of us, here are three reasons why recording your calls is really important:

  • Not everyone has a photographic memory.

Convincing someone with a fuzzy recall how a meeting actually happened is frustrating. Save time, effort (and even friendships) by recording every call.  If a dispute arises on what was said during a meeting, simply play back the recording.

  • Not everyone is honest.

Admit it. You have been double crossed by a verbal agreement before.  It's your word against theirs. With a recording of the conversation, all doubt is removed.

  • Not everyone remembers what they are supposed to do.

After a meeting, people can be excited about moving forward. After lunch, the excitement starts to fade, and so does memory of any task. Recordings can be used on important meetings to distribute tasks and keep people accountable. Also, the meeting manager can revisit the recording to make sure follow-up occurs with everyone.

Tip: You can notate each call on your account. This way you will know at a glance what the call was about. (Read More About Call Notes)

Think of all the meetings, emails, conversations, questions, and misunderstandings you can avoid just by putting your exact words in a recording. It’s like a bit of photographic memory for all of us.

Never recorded your call before? Here are three ways you can get started:

  • Automatic Recording – Automatically record your conference call each time it starts. Log into your account, go to Conference Manager > View Conference Conference > Name. Select “Automatically Record Conference” under the Detail/Options tab. Done.
  • From Your Phone – Press *2 anytime to start/stop recording.
  • Live Call Screen – Ever notice the “Record button” on your live call screen? Click that button to start/stop recording.
  • Recording Advantages – See more about how you can use your conference recordings in sales, marketing, and customer service.
AccuConference |

Three Simple Tips for Social Media Crisis Management

The big story over the weekend was Comcast business and residential services being down across the United States. From South Carolina to California, most major metro users experienced a weekend outage that lasted from early Saturday into late Sunday. While watching the issue unfold from my friends on social media, I curiously took a look at the Charter Twitter accounts.

I was surprised to see there had been no update. Doing a search for #charter and #charteroutage showed a lot of customer reaching out over social media and still, the two accounts were silent. In fact, at the time of this writing, they have only addressed the issue in the last twenty-four hours. The lack of reach on social media, complied with the inability of their customer service number to handle the volume of calls left a lot of unhappy customers.

Customer service is not an easy job, especially when there is a crisis. When you’re the one who is responsible for social media, how do you respond to the outcry when something happens over the weekend? If you’re on social media people will find you there and expect a response and for your customers, it doesn't matter if it’s Monday or Sunday afternoon. Here are three quick tips for managing social media when crisis strikes and you’re away from your desk.

Get Alerts

When you manage a social media account, it’s likely that people are going to send you messages when you are not “at your desk”. Part of the responsibility of social media is to have the access to your accounts. To keep an eye on mine, I get email messages when someone sends me a reply, as well as hooking up the account so I also get text alerts. If something is wrong or there is a serious problem, customers will use available channels to get a hold of you. If you’re on social media, that is one of them.

Turn Off Your Auto Messages

One of the things that seemed to upset Charter customers over the weekend was the account of @CharterCom sending out auto responses of a contest. Of course, the debate over auto-tweets will forever continue, but it becomes even more important to be aware of what your accounts are doing in times of crisis. When you’re entire internet system is out nationwide – it’s probably a good time to turn those messages off and respond to the live messages coming in.

Send Out Something

In time of crisis, it’s not always easy to update your customers – especially when you don’t know exactly what the problem is. Since customer service usually is not IT, we get our updates as we can and while issues are being worked through – those updates are always not on a regular basis. IT’s primary concern is fixing the problem. Still, even if you don’t know what the problem is, you should at least send out some sort of notification via social media that an issue exists. @Charter and @CharterCom failed to address the problem at all, which frustrated a lot of their customers.

How do you handle social media in a crisis? Is there a difference in when something happens during the work week versus the weekend?

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls Part Two – The Right Provider


Last week, I talked to you about how planning and execution are important to having a successful conference call. Despite your new found ability to plan a great event, depending on your conference call provider, you could be setting up for a disappointing experience. Not all conference companies are created equally, so here’s a quick little guide to choosing the best provider so that you can have a successful conference call.

How Do You Decide?

In my experience, price is the most common concern for new customers. No matter if they are switching from one company to another, or if they are 100% new to hosting conferences, price is where decisions get made. I understand that – sticking to budgets is important. An excellent rate is imperative, but there is more to consider than just how much you pay per minute. Here are some dos and don’ts of choosing your provider.

DO:

  1. Choose a provider who asks you about what you need / want to do on a conference. This is my favorite question to ask customers, because not only does it help me to define what you need, it also helps me to let you know about other features that are available. If it’s your first conference call and you’re going to have a 300 person conference, I usually suggest an operator assisted event so that you can make sure the call goes smoothly.
  2. Pick the company that provides the quickest response for customer service. When choosing a provider, consider the response time if something doesn’t go correctly. More than once, I’ve had customers switch to AccuConference because other services offered zero customer service. It’s an important consideration in the process, because if there’s an issue, you want someone to answer the phone and be able to work with you to solve the problem.
  3. Shop Around. Most telecommunications providers offer some form of conference call services. However, it never ceases to amaze me when people are shopping around that are currently under contract to pay around 15 and 20 cents per minute. There are better deals with other services, with better reliability. While you’re looking around, take our handy list of questions to use when choosing your conference call provider.

DON'T:

  1. Accept restrictions. We ask to know about any conference that will be over fifty people otherwise you just use the service as you need to. For other companies, that number may be set lower or higher, and could be restricted to the times of day or days of the week. Don’t accept this when you choose a conference company, there are plenty of others.
  2. Use a service that isn't secure. When you choose a provider, you need to find out how their telephones lines work. A lot services will use public lines (and the internet) to route you and your participants to the conference room. A service like ours doesn't use public teleconference lines, so you’re going to have a more secure experience.
  3. Conference without a guarantee. Does the provider you’re choosing have a 100% guarantee on their services? A provider that doesn't work with you when a call doesn't meet your expectations probably doesn't offer customer service the way you need.

You can plan and plot your conference call or online meeting all you want, but without a reliable conference call provider, you and your participants might be disappointed in the outcome. Do ask the right questions and don’t hesitate to call us directly if you have any questions.

Secrets to Successful Conference Calls: Part One – Setup and Testing

Everyone knows that the first step to hosting a conference call is finding the best conference call provider. After you know who you’re going to use as your conference host, you can turn your attention to planning and executing your event. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing with you some of the best tips that we’ve learned in our own experiences, as well as some of the impressively smart things our customers have been doing.

Here are the first two secrets to successful conferences.

Conference Size Estimation

Let me just be blunt with you – if this is your first conference call, you’re likely to overestimate. Let’s say you send out 300 invitations to a conference, my experience tells me that your turn out is going to be around 150. Because you’re going to pay based on how many lines you reserve, you want your estimate to be as accurate as possible. In addition, different kinds of conferences will yield varying results.

Here are three of the most popular kinds of conference and the kinds of attendance results we see.

First Time / Sales Types of Conferences

We have a client who hosts conference calls that are advertised on infomercials - you might have seen them if you’re up at two in the morning. They have three thousand people sign up for one conference call and in the end only about six hundred show up. Make sure the provider you’ve chosen will allow you to make changes 24 hours in advance of your call; you don’t want to pay for over estimations.

Mandatory Events

We have another customer who hosts conferences that are state mandated classes. People sign up for them and her attendance runs around 85%. Anything that is a mandatory meeting will have a higher than average attendance because, well, people have to attend the conference.

Pay to Attend

A conference that requires people to pay to attend will yield close to 99% attendance. No one is going to waste good money to pay for a conference they don’t attend. One of our customers sets up classes they teach through our conference calls. We know if they ask for 150 lines, they will have 150 people show up.

Considerations For Last Minute Events

Remember that the more last minute your conferences, the lower your attendance will be. More than once, we’ve had people set up last minute operated calls where they invite fifty or sixty people and only end up getting ten or eleven total attendees.

If you’re an AccuConference customer, we always suggest using registration pages on conferences where you’ll be sending fifty or more invitations. This will help you to know exactly how many of your invitations have been accepted and filled out.

Testing and Quality

Sound quality is one of the biggest issues we hear about on conference calls. Not all phone systems are created equally and your method can cause any number of poor connection issues. There are two things that can drastically affect your conference sound quality – like feedback, cut outs, and general disruptions to your conference.

  1. Phone Equipment
  2. Phone Provider

Before you start your conference, you need to run down some basic testing steps both before your call begins and while in pre-conference with your speakers.

  1. Get a co-worker and dial into a test conference the day before your conference. Testing is all about creating a dress-rehearsal, so mimic the same set up that you will have when it’s time for the live conference. Use the same phone, put yourself in the same room, and let your co-worker tell you about any sound issues like echo or feedback.
  2. On the day of the call, use a pre-conference to check the same things with your other speakers. Make sure that everyone can be heard and that the lines aren't cutting out.

Correct estimates of conference attendees and testing your equipment before the call are very important parts of your conference planning session. If you need some help planning your next event, give us a call and let us take it from there.

Distracted on a Conference Call – It’s Probably Your Brain’s Fault

If you find yourself distracted on conference calls, you might feel like you have a case of Monday’s – Friday’s. While that may be true, your distraction could be due to your brain feeling out of its element.

Your brain likes to sort out patterns and enjoys when things are predictable. When talking to another person face to face, your brain is able to draw conclusions about what the other person is saying to you and conversation will flow smoothly. It’s like a little computer, taking everything, processing it, and then spitting out answers to questions or making decisions. The problem is that your brain is always looking for data and there are some situations, like an audio conference that can be very hard on your brain.

Why Can Audio Conferences Be So Distracting?

When you and your brain walk into a physical meeting, your brain begins to break down the people in the room.

Cool – there is the speaker and her name is Judy. I can tell because she’ll be in front of the room so I won’t be trying to figure out who is speaking when I heard a voice.

On an audio conference call, your brain is severely limited on the data at hand. You only have voices to go by and since your brain wants to know everything, it starts to feel a bit like scrambled eggs. You’re trying to listen, but someone has a bad connection – which breaks up the predictability of speech your brain is loves.

While you are trying to listen and absorb the information being said, the different parts of your brain are trying to figure out who is speaking and if there is background noise that you can’t recognize, pieces of your thoughts will then be allocated to trying to figure out what that noise was.

So How Do We Combat Scrambled Egg Brain?

Add a visual element to your presentation. A simple PowerPoint will do the trick. Visual aids enhance a speaker’s word and provide positive impacts to your conference calls. Nearly 85% of information is retained when a visual aid is paired with an oral presentation.

Use conference features to limit the noise. Using things like lecture mode or muting your line when you’re just listening on a conference will lower the background noise and give all the participant’s brains less to focus on and figure out.

Have an operator host your next call. While not exactly a “visual” element, putting an operator on your call can signal to the cognitive areas of your brain that the particular event is “special” and deserves some extra attention. Operator calls can also take the names of your participants so that they can be announced by name if they ask a question. This will relieve the brain of some of that “who is speaking” pressure and allow them to focus on the question.

Remember that for as much as we like to say we can “multitask”, our brains do not function like little computers. For every task you add while focusing on another, you take away the available capacity for your brain to fully work on another task. You may be doing ten things at once but each task is only being filled at 5% capacity.

10 Things You Hate About Conference Calls

For the most part, our users see conference calls as a necessity to any business. They save you from traveling long distances to have meetings and get things done without having to congregate into a large conference room.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't things that people don’t like about conference calls. I did some fun little searches like “I hate conference calls!” and here are some of the things I've found people dislike the most about their conference calls.

  1. Open conferences with more than 10 people.
  2. Confusion over “hold” versus “mute” on telephones.
  3. Conferences that begin or end late.
  4. Reading directly from presentation slides.
  5. The sound of someone typing an email (or beating their keyboard with a baseball bat, sometimes it’s hard to tell).
  6. Intro tones
  7. Dogs, babies, and the cashier at 7-11.
  8. Poor sound quality.
  9. Calls that happen during lunch hours.
  10. A ten minute conversation about what the conference call will cover.

The good news is that these kinds of things are easily managed within a conference call provider’s features or just by preparing your meetings in advance.

Send out an agenda to set in advance what the call will be about and how long it will take, so that there’s less worry over running over at the end, and eliminate the need to discuss what the call is about.

Use lecture mode with any conferences over ten people. You’d be surprised the difference in the amount of background between five participants and ten. You should also turn off intro tones on calls this large, because nine people coming onto a conference at once is a lot of noise.

For smaller calls, let everyone know they can use *6 to toggle mute on and off for their own line so that background noise is at a minimum. This will also prevent the hold button from being used, which many times will deliver some sweet hold music or even a company announcement into the conference line.

Sound quality can be affected on your conference by a number of things from using a cell phone with a poor connection down to the kind of speaker phone you are using. Using a VoIP phone could be affecting the quality of your connection depending on the kind of service you have.

It’s always a good time to review your conference call etiquette and contact us if you have any questions about feedback, noise, or just want to learn more about what you can do with your conference call.

Solving Invalid Code Messages

Invalid code messages are one of the biggest topics we get calls about. Getting an invalid code message happens to all of us and no matter what the reason; the most important thing is being able to get you into your conference. If you are getting an invalid code message, please call us right away and we can look to see why and advise you on what to do there.

Of course, the solution to all of your invalid code messages is to set up QuicklinQ conference lines. With a QuicklinQ conference no code is needed to enter the conference. Just dial a phone number and you’re placed into the conference.

Call us to find out more – 800.977.4607.

Back to our regularly scheduled blog post…..

Here are the three biggest culprits to invalid code messages.

Closed Accounts

When you call us, we’ll check to see if your account is closed for any reason and then let you know what we need to reactivate or who we need to talk to. This is an easy one to fix and once we get an administrators approval the account can be reopened in a matter of seconds.

Technical Issues

Anything that interrupts the transmission of data can cause us to not get the right conference code. These things range from using VOIP phones or even background noise.

Wrong Code / Wrong Phone Number

Sometimes it’s just a matter of using or entering the wrong code.

If you’re getting an invalid code message give us a call right away. We can even call you and join you to the conference if we need to.

How to Introduce Your Company In Presentations

This week, I've been working closely with a new customer about setting up a large event. He’s never done an event like this before and wasn't entirely sure where he should begin his conference. Introducing your company is likely high on your list of things to cover on your conference call, and here is the approach I suggested to my customer. You only have two minutes to get the attention of an audience, so you want to give an overview of yourself in quick, yet succinct manner.

Answering three simple questions will help you introduce your company without taking up a lot of time.

What’s Your History?

Remember those two minutes? Start by giving your participants a brief understanding of who you are. Tell your audience about your beginnings. How was your company formed? What was the idea? Your company story is the key to getting an audience to understand who you are, where you came from, and what you faced to build.

What Do You Solve?

If I were to tell you what we do, it would be that we help people communicate. It’s not about web conferencing, audio conferences, and the other products we sell when introducing ourselves – it’s about how we make things easier for you. Instead of telling your participants that you sell something, tell them what you do. People will be more receptive to this approach rather than feeling like the entire conference was an opportunity for a sales pitch.

What Sets You Apart?

When you’re introducing you’re company, be sure to mention what sets you apart. Whenever I have the chance to introduce AccuConference to someone new, I mention our customer service philosophy, because that is the center of what we do differently. In order to memorable, you need to define the company’s special qualities so that you can be the first thought when your services are needed.

You can tailor these questions to introduce your company whether it’s your next large conference call or a cocktail party. By setting up your company and explaining how you solve problems for your customer will peak the interest of anyone who needs a company like yours.

How do you introduce your company in a presentation?

How Much to Charge for a Webinar

Webinars and conference calls can be a great way to reach more consumers and make connections for sales. More and more it's becoming a viable strategy to educational institutions and companies and before we start to talk about deciding how much to charge, there’s another question you have to answer first.

Should You Charge For Your Webinar?

Deciding to charge comes down to what kind of content you'll be presenting. Not all webinars are created equally and fall within one of two categories: premium or marketing content. Marketing content tends to be the kind that is designed for gaining exposure to a product or brand. Premium content is information that you can’t get anywhere else.

Let me give you an example – we have a customer in the banking industry that offers webinars on recent changes, updates, or new regulations in that field. The information is not available anywhere else and it's education in nature, which makes it acceptable to expect a small payment for attendance.

Now that you've decided if you want to charge for your webinar, you should do a bit of research before you choose an amount.

Start With a Google Search

The truth is that a webinar is online content and a lot of people have the expectation that it should be free. Start with a Google search in reference to the topic that you want to host a webinar about. Even if your webinar is "premium" content, if you see a lot of free content already out there it might not be the best idea to charge.

Ask Yourself What Makes Yours Exclusive

If you decide you still want to charge for your webinar, you need to determine what makes yours exclusive and special. Is there a very popular speaker on the conference? Are you getting insider information that participants usually can’t get unless they attend a conference or pay a membership fee? If you’re going to ask people to pay to attend something make sure that they are paying for something worthwhile. Before people choose to spend money on something they are going to want to decide what's in it for them – so make sure you have the answer to that question ready.

Check the Industry Cost

Do a quick search and see how much it would cost to attend a class at a local university for this information and include any potential travel costs like airfare or hotel. Beating that cost should be easy considering everything you need is online, including materials. Now, find out if your competitors are providing any webinar content like this? Can you beat their costs? Starts there and then adjust your cost as needed to cover any expenses.

The truth is that when it comes to 'what to charge for your webinar' there isn't a perfect answer. There may be times when you feel that charging wouldn’t be the best idea so I say you should always go with your gut. Just remember that your webinar attendance cost should come down to the value and not the money you want to make.

Recording Consent Laws – What to Know

One of the questions we get often is about the legality of recording conference calls. Recent events have raised the question of when is it legal to record a call and, most important, how do you know?

There are two kinds of recording laws – one party and all party consent.

One party consent means there must be at least one person being recorded to agree and everyone else does not need to be notified. Generally speaking this means that a person can record their own phone calls without letting the other person know about the recording.

All party consent means exactly what it sounds like – if you're going to record a conference call or meeting, you must have the consent of anyone who is in attendance. References to two-party consent makes an assumption that there are only two people on the conference, but be advised if you're in a state that is referred to as two-party, and you have three people on the conference, everyone must know about the recording.

Most states have adopted the federal policy of one-party consent, but there are a number of states that require all party consent (California being one of them) and I came across this recording resource for journalists that break down the requirements by state.

Federal law prohibits recording any conversation outside of one-party consent. So if you had an idea of setting up a microphone to hear what people are saying about you – think again, it's not legal.

For conference calls that cross state lines, I want to issue a word of caution here. The law isn't really clear on this one. You are in Michigan, and you call into our conference lines (which are in Georgia), and are joined by people around the United States for a call. Some court cases have suggested that because the call crosses state lines these become federal jurisdiction and the one-party consent statute would apply. The best rule of thumb is to treat any conferences that involve parties from multiple states as “all-party” consent.

So where does the Federal Communications Commission come in? FCC rules state that you can gain consent in a few different ways: gain verbal consent from the parties involved, play a "beep" at various intervals, or announce that the call is being recorded at the beginning. If you've ever had an operator assisted call with us, you know that we always announce that calls are being recorded and it's to ensure that both your call and our company adhere to FCC regulations.

There are limited exceptions to state consent laws – like on conferences with investors, recording is mandatory. When legal warrants are in play for wiretapping, no one has to be notified that calls are being recorded by law enforcement.

While it’s always a great idea to record your conferences, we want to make sure you understand that there are varying laws out there on when you have to disclose. If you need to turn on recording announcements, you can do that through your customer account or give us a call and let us walk you through that.

Disclaimer:This blog post is not meant to give legal advice, but rather to inform you of the different laws that exist in regards to recording consent.

A Film Lovers Guide to Creating Stuff

I love movies. There is nothing more relaxing than finding a good flick on TV or Netflix, curling up, and enjoying it. Sometimes, I want something light-hearted and spend my weekend watching the Harry Potter series. I use my subscriptions to expose myself to movies that I used to love (Airplane!) and to find things that I can’t wait to watch again. What makes a film hold special places in your heart? How do the best filmmakers and directors speak in a way that sticks with you?

All creation starts in the same place – with an idea. No matter if we’re thinking of a new novel to write, a new piece of art, or a film, it’s all about the idea. What is it about a film that stays with us – that something we saw 20 years ago can make us feel just as amazing when we see it again? How do we apply the things that make films special to what we want to create?

Be Honest and Sincere

One of my favorite movies is Girl, Interrupted. I really enjoy the character study, but the film, for me, is sold at the end, when the main characters are finally having it out. (I know the film was made years ago but SPOILER ALERT ahead) When Winona’s character tells a young Angelina Jolie that she is “dead already” it is one of the most riveting moments of the film. It’s point blank honest where one character tells another exactly what the audience was thinking.

People tell stories at the beginning of presentations and webinars that are about the mistakes they have made along the way. The best characters that we encounter in books and movies are the ones that appear as a bit of a mess. Be honest in your creation – don’t be afraid to personally admit or create a character that is flawed. It’s the truth that people want to hear and enables you to be relatable.

Create to Entertain and Not to Sell

I watched this great documentary called Best Worst Film surrounding a little known 80’s flick known as Troll 2. Everyone, including the actors, freely admits that yes the movie was terrible, but the film still has this national cult following. People love both because and in spite of it being terrible. In the documentary the director was asked about how he felt about the critical review of his film and his response was that he wanted to entertain, and if he achieved that, he was happy.

Now I’m certain that the director of the “worst film ever made” didn’t set out to have that stigma on his film, but in the end, it made people happy, and he’s okay with that. When we start the creative process, I don’t think the primary of goal of making money should be where we begin; our goal should be to create things that entertain. When we start with the idea in our head that we’re going to be a best seller or a top grossing film I think we lose something in the creative process. We start to nit-pick our ideas when we see them through the lens of “well no one is going to buy this” when what we need to do is create something we can love, and if other people love it too, that’s great.

Emotional Reactions

I’ve often heard that when it comes to an audience’s reaction with a film, the filmmakers just want you to feel something. Obviously the preferred reaction would be for you to leave the theatre and say it was the “best film ever” but let’s be honest – the list of Oscar Winners is short. Movies like Schindler’s List do not create those kinds of happy emotions, but they do make you think, and for a film maker that’s a perfectly acceptable reaction.

When you start to create something, you should have an idea of what you want your audience to feel by the end of your creation. Do you want to write a book that will make people happy? Are you trying to create something that will stir controversy and conversation? Determine that in the beginning but don’t be afraid to let something change you along the way. Creation is kinetic.

Creativity begins in many of the same places and just because our end result isn’t that of the film maker, we can still learn a lot from the way they approach their craft, and apply it to the way we approach ours.