Interning at AccuConference: Week One

This summer, we've taken on a Cowboy and an Aggie into our office -- also known as our interns Laura and Kaitlyn. As part of their summer program, we've asked them both to write a weekly blog on how they feel and what they are learning. Laura's first impressions are written below and Kaitlyn's is on the way. I will also be providing some insight, as this is my first teach expierence with interns and I'm sure I have a lot to learn. 

Blog by Laura - First Week at AccuConference. 

One word. Internship. Something I’ve heard so much about, and how it’s incredibly essential to obtain one. And here I am, currently in the most sought after position a college undergrad can get. The one week that I’ve spent as an intern at Accuconference has been unlike any other. When I arrived here on my first morning of my summer internship, I had a mixture of feelings. I was excited and a bit nervous as I rode the elevator up to Suite 318. I was looking forward to putting faces to the names, because my interview process had all been done remotely. What if they weren’t who they said they were? Dear Lord what had I gotten myself into? I had done my homework on the company beforehand by perusing the website, but it didn’t tell me anything about the company culture. Was everyone going to be super formal and professional with their business suits, ties, to-do lists and agendas or laid back? Either way, I knew that I really wanted to learn more about marketing in the ‘real world’.

I rehearsed the line I was going to use when I got to the receptionist’s desk on the other side of the front office door. (Hey, they told me to be honest). But as I walked in for the first time, I was totally disconcerted. Instead of one desk gracing the front entry, I found myself looking at Accuconference’s complete customer relations department staring back at me. Here. We. Go. When they told me small over the phone, they had meant every word. But what I’ve learned very quickly (and this one I’ve had to learn over and over) is that it’s not about the quantity; it’s all about the quality. This small company is so closely knit that they are able to seamlessly work together in a small space and simultaneously output quality customer service. The quality of this company was obvious to me, from the amount of thank you cards strewn across the office from their customers, and the effort put into making business personal with their numerous clients (I got to try my hand at this one- whoop whoop!).

The word on the street when it comes to interns is that we do three things. Get coffee, cover the phones, and suck up. This summer (even with the already triple degree heat here in Texas) has been like a breath of fresh air, blowing that common idea away. Interning should be an opportunity to learn more about what you want to do for the rest of your life (scary, scary thought) from what a company teaches you and I think I applied to the right place for sure.

Because Accuconference is a small business, I was instantly included in what they were working on for marketing as well as the business of the company. I have been incorporated in operating some of the company’s scheduled conference calls, writing new content for the website, I've collaborated with others on an email campaign to bring in new business from our old customers, and within 48 hours of my first day, I had helped with a publication on the Android Marketplace. Seeing my own work out there on the internet for all to see is exhilarating! I was so proud of being a part of something that cool, so I immediately showed everyone after leaving work. Unfortunately no one was excited as I was- except my mom- but counting her is cheating. I’m still going to find a way to impress everyone else out there though… I just have to figure out how.

The Responsibility of an “Expert”

In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, sometimes we get thunderstorms that prompt tornado warnings and sirens, sending families and pets into the bathroom or underground to take cover. Weather both fascinates and scares me, so when there’s severe weather in the area, I’m always on a local station website. Some of these sites include chat programs where volunteers, usually storm spotters or chasers, help the public to understand when and where these storms will be moving.

They aren’t meteorologists but their experience makes them a trusted source. Imagine my surprise when one of these trusted sources began to talk about how he personally didn’t feel like there was much of a tornado threat in our area, despite active watches in the area. He’s trusted, certified, and understands how the weather works. On Tuesday night, there ended up being 13 reported tornado touch downs in our area which made his comments very irresponsible.

When you call yourself (or get called) an expert, it puts you in the position where you become responsible for communicating accurate information, no matter what the subject.

Anytime you consider yourself to be an expert, you have to respect that title, and use it to educate your clients, customers, or people looking to you for advice.

For example, we are considered to be conference experts, but that is only because every single one of our operators is trained the exact same way with all of our products. This is to ensure that a customer can speak to anyone and always get consistent information. We also try to educate our customers so that they know and understand how a product works, or what additional features might be available to them. We can walk you through setting up your first conference from start to finish, and even suggest any of our services that might help you get a little more from the service.

Since we are experts in our field, we take it very seriously, and if you’re in the position where you feel like you are “expert” enough to make yourself publically available, you better respect that. How do you stay true to the trust that your customers and clients have given you?

The CDC Gets Their Marketing On – Zombie Style

“Honey – do you have something called a zombie plan?” The newlywed wife asks her husband. He turns to her, shock on his face that she could even ask such a question, and then nods, solemnly, holding a hand to his heart in a patriotic fashion, before replying. “Yes. I do. I’ve had one for many years.”

Before I was married, I had no idea that something called a “zombie apocalypse” was a concern, nor did I realize that men spent a lot of energy thinking about escape routes, weapons, and doing careful research on the best way to kill the brain-eating un-dead. (I also learned that snickering, making fun of, or pointing out the flaws in the plan was bad.) After learning this, I asked my Dad and brother what their plan for the zombies entailed and realized that not only did my father and brother have a plan; they spent many evenings when I was a child, discussing how to barricade the house and protect the women of the household.

Apparently, the Center for Disease Control and Preparedness also has a zombie plan. Released this week, the “Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse” gives you tips and tricks on how to prepare your home for the impending doom. The funny thing about the guide is that the emergency kit suggested is a lot like the kit they suggest for a number of natural disasters: flashlights, water supplies, shoes, and food, just to name a few.

Hold the phone, CDC. I thought this was about preparing for the zombie apocalypse, not readying myself for any kind of emergency.

This is the brilliance of their zombie preparedness guide. Who among us have ever Tweeted or shared a link to a “how to be prepared in the event of a flood/earthquake/tornado” guide? The answer is probably not many of us have shared that information, much like many of us don’t have the proper items in an emergency kit. With the zombie preparedness guide, the CDC has made us read about something that might be pretty boring to most people – preparing for emergencies. They have marketed the importance of being prepared on a level people care about.

That’s what we should be doing with our clients. We have to find a way to talk to them through the channels they are using. There are few people out there who have a plan for floods or an earthquake, but many who know what to do in the event of a hypothetical situation like zombie roaming the earth. We have to be able to find a way to tell our customers what we want them to know through a subject they care about. We’ve already done that by migrating customer service to include social avenues like Twitter and Facebook but are we being sure to see what else our customers are talking about?

It’s absolute marketing brilliance on the part of the CDC who wants you to get a kit, have a plan, and be prepared no matter what the emergency. While their zombie plan is missing some of the things I’m told are essential to a zombie-survival kit (sawed off shot guns and Japanese throwing stars, for example) their suggestions make for a great kit in the event of a tornado – which is what they wanted me to think about in the first place.

How are you leveling with your customers like the CDC?

Get Human Offers a Short Cut to Customer Service

Let’s be honest – automated phone menus are a complete nuisance. Button punching, menu prompts, and trying to speak to a robot can sometimes initiate the desire to pull our hair out. As we’re screaming at or speaking slowly to the robotic menu asking for our account number yet again we suppress the need to throw the phone against the wall and we wish there was a better way.

GetHuman.com is the brain child of Paul English who created the database for tips and tricks on how to get around the automated prompts and get straight to a live person. Originally called the IVR Cheat Sheet to Find a Human, the goal was to give consumers an option to get to a live person. Since the inception of the cheat sheet, the website has evolved to GetHuman.com and not only gives you the telephone numbers of companies who do not readily list that on their website, it also gives you the average wait time, as well as the level of service.

Take a look at Facebook – their average wait time is a little over an hour and their user rating is horrible. Clicking on the companies breaks it down further with reviews from users about the company and the customer service experience. There are also alternate numbers for many of the larger companies that insist on continuing to make their users jump through hoops to get some assistance.

It makes you wonder why some companies continue to require customers to navigate their ways through these menus. One argument that large companies make is that they simply handle too large of a customer base to provide a single number for customers, that it’s best to route them to the proper department right away. Except that usually, the initial person that you get at customer service has to transfer you around to a different department.

The biggest offenders of the customer service rule seem to be those companies that typically just want you to contact them for support via email, like Facebook. There are also those companies that simply don’t publish their customer service number online, like Amazon, and GetHuman gives you not just one, but a few customer service numbers.

Large companies may never be able to get rid of automated systems, but they should remember that these systems take away a customer’s choice. (There is a very funny, albeit slightly vulgar cartoon on the Oatmeal about this very subject) If companies are going to force you into a menu option, why can’t they give you an option to go straight through to a representative, at the very least?

We’ve never had an automated menu – if you call either of our numbers, you get a real human right away, and we will never have an automated system – no matter how large we continue to grow. We will simply hire more people.

Should companies completely do away with automated menus or are there instances when they are needed? How do you feel about them, from both a customer standpoint, as well as a business?

Politics in a Digital Age – Reaching More People Far and Wide

Most people can admit that social media and mobile devices have revolutionized the way we communicate, receive news, and stay updated on events. Digital communications became a central part of the 2008 US Presidential elections as candidates took to Twitter and users chronicled their experiences through various social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.

Another trend in politics that emerged in 2008 was the popularity of hosting teleconferences as town hall meetings. AccuConference personally hosted some of these media and informational meetings for political leaders and in our experience we have found them to be powerful for politicians for three big reasons.

  1. You can reach an audience that may not be able to physical attend. Hosting a conference call instead of a physical meeting lets those who have busy schedules or can’t leave their homes have an opportunity to have a more personal connection with the candidate.
  2. We’ve found the most popular type of conference with politicians is the operator answered call, where we can collect name and information from the callers. This information is stored for review at a later time, giving the staff the ability to contact those who attended after the conference is over. You can alert them to upcoming events or invite them to another conference call with the politician.
  3. Conference calls allow for moderated question and answer sessions which allow for more people to get the opportunity to ask a question. In politics, the people have to know that their elected official is concerned about the issues that closely affect voters.

When it comes to the trends in politics, there’s a clear move towards using the avenues that will reach the most people. We suspect that more politicians will be using conference calls to host media and town hall events in the upcoming 2012 election. If you’re a political organization considering using conference calls, contact us and let us show you how we can help you take advantage of new technology during this election season.

Metered Vs. Stamped Mail: What Sends a Better Message

Here at AccuConference, we hand stamp everything. We don’t have a meter machine, despite the rising cost of postage and the amount of time it can sometimes take to stamp all of our new accounts and send them their welcome packages. A meter machine could probably save us a couple of cents on each letter we send, since it’s a bulk service, but we feel like the hand stamp lets our customer know a couple of things.

Using a real stamp lets the recipient know a real person stamped your envelope, not a machine. In a time when social media is being used to create connections with customers, the simple act of using a real stamp does the same thing that an active Twitter or Facebook account can do.

We feel like metered mail can look like junk. Not to imply that all metered mail is junk mail, but simple when you’re going through a large stack of mail, you typically look for the clear signs of what is considered junk mail. One of the things people look for the most is to see if something has a real stamp on it. If you’re taking the time and money to send out a flyer, why would you want to take the chance of it never being opened?

We also just don’t like the look of the meter stamp on the envelope. The pink on the white kind of burns our eyes – we prefer a good old fashioned stamp. It might just be because we have quite a few clients in Canada – have you ever seen the postage stamp for .75 cents (our going rate to Canada)? It’s really pretty.

Deciding if you want to use or meter for your mail is your decision, we just have always used regular stamps, and we always will.

(Image Used Credit to the USPS)

Mississippi River Flooding Teaches Us about Communication

Tonight, it is forecasted that the Mississippi River will reach record flood stages in many places. For weeks, the residents in the 100 year flood plan have been urged to evacuate, including areas like Memphis in Shelby County, Tennessee. Interstate 40, the major route between Little Rock, Arkansas and Memphis has been closed for nearly two weeks due to flooding concerns. As the river crests and the waters run to the south, areas like New Orleans have been put on alert for potential record flooding.

In an emergency, communication is crucial to both residents and law enforcement. Communicating in a disaster requires constant updates of information and when the communication breaks down, it can be hard to keep the information flowing between local agencies and residents. It’s a combination of preparation, notification, and support that keeps people safe and gets the information out.

Planning - Preparation will save lives in the event of a flood. For example, weeks ago, the Shelby County OEM issued a notice through the National Weather Service that notified residents they should pack up important belongings and be ready to evacuate their homes at a moment’s notice.

Lesson Learned: The sooner you can get a date and time for your conference call set in stone, the better. It will give you plenty of time to get the information out to the people you want to invite to your conference call.

Notification - Using the media is crucial to saving lives in the event of a flood, and not just local media – it’s about communicating emergency messages where the residents are going to be reading. This includes Twitter, Facebook, and online through different services. Many highway departments are using Twitter for updates about flooding and road closings, including Arkansas and Tennessee.

Lesson Learned: Use different sources to get your information out to the people who need it. Email, Twitter, and Facebook are great ways to advertise your next conference. You can even build a registration page so that you can collect information from those who plan on attending.

Support - The Federal Communications Commission implements emergency procedures in order to keep 911 and other systems up in the event of an emergency. It is imperative that emergency services are still available and that people can get any help that they need.

Lesson Learned: Get to know your conference call provider. Call their customer support and see how long it takes for them to answer and see if you can get someone to explain the different features. Get a name out of someone and see if they are willing to be your contact person in the event of needing support. (If you need a conference call service that will do that for you, give us a call, and we’ll help you out.)

We can all learn a lot from the way the OEM handles a situation – planning, notification, and support. What are you doing in your business to prepare your participants for your next conference and let them know what is going on?

Photo Credit to ilovememphis @ Flickr

Situation Room: A Break Down of Non-Verbal Communication

Image from the Official White House Flickr

It’s the iconic photo that will wind up in history books. As President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other members of the defense team watched the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound; this picture has quickly become the visual representation of a historic moment.

This picture can give us a lot of insight into what the senior members of the White House staff were thinking, as this photo is clearly an inside look into what the staff was thinking. When they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, it is true because a photo freezes a moment and gives you a chance to study the non-verbal cues of a moment.

Notice that no one in the room is standing close enough to touch each other and that the majority of the men in the room have their arms crossed over their chest. This is a sign of aggression. When we feel aggressive, we do not want anyone in our personal space, and we cross our arms over our chest as a way to protect ourselves against something we do not want to see or hear. It is a protective measure.

It’s obvious that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is feeling a very strong emotion to whatever it is that she is seeing on the screen. Perhaps it was the moment that Osama Bin Laden’s face first appeared on the screen. Perhaps it’s the moment that the “kill shot” was recorded. We may never know, but Hilary’s hand over her mouth, is an expression of disbelief. The images she sees unfolding in front of her are so unfathomable, that she feels uneasy and distrusting.

President Obama’s sitting position indicates that he clearly feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. His back is slouched, his arms on his knees, and the thin, grim lines of his face. There’s a lot going on here. His posture indicates that he feels the weight of whatever is going on, but his face is the most interesting to me. First of all, it’s obvious that he looks tired. I’m sure that making a national security decision like this could keep you up at night. For me, the most telling non-verbal cue for Barack Obama is the shape of his mouth.

His mouth is shaped in a thin line, nearly straight across. I can identify two emotions from such a non-verbal cue: anger and concern. Clearly whatever is going on will change the world, it’s a decision that was made with great care, and now, to watch it unfold, it simply brings concern. President Obama, like all Americans, was affected by the attacks of September 11, 2011, and to be in a position where you get to see the man who was responsible, brought to justice, in my opinion would bring nothing but the original anger back to the surface.

We may never know what scene was being observed of the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, but this picture will be an iconic and important moment.

In business and relationships, we often wish for the ability to read the minds of others. It’s not a thing that we can do, but what we can do is read someone’s body language to at least get an idea of what someone is thinking. This picture is a perfect representation of how much body language can indicate in any particular situation.

Non-verbal cues are important to communication and while the subject matter of your video conference or meeting is probably not going to be as intense as watching a raid on the Most Wanted Man in America, your body language will say a lot about the way you’re feeling.

Overcoming Fears & Have a Little Fun

Last year, I finally broke down and watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I have had a long time fear of Freddy Kruger and being able to watch that film was a big step in my growth. This weekend, one of the movie channels premiered the 2010 remake of the film and my friend and I decided to watch it – with one, fun little twist. We built a fort in the living room. Not just any fort, an old school dining room chairs and blankets fort. It dawned on me after I made it through the movie without hiding my face or screaming bloody murder that there was one very important reason why. I took something fearful and I made it fun.

While Freddy is just one kind of fear, there are a lot of other ones that people suffer through every day. By injecting a little fun into those moments, you can save yourself a lot of stress and turn a moment that is usually filled with nail biting anxiety into a moment of triumph. One of the biggest moments of stress for people is the idea of having to speak publically or do some sort of presentation. A little bit of humor can go a long way when you have a little mess up in your presentation.

  1. If you’ve ever tripped over your own feet walking out to the podium, instead of looking horrified, grab the microphone and declare that the clumsy portion of the day is over and everyone can stop waiting for you.
  2. If you’ve ever lost your place, admit it. When I was in New Orleans in March, I remember someone losing their train of thought and while the crickets filled the room, the presenter simply laughed and back up the slides, admitting to everyone, “Don’t know what happened there. Let’s try this again.”
  3. If you’ve ever stumbled over your words, just declare a new word thusly written and encourage everyone to tweet out the new word.

There’s not a person in that room that hasn’t experienced their own bad presentation so feeling bad over a simple stumble isn’t doing yourself any favors. Recover from it and create a fort in your brain where the things you’re afraid of don’t matter so much. Just remember that the fort is a safe place where humor is the thing that will beat back your fears.

AccuConference | The Perfectionists Procrastination

The Perfectionists Procrastination

A few weeks ago it was suggested I check out The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron. Naturally, I hopped on over to Amazon to see if I could get a good deal on it and got to take a peek inside.I skimmed the first part of the book and one of the first words that stood out to me was procrastination.

I balked. Procrastination, me? Impossible. I am on it, together, and always getting things done. I feel busy most of the time and I would think that’s the opposite of procrastination. Isn’t procrastination more of a conscious thought of letting something slide so you can do something else that you feel more desire to do? When I was in college, I used to put off my Rhetorical History projects because I would rather do something for another class. That, I’ll admit, was procrastination, but I didn’t think I fell into that category now.

According to this, I am one big procrastinator. Do I fill my day with “low-task” priorities? Sometimes. Do I wait for the “right mood” to strike before tackling things? I would have to admit yes I do. I don’t believe that procrastination is a symptom of laziness, as I am sure that many procrastinators are highly skilled and successful. In fact, many perfectionists are often the ones out there procrastinating, in fear of doing a project wrong the first time.

According to the folks over at MindTools, there are a couple of things I can do to help detour my trip to procrastination town.

•  Figure out why I am procrastinating. If I can determine why I don’t feel inclined to complete the task right away, I can figure out how to tackle it. By focusing on figuring out some inspiration for what I’m working on, I might stumble on the motivation to tackle that project first.
•  Reward myself. When I do finish a project I should give myself a little treat – like a quick break from my desk or something horribly bad for me for lunch. (I’m thinking Chipotle when I finish this post.)

I am defiantly not lazy, not in any sense of the word, but I find that I procrastinate due to my perfectionist streak. What makes you a procrastinator and what do you do to rise above and get things done?

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