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Dec
29
2011
Best Blog Posts of 2011 - AccuConference Edition Maranda Gibson

Since 2012 is just around the corner I thought I would take a look to see the most popular posts on the AccuConference blog in 2011. These gems always bear another looking at and stay close in 2012 as we celebrate our 10 year anniversary. There will be lots of cool things happening around AccuConference so I hope you enjoy celebrating with us. Have a Happy New Year everyone and I hope 2012 brings you great things.

  1. Cell Phone Statistics - Looking for information about cell phone usage? We compiled much of the available data to show you the breakdown.
  2. Breaking Communication Boundaries - Is your company getting the most out of your conference call services? You'd be surprised at the statistics of companies who aren't.
  3. Cell Phone Safety - Companies are evaluating and changing their policies on cell phone use while driving company vehicles.
  4. In-N-Out Fort Worth - One of the most exciting things that happened this year was the opening of the In-N-Out burger in downtown Fort Worth. This was a process that was documented by our fearless leaders and their enthusiasm earned them a feature quote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  5. Types of Presentations - When asked to present on a conference, the first thing you have to decide is what kind of speech you're going to be making.

Honorable Mentions

Dec
19
2011
8 Things I Learned From Subway Maranda Gibson

My first job was working at Subway Sandwiches in my small little town. Since the town was small, it meant that I didn't often get slammed by a rush of customers, but sometimes - a school bus would stop for sandwiches on their way home. I was sixteen years old, working until 10 PM on weekends, and I would have rather been uptown with the other kids my age. Eventually, my grades started to suffer so my parents told me that I had to quit - a decision I didn't mind.

I didn't realize it but working at Subway prepared me for any job I would have after it, including this one. Now that I'm older and more mature I look at teenagers who are working fast food and I just want to reach across the counter and tell (punch) them that they are missing a huge opportunity to learn about customer service. Working in fast food taught me eight things that every teenage employee needs to know and these are things I use every day.

  1. Smile - When I am on the phone with a customer they can tell if I am smiling or not. It's important that my tone is friendly and welcoming. There's no way you can hide if you're smiling or not when you're infront of the customer. Smiling at your customer is an important part of all customer service and helps the customer feel like you're glad they are there and chosing your company to so business with. It makes a huge difference to the entire transaction when you simply greet them with a smile.
  2. Acknowledge their presence - Even when you have a line out the door you still need to acknoweldge the presence of the people who are walking in. No, you don't have to call out across the resturaunt that you will be with them in just a moment - they can see that, but when they get up to the counter and are ready to order, simply thank them for waiting. They could have chosen to walk out the door and go down the street to your competition but they didn't.
  3. Put away your cell phone - When a customer is infront of you that customer should be the most important thing in your world. End of story.
  4. Take It Seriously - You are working in food service and, sure, a lot of people would look down their nose at you, but don't let that affect your work attitidue. You're handling food and have the potential to seriously affect someone's health - be sure you keep that in mind and wash your hands, follow cooking instructions, and don't do anything that's going to make me call the health inspector.
  5. Each Customer is a New One - I know that working in fast food might mean you deal with the overly angry customer who treats you like dirt simply because he or she can. That customer is a jerk and he shouldn't treat you like that just because he/she thinks that behavior is acceptable. We have all had bad customers or people that we couldn't communicate with but once they walk away you have to let it go, otherwise every customer will be that guy to you, and you're guranteed to have a horrible day.
  6. Respect the Order - If your company allows for special orders it is really unfair to your customer to roll your eyes when they try to place one. If I want a cheeseburger with extra cheese and no onions please don't make me feel like I've ruined your day by placing such an order.
  7. Keep Opinions About Your Job to Yourself - I know it's not where you see yourself working forever - but for now, it's the job you have and it only makes your customers uncomfortable to know that you dislike your job.
  8. Find Something You Like or Leave - When I worked at Subway, one of my favorite things was to chop tomatoes. It sounds silly, but there was something stress relieving about the giant tomato slicing machine. I looked forward to that time of day even as silly as it was. Find something you like to do and try to look forward to that.

Bonus Tip for the Customer - Sometimes, we make food service jobs very hard. If you walk into a resturuant and have to stand in a very long line to get your food, why are you so mean to the teenager behind the counter? Do you think they wanted to be short staffed today? I know it's easy to just assume that the business didn't properly staff the location but there's a good chance someone called out sick or there was a problem with a register before you got there. If it's noisy in the location and the cashier has to ask you to repeat yourself why do you get so upset about that?

When it comes to customer service, most people are generally understanding of issues that might arise and we try our best to be patient when we're hungry and cranky. One of the things that makes customers less cranky is having a kind, polite, and friendly person behind the counter to speak with.

Dec
05
2011
Effective Conference Calls Maranda Gibson

Lets face it - if you're not having effective conference calls in your business you're probably not getting things done. With the decline of travel and the rise of the telecommuter, hosting conference calls are the best way to stay in touch with employees and customers to keep them updated on changes or notifications about a project. However, there is a resistance to conference calls that can easily be overcome by following a few simple rules. These are the things we have seen working for our clients and wanted to share them with you if you struggle with attendance or effectiveness with your conferences.

  • Start on Time - The most effective way to derail your entire conference call is by not starting it on time because it takes advantage of the time of the others that joined the call. You don't want to waste the time of employees, co-workers, and even customers who have taken time out of their daily work activities to join your conference. A few minutes here and there shouldn't be a problem but when you keep people waiting for ten or fifteen minutes, it bothers them and they are less likely to pay attention once the conference gets started.
  • Ask Questions & Get Feedback - Once you say something like and if there are any questions we'll handle those after the call you're giving permission to the attendees to give the conference less than their full attention. As long as they can follow up after to get clarification they will feel like they can multitask through the conference. Prompt for feedback throughout the call and ask specific open ended questions to specific people. There is a big difference between Is everyone okay with our new projections? and Dan, can you tell me what changes we can expect to see?
  • If You Hand Out Information Before Don't Read Directly From It - Anything you give out prior to the conference call should be a guide and not a copy of your speech. Once participants realize that they have a script in front of them, they will go back to doing something else and will half listen to the brilliant things you have to say.
  • Show Participants Respect - If you're asking them to refrain from checking email, taking a nap, or playing Angry Birds, you should be willing to do the same. Turn off your own email and give the conference call your full attention by chiming in, giving feedback, and asking questions to help further the collaborative spirit of the conference call.
  • End on Time - You have to give out a time to be sure that participants block out the right amount to join the conference but there is an idea of well, you're all here so we might as well discuss... and it shouldn't be like that. The truth is that when you give out a specific ending time, people will make plans for immediately following the conference call. End at the time you sent out or kindly notfiy participants on the invitation to schedule a little padding into their day, as the conference might run over.

Sadly, the truth is that there is little that can be done to solve the meetings suck feelings that tend to swarm around conference calls, but what you do have the power to control is how well you respect the time of your participants. Once you carry on a few effective conference calls, people will feel less trepidation about joining your conferences, because they know you're going to do what you promised. What are your rules for hosting effective conference calls?

Nov
23
2011
4 Little Things That Matter Maranda Gibson

A lot of customer service happens through communication mediums that aren't the telephone. Most companies have recognized that and provide tons of ways for their customers to get in touch with them. (For example you can get us here, here, here, or here, and you can call us too!) While we still have a lot of customers that like to talk to us on the phone, there are many who prefer to contact us via email. Over the phone, it's easy to gain a connection to your customer by simply smiling or having a brief chat about something that's not related to the purpose of their call. Without your voice to back you up in an email it becomes even more important to do those "little things" to get close with your customer.

Spelling

Did you spell the customer’s name correctly? This might seem like an obvious common sense kind of thing, but I can speak from personal experience here. I have a unique spelling of my name and while I am usually pretty forgiving of the misspelling, I feel like an agency that gets my money should spell my name correctly. Email correspondence already loses some of your interaction with the customer, so make sure that the extra second is being taken to spell the customer’s name right.

Making The Offer

I'm not talking about additional products and services here, just the general let me know if there's anything else comment. The way we handle customer service is a policy where anyone can help a customer but we know there are customers who want one contact. By making the offer to help with anything, we let customers know that the person they are corresponding with can help them with any of their questions.

Please & Thank You

Losing the vocal connection with a customer means that they can't hear your tone. I've warned before in posts that one of the biggest concerns about email should be the lack of tone. A customer can infer what you're writing however they want and that can be good or bad for you. By using please and thank you in the email you're letting them know that you're asking them for more information. Don't overuse the phrases and end up sounding condescending.

Know When to Call

I've said it before and I'll say it again - if an email takes longer than two replies to resolve an issue or answer a question, pick up the phone and give the customer a call. Once you start firing a long chain of emails back and forth things are going to get very confusing. The third email you have to send to a customer should include the sentence When is a good time to give you a call so we can talk?

Customer service is something that needs to be available on all platforms that a customer might be using. Businesses are available on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks because their customers are there, but in the end, it's mostly the main forms of communication that remain - customer service by phone and customer service by email. When you lose the phone portion of customer service you lose some of the connection with your customer. You can do a little more in your email correspondence to make sure the customer feels the same kind of connection. What other "little things" can you do to make sure that customer service is translating across email?

Nov
21
2011
Charity Spotlight: Circle of Friends Maranda Gibson

Charity work is always important but at this time of year it always seems like there are just a few more things that need to be done. This is the time of year that you see the food bank donation boxes or happily drop a couple of extra dollars into the red kettle outside of your favorite store.

We want to tell you about a local charity doing great work here in our hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.

Circle of Friends is a children's charity that works in connection with Cook Children's Hospital to provide programs and aid to children and families diagnosed with cancer and other disorders in the Oncology and Hemotology departments.

Every year we get the chance to donate to Circle of Friends and help support their yearly events and fundraisers, including the Family Christmas Fund. This provides gift cards and wish list items for families who currently have children recieving treatment through Cook Children's.

Charity doesn't just stop once the holidays are over. Circle of Friends also has a number of other programs to support children and their families all year long:

  • Teen Survivors Retreat - Providing teen cancer paitents with a group that lets them interact with other paitents and share stories.
  • Paul Wallace Foundation - Continuing care providied through emergency assistance and outpaitent treatment programs.

Please visit their website this holiday season (or after!) and consider helping to support a chairity devoted to making the lives to children and families suffering from cancer and blood disorders. Check out their sweet hand painted pumpkins that are always a part of our fall decor.

Above all, we encourage you to find something to donate your time, energy, or (even) your money to this holiday - and after.

We hope everyone has an excellent and Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy your time with friends and family.

Nov
18
2011
Forget the Underwear Maranda Gibson

Remember that horrible piece of advice you got right before making one of your first public appearances?

Just picture everyone in their underwear.

I was 10 the first time I heard that advice. I'm 28 now and it still makes me want to shove my head in the sand (which is what I'm sure my reaction would be to a roomful of people in their skivvies.)

No, thank you.

The meaning behind the advice is great. The purpose of picturing everyone in their underwear is not to blind you or make you go run screaming from the mic, but instead to make you feel like everyone is on the same level. When you're on stage, you feel exposed and like you're bearing all for the world to see - so the underwear trick is supposed to make you feel like everyone else is exposed too.

There are some better ways to do that than picturing yourself as the grand marshal of the no-pants parade.

Meet & Greet.

Get to know some of the people who will be attending your presentation. Show up an hour early and shake hands with the people that come in. There is no better way to feel "on the same level" than to know what you have in common with your audience.

Remember: This Isn't High School.

Since we're adults now and don't have to face an auditorium full of people who are just looking for a reason to judge you, we can let everyone keep their pants on. Everyone in that room wants to hear what the professional and grown up version of you has to say so tell the teenage you to sit down and relax - their job is done, you'll take it from here.

Open With A Story.

This is a great presentation technique over all but it's especially effective when you're trying to find some common ground with your audience. Once people can relate to you and it feels like you've bonded, you'll feel more like you're having a conversation and less like you're lecturing people.

Picturing everyone in their underwear is going to very little, if anything, to boost your confidence. How are you connecting with your audience to calm your nerves. Remember to forget the underwear (except for yours... you should remember those...)

Nov
16
2011
Speech Distractions & Being Prepared Maranda Gibson

History is filled with the people who can make a mark with their words. The great communicators in history are the ones that can connect with an audience, speak in a way the audience understands, and be able to keep calm in a possibly volatile environment. Typically, unless it's really bad those in our history who are not the best public speakers flit away and leave only lessons learned.

If you watched the MSNBC Iowa debates that were held on November 9th, then you know exactly where the inspiration for this post came from. As someone who lives in Texas and is proud of my state, I have to say it's been painful to watch Rick Perry struggle in his debates.

Politicians who struggle with public speaking may or may not be bad speakers and they simply could have just had a bad night. Here are some things that I think befuddle political speakers that can just as easily befuddle you in your next appearance.

Oh, look shiny things!

Losing your train of thought is probably the most frustrating thing that can happen in public speaking. Even the greatest public speaker or politician has a brain that can go off on its own when they need it to be focused.

Fix it by having an some index that cards that highlight your major points. In debate, you try to anticipate the kinds of questions that might arise based on the subject matter. Do what you can to anticipate what kinds of questions you might have and write down a short (no more than three bullet points) response to what questions you might encounter.

Second Guessing

Debate is a lot of flying by the seat of your pants. When someone asks you a question, you will probably answer with something that sounds pretty good but when your brain starts to dissect what every you just said, you can throw your entire flow off by overthinking how you answered the last question.

Fix it As long as you didn't say anything that is about to end your entire career, it's really not worth worrying about. What has been said is said and you can't rewind time and take it back. Instead of letting it distract what is happening now remember it for later so you can evaluate and make corrections.

Do Stretches, Not Shots

I'm not saying people get wasted before getting up to make a speech, I'm saying that the suggestion is out there to "have a drink or two" before a speech if you feel that your nerves are shot and you want to do something quick to calm down. I disagree with this before making a speech because you never know how your body will react to your drink of choice.

Fix It Instead, do some stretches. No, you don’t need to go all Jane Fonda in the middle of a conference room, but you can do some breathing exercises and simple stretches to make yourself feel more relaxed. (Check out this slide show from the Mayo Clinic for some ideas. These are also some office stretches you can do in the middle of a long day.)

Even politicians can have problems when it comes to making speeches and they are the same ones we come across. Rather than fall victim to the natural things that can derail our speeches, if you have a plan you can be ready to keep yourself on task and in control. What are some things you've seen politicians or have done yourself during a speech and how did you recover?

Nov
15
2011
Small Talk Ice Breakers Maranda Gibson

It's not always easy to walk up to someone new and try to get some new connections. It's one of the things you have to do in business if you want to keep growing.

When I'm networking, I will do much better at making a great connection if someone will break the ice for me. (In fact, once you get me started talking I might not stop.)

Making connections goes well beyond asking someone "how's the weather". Here are some great ways to break the ice when you're simply trying to make small talk.

Are You From Around Here?

When attending conferences, this can be a great ice breaker. If you're visiting the city you and your new connection can share experiences at the airport or hotel opinions. This is even better if someone is visiting your city - you can offer them suggestions on places to see and go.

Comment On An Article of Clothing.

This works better for women, I'd imagine, but it's a great trick to get you and another person speaking to each other. Saying something like "I love your dress (or tie..)" can serve to break the ice. A compliment is nice to share because it makes you appear very nice and everyone loves a compliment.

Tech Talk.

Did you spot someone using the latest gadget or device that you've been wanting to get your hands on? Ask them about it. Feel free to jump in and ask them how they think it compares to a competitors device or something else that might be coming on the market soon. Boom - instant connection.

Small talk is my least favorite part of networking events. Once I can start talking with someone, I feel much better and can start getting to know someone. That breaking the ice part just always feels like the hardest thing. People who are good at small talk are that way because they have been doing it for a long time. What are some of the practices you use in breaking the ice to start making new conversations?

Nov
08
2011
The Handy Dandy Notebook Maranda Gibson

Our intern, Laura, weighs in on how she stays organized in her busy life

As a student who has an internship, works 2 part time jobs, plays on a co-ed softball team and lives on her own with her boyfriend and a puppy, I often get questioned- how do you keep up? Sometimes I don’t know how I manage, but I couldn’t do it without my planner, or as I call it, my “Handy Dandy Notebook.” (Yes, I got that from Blue’s Clues)

While I don’t have much of a social life, I do get by somehow without my grades suffering. Here’s how I use my Handy Dandy Notebook to keep up with my busy life:

Carry it Around- I like for my planner to be small enough to carry in my purse so I can have it with me when I need to remember what’s on my to-do list or add something to it. However, it needs to be big enough so that I can see what I wrote clearly. I keep a paper clip on the current week so I can easily open it up and see what’s on my agenda for the day.

Plan Ahead- At the beginning of every semester, I take the syllabus from each class and write down all of the due dates in my planner. I know sometimes these dates change, but professors will let you know in advance when they do.

Give Yourself Time-Every week I look at what assignments are due for the next two weeks and make sure I give myself enough time to complete them without pulling an all-nighter the day before it’s due. This is especially important when taking an online class, because it’s easy to forget when you aren’t reminded when you meet in class every week.

Write Everything Down- In the past, I was bad about forgetting to pay some of my bills. I don’t even want to think about how much money I could have saved on late charges if I would have just remembered to pay on time. Even if it’s something that is due the same day every month, I write it down- and how much it is. I also write down how much my paychecks are and how much I make on the weekends as a waitress (it’s always different) – it helps me with budgeting. Once I pay the bill, I cross it out on my planner.

Check it Daily- Due dates will creep up on you quickly if you put it in the back of your mind. By checking my planner often, I remind myself of what I need to accomplish in the near future. If I ever feel like procrastinating, I remember one of my pre-Handy Dandy Notebook days where I took a midterm on 2 hours of sleep and then had to work till midnight. That experience was a big motivation to adopting the Handy Dandy Notebook and helps me remember to get things done.

As simple as it sounds, this really helps me keep up with my busy life. I like to see everything written out in one place that is easily accessible. What are some things that you do in order to stay organized and in control?

Nov
03
2011
The Power of Words (And How We Destroy Them) Maranda Gibson

There are some words that are never used. In a post earlier, I wrote about the power of language and how our fear of it was hurting our exchange of ideas. Our fear of saying the wrong thing can put up a roadblock to changing the world and the way we see things. Writing that post made me think about the fact that while we hesitate to say things that may be seen as controversial we don't hesitate to let someone else know when we feel like they have crossed the line.

We use the "o" word liberally in communication. We ponder the ramifications before we say something and wonder if our statement will inspire someone to use the "o" word in response. What is the "o" word? Easy - offended .

When I was a kid, I loved to learn and use new words. When I learned the word hate my good Southern mama told me that I shouldn't use that word as liberally as I did. Hate had a strong connotation. Hating something meant that you wanted to see it disappear forever - so when I would get mad at my brother and tell him that I hated him, it meant I wanted to see him disappear, and I didn't really want to do that. Now, I'm sure that a lot of the other mothers out there have told you all the same thing and maybe you do the same thing with your children. It's a difficult balance to try to teach someone that there are certain words that have a stronger meaning than others.

Offended is one of those words to me and I'm concerned about how often I hear it tossed around in common language. Merriam-Webster defines offended very generally as "to cause dislike, anger, or vexation". This is a pretty broad definition, in my opinion, and maybe when we drop the "o" bomb we're not taking it too far, but that word has always meant more to me.

I've always felt like this word has too powerful of a tone for every time you disagree with something. I made a list of some times where I believe that offended is not always needed. Disagreement. Some people are not very good at debating or holding their own opinions. That's fine - not everyone can be a great debater. But the word "offended" is often thrown into a conversation simply to end it. Saying "That offends me" when it really doesn't isn't the proper use of the word. Instead, just simply say that you disagree and explain why you feel that way but remember the rules of debate and don't cross any lines. As a warning You know it's true but any time we start a sentence with "I don't want to offend anyone" the entire room immediately goes on edge and we all know you're about to say something really horrible. If you ever have to start a sentence like that - just don't.

The words we choose to use have a lot of power - they are designed to have power but when we over use a word it loses the power that it's been given. Just like the word "hate" the word offended is one of these words. Using it every time you feel wronged will only lessen the power of the word and when a truly offensive situation appears, the meaning will be lost. Do you think there are any powerful words in language that are overused? Does it worry you that these words will loose their meaning over time?

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