International Conference Call Options

Not too long ago one of my favorite customers sent me an email inquiring about international conference calls. If you need to provide a way for participants outside of the United States or Canada to join your conference call we have three different options for international dialing.

Option One: Participant Pays Long Distance / International Fees. This option requires no changes on how you use or are billed for your services. Anywhere in the world, a participant can call into a direct access number and be joined to the conference. You’re billed whatever is standard for your account and they are billed on their phone bill what their provider will charge. This option is best for those who rarely have a need for international conferences or are one of our flat rate customers.

Option Two: International Toll Free. From Argentina to Venezuela on this list of rates these countries can be provided their own toll free access into our conference bridges. You rates for domestic callers (US / Canada) stay the same and the rate for international depends on the country that connects. There is usually no charge to participants in these countries and requires a new conference line on your account.

Option Three: Most countries can be dialed to from within in our system and brought into the conference line without any additional charges to them. For many of the countries there is little to no change in your per minute per person rate. Some countries are not available for outdial and we can either add a new conference line or activate this option on a conference existing on your account.

Depending on what option you choose or how your account is set up, we might ask for you for an additional form to be sent back to us. International can be activated for specific users of your account in order to limit cost and availability for the services. If you need international conferencing added to your account or have any questions about how it works or the pricing for outdial rates, just give us a call and we can help.

Better Writing Lessons from NaNoWriMo

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you know that I spent a lot of November talking about NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it has a very simple goal – write 50,000 words of a novel in thirty days. Such a challenge written on paper may not seem like much but when you try to do it, you realize that it becomes a feat of writing at least 1,667 words a day. The standard blog post is about 350 – 600 words.

For four years, I have begun November by saying this is the year and I will complete this challenge and every year, it seems like something happens to derail my progress. This year, though, it’s different and I am proud to announce that I am a 2012 NaNoWriMo Winner.

Winning felt great and completing something that seemed like such a beast over the last few years was even more of an accomplishment. It honestly feels like I can do anything. I wanted to think about how I could translate that feeling into the creative energy I spend at work so that feeling of accomplishment will be in all of my work.

Outline. Before NaNo began, I had the idea, plot, and characters for my novel all lined out. I took each scene and moment step by step so that I didn’t get lost or forget the important points. I’d never done that before and I think that using outlines in blogging will help me to write more content that has a true outcome, instead of just mashing ideas together and hoping to end up with a great post.

It’s easier to get ahead than it is to fall behind. One of the things that always prevented me from completing NaNo was that I always seem to have family obligations in November. If you look at my progress chart below, I was 8,000 words ahead by day five which was a huge help for those days when I was out of town or during the holiday.

Turn off Your Inner Editor. Part of the goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage writers to just write. In a lot of ways there is no rhyme or reason to the plot of a participant’s story. It’s about encouraging writers to turn off the need to “edit as they go” and instead just put the words down. You can always go back and correct the things that are wrong later.

Find Someone to Battle With. It was a big help to do “word wars” with a friend who was also trying to reach the 50,000 word goal and it was great to have someone that I could battle with. We would pick a time and then write as quickly as we could to see who could get the most words in a 20 or 30 minute period. Even if you battle with yourself you can set a timer to see how many words you can put down in a specific amount of time. On the next post, try to beat your personal best.

The best thing about completing something like this is feeling that pressure off. There really feels like there is nothing to stop me from taking on the world – okay, maybe not, but I did write 50,000 words in 30 days, and that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

What will you accomplish today?

Customers Expect Speedy Service

Let’s face it – we live in a 'want it now and don’t want to wait' kind of world. Look around you the next time you’re out or while you’re holiday shopping. Black Friday sales started at eight and ten PM Thanksgiving night and one of the biggest reasons for this is that people didn’t want to wait for the sales to start in the early morning hours. Look around at any store and you’ll see the development of the ideas of meeting customer’s on-demand expectations. From self-check isles to overnight shipping, you can see that the world feeds our need to have things right away.

Take a look to evaluate how you’re operating things at your company and see if you’re meeting the right here, right now expectations of your customers.

  • Take a look at your customer service. While not everyone can eliminate phone trees and hold times, there are ways to make things easier for customers. It could be that you hire more people when your call volume is highest or train existing employees to handle accounting or minor technical calls.
  • Evaluate the products that you offer and see if there are any new offerings you can make that customers might expect you to have. For example, if your company sells roofing shingles, you should consider selling roofing nails on your website. Customers to come to your website will consider the convenience of having the ability to buy all of the supplies they need a bonus.
  • How long does it take a customer to find things on your site? Do they have to make a million clicks to get to the contact information or your pricing? If a potential client has to spend too long on your website to find the information they are looking for, you’ll find yourself with a lot of missed opportunities.

When it comes to giving a customer what they need, it goes beyond simply creating and selling and product. You have to provide those services in a way that is both informative and an efficient use of their time.

How do you make sure that you’re meeting the on-demand desires with potential customers?

Preparing for Communications Failures

Superstorm Sandy has come and gone but the effect of the storm on communication remains. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the FCC reported that 25% of the operating cell towers were damaged during the storm and the ability to make calls, send, and receive messages would be temporarily affected.

When you know there’s an event that could interrupt your ability to communicate with your friends and family, prepare in advance for what could be a long time without your cell phone.

Have at least $5.00 in quarters in your first aid / emergency kit. I know that a lot of people under the age of eighteen have probably never seen a payphone, nor would they fully grasp the idea of calling collect. Gather some quarters before the weather event so that if you do lose service you can find a payphone and make a call.

Notify who you can when you can. A friend of mine was in a hard hit area of New Jersey and it was touch and go to get a hold of her for the first week. She asked me to be responsible for updating our mutual friends, as she could get one text message out much easier than she could twenty. She would text me how she was, and I would use social networks to update our friends.

Update Social Networks via text message instead of using an application. In my hometown in Arkansas, the cell phone service is pretty spotty, and most of the time is spent on the Edge network. This makes things like updating my Facebook and Twitter difficult because it can take so long for the application to load. Most social networks have a way to update your status by sending a text message and it’s a great way to update your friends and family.

Find Your Local Red Cross. Before a disaster strikes, find your local Red Cross and see if you can find out where they will be setting up emergency stations in the event of a serious event. You can view a list of Red Cross centers by your zip code and then you’ll have a good idea of where to start if you need help. You can even check in to Safe & Well to list yourself as OK or check on friends and family.

It’s hard when you lose your cell phone because it’s the way we connect with the world. In the event of a disaster, you have to stay connected in any way you can. Sometimes, that means that old technology might be the most reliable.

Image credit to NOAA.

Delivering Promises to Customers

A few weekends ago, I wanted to order some sandwiches for deliver to my house. I assumed that since there were two locations of a chain within a reasonable drive to my location, that surely they could keep their “freakishly fast” promise. After being denied at both locations, I decided to look and see exactly how far they were from my house.

The two sandwiches places were mapped out to be five miles away and searching around the sandwich site, I didn't see anything that restricted delivery mileage and it seemed it should have that information.

Your website is the portal to your business and what you offer to customers. So does your website deliver the truth to customers?

Are there old promotions hanging out on different pages? Take an hour and go through your landing pages to make sure that you are still honoring the offers on the site. Trust me, if there’s a deal available online, a customer is going to find it and ask for it. If you find anything that’s old or out of date you should change it or update it.

Are the terms and conditions clear? If a promotion requires new customers to send you a picture of them talking into a banana like a telephone, then make sure you put that on the website. If a customer understands the things that have to be done to have a special deal they can make their own decisions, then it builds transparency between you and the customer.

Most customers can understand why or why not a company can do something as long as they don’t try to hide the reasons and requirements behind it. How do you make your websites and promotions transparent for customers?

How to Speak With Less Emotion

It’s true that delivering a powerful, moving, and emotional speech can sometimes be a make it or break it point. Imagine a coach trying to motivate his team, the boss trying to encourage employees, or a teacher trying to push their students to make it through the end of the year. Emotional speech can be a powerful tool to motivate and encourage those around you – but what happens when the line is crossed and you are suddenly speaking offensively and with a lot of anger in your voice?

I’ll tell you what happens – people check out of the conversation. You immediately become “the crazy person” who can’t control their emotions or can’t listen to a differing opinion without raising your voice and shaking your fist around. Perhaps to you, what you are feeling is just passion for your opinion, but there is a fine line between “speaking passionately” and “letting emotions drive the conversation”. There are a limited number of times when you really want to let emotions drive you in a speech and most of the times, it’s best to buckle them up into the back seat and let reason and logic rule the way.

How we identify these emotional situations and how we are reacting to them are important testaments to our character. When should we leave emotion at the door and take a “just-the-facts-ma’am” approach?

In Debate or Arguments

Engaging in a civil debate with another person means that you are agreeing to keep emotions out of it. I’m not talking about the kind of emotional response that is going to make you be passionate about your beliefs; I’m talking about the emotional response that will be triggered in a response to your opponent that includes a lot of f-bombs or punches being thrown. Those kinds of emotional responses have no place in debates and arguments.

At the Workplace

It’s best in meetings to present information in a calm and succinct way. If you have the facts to back up your position, then be ready to go with numbers and cold hard information to defend your position. It’s not always that easy, I know, but the honest truth is that the more you let yourself get angry, or upset, the more you’re just going to get worked up and getting worked up doesn't leave people with the idea that you know what you’re talking about.

When you feel your emotions rising to the boiling point, take a deep breath and count to ten before you respond, or you can ask to be excused or resume once you’ve had a moment to get your thoughts together.

While passion drives our ambitions, I think that once our emotions get out of hand, it’s time to reel a few things into perspective. Are you the person that people avoid at meetings? Is your line always forcibly muted on conference calls? Maybe you should consider a little less emotion the next time you open your mouth to speak.

What do you think? Is there a difference between passion and emotion? Do you think the louder a voice rises, the more someone is right or wrong? When do emotions get in the way of your message?

Charity Spotlight: The Parenting Center

As many of you know, our offices are located in beautiful Fort Worth, Texas and many of the employees and owners of this company have grown up in the area. We are proud members of the community and like to get involved with local events to support local charities and organizations.

A few months ago we told you about Circle of Friends, which works with Cook Children’s Hospital to provide aid to families with a cancer diagnosis. Now we’d like to bring your attention to another great local Fort Worth charity and an upcoming event.

AccuConference is pleased to be a sponsor for the Parenting Center’s 13th Annual Tee it Up Fore Kids Golf Tournament. The Golf Tournament will be held at the Shady Oaks Country Club near downtown on November 5, 2012.

As all the locals know, the fall months here in Texas are some of the most beautiful and the greens are always filled with the amateur golfer. Why not take your love for the outdoors and the game of golf and do something to help a great charity like the Parenting Center?

The Parenting Center offers skills training classes and parenting education all with the hopes of preventing child abuse and neglect. What makes the Parenting Center so unique is that the classes are designed to help parents with any kind of neglect. What if the parent can’t get a toddler to stop throwing temper tantrums and time out just isn’t working in your house? Skills classes teach some different approaches from how to care to newborn and how divorced parents can learn how to co-parent in a healthy environment.

Contact the Parenting Center at 817-332-6489 for more information on teeing off for a great local cause!

Transcription Services

Transcription services may be at an extra cost but there are unique benefits to using them that you might not think about. Usually, we think about transcriptions we think about them for medical purposes or legal documentations of conversations and while these are great uses of a transcription there are many more reasons that adding this service to your conferencing routine can benefit your business in a number of ways.

Here’s a couple of other ways that AccuConference customers are making transcriptions a part of their usual conference calls routine.

  1. Any conversation that is “on the record” should be transcribed so that there is no deviation from what was said. Recording your conference calls is one way to get extra posterity for conversations, but a transcription can be sent out to those who want to keep written documentation.
  2. For videos not only are you making the content within in the video able to be crawled by search engines, you’re also providing an easy way to mark sections for editing. If you’re reviewing a video and need to send a few more notes over to the editor, you can transcribe the text with a timestamp feature and highlight the times that require additional review. This makes it easier for the editor to go into your video and make quick changes. The process speeds up when the editor doesn’t have to go searching for phrases and gestures to remove.
  3. Under Regulation Fair Disclosure mandated by the SEC in 2000, requires that any information released to investors or analysis must be made public. The purpose of the regulation was to even the playing field between all kinds of stock holders and prevent the large investment companies from getting a “heads up” on information that could affect stock prices. Regulation FD requires broad dissemination to the public of stock information and is usually done by conference call playback or by a transcription.
  4. News stories are optimized for mobile devices when you include the transcription of the video together. I check my news applications constantly and I am more likely to “read” a story than to stop and watch the accompanying video on my phone. It will also make your news stories accessible to people who do not have the latest smartphone technology or have access to cool tablet computers.
  5. Did I mention that the content of your conference call suddenly becomes searchable? Imagine that you get an opportunity to host an incredible interview with someone and you upload it to your website and hope that people are able to find it. If you can post the text on your website somewhere your interview content can be returned as a result in Google search.

What useful things can you think of for having conversations transcribed?

What Sports Franchises Teach Us about Customer Loyalty

As I’m sure everyone has realized that I like a good sporting event. While baseball is my sport of choice I like any event where I feel like I can get emotionally invested in something happening on the field or court. Last week, I watched some of the Giants / Cowboys NFL opening game because it seemed like it would be a good one. This week, ESPN released its Ultimate Team Standings for 2012, which polls “fans” on their approval or disapproval of professional sports franchises.

The teams that ranked in the top 10 were not at all surprising, ranging from the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder to the MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks. (Sidenote: Congrats to my Texas Rangers for ranking #9!) In determining top ranked franchise teams there are a number of factors that ESPN takes into consideration and since we’re all trying to get “fans” on various social networks and boost referral customers, I thought I would break down some of the factors and how you can apply them to your business.

Fan Relations.

Are you providing excellent customer service to your fans? How accessible are you day and night for your customers to get the help that they need? Do you respond to Facebook comments or even negative remarks about your company? It’s important to meet your customers’ needs and be ready to respond if they need something.

Bang for the Buck.

When it comes to a sporting event, fans expect that their experience should be worth the amount of money they have spent for all aspects of their time at a park. This is everything from ticket prices to food prices, and even parking. If a fan doesn’t feel like it was money well spent, they won’t rank that team to have a good reputation and they probably won’t visit again. This one is pretty simple – a business should make sure a customer is getting what they are paying for.

Players.

Are the franchise team players accessible? Is it easy to get an autograph or attend a warm up practice? Even the demeanor and attitude they have in television interviews can be a factor in determining a player’s effect on fan perception. Step back and take a look at your customer service representatives and make sure that they are going above and beyond for clients. Do they smile while they are on the phone? Are they patient and understand when trying to walk a customer through steps? These are factors that will make a mark on customers that will affect your team, and business, as a whole.

Those are just a few factors that can cause a positive or negative reception of your team and business. While the Toronto Maple Leafs (dead last) and the Sacramento Kings (next to dead last) haven’t quite figured out how to make their fans happy, your business has a unique opportunity to learn from the mistakes of those franchises and improve customer relations immediately.

After all, fans always reward their team in the end, one way or another.

James Spann on Social Media

For all the weather geeks out there, James Spann is a man that everyone turns to when it comes to all things related to Alabama weather.  Over a career that spans nearly 40 years, Spann has solidified himself as the model study for meteorologists. He’s an Emmy winner, the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award, and has been voted best meteorologist in the country numerous times by the Associated Press.

On top of all this, James Spann is a social media advocate. He is the most followed meteorologists on Twitter and Facebook and on the day of April 26, 2011 as tornadoes roared through Alabama, thousands of people were posting on his social media outlets to report damage and even ask for help. Even if you don’t know who James Spann is or you’re not a weather nerd like me, you’ll find the video below as interesting as I did.  At the Alabama Social Media Association conference earlier this year, James addressed the Alabama media about the use of social media in a weather situation.

  • "If you put others first, that’s when life gets good." As a meteorologist, James often has to field questions from those who do not know much about weather, how storms form, or how they track. Rather than ignore the “stupid question” James answers them because that’s what he is there for. When a question is posed to him it’s because someone respects and needs his answer, so he answers.
  • This is how the world communicates. We often wonder if automation is good or bad in social media and James has found that his determination is based on the expectations of his audience. In high stress situations where response is critical to life and person (like EF-4 tornadoes bearing down on metropolitan areas) automation doesn’t work. People can tell when a message is automated and the expectation on a network like Twitter is that the updates are "real-time". The opposite has proven true for Facebook as the network, at least in his business, is more about sharing the information than looking for up to date information.
  • Let’s be honest. James Spann is, in fact, James Spann and people are going to follow him, they are going to send him information, and he will have questions to answer and a huge network of people that will help him do good. We don’t all have that and our experience on Twitter or Facebook might be different, but no matter what, these are basic foundations to any successful social media plan.

I’ve shared the video because I find it to be an interesting commentary on social media from someone who is, technically, “not in it to make money.” Social media is simply a tool for James and the rest of the ABC 33/40 staff to provide weather updates and, as you’ll see, much more. The length is 45 minutes but the information is great and James is such a great communicator that he’s very easy to listen to.

Tell me what you think – do you feel that social media is a good platform for a meteorologist to embrace to warn the public? Is it a good place for someone in marketing or business development? James certainly feels like his updates and social media activities saved lives on the day of a historic tornado outbreak. Do you think it’s possible for Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels to make that much of an impact, or are James’ situations the exception to the rule?

That super sweet image of James telling you to obey the polygon is credit to his Google + account