Conference Calls That Have Little Action – Lots of Waiting

Did you know that the average NFL game only has eleven minutes of action? Think about that this weekend when you’re glued to the screen for a couple of hours and ignoring the rest of the world for football. So what happens during the rest of that two hour broadcast? Well, the Wall Street Journal breaks it down like this:

  • 56% of the time is devoted to replays.
  • As much as 75 minutes of air time is devoted to showing players in huddles, standing at the line, or just wandering around between snaps. (Think about how many times you watched someone get a drink of Gatorade last Sunday.)
  • 7% of the time is spent showing the head coach or other coaches looking at their play cards or uttering things into their headset microphones.

The DVR should be renamed to “bypassing the commercials so I can get into bed at a decent time” because after reading that, doesn’t two hours or more seem like a complete waste?

Think about it – we sit through two hours of junk because we like to watch football. So why would we employ time wasting strategies at work and lost some of our precious time? Did you know the first place you can get some time back is on your conference calls? Are your conferences full of action or do you spend your call with a bunch of people saying hello, catching up, or asking if they can be heard?

You can bypass all of that and get straight into the action by employing a few simple strategies.

Start without someone on the conference.

If you scheduled your conference to start at ten in the morning and someone who isn’t essential to the meeting hasn’t arrived, go ahead and start the call. There is no reason why the rest of the users should be held up because one person didn’t arrive on time. The flip side of that is if the person you’re waiting on is the one with all the details – you probably should go ahead and wait.

Turn off your intro notifications.

There is no hard and fast rule that says you have to have the tones and name announcements blurt out during your conference. If you keep these on, what will end up happening will be nothing short of chaos as everyone joins the call. I know that a lot of people like to greet everyone on the conference, and that’s okay, but I suggest turning off any of the announcements and taking a nice, gentle roll call at the beginning.

Mute everyone on the call.

Everyone has a preference in how they set up conference calls and I am no different. I can’t stand noise on a conference call and I’m the first person to suggest to all of my customers that leaving all of their lines open on a call is a disaster waiting to happen. If you place your calls into lecture mode, then you won’t have to worry about everyone trying to catch up with each other when it’s time to start the conference.

Finish quickly.

There is no need for a conference call to keep going if you’re done sharing the information. With operator conferences, we book the lines for an hour, but many times the conferences don’t go as long as expected. The speaker was really efficient, or the participants didn’t have any questions, but either way, these calls don’t keep going when there is nothing to say.

There is no hard and fast rule that states that your conferences must be a specific length of time, so if you’re done with what the conference is for, then disconnect and let everyone get back to work.

Image credit Wikimedia Commons.

Ease Your Customers through Change

I’ve always thought that the way people adjust to change is a lot like how to they get into a swimming pool. Even on the hottest of hot days, there are some people who will run to the edge and cannonball into the deep, cold water. Sure, the initial shock will be pretty harsh, but they will be refreshed by the sudden temperature change and bob up to the surface, yelling for you to get into the water.

Then there are the easers. These are the people that get their feet used to the temperature first, and then ease themselves into the water inch by inch. Sure, these people take more time getting into the pool, but they just don’t like that instant shock. Once their bodies are adjusted, they are having just as much fun as the jumpers.

Maslow’s Hierarchy kicks in when we encounter change. These needs are fulfilled quicker for some people than others. The people who can quickly adapt around change are the divers and those who get stuck on certain levels are the easers.

When things change in the company you work for, you are going to go through the hierarchy. It’s just a part of the way we respond. Both you and your customer are working through the same things. By understanding why people act and respond the way they do – you can find it easier not only to ease yourself through change, but to help your customers as well. Check out these principals of change management psychology to help you and your customers ease (or dive) into the next big thing.

Something to Believe In

If all the conversations with your customers surround the things that will be “different”, they are likely to put your new ideas or their transition at arm’s length. Instead, break things down on how an individual customer will benefit. If you can say to a customer – “Yes, Bob, I know you’ve been looking for a better way to do XYZ, and this will be achieved with our new product” then you’re going to create a personal investment in the change. Give your customer something they can believe in, rather than expecting them to believe in what you’re excited about.

Provide as Much Consistency as Possible

When you’re pumped about a new start or direction, it can be hard to resist the temptation to throw it all away and start that building process from the ground up, but doing that can scare your customers. Ease your customers through things by changing only small things at first, before rolling out the big ones. Keep your staff the same as long as you can manage or don’t change your phone numbers until you absolutely have to. These things provide a consistently ground for your customers to keep walking along with you.

Reinforce Those Good Feelings

Once you start to push out some of those bigger things to your customers, make sure that you reach out and touch base with them, especially those who were the most resistant to change. Give them a few weeks with a new product or program, and then reach out with a phone call or email to see how things are going. This way you are available if they have any questions and you remain a consistent voice in the process.

Change isn’t easy on anyone and I think that it’s harder when you have a group of people (like customers) that you are responsible for easing through what can be a tricky process. Not only are you adjusting, but you have to walk them through the process as well. Remember that you want consistency and reinforcement as much as they do, and don’t be afraid to find your own ways to feel steady. There’s probably a good chance you and your customer can help each other through the process.

How do you help your customers through change?

How to Market Like a Teenage Girl

A few weeks ago I came across a story that should have surprised me, but it didn’t. Anna Todd just signed a six-figure deal for a trio of books and subsequent films based on her writings. Sounds like any writers dream right? Well, what if I told you that her books were novels that starred fictionalized versions of her favorite boy band One Direction?

Yes, another writer will be making bank on the popularity of their online fan fiction stories.

So what exactly is fan fiction? In a nutshell, fan fiction is the writing of a story based on something that already exists. The word “fan” ties to you a particular television show, movie, or book series. A fan fiction author will fill in gaps or write their own versions of their favorite stories with their favorite characters.

Most people had not been exposed to fan fiction until we were all introduced to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. The bestselling book series and future movie blockbuster was originally a fan fiction Twilight story that was incredibly popular on sites that host fan fiction. Now, everyone probably has an opinion on this new trend of fan fiction being repackaged and sold as original ideas – myself included. But that is a debate for another day – another blog. This post is about what you can learn from teenage girls about marketing.

Know What is Popular

Fan fiction is generally driven by the things that are the most popular. 50 Shades is fiction based on the Twilight series and it was picked up and molded into a best seller just as the final Twilight movies were being aired in theaters. There is a sense of sadness when something a fan loves goes away – like when a movie series has completed or a show is no longer on television. When fans need “more” they turn to fiction, and they share with their friends, and so forth. It is the ultimate proof of the benefit of word-of-mouth marketing.

Market in the Right Channels

A lot of fan fiction is marketed to fellow fans on message boards. If you go to sites like fanforum.com you’ll find any number of show / couple specific message boards that have frequent and regular users. A lot of members who also write fan fiction will embed the link to their author profile into their signature. Since you’re already posting with people who would be interested in that kind of fiction, you’re speaking directly to your target market.

I know – it seems odd to look at teenage channels for us to get ideas, but they truth is that they drive a lot of the decision making in advertising, as well point us in a direction that we should consider. Like it or not, they control a lot of our buying power and we have to start taking our queue from them. Fan fiction authors certainly seem to be making bank lately.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

Evolving Your Business

The World Series wrapped up last week and the San Francisco Giants won by beating the Cinderella-story Kansas City Royals in game seven. If you were paying any attention to sports last week, you surely saw a tweet, read a news story, or caught a clip from the Fall Classic.

What you might not have heard is that in the Arizona Fall League, the MLB is testing some new rules about the pace of game. The regular season of 2014 brought some new changes with the implementation of a new challenge rule in regards to questionable calls made by umpires. It’s still in its infancy but the challenge system has really helped to open a new door in the process of the game, making it less likely that important moments will be decided by a “bad call”.

Intentional walks will no longer require four pitches to be thrown. The manager will be able signal to the umpire and the batter will take his base.

Pitch clocks are being testing as well. Much like a shot clock in the NBA, it will provide the pitcher 20 seconds to get the ball to from the mound to the catcher. Failure to do so will result in a penalty.

Conferences at the mound will be limited to three per game. Right now, the catcher can run out to chat to the pitcher whenever he wishes. A system more like this would be more like the standard time out system in other sporting leagues.

In order to stay competitive, your business has to be willing to grow, change, and evolve with the needs of your customers. Take the MLB example and you’ll see that as they have been unable to pick up the “younger” generations, they are listening to the biggest complaints about their sport – that it’s slow and boring.

Their hope is that some of these new rules being tested can be implemented in the big leagues and lead to more people watching their sport, greater ratings, and better ticket sales.

You can change things like this in your own business if you are willing to listen to suggestions and take criticism. Your customers are the best reviewers of your business that you’ll ever have. They are the ones that will tell you either with comments, emails, or even choosing to take their business to other companies.

Encourage your customers to come to you and speak openly about what they like, don’t like, and even make a wish list for their needs. To be successful you need to be willing to evolve and grow. What are you doing to grow your business through what your customers need?

3 Marketing Lessons Learned from Civilization

My favorite kinds of games are the kinds that are different every time you play. I have enjoyed playing simulation games since I was a nerdy junior high kid. The first game I ever got into was the Sid Meier series Civilization. My dad taught me how to play and since, I’ve been a dominant force in my simulation world. (Seriously, don’t cross me, I will destroy you.)

When these games rolled out in iPad versions, I spent about a solid month doing nothing but playing game after game. I took different strategies and started as different leaders. Each game turned out differently. I realized there’s a lot to learn from simulation game because you have to plan, develop a strategy, and then launch against your competition. Here are three takeaways about marketing that I learned from a marathon of Civilization.

Plan in Advance

In order to achieve success and win your game, you have to start out with a plan in mind. This may change depending on what you come across as you go along (maybe your citizens keep revolting, or you weren’t able to expand as large as you wanted) but you do need to have a direction. Your success will depend on the resources you can identify and exploit to your advantage.

Take a look at all of your assets and decide where you can get the most out of your team. Maybe you have an incredibly talented web development team who could create buzz by simply redesigning a website. Maybe your strength is in content development, so you choose to roll out a teaser campaign. Either way, your first step is to identify what resources you have and how you want to win.

Know Your Competition

Since this particular game generates a random starting location for you, it’s important to seek out your potential friends and foes. You need to know who you can form alliances with, who you can trust, and who you can’t. It’s not as cutthroat in the “real” world a lot of times, but knowing who you’re going up against helps you to determine a plan of action.

Before starting a campaign, research the leaders in your field. What are they doing? Find out what has worked for them and what hasn’t. These can be keys to determining your best plan of action. In game, you think about who is going to be a military powerhouse and who might have a series of scientific advances that put them ahead of the game. Anticipating these things, knowing the competition, you know how to plan a strategy and how to respond to what the competition does.

Give it Time to Grow

When you start a game of Civilization, you are weak. You have one military unit and you can start one city. From there, you just start to put the pieces together and build. The very beginning of a game is not the time to start a huge undertaking of military strength while trying to take over the world.

Starting a new campaign will not yield magic “take-over-the-world” results right away. You have to put the pieces in place and then let it grow slowly. If you do the work, at some point, the tide will turn and your competition will see you as the benchmark to set their campaigns to. If you haven’t rushed yourself, by this time, there may be no way to catch up with you.

Bonus Tip: Never trust the Zulus. Seriously, they will break every single alliance they get their hands on, just for fun.

The Reveal

I was recently at a Reveal Party (this is a way to announce what the gender of a baby will be with those that will be important to this child’s life). The get together was at a home in the country with horses saddled up, a Kubota to ride and acres to walk and take in the view. There was a large black box hung on the back porch with a white question mark tempting every one of the event to come. Old, newly made friends and family gathered together in different areas with roars of laughter coming from different areas. The group was diverse and everyone was having fun. Conversations were with anyone from 4 to 75 years of age. The surrounding was picture perfect, the mood was light and people were all there to celebrate. Everyone was looking forward to the main event, is it going to be blue or pink? This was always the conversation starter when approaching someone new. We all gathered together when it was time for the announcement as the happy couple released the cord and pink balloons, streamers and glittery things poured on their heads!

It was such a great day and enjoyed by all. Although this was a personal gathering, you can say that this was a successful, well planned event with a goal in mind for everyone to take time to share and be excited together. People have always fascinated me as I hear of where they come from, where they have been and what they want to do. Everyone has some information they want to share and people to share it with. With a little thought and participation, the concept of a reveal can be used anywhere to connect and celebrate.

We all know that work can sometimes get monotonous , so why not liven it up and get excited again? Let’s have a Reveal Party! Get excited again about enjoying the company of your company. It is as easy as 1-2-3. One, find a common goal. Two, select a venue. Three, a reveal. It does not have to be work related, this is time to get creative! Our company reveal is the “Best Burger in Town”. We picked 5 favorite local restaurants and once a week we go to lunch in groups of 2 or 3. When we return, we will give a score of 1 to 5 for each restaurant. Our reveal at the end is the “Best Burger in Town”.

Seeing that black box with the white question mark is sometimes all you need. Take the time to enjoy each other and get to know the people that you spend just as much time with as you do with your family. Enjoy the company of your company and build a better team!

How to Fill Out Customer Surveys

In my previous job, customers had the ability to go online and fill out an NPS (Net-Promoter Score) survey on their experience. NPS is a scoring system for customer feedback that determines how likely the customer is to recommend a business based on one or more factors.

On our NPS surveys, the location and employees would be ranked 1-10 on different factors with comment sections. A customer survey is designed to do two things - 1.) Give well deserved kudos to the employees at the counter and 2) keep the employees accountable.

Being the overachiever that I was (er, am), I wanted to get 10s on everything. How could I not? I was always polite, I took good care of my customers, but I learned something about filling out NPS surveys.

You can't please everyone and it seemed like all of those people were renting their cars from our location.

It was rare to get a five and we were a highly rated branch across our area, but it was forever surprising when we would receive a three or below (which triggered a conference call with the area leaders, explaining the reason). Here are some of the reasons why we got three or below on some of our surveys.

  • Did not get the car that was pictured on the website.
  • Someone once got in an accident in a rental vehicle and left a poor review because the accident paperwork took additional time on return.

I think that NPS and other kinds of survey's are a great tool for customers to communicate with the staff about their experiences, whether it be good or bad. I highly suggest that you take the opportunity to fill out a survey or comment card whenever you get the chance. You might think that your representative or management isn't interested, but I promise you that for the most part, those of us in customer service are truly dedicated to our jobs.

If you want your comment card to make a true impression, I have some tips on what gets read, and what gets dismissed. Keep these in mind the next time you fill out your comment card or take a moment for the survey.

Use the Comment Box

If you feel like you need to score the location or business low, that's okay. You're allowed to and I promise that any good business wants to know where they can improve and grow their business. Use the comment box and expand on your thoughts or add more. The simple rankings of 1-10 are great but it might leave a huge question of what you actually expected. The comment box is a great place to give more information to have a better experience next time.

Consider the Question Carefully

Be sure that your responses are going into their corresponding categories. If you had a terrible meal at a really clean restaurant, marking 0 for cleanliness will make it harder for the staff and management to take your comments and ratings into consideration. When filling out your survey make sure that you are marking your comments in the right places.

Rank Locations on Things They Can Control

There are some things that may sully your experience that are out of the business' hands. If you go to restaurant with the hopes of sitting on the patio, but can't because it's raining, it's not appropriate to score your location on something that was completely out of their control.

Please take the opportunity to fill out the survey or talk to the manager (especially when you have a great experience) but even when you don't let the company know so that they can make changes and adjustments for a better experience in the future for you and other customers.

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.

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.