Personal Video Conferencing

On September 9, 2008, Andrew Wertz watched the birth of his son… from 7,000 miles away. The Marine Lance Cpl. was stationed in Iraq and when the time came, the non-profit charity organization, Freedom Calls, arranged for a video conference. The foundation also allows soldiers to attend weddings, graduations, parent/teacher conferences, and visit with dying relatives.

You probably use video conferencing for you business, but what about your personal life? It seems easier to just pick up the phone, or go visit, but what about when you are on a business trip? When was the last time you "saw" your mother?

Video conferencing doesn't have to be solely for business. You have friends and relatives that you don't see but once or twice a year, why not get them to join a video conference? It could be said that chatting more during the year will make for nothing to talk about at Christmas, but the opposite is true. When you connect year-round you discover more about your friends and relatives. This gives you more to talk about in person. And since you saw them on your computer screen, you know how they really feel about Cousin Jack's new hobby.

Think about it, how long do those "catching up" conversations really last? You can have more fulfilling and less superficial talks when the conversation begins with, "Hey, I thought about what you said last month…"

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

First Impressions Matter … Make the Most of Yours

In business, especially with the tumultuous economy, companies spend a lot of time weighing costs and benefits. Are the benefits to a particular venture more or less than the costs; and based on that, is it beneficial for your company to continue this relationship? This judgment is based on numbers but don't forget about human nature. If you're sitting there trying to figure out why you're hitting some roadblocks trying to develop your business relationships, remember this: The maintenance of relationships is based on how satisfied a person is with that particular relationship. If we feel as though a relationship is harming us in the long run, then we will not invest our time and energy into maintenance and cultivation.

Social exchange theory explains how economic principals can be applied to your everyday relationships. Sure, you presented to the best of your abilities, but was there something that stood out about you that might have dissuaded your potential business? Were you confident in speech and material? All of these factors are going to be applied to your "social exchange," which is based on three major assumptions:

  1. Relationships are a matter of subtracting costs from rewards and using that to determine the outcome.
  2. People want to make the most out of benefits while lessening costs (also called the maximum principal).
  3. Human beings are inherently selfish and are going to do whatever makes them happy.

Basically what this means that human beings are going to take the good, subtract the bad, and if the outcome of that is still something they want to nurture, then that relationship will continue. If not, the relationship will no longer be cultivated. While this may not seem like something that you would consider a factor when it comes to business relationships, you have to remember that it's theorized that this happens without our knowledge.

The next time you're trying to figure out why you didn't get the contract or why you didn't make the sale, ask yourself if you presented the absolute best version of yourself. Did you look or sound erratic? Did you dress appropriately for the types of clients to which you were presenting? This theory isn't related to just the physical and everything about you will be taken into consideration. Knowing this theory and being aware of it means even more on a conference call where you only have a couple of different ways to make an impression and to ensure that your rewards will outweigh your costs. Be sure that your presentation is in tip-top shape and that you're well prepared before you dial in and present.

Snap judgments are okay and remember its human nature to "judge the book by its cover," so don't feel offended if you know that's what is happening. A way to combat this when you're going in for a presentation is to know your audience. The most important thing in communication is going to be to know who you're speaking to and realize that your audience (whether it be one person or one hundred) is going to judge you. That's okay.

It's not personal, it's just business.

Posted by Maranda Gibson, Account Specialist

What Customers Want

What do customers want? The answers are not hard to guess at, but if your company makes these customer wishes a priority, you'll sail through the ongoing economic storm with ease. You'll stay on target for your company goals and end up following a nice straight line through the roughest of conditions. Interested? Read on.

1. Company transparency. Clients and customers are weary of corporate greed. In other words, the bank CEOS that took taxpayer money to attend a resort to “rest up” from the exhaustion of having to be bailed out aren't real popular right now with customers. If your company shows a commitment to your clients and customers in that you consider their satisfaction with your product or service the most important issue you deal with on a daily basis, well, that's what they're looking for right now. So show it off, be completely transparent, be honest, be thoughtful and respectful, and above all, make sure your clients and customers are satisfied. If you aren't sure, ask.

2. Customer service. When your phone rings, who answers it? How do they answer? Do they have the information your customers want? Are they helpful? My pressing customer service issue was answered above and beyond this past week (yes, the day before Thanksgiving) by a very thoughtful, polite customer service rep and I was happy to take the time to call his supervisor and get a kudos note put in his file. I will purchase again from this company. I feel completely confident that everything will be done exactly as promised and I have no qualms about recommending this company to my entire neighborhood at the upcoming Christmas party. It's all the result of amazing customer service. Does your company offer it? Start now.

3. Communication. After someone buys something from you, do you follow up and make sure the service or product worked? Did it solve the original problem or issue? Did it work like you said it would? Did they have any issues with the item or service? The easiest step is a customer comment card or quick follow-up phone call to make sure everything was as ordered. Don't immediately try to sell something else. Just make sure what you sold them works. And let it go for now. You can always send a marketing message later on. Harassing a happy customer with a follow-up sale just makes you appear desperate.

4. Accessibility. Can they find you when they need you the next time? Your marketing message should have your customer service number, your web site, and your mailing address every time. Use those marketing message opportunities to offer a coupon or special promotion that does not expire. People save coupons. Be helpful by providing your contact information and leave it at that. Send regular follow-up messages with sale offers and special promotions, but don't be pesky.

5. Long-term memory. A company I order from regularly has all my orders under my name from four years ago. I can trust that they have every single order on record and will always be able to look up past orders by a quick search of my name. It's rather impressive to know that a company service rep can tell me the details of an order from 2005 so that I don't have to dig through past records to find it myself. It also is comforting to know that they care that much to make sure they keep track of my buying patterns. Plus, they offer me promos based on my buying patterns. Call it the Amazon.com effect. Hey, it works!

Anything you can implement right now in your business? Your customers will thank you (and will probably give you their business for years to come).

Fight Meeting Blues

Fight Meeting Blues

It's something that we all have experienced and we all dread: the really long meeting that goes nowhere and gets nothing done. Why do these meetings happen? Who organizes them? How do they sleep at night? If I was to hazard a guess, I would think that these meetings aren't really for productivity, but to impress someone's boss. In any case, if you have the power and ability, please thwart long, useless meetings and replace them with something that will help, rather than hurt.

Two articles brought this important subject to my attention. One was from Harvard Business Publishing, and the other from the SmallBizResource blog. Some suggestion for more effective meetings can be found in both articles. For example, a great way to keep meetings short and on-point is the "stand-up" meeting. For this kind of meeting, you will not need chairs. Have your people literally stand around the conference table for the duration of the meeting. This will ensure that people keep their responses short and help to progress the agenda to a quick finish.

A big tip for short effective meetings is to not have a meeting. That's right, if you can accomplish the work through phone calls, conference calls, emails, or even text messages, don't call a meeting. This is the same principle behind abolishing weekly meetings, progress meetings, and other such get-togethers that only exist because someone thought it would be good for "synergy" -- or what you - if everyone met at a regular time. The reoccurring meeting guarantees two things: time will be wasted because there aren't enough items to cover, and someone will be frantically creating something at the last minute to look productive for the meeting.

Your caveat for meetings should be "less is more." This means shorter time lengths of course, but also smaller groups of attendees. With fewer participants, people will be less likely to snooze or cruise through a meeting. You will be able to notice the more quiet attendees and ask for their input. When everyone works together, you get better results. However, more people talking encourages digressions and other time-wasters. To stay in control, identify a digression and write it down. Promise everyone that it will be the star of another meeting - if they so choose - and move on. Also, don't be afraid to politely cut-off long-winded monologue speakers.

Video conferences aren't as real as, say, shaking someone's hand, but they are very effective when replacing unnecessary meetings. For a good, efficient meeting, get the two or three people that are actually needed into a video conference. They don't have to leave their desks - or wherever they are - and you can conduct your business efficiently. And if you need more insurance that the video conference won't go long, have everyone pull back from their webcams and stand for the entire meeting.

Posted by George Page, Communication Specialist

Great Uses for AccuConference Toll Free

Documentation could be the single most important word in business right now. Who did you talk to? What did you talk about? What conclusions did you come to and how did you reach those? Web and video conferencing haven't just increased in popularity and power due to the struggling economy and increased travel expenses., A lot of corporations have turned to conference calling as a means of being able to document. Pretty much every company offers call recording, and a recording is a document to prove what happened in a conference call. When you're not having a conference call but still need documentation of a conversation, you can do that through your AccuConference Toll Free number. By using it as a fax machine, you can keep PDFs of incoming faxes stored in your email inbox. Listed below are some situations where this would be a great tool for you to use, both for personal and business uses.

  1. One of the first things that came to mind was how this could be useful with online bill pay, which most of us use. When you pay online, you receive a confirmation number, which companies rely on you to write down. It's a good system but it doesn't always work, and as I've said before, having a back-up plan is one of the smartest things you can do. These confirmation numbers are stored in the companies' databases, and many companies are nice enough to fax you a copy of the confirmation if you ask. By using your AccuConference Toll Free number as the fax, you're going to get that confirmation into your email inbox as a PDF. If you follow the steps here, you can label them and file them away so that you always have a copy - . Not just the number you wrote down on the invoice but the actual fax that is dated and has their companies fax number on it. That way if you ever did have a problem with the payment posting or being correctly applied to the account, you have an almost foolproof back-up just a click or two away.
  2. If you're already using the call notes feature to keep your toll free accounts organized, then email notification is a great supplement for storing information coming from clients. If you have a client who's faxing you agreements or proposals, you can create a folder for that client and change the name of the subject line to (for example) “Steve, Proposal for Company X” and file it away under the “Steve” folder.
  3. If those client agreements are ever changed, create subfolders in these main folders for changes like “Steve, Company X, 11/15/08, price changed”. Using this feature allows you to have the most updated agreement, quote, or whatever is being discussed in the one place you're sure to find it: your email.
  4. Fax yourself. Sounds crazy doesn't it? It's really not. Send yourself important documents that one of these days might face the fury of moving, age, water, you name it. Send yourself your birth certificates, wedding licenses, social security cards, driver's licenses, or anything you think could be useful. In the event that these originals got burned, destroyed, ripped, whatever, at least you would have a place to start.
  5. Lawyers love paperwork, we all know that. Renaming subject lines not only works for the lawyers, but also you as a client. If you're buying a piece of property, there is going to be a lot of papers flying around and you're going to want to keep it all. So have it faxed to you, and again, rename it and file it. If you are handling multiple projects at once create folders to store each set of documents. As a law professional, you can do this for your clients who are sending in wills, settlements, subpoenas, and even payment agreements.

As you can see, this is just a place to start. Even if you're not a lawyer, a habitual online bill payer, or a salesman, just keeping important documents on file is a great idea. You never know when someone's going to ask you to see a birth certificate or when that new puppy is going to go exploring while you're at work and find that folder full of documents.

But there would be a lot of really nice confetti to celebrate the fact that you were smart enough to store the documents in your email.

How Communication Can Make You Money

Social media. It's the buzzword for 2008. Bloggers with book deals, Twitter recaps of presidential debates and appearances, Facebook groups set up to discuss a particular product launch, teleconferences by marketing gurus discussing that latest sales strategy. It's all a form of communication that could be very effective for your business. So how do you use any of it to make money?

1. Are you trying to build a buzz? If you're an author, a blog discussing your writing career might work. You can get a fan page on Facebook, where people can ask you questions and talk about your book. Stephenie Meyer's book Twilight (the movie hits theaters this month) has 343,643 fans right now. The page boasts interviews with Meyer and the cast of the movie, discussion forums, and trailers, movie pictures and promos, you name it.

2. Are you an expert trying to build a platform? A teleconference can be a great place to meet potential clients and to give away some great teaser content, such as marketing in a slow economy, how to sell more effectively, even tips on becoming a career coach. You can advertise your conference using Facebook or Twitter, allow people to twitter your call, and then post a recording for download in exchange for email addresses.

3. Do you want to broadcast your expertise into different social media worlds? Your blog can be a great vehicle to showcase your knowledge base. Also link your blog to Facebook so that when you update with a new post, it automatically is updated on Facebook. Start a Facebook group and ask readers of your blog to join. Group members can join a discussion forum to talk about issues you've posted about. One writer currently hosts an Atlanta-based blog on finding good deals and her Facebook group has garnered her hundreds of new readers. She posts deals on her Twitter feed, Facebook status, and on her blog.

4. Do you want to complement your publicity department's work on your product? Any of these tools can work for you. A teleconference where you discuss your newest launch, a blog where you can upload YouTube Videos, or Facebook can host and remind people of upcoming events you'll be at, and Twitter can become a blaster of quick spurts of information as things come up.

5. Do you have doubts about social media? It is pretty new, and yet we've seen evidence that it can invigorate campaigns quite effectively. President-elect Barack Obama harnessed the power of social media to his advantage this year. Voters on both sides used Facebook to remind people to vote, debated policy ideas via Twitter, and even live-blogged the debates. If you're not sure where to start, try one thing at a time. It's fun and you just might surprise yourself at what you can create.