Speaker at New Communications Forum

I spoke recently at the New Communications Forum held in Las Vegas, March 6-10.  The Importance of Corporate Culture to the Success of Social Media Programs was the title of my presentation. ( You can listen to the presentation in this MP3 recording.) My host, SNCR research fellow John Cass, and I created a talk-show format where we discussed our corporate culture and how it's allowed us to use social media programs like blogs and podcasts and wikis and videocasts.

We spoke for about an hour to a packed ballroom of about 150 people at 8:30 AM...in Vegas!  That's a testament to the growing desire for knowledge by companies about social media (podcasts, videocasts, blogs and wikis, oh my) and how their power can be put to use for a company's audience, whether internal or external.

I've often said that blogs are the great leveler for competition between large corporate brands with their million dollar ad budgets and smaller companies with their non-existent ad budgets. Blogs allow you to deliver your company's unique message, immediately, directly and with no dilution from any corporate PR-speak an outside agency might bring. A blog allows you to speak directly in your own voice to your customers, prospects and employees. There's no better resource to use to differentiate your company, your offerings, your service, your brand...than a blog. Blogs are also amazingly inexpensive to use.

It's required now to use our company's wiki for all conversations, long-term strategic or short-term and tactical, within our company. We insist upon it with our partners as well. It's power comes from its open structure. It's an easy platform to use to keep everyone involved and working from the same page in a project's discussion.

Such a simple statement. But its impact is profound. Here's why: Everyone on the same page means misunderstandings are minimized. It means silos of power and influence (ie, politics and division) are also minimized. It means bringing everyone's understanding current is a by-product of the online conversation, whether it's an informal Q&A or a formal discussion/debate. It means simpler, more timely project management. It means an easy resource to bring an integrated vision of a company's progress and direction is now available. And it's possible to keep that vision current, from the organic and ongoing nature of the conversation.

Translation: Your mission statement of 5 years ago begins to breathe life again when everyone participates in its creation with every project, every conversation, every discussion of a project's goal, on and on.

Warning: be prepared for your mission statement to change. And that's a good thing. It means your staff is getting engaged, passionate, opinionated....they care.

For our wiki we use the basecamp product from 37Signals. Wikis and their use are a habit that needs to be learned. But the benefits are profound.

Podcast is a resource we offer as a service. It's also a resource we'll use more as the year progresses. we've used it sparingly in the past. Our most recent was a 3-part podcast series on How to Create Word-of-Mouth Advertising for Your Company. You can subscribe to the podcast using any RSS reader  with this link.

Videocasts are also a resource we'll explore in the near future. Videocasts do for video what podcasts do for audio. They syndicate the content so it's pushed to your most avid audience members. That means your podcasts or videocasts are sent automatically to those who choose to subscribe. That makes getting your content, your message, into their RSS readers and MINDS much more convenient for them AND you.

And here's my impression of the event: New Comm Forum: 4 for 4. It was a great event.

March 19, 2007 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0)

Hours of Operation on Thanksgiving, November 23 and 24

Our Administrative offices will be closed on Thursday, November 23, and Friday, November 24, to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S.  This effects our Customer Service and Billing operations and staff.

However, operators and technicians will be available if  needed during your conference calls on those days, just as they always are throughout the year.

Thank you for your business. We hope your thanksgiving is rich in reasons for thanks and rich in calories in celebrating.

October 23, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Foster Parents for Rescue Animals

20050216_lucky_1_1 Lucky was the first one to arrive. My husband and I first thought how name appropriate, he sure is “lucky” to be here with us and away from his past situation.

A month later when he left us to go
to his “forever” home, we had been humbled. Anyone who has the good fortune to spent time with him is lucky.

And so began our journey as temporary foster parents to Golden Retrievers who need to find another home. Lucky was followed by Goldie, Alie, Bradley and I’m sure there will be many more. All are wonderful dogs who just need to find a new home and family. As foster parents, we are a temporary stop on that journey.

We have a special love for Golden Retrievers having two as members of our family. Knowing this, our local vet calls us whenever a Golden shows up at his office in need of a home. We had been talking about getting involved in a breed rescue league for years so this just spurred us on to do it.

We work with a Golden Retriever rescue league in the Midwest: Retrieve a Golden in Minnesota. Most dog breeds have these types of rescue leagues, full of loving and caring people, making matches between dogs who need a new home and people who are wanting to add a dog to their life. You don't need to purchase a pet from a pet store, and you don't need to own a show dog if you just
want a family pet. There are lots of rescued pets needing homes and these organizations want the public to know these animals are out  there waiting for their new homes.

Each step along the way is done with the intent of what is best for the dog. The dog is the first priority…the dogs receive the best veterinary care, potential parents are interviewed, follow-up is done.

If your home isn’t set up to foster a dog there are many other ways to help….home visits, transports, helping with events, grant writing, fund raising.

For us it’s been such a rewarding experience. We’d thought we’d be sad to see our foster dogs leave us, but somehow the dogs seem to know that they will be moving on to their new family, so
we can only be happy for them.

As for Lucky, Goldie, Alie and Bradley… they are all living  happily ever after with their new “forever” families.

- Cindy Whitney, Customer Operations Manager

October 23, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Our New Phone System

Dana, our IT-Guy Extraordinaire, spent most of Saturday installing our new phone system. The plan was to spend half of Saturday working with the vendor to install the new phone system. But...we all know that any time line needs to be doubled for a new installation. Luckily this truism meant only a few more hours.

And honestly this is the smoothest install of a new phone system I've ever witnessed. Everything was up and running for business this morning. There were  usual surprises from installing a new mission critical hardware. But nothing that interfered with our customers and prospects reaching us.

The phone system is from NEC. It has some added features like caller ID and VOIP capabilities that will enhance its value to us in the coming years.

Thank you, Dana.

February 13, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More than A Conference Call...

We promise to offer more than a conference call for our customers.  We see ourselves as partners working with you towards your goals and we happen to offer conference calls. Some of the resources we've used to help our customers and their organizations grow are resources from our other customers. These are resources we've found useful, very useful in helping our own business succeed. And we wanted to offer them to you for your organization's success.

We're offering the following seminars to our customers in 2006:

* A Day with Seth Godin.

Seth is Seth. I spent a day with him; It's nothing short of amazing. And productive. And here's what Seth says about spending your day with him.

It’s interactive, but it’s very much my show. I talk a lot, push you a lot and end up exhausted in a heap at the end of the day. The more you bring with you, the more you get back. The best seminars are filled with people with big issues, provocative solutions and a desire to speak up.

Here's the catch. 3 customers are already slated to attend this event on Thursday, January 26th. But...Seth offers this day of his time more than once. So, we'll have another chance or two to offer this very special day for you. 

And we'll interview the 3 attendees for their impression. We'll share that here to help inspire you or your manager to attend that day. (Dream: What we'd really like to do is sponsor one exclusively for our customers...we'll see if we can arrange that.)

* Topgrading Seminar.

This day-long seminar with Brad and Geoff Smart is designed to leave you with the skills to hire A-players 95% of the time. And if you're currently staffed with B or C players, you'll find how to upgrade them to be A players. The Smart brothers have worked directly with major Fortune 500 companies to implement this approach. And we've followed their approach with great success with our company.

The first seminar here is in Denver on March 16th. We'll sponsor 3 customers to attend. Let us know, now.

* Duct Tape Marketing Referral.

We've sponsored many customers to attend seminar training events from John Jantsch. And they've all been delighted with the results.  You've read my blurbs about John and his work in marketing and advertising a few times. Bottomline for me is that he concentrates on what works...the steps you can take right now for immediate impact on your organization's success. John will be having a few more such events in 2006. You'll be notified as soon as we hear.

(full disclosure: I'm a fellow blogger on the Duct Tape Marketing Channel blog that John conceived, created and promotes. It's been voted best small business blog by Forbes magazine. )

* Church of the Customer. (waiting)

I've been a big fan of Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba over at the Church of the Customer, aka Customer Evangelists, for several years now. I've attended their presentations several times. I spoke on a panel with Ben at last year's inaugural WOMMA show. Ben is one of the top 3-4 presenters and how he integrates his PowerPoint presentation.  Very smooth, seamless, his content becomes the message. And their content is excellent. And we've patiently been waiting for them to put on a day-long seminar. Ben. Jackie. When?

As the year proceeds, we'll add more events to this list. And we've got a few surprises lined up for you for 2006. You didn't want to open ALL your gifts now, did you?

January 16, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Customer Anniversaries: Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

January's the start of every new year. This month we want to start a new tradition, another tradition of celebrating our customers. We want to acknowledge the customer who celebrates the longest tenure of service with us each month. 

This month it's:

Bruce Roberts, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory . According to their website:

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a "research institute" of the Smithsonian Institution headquartered in Cambridge, MA, where it is joined with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

You might need to ask yourself what an Astrophysical Observatory does for fun. I know I did. ( I'm an Art major. I studiously avoided anything science-related in school.)

What does the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory do for fun?

Well, it turns out they do a lot of very cool, very interesting research. Their website has a link to What's new at the CFA? And what's new there is the discovery of a Cosmic Jet...that whose movement through space creates a tornado-like appearance of dare I say it...great beauty and amazement.

Cosmictornadosm_2

I gotta say again, as I post this picture from their website...this is amazing! It's amazing and beautiful. It must be even more delightful to discover these cosmic events and see them for their first time! It must be very fun to do "work" (ok let's be honest it's more like "hard play") in such an area of amazing discoveries every day, for years now, 6 to be exact with us. And probably more before that.

( I guess this the reward for taking science classes more seriously in the early 70's, or not.)

Bruce and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory receive one more reward for their passion for science. They receive 60% off their invoice for this most recent period. Our customers receive an anniversary discount of 10% for each year of service with us in their anniversay month with our company.

So, Happy Anniversary, Bruce!

January 16, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Personalized Customer Instruction Card

We spoke briefly about our current Customer Instruction Card. You can read that post here.

And at the end, as I'm prone to do, I wondered out loud if we could personalize that same card design with YOUR logo. We could add your logo to the Customer Instruction Card. You could then send that out to your customers/prospects/members, etc.

Here's a rough draft of such a personalized instruction card, personalized with your logo and including the instructions for your guests. 

There's one change that needs to be made: we need to add "powered by Conference Calls Unlimited, etc" with our logo and URL and phone number somewhere on the card.  We're generous. But we're not anonymous in our generosity.

Hostfrontblue_sheep_logo 

Blue Sheep Studios handles our design work.

What do you think as a personalized card compared to the standard version seen here?

January 12, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Customer Winners

IPOD SHUFFLE

Roger Colvin
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Bullhorn, Inc. builds and delivers On-Demand staffing and recruiting software for the Staffing industry.  They are a purpose-built, web-native platform that is recognized by industry leaders as one of the most powerful, flexible, and functional systems across a wide range of business types, sizes, specialties, and disciplines. Bullhorn, Inc. offers unmatched levels of customization for the interface, business logic, analytics, and user controls.
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***********************************************************************************************
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$50.00 Amazon Gift Certificate
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Ann Pacholski
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Vector Marketing Corporation is a direct sales firm that markets Cutco Cutlery, a line of kitchen cutlery, accessories and sporting knives of the highest quality.  Handcrafted in the United States of the finest materials, Cutco products have a Forever Guarantee that protects the consumer's investment. Vector Marketing Corporation is the sole distributor of Cutco with offices across the United States and Canada.
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And why do we each month giveaway a gift certificate and IPOD? Well, why not? Why shouldn't we bring a little extra smile to A. someone's life; B. a customer's life?
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Life's short. Why not make someone smile?

January 12, 2006 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A possible integrated CRM solution

A few months ago, actually almost a year, we posted about our need for an integrated CRM solution. It would be one that could handle all of our customer service needs, customer contacts, payment processing, billing and AR/AP, statement generation and regular financial reporting needs. It would eliminate the duplication in account entry and management we face now.

We had a couple of solutions presented. They were good. But we couldn't justify at this point the costs. Granted, while their solution would be great, I'm sure, the pain on our end wasn't great enough to get over that hump.

Now we're looking at NetSuite. NetSuite appears to offer some interesting solutions for all these needs. Most of them are canned and in the box. But the application displays some flexibility and ease of use. 

We've scheduled a series of initial demos with our various company stakeholders: Customer Service, Sales, IT, Accounting. We'll share with you this story as it moves forward.

( Why? Well, whatever technology we decide best helps us serve you will make a big impact on your experience with us. Feel free to chip in with any feedback on NetSuites or its offerings. )

We've had 2 demos. The first one served as an initial overview. The 2nd one was today.

Today's demo was with Customer Service, Cindy Whitney and Theresa Chatelle respectively.  It's interesting to hear their perspective and also understand how different our approach to serving customers is compared to 'big' companies.

NetSuite's  a proven application with a ton of features and resources we could grow into. We could eliminate many of the duplications for entering each of your customer records; We could possibly streamline our payment processing. Standard reporting would possibly be easier for me. And their people are great, Karl and Rudy, great and smart and flexible.

But...what we're seeing is a very divergent view on corporate structures with hierarch of organization, autonomy and authority. One being ours; one being theirs or their clients.

And we're also seeing a divergent view on the use of technology to build a company, a brand, a workplace.

In the corporate structure arena we differ greatly from most companies and it seems NetSuites standard designs to support most companies. We put as much decision-making autonomy and resources into the hands of everyone in the company sufficient that they can do their job, right then and right there. No hierarchy of approvals except for very unusual requests. And our customer database is designed with that in mind. Every bit of data pertinent to most customer decisions is right on the front screen for Customer Service. No drill down menus of multiple levels. No hierarchy of permissions needed.

We hire adults, give them the tools to accomplish their goals, prioritize their day on the key goals, our customers and our company, and get out of their way. We've found a team now that can shoulder this much freedom and autonomy while working together.

The purpose is to make the experience for you when you call or email as fast and efficient and pleasant as possible.

And granted it's a work in progress. But we keep taking simple steps forward to have more interaction directly with you, immediately with you when you need it, and long-term to stay out in front helping reaching your goals.

But what we noticed is the different approach NetSuite may see technology and its use in creating a product or service or brand.

We use technology to put each of us individually out in front in direct and personal contact with you, our customers. We want to put technology in the background where it belongs. ( Technology is best neither seen nor heard. What's important is the content, not the technology used to deliver it.) And use it to free us to give more personal and customized solutions for you. Whether it's just the option to ask a question or the need for more detailed personalized answers, we want technology to 'free us' to deliver that to you. 

And it appears, like many companies, they view technology as a resource to minimize personal and customized customer contact. Herd 'em all into standard options, make 'em pick from a list of drop down menu options and then reply using standard stock phrases. ( Very efficient. We all dread it.)

Now again, I'm speaking broadly here.

Our next step with Customer Service is to deliver a work-flow document. We'll do that next week. And we'll arrange for a web conference that will show them our work flow.

In the meantime we'll have demos with our Sales Agents. ( This could be a huge win for them.) And our Accounting and IT departments respectively. Accounting could also benefit hugely in batch payment processing and emailing invoice receipts for you flat-rate unlimited customers.

We'll let you know.

December 1, 2005 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Welcome Theresa Chatelle

We’re happy and fortunate to have Theresa Chatelle join Conference Calls Unlimited. She joined our customer service area. And already, her organizing skills, smooth and calm demeanor, and enthusiasm with customers confirms our strong suspicions: she’s gonna be great.

I’ve know Theresa for many years. Theresa’s always, always been…well great to be around.  You always walked away smiling after meeting with Theresa.

Our paths would never cross in work, though. Finally, last summer my wife was with me on a run. It was hot; I was sweaty, my wife was patiently waiting for me to finish what I called a run. And we walked up to Theresa gardening in her yard. What a beautiful yard! My gosh. And she’d done all the work herself from designing to digging to planting…all of it.  And she’d recently catered my 50th birthday party with rousing reviews…

After we ooo’d and ahh’d over her garden (rightfully so) I began to think…smart, good organizer, funny, patient, creative, self-starter…so Theresa and I began to chat: her in her gardening attire, me in my running garb.  And we kept chatting and meeting, and everyone in the company had the same impression (or more). 

Finally, we came to an understanding. We wanted her. She wanted us. And now we have not only another great person for you, our customers, but we have one of the best caterers around. You talk about your pastry chef! Whew!

But more than that, she’s great on the phone, very attentive to details, always smiling, always helpful. She knows retail telecom, and accounting, and media buying; she’s managed big groups and small groups; she’s played key roles in several startups, on and on. We’re really happy to have her here.

And we think you’ll be happy to. Her arrival means even fewer of your calls will go to our voice mail, even faster turnaround on your email requests, and the resources to take another step in programs to offer you more than a conference call.

Welcome Theresa!

November 7, 2005 in The Company | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack