• The State of QA In Technical Support

    2017-05-18 14:02:20
    Monitoring the quality of a support center is an extremely crucial part of Customer Experience (CX) being effectively and deliberately engineered. There are several ways running a QA program: call or chat monitoring and/or recording, ticket review and/or monitoring, coaching for quality, and many other measures, all aimed at creating great customer experiences, providing consistent and effective support. In an effort to uncover the state of quality assurance (QA) in technical support HDI has conducted a survey with 330 support organizations and here are the key findings:
    • More than half of respondents are doing QA work and have formal processes in place, while almost one-third have no formal processes. About one-sixth (16%) aren’t performing QA.
    • The top three purposes for quality review and monitoring are customer satisfaction (86%), training and/or coaching (77%), and performance review (67%).
    • More than half (57%) of support organizations record technical support calls, and 26% review all recorded calls. 54% review randomly selected recorded calls.
    • Almost three-quarters of organizations (72%) that do QA review both open and closed tickets in quality reviews, and they most commonly use randomly selected tickets for review. More than half of support centers that provide phone support (57%) record some or all technical support calls.
    • Almost three-quarters (72%) of organizations review randomly selected tickets, while only 11% review all tickets.
    • Only 13% of organizations have a dedicated quality manager or similar position; in most organizations that do quality monitoring, it’s done by the support center manager or a team lead.
    The research confirmed that almost half of organizations were not running a formal QA program. Many respondents indicated that they would like to have a dedicated QA team or manager, but either can not afford it or didn’t know where to start. Let's not forget that Millennials and Generation Z have high expectations for their employers and motivated by the challenges, as well as opportunities to learn and grow. Organizations that strive to retain the best talent should continue staying creative delivering feedback, coaching and training their staff. And I’m not referring to the annual reviews many still exclusively rely on.. QA gets done consistently when an outsourced partner is involved. There are could be variations of business-critical, customer-critical or non-critical QA scores as well as CX QA scores, depending on the methodology applied. The challenge then lies in the fact that the sampling pool is limited, requests are randomly selected by the partner and scorecard introduction drives almost robotic responses within the frontline... the frontline that is already removed from the rest of the business. If you are outsourcing your support to a third party provider or even if you are building a program internally, keep an eye on the following elements: QA Attributes: attributes should be tailored to each function and role. Furthermore, they should be fully aligned with your brand promise and culture. Don't over complicate it, the attributes should be simple, precise and easy to remember and understand even without the guide. QA Score Card: was it built around customer experience or the employee performance? It should not be focused on individual employees, as much as your customers being fully taken care of through every channel. I like to look at the QA program as an internal CSAT tool - when you cross reference it with the external CSAT and NPS scores you get a much better view into CX. Scripts: try minimizing usage of the scripts, or at the very least request your partner to develop a wide variety and allow their staff to improvise. Coaching: how soon the feedback gets delivered to the employees? In what format coaching is done and how progress gets tracked afterwards? Customers: how sessions below 85% get handled to make sure the clients were fully accommodated? Who notifies the account management team? There needs to be a solid process in place of closing the loop with the customers. Sampling Pool: this is a tough one, as sessions get randomly selected and in most companies only 5% of total interactions are evaluated. Ask to sample based on criteria that is most relevant to your business and problems you are facing, for example only escalated cases, cases with more then X number of staff involved, or where customer lifespan is greater then X, if you have LTV per client even better. In my experience developing and managing QA programs, it has a huge impact not only on customer retention, but the level of employee satisfaction and engagement. When done right, I’ve seen support engineers being excited to receive their very first QA scores and waiting for the results to arrive each week to follow. The sense of ownership and pride gets built through QA. I'd say if not already, make it happen for your clients and employees. Please don’t hesitate to share your experiences and thoughts on QA. Would love to hear from you!
  • New Mission of Technical Support

    2017-05-11 14:16:49
    The mission of Technical Support has traditionally been stepping in when things go wrong (incident management) or assisting clients when they need something (service requests). I started my IT career as a Technical Support Engineer many years ago and still remember the days of the heavy focus on the reactive work and the entire organization, starting with hiring practices all the way to performance KPIs, being built around it. Things have shifted quite drastically within the last few years, and it seems the Service Providers are finally waking up as well. As I work with organizations to uplift their Technical Support operations I’m always excited to hear the objectives of employee empowerment, internal and external brand advocates development and culture of proactivity and ownership being identified. There is no doubt we need to change the way we have been servicing clients for so many years, and it is not an easy task. Here are facts shared by Roy Atkinson HDI's senior writer/analyst: • Incident management is the most widely adopted ITSM process • The majority (54 %) of contacts to the support center are for incidents • First Contact Resolution is a top metric • The volume of incidents continues to increase year over year The majority of contacts to the support center are for incidents. The fundamental problem is that we are still looking at how good and fast we are at fixing things. Unfortunately things still break and at times more then ever. I’m not suggesting that nothing should go wrong, and I have no doubt that incidents will continue to happen. With that said, however, the primary mission of every Technical Support leader today should be influence expansion and problems being addressed at the root. The HDI research published last year, discovered that
    • 73% of support teams are dissatisfied with their current level of involvement with development process.
    • 32% do not share knowledge articles between the support and development teams.
    • While 89% of organizations have a change management process implemented, only 49% of organizations have one that works.
    Couple more staggering facts form the research:
    • Only 74% of support teams are notified when the software is operationalized.
    • 22% are involved in prioritizing development sprints
    • 37% included in discussions about requirements, needs, or use stories
    “Support teams need to be engaged much sooner… Too much work in a vacuum— too many silos.” says the report. It would be fair to say that Technical Support is in the reactive mode from the very beginning, being blindsided by the changes from the start. As a person who managed Support Centers for many years, I can tell you that it has generally been an uphill battle to get involved in producing, operationalizing, testing, updating, and releasing new technologies into the production environment. But when it did happen, it made a world of a difference not only driving support towards the mission of being proactive, but also empowering the frontline to “own” the technology customer-facing on every call we took and every email we answered. As we are to change the way we think about everything we do, I’d say set a new mission for your Support Organization of higher influence and aim to build a strong partnerships across the company starting with the Development team.
  • Rise of the Superhumans in Customer Service

    2017-04-27 15:27:58
    It’s impossible to deny the influence technology has had on our daily lives for the past few decades, and now more than ever, automation and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) is ubiquitous. Big data and analytics are disrupting the most traditional of trades and spring-boarding new ones altogether. Let's start with the foundation: What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? There are many definitions, but at its core it involves machines that can think the way humans can. We are talking about computer systems that can do many kind of things that humans are already good at and beyond. Back in 1956 Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence was the birth of this field of research and it has taken all these years for us to start seeing some of that technology come to the market. What is Machine Learning (ML)? Machine learning actually dates back to the middle of the last century. In 1959 it was defined by Arthur Lee Samuel as "Ability to learn without being explicitly programmed". The idea of the machine that can learn on its own was invented. And Mr. Samuel even created a computer checkers application, the first program that was able to learn from its mistakes and improve its performance overtime. There are a lot of products we use every day that are powered by ML, but you might not even know it. Facebook deciding what to show you in your news-feed; Amazon is highlighting products you might want to purchase; Netflix suggesting movies you might want to watch. All these recommendations are based on predictions that arise from patterns from existing data. What is Deep Learning (DL)? Deep Learning is a newer term, but it is very important one. It is where certain set of machine learning algorithms run on multiple layers and try to mimic  the brain's neural network to actually learn new domain with little or no human supervision. What is Natural Language Processing (NLP)? NLP is an ability for a computer program to understand human speech, like the way it is written or the way it is spoken. NLP is a component of AI and DL, but it is a complicated field of itself.  NLP essentially allows these systems to understand and process human input. Quick fact: 8 out of 10 businesses have already implemented or planning to adopt AI as customer service solution by 2020. Let's get more practical and talk about the specific examples of AI/ML impact on Customer Service:
    • Basic Repetitive Tasks - think password resets, account resets, etc. It's all about freeing up the time of your team to handle more complex issues.
    • Customer Engagement Automation - think about outsourcing T1 work to machines, basic interactions handled by chatbots
    • Pattern recognition and prediction - think account usage proactive analysis and outcome predictions being delivered to the clients well in advance. Incidents being prevented, problems anticipated.
    Total automation today can work very well for easy and repetitive tasks. However the work that requires creativity, social skills and intuition (so called edge cases) do need humans. AI is used to augment human Intelligence and knowledge. Machine Learning can analyze a lot of data and recognize as well as predict patterns that humans can't. Think about all the data you have in your Help Desk or Support Organization that no one is looking at.. To stay up to date companies need to adopt a comprehensive digital strategy for their Customer Service organizations. Aim to bring humans and machines to work together leveraging the best in each force. I remember having conversations with Support Engineers where they at times would express concerns about individual KPIs being overly ambitious, saying "I'm not a super-human to run with 4-5 chat sessions and answer a phone all at the same time".  With AI/ML we might just be able to get as close as it gets to being those super-humans.  Never before has the business world been exposed to a ‘wild-west’ atmosphere of opportunity. Those that run, not walk will win.
  • customer support

    2017 Customer Support Trends

    2017-04-12 12:59:48
    In tcustomer support oday’s business world a well-executed customer support department can’t function without several technical enhancements. Long gone are the days of a toll-free call center being the nexus of your customers’ concerns and complaints. From the early stages of start-up through to multi-national corporations, there are several trends to pay attention to in 2017 and beyond, ensuring your customers aren’t left without a voice. Chatbots and virtual assistants Combine the convenience of self-service with data-driven answers and you’ll be hearing a lot of “wow” from your clients. Chatbots provide intelligent answers quickly and reduce the per-contact cost – a win-win. Chatbots aren’t new (think Siri, Google Now), but using them to enhance your customers’ journey is. Therefore, the learning curve for your existing customers is seamless. A successful implementation focuses on proper use of analytics, business intelligence and accuracy. While the main players like Siri offer a plethora of information, your clients will use a CX chatbot to access your service. You control how the answers are crafted and your customers update their client data. Mobility and omnichannel service Think “bring your own device” but “use your own app”. Your customers are already logged into What’s App and Messenger and using these mainstream resources no longer makes you look like a mom and pop shop. The key to using them properly means synchronized data and consistent messaging.  As tablet and smart phone conversion rates continue to rise, your customer service strategy needs to make mobility a major consideration – even leading with it. Keeping a mobile strategy in the footnote section of your business plan will ensure your clients’ frustration. The task need not be too complex since using what your customers already know is key. Mapped out customer journeys and increased, detailed personalization Focusing on the personal side of CX doesn’t mean omitting a digital atmosphere. It means empowering your teams to deliver a customer experience that uses technology to evoke positive emotions. Connectivity to the human experience is and will always be the underlying foundation of customer service. Those that give customers the sense of value do so by delivering a positive customer journey, inspiring referrals, shining reviews and repeat business. Now more than ever it’s crucial to fill in the gaps and bring convenience to your clients.    
  • Tone of Voice and Power of Words

    2017-01-30 13:35:30
    The studies show that when we handle a call 82% of the message is conveyed with the Tone of Voice and Words make up the other 18%. Please make sure the tone is upbeat, friendly and positive when you talk to  your customers. Words however are still important. I would like to quote one of my favorite authors Nan S. Russell:
    "Words create impressions, images and expectations. They build psychological connections. They influence how we think. Since thoughts determine actions, there's a powerful connection between the words we use and the results we get.
    Try these words: problem and challenge. Would you rather a client see our mistake as a problem or as a challenge? It's more than semantics. Problems are fixed; challenges are met. Different words evoke different feelings. I have a more positive frame of mind meeting a challenge than fixing a problem. I realized the words I use to think and talk about my workload, my goals, my projects and the people I worked with influenced my thoughts and actions about them. So, I changed my words. If I say I work "for" someone I have a different vision about my work-life than if I work "with" them. Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results. I learned in twenty years in management my words have power over my thoughts and actions. They also impact and influence people I speak them to. If you want to be winning at working, learn to harness your word power to work for, not against you; select words that create a visual of the desired outcome; and choose each word as if it mattered. You might be surprised how much it does. Want better results? Check your words."
  • Safety Anchors of Customer Experience

    2016-11-22 13:36:20
    When it comes to customer support the hosting industry is in crisis mode. Until a few years ago, many hosters were the only game in town, and didn't have to prioritize serving the needs of customers. Now, customer churn is a critical concern. Companies didn't need to care about the customer experience, loyalty, or churn prevention. If a customer left, there were five more to take his place. Now, it's a different world. Markets have opened up to competition, and customer service advancements in other industries have elevated customer expectations for the hosting experience. Who manages Customer Experience at your company? If no one, it’s time to assemble the team. Small to medium size enterprises can start with one or two people and build on it. Historically the basic functions of such team (let’s call it Customer Experience Management Division) would be cancellations handling. Customer churn indeed has a significant impact on customer lifetime value and the company’s bottom line. Therefore, you have no choice but to go to great lengths to keep your customers on board. Your CEM crew attempts to convince customers not to cancel by using retention offerings such as discounts, credits or free products. This reactive approach is not effective, since by the time customers call to cancel, they have made up their minds or signed with a competitor. A more effective approach to improving customer retention is to predict customer churn by managing the customer experience throughout a customer's lifecycle, with the goal of turning satisfied customers into loyal advocates. Consider the creation “Safety AnchorsSafety Anchor #1: On-boarding Program Engage with every single customer from the first day of hosting, ideally even before the account gets provisioned. Not only you can make sure customer ordered the correct account, communicate provisioning SLAs and reinforce the message “Welcome aboard Mister Customer! We are here for you”, but also start building that “one-on-one bridge of communication”. It’s all about making your clients feel as unique and important individuals. Be careful with upselling and cross selling at this stage of interactions, however, the first call should be quick and effortless. Safety Anchor #2: Loyalty Program An engaging loyalty program is required to keep a certain level of attachment with the customer even when a company occasionally fails to deliver on its Customer Experience. There are four customer loyalty programs we can identify Type A: Membership Program. Membership programs are one of the best ways to keep customers coming back. Most programs provide special incentives to members as part of their membership. Type B: Rewards Program. Rewards programs provide gifts and perk that are "earned" according to the amount of business your customers do with you. Type C: Create a Community. Every human has a deep inner need to belong to a community. "Belonging" gives us security and helps us to understand our place in life. Type D: Create Intertwined Business Processes. This is not so much a traditional customer loyalty program...but, it's the absolute best way that to guarantee that our customers will keep coming back. This method consists of positioning our business processes so deep into our client's or customer's business processes that it would lock them in. Safety Anchor #3: Advocacy Program Identify and encourage your best customers to be your Advocates. It’s all about enhancing your relationship with the most active and outspoken clients on the web, growing your viral marketing efforts and increasing sales. Consider different advocacy membership levels based on the contribution rate, incentives to match those levels and contribution channels you wish to promote among your customer base. For incentive you could offer free support, priority support, free hosting, managed services, etc. In addition your advocate could get priory notice about new promotions and discounts. You could also subscribe them to a monthly “Customer Spotlight” newsletter where you showcase your customers’ businesses. Furthermore imagine mentioning your advocates on your social media channels and sending them a special gift for their subscription anniversary every year. This I call the true “one-on-one” customer experience management. With all these safety anchors in place, your Customer Support crew will be able to retain an increasing proportion of the customers. Each one of these levels must work in tandem to provide a strong network that cushions current customers and prevents them from falling through the cracks to competitors. Working together, safety anchors combine to strengthen the customer relationship over the long term.
  • Work from the Inside Out - IC 101

    2016-09-15 13:34:42
    If you take a closer look at most organizations, you would find that they understand the importance of strategic communication with customers and/or partners... Large investments are being made to produce communication plans for external use. You also would find that there is an understanding of the importance of developing strategic plans to guide longer term decision-making. After all you have to know “Where you want to be and how you are going to get there” otherwise it would be impossible to coordinate organizational resources so that you get to where you want to go. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if majority of those companies overlooked the importance of the INTERNAL COMMUNICATION. Decisions on what information should be delivered to staff, when and how it should be delivered are often made reactively (when there is a need). It's a bit of a mystery why this happens, but there is no doubt that strategic internal communication planning can be a proactive approach to building a better, more directed and efficient workforce. Some of the most successful companies build teams that understand the mission, goals, values and policies/procedures of the organization. People talk about the Microsoft’s "way", or the Google’s "way" to describe the organizational culture... the culture their entire staff shares. Google Blogoscoped recently came up with a nice post where they listed down the 25 mission statements of the top tech companies and websites. Here are some examples I particularly liked: IBM: IBM, we strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of the industry most advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, storage systems and microelectronics. We translate these advanced technologies into value for our customers through our professional solutions, services and consulting businesses worldwide. Microsoft: Microsoft, our mission and values are to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential. Cisco: Cisco … enables people to make powerful connections whether in business, education, philanthropy, or creativity. Cisco hardware, software, and service offerings are used to create the Internet solutions that make networks possible-providing easy access to information anywhere, at any time. Google: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Yahoo: To connect people to their passions, their communities, and the world’s knowledge. Adobe: Our mission is to revolutionize how the world engages with ideas and information. As you can see, there are no intentions to dominate or control employees, but to make them feel as the part of the “family” and direct their energy towards a set of common goals on which they can act every day. This brings synergy to the workplace, and allows better coordinated action. Other advantages include:
    • Employees making more decisions independently as they have the tools and knowledge needed to make the "right" decisions.
    • Employees identifying with a company, on the part of staff/family, with the goals, mission and procedures of the organization, which can result in a sense of "making a difference". This can have direct impact on effort and efficiency.
    • Employees having much less day-to-day conflict to deal with. Much conflict is generated by conflicting ideas on what is important to the organization...often an indicator that the people involved do not share a common vision or understanding.
    Developing an effective Internal Communication Process is journey with no destination; it involves a lot effort, it has to stay consistent and dynamic. In my experience I have found utilization of the orientation/boarding programs, on-ongoing employee training, company-wide internal blog posts and most importantly managers representing what the company stands for to be most effective. Now, ask yourself "Does my staff share the common vision and understanding?" “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” - George Bernard Shaw
  • Healthy Paranoia: Your Career and Your Business

    2016-03-11 13:31:02
    The stage five of ITIL "Continual Improvement" is the one I live by. I've been applying the method to my personal and professional life for the past ten years, calling it "Healthy Paranoia". Perfection doesn’t exist, but through refinement excellence can be achieved. So what does it take to get to the next level? Why some people/organizations fail while others succeed? A million dollar question everyone tries to answer. Have you read a book "What Got You Here Won't Get You There"? - I recommend. Some skeptics might question the attempt mixing thoughts on development of an organization with professional growth of an individual. Oh well one can't please everyone... Why THEY succeed? It's a combination of the following characteristics: 1. Direction Leadership/Vision Strategy/Goals 2. Control Business/personal Controls Structure/Discipline 3. Operation Culture/Attitude People Development/Continual Growth Why THEY Fail? 1. High Growth without competency/Too much Too Soon 2. Failure to Invest (time, resources, focus) Leadership defined - Sets the direction for the enterprise/person. Creates the environment and motivates the organization/person to reach the ideal state. • KNOW your behavior • SEEK objective, independent outside advice Strategy defined - Decision-making process. Assists you to employ time, people, and money appropriately • DEFINE reality for your business/career • SET the vision Culture defined - Culture/Attitude is a managed process. Clearly defines values, beliefs, rewards, discipline, and what it takes to succeed • YOU define the culture every day • NOTHING that you do goes unnoticed People Development Defined - Recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining competent people. Providing freedom, responsibility, and authority in an atmosphere of trust • CLEAR roles and responsibilities • LINK performance to strategy • REWARD the exceptional, not the expected Structure defined - Effectively employs people, time, and money Allows for effective communication and productive relationships to achieve desired outcomes • DECIDE how to best serve the customer • WATCH for duplication or dropped balls • SET after strategy Business Controls defined - Means of keeping the organization on track. Measuring the “important” not the immediate or urgent • FINANCIALS tell about history • MEASURE the important Next Steps - Business Planning, People, Performance 1. CREATE a strategy 2. CREATE an outside board 3. LINK performance to the strategy 4. DECIDE whether you have the right people Next Steps - YOU Learning, Doing, Giving 1. READ about management 2. HOLD yourself and your people accountable 3. SERVE on outside boards to learn and contribute "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle
  • Emotional intelligence in Customer Service

    2015-10-31 13:29:31
    Emotional intelligence (EI) describes the ability, capacity, skill or, in the case of the trait EI model, a self-perceived grand ability to identify, assess, manage and control the emotions of one's self, of others, and of groups. The earliest roots of emotional intelligence can be traced to Darwin's work on the importance of emotional expression for survival and second adaptation. In the 1900s, even though traditional definitions of intelligence emphasized cognitive aspects such as memory and problem-solving, several influential researchers in the intelligence field of study had begun to recognize the importance of the non-cognitive aspects. E.L. Thorndike used the term social intelligence to describe the skill of understanding and managing other people. The model introduced by Daniel Goleman focuses on EI as a wide array of competencies and skills that drive leadership performance. Goleman's model outlines four main EI constructs:
    1. Self-awareness – the ability to read one's emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
    2. Self-management – involves controlling one's emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.
    3. Social awareness – the ability to sense, understand, and react to others' emotions while comprehending social networks.
    4. Relationship management – the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.
    EI-driven Customer Service Emotional Intelligence of the staff directly effects the level of Customer Service your company provides. It's essential for the leaders of an organization not only to work  on themselves, but also cultivate and foster the culture of EI company-wide. Ancient Egyptians believed the heart was the center of intelligence and emotion. They also thought so little of the brain that during mummification, they removed the brain entirely from bodies. Calm down, I'm not suggesting to take that route, but rather let emotions to compliment your work. In many cases the lack of control/awareness over the emotions holds back one's professional and personal growth. EI is one of the most challenging areas in which one can excel. It is relatively easy to teach someone about a technology or fact based subject, but in order to provide great customer service one must learn how to perceive, use, understand and manage emotions. These skills might take a life-time to master. The managers need to point out some of the specific areas staff can focus on to get on the path of continual self-improvement. Ask the team to start with the basics:
    • the ability to provide accurate information
    • have consistent etiquette (every customer, every time)
    • manage time at work to be available to help customers first and foremost (customers always come first)
    • know ways to showcase to your customers that you are trying to save them money while still meeting company's needs/goals (we care about our customers)
    All of the above elements are examples of traits that may differ between employees and even departments. If you educate one another on ways to perform better in these areas you can, in turn, have a more consistent level of customer service overall. Everyone should at least have the ability to educate themselves up to a certain level on these key points. Almost all of the points above can be improved simply by finding and reading information on the web or talking to each other about how someone else may handle certain situations. Your team must understand and know more about your services and the technology/products you offer than your customers. Aim to provide more than a customer expects, including more knowledge, then your customer experience, therefore your business, will flourish. "Comparing the three domains, I found that for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined. In general the higher a position in an organization, the more EI mattered: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain."  -- Daniel Goleman
  • Team Dynamics

    2015-07-31 13:28:30
    The subject of Team Building has fascinated me for many years. I was blessed to have an opportunity to lead many different teams across different cultures, backgrounds and generations. I still keep learning something new every day while discovering things I never thought of. Many say the most important trait of a strong team is commitment. Commitment to put the team’s interests first and willingness of each member to help each other to become everything they can be. A winning attitude is "I’ll forget my own immediate gratification to help a team member succeed, because I know the personal joy that I experience helping my teammates." Now the big question is – How do you build such dynamics and keep the fire burning? I read an interesting book by Patrick Lencioni called “Five Dysfunctions Of A Team” and wanted to share the slide show prepared by Dr. David Packer prepared based on that book.
  • The Four Agreements

    2015-04-02 13:37:28
    Whenever I meet people I'm inspired by, I try to understand how they do what they do. Among many questions I ask one is "What book that you read was the most influential on you?". I take the time to read it as well and reflect. If I have an opportunity to discuss it with that person and ask questions I always do so. For me the fundamental purpose of life is to keep learning - keep improving - keep sharing what you know and creating something new... bringing value to people around you and the society as a whole. My peer, who I respect tremendously, has recently pointed out the book he said was life-changing for him called "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. I later learned that ideas in that book came from the ancient Toltec wisdom of the native people of Southern Mexico. The Toltec were 'people of knowledge' - scientists and artists who created a society to explore and conserve the traditional spiritual knowledge and practices of their ancestors. The Toltec viewed science and spirit as part of the same entity, believing that all energy - material or ethereal - is derived from and governed by the universe. The simple ideas of The Four Agreements provide an inspirational code for life; a personal development model, and a template for personal development, behavior, communications and relationships. Here is how Don Miguel Ruiz summaries 'The Four Agreements': Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word
    • Speak with integrity.
    • Say only what you mean.
    • Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.
    • Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
    Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally
    • Nothing others do is because of you.
    • What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.
    • When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
    Agreement 3:  Don’t make assumptions
    • Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
    • Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
    • With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
    Agreement 4: Always do your best
    • Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.
    • Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
    As I read the book I can't help but draw parallels to my personal and professional experiences. I see each agreement being relevant to IT Service Provider Organizations,where the objective should be to build an amazing Customer Experience through people-first culture.
  • Are you like the coffee bean?

    2015-02-23 13:27:59
    [caption id="attachment_326" align="alignleft" width="300"] OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[/caption] My mom just sent me an interesting story, I thought I'd share with you... I shall never look at coffee the same way again :) A daughter complained to her father about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a gas burner. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs, and the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word. The daughter impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. In about twenty minutes he got up and turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He took the eggs out and placed them a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her he asked. “Darling, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. She asked. “What does it mean Father?” He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. But after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water. “Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?” How about you? Are you the carrot that seems hard, but with pain and adversity do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength? Are you the egg, which starts off with a malleable heart? Were you a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, or a layoff have you become hardened and stiff? Your shell looks the same, but are you bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and heart? Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean changes the hot water, the thing that is bringing the pain. When the water gets the hottest, it just tastes better. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and make things better around you. "Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others." -Plato
  • The Blind Side: Who’s got you covered?

    2014-11-30 16:26:13
    I recently started to contribute for one and only WebHost Industy Review on the subject of Customer Care. I’m super excited to have that opportunity. You may be familiar with Michael Lewis, author of Money Ball, a look inside the world of major league baseball. Since then Lewis turned his attention to football, with the release of his book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.” I didn’t read the book yet, but watched the movie and really enjoyed it. Lewis tells the story of Michael Oher who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s uneducated, shy and raised by a drug-addicted mother. He has quite a physical presence: 6’5ft tall and 350 pounds, but never played football. Thanks to certain improbable circumstances Michael ended up attending an exclusive Christian School, and a wealthy family took him in, to tutor, nurture and make him one of their own. They also got Michel to play football – he was now destined for greatness and riches in the NFL. Michael’s position was left offensive tackle, which protects the blind side of a right-handed quarterback.  “I’ve got you covered.” That’s what a left-tackle is supposed to do. Give the quarterback the time to get the throw off to his receivers. It’s all about protection… In one of the interviews, Lewis said, “It became very clear to me that if Michael hadn’t crossed out of poor, Memphis and made his way into rich, Memphis, he never would have been discovered. If he hadn’t been protected by this affluent and savvy family, his career probably would’ve been over before it really started.” That family was distended to appear in Michal’s life to protect him, to have his blind side covered. Michel then went ahead to help others on and off the football filed. Who’s got you covered? And who are you covering? I truly believe we (people) all need each other. You need someone else protecting your blind side – and someone else needs your encouragement and protection also. For a leader of an organization it carries so much more power and meaning. You are in the position to change lives. It’s a huge responsibility, but can have tremendous rewords. Perhaps that’s what leadership is all about - holding a position of an offensive tackle, protecting the blind side of the team you are responsible for and with that letting them do the same for your clients.  Some of the principles I follow while working with my teams are: 1)  Be there – make sure your team knows you are there for them every step of the way 2)  Be able to ask tough questions and make tough decisions  – it’s not about being a “nice guy”, but being fair 3)  Stay inspired – if the leader is burnt out, the team shall follow the same footsteps. You need to do everything you can to keep the fire burning, and if you are unable - remove yourself and let someone else to step up. "Go to the people. Learn from them. Live with them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. The best of leaders when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say we have done it ourselves."  -Lao Tzu
  • Dealing with Abusive Customers

    2014-05-15 12:12:43
    The first step is to understand where anger and abusive behavior comes from. People who get emotionally upset tend to forget the methods that are appropriate when dealing with an uncomfortable or unfavorable situation. When people are infants, they are programmed, instinctively, with methods of getting what they need without knowing how to speak. Adults will regress to this state, in one way or another, when they are faced with a problem that upsets them emotionally or puts them in a position of helplessness. It is important to note the phrase “in one way or another”. Some people handle themselves better than others, depending on how well they can deal with things, without getting emotionally upset. I would like to review some of the points made by Robert Bacal in his book "Defusing Hostile Customers". I hope you find this information useful next time you deal with an abuse client. Some Definitions Anger Anger refers to an internal state (feeling) experienced by the person in question. An angry person experiences some physiological changes, some invisible and some visible. There are some important things to note about anger, and angry people. 1. People choose their own emotional states. That is, their feelings of anger, or for that matter, any other feelings, belongs to them. As such, those feelings are not your responsibility. What is your responsibility, however, is to ensure that you don't knowingly or unknowingly do something they choose to take as anger provoking. 2. We need to accept the fact that people will be angry, at times. They have a right to be angry when they choose. What they do not have a right to do is to take out their anger on you, particularly when you have done nothing to contribute to it. Angry Behavior People express their anger in various ways. Most angry people will raise their voice or become more animated. Mild expressions of anger are simply ways a person vents a little steam. As with the feeling of anger, we need to be reasonable in terms of what offends us, and allow the angry person some latitude in behavior before we deem the behavior unacceptable. There is a clear reason for this. If we allow ourselves to be offended every time we encounter angry behavior, we are going to be pretty miserable and, in turn, ineffective in dealing with just about everyone. The problem with angry customers is not the anger in itself but rather the hostile/abusive behavior that sometimes accompanies it. People choose their own emotional states. That is, their feeling of anger, or for that matter, any other feeling, belongs to them. Hostile/Abusive Behavior What sets apart hostile/abusive behavior from angry behavior is that hostile/abusive behavior is intended, consciously or subconsciously to have some or all of the following effects: - put you off balance - manipulate and control you - demean you in some way - cause you to feel guilty - intimidate you It is this kind of behavior that causes the greatest amount of stress for most employees. While we may tolerate some degree of angry behavior without being concerned, we need to be concerned about hostile/abusive behaviors. We want to stop these behaviors as professionally as possible. If we can, at the same time, reduce the anger of the client, that's great. If we can't, we need to recognize that the anger belongs to the client. Verbal Abuse Verbal abuse takes a great many forms, from very subtle, to very obvious. Here when we talk about verbal abuse, we refer to behaviors like the following: - persistent swearing - yelling - sexist comments (both explicit and implied) - racist comments (both explicit and implied) - irrelevant personal remarks (e.g. about you or your personality in particular) - personal threats (e.g. I will have you fired). - intimidating silence - accusations of various sorts (e.g. calling you a racist) - comments about your competency, knowledge, dedication, etc. These behaviors are intended to demean and control you. Don’t be trapped by these tactics used to bait you. Non-Verbal Abuse However rare it is, to deal with an angry or abusive customer who is actually in the office, it should be mentioned nonetheless. Nonverbal abuse refers to behavior that has nothing to do with what is said, but has to do with things like body posture, facial expressions, gestures, etc. Nonverbal abuse is intended to send a message or messages to you, such as "I don't like you", or, "I am fed up", or even "In my eyes you aren’t worth anything". When we talk about nonverbal abuse we refer to behaviors such as: - standing in your personal space staring at you (long eye contact) - throwing things - leaning over you (using height) - fearsome facial expressions - loud sighing - pointing, other offensive gestures Sometimes, these behaviors may not be intended to intimidate or demean you, and may be a relatively normal way of expressing anger. However, we classify them as abusive, because they do tend to have a manipulating effect on you. As with verbal abuse, we want to take steps to stop these behaviors used to bait us. Do Not Be Baited If a customer is truly attacking you, they will likely bait you immediately. A customer may call and when they get someone start with something like “What the hell is wrong with you. Every time I come here, you hassle me and give me the runaround If you knew what you were doing, this wouldn't happen. And, this is the last time you are going to do this to me.” This type of statement is meant to bait you into being defensive and to ultimately control you and your behavior. If you are being baited, be sure to remove yourself from the situation and not take it as a personal attack. Don’t allow yourself to fire back in your own defense. Instead, it is better to commiserate with the customer, ask why they are so upset and ask them how you can help resolve the reason they are upset. If you do what the abusive customer expects, such as reply defensively, the attacker will continue to attack you in order to get what they want while making you feel abused and/or frustrated. They may also be also able to manipulate you into doing something you aren’t supposed to do. Keep The Problem From Getting Worse! We should not bait a customer, even in return or retaliation of what they may have done to us. An angry or abusive situation will escalate if a customer feels as if there are no options or they are trapped in a bad situation. The situation can also escalate if you feel any of these as well. If an escalation cycle during a conversation or other electronic exchange is not interrupted it can quickly get out of hand and cause those involved to say and do things that can ultimately damage the other party in some way. For instance, if a customer gets angry enough they may post something negative on a public forum about our company. This is usually the result of a customer feeling trapped in a bad situation or as if they have no other options and unable to resolve the issue with us directly. Customers ultimately want you to fix whatever problem it is that they have. Sometimes this is simply not possible. What will also help in this situation is if you can offer helpfulness to at least try and perhaps have someone else resolve the problem, give them some choices of other ways to get around the issue and/or at the very least acknowledge their situation and feelings about the problem at hand. “It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head -- it is the unique intersection of both.” -David Caruso
  • Business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) models of Customer Service.

    2014-02-06 13:32:03
    Customer Service takes variety of forms based on the nature of the business and the target market. I would like to take a closer look at B2B and B2C models, and reference it to my resent HostingCon presentation “Building a Customer-Focused Company” where I looked to brands outside of hosting industry – to the hotel and service businesses – to determine how to develop an effective CS strategy. Historically B2B and B2C categories of customer service followed independent paths in their evolution. However there has been some convergence and cross-pollination of ideas, innovations, and best practices across these categories Let’s take a look at the basics of both Business Models: Business-to-business (B2B) B2B describes commerce transactions between businesses, such as between a manufacturer and a wholesaler, or between a wholesaler and a retailer. Business-to-consumer (B2C) B2C (sometimes also called Business-to-Customer) describes activities of businesses serving end consumers with products and/or services. General Buying Cycle 1. Acknowledging the need 2. Awareness 3. Research 4. Consideration (the short list) 5. Evaluation 6. Purchase 7. Applications 8. The Experience 9. Reaction 10. Opportunity for advocacy Differences between B2B and B2C sales 1. Speed of Sales Process -- B2C sale is typically faster 2. Number of Decision Makers -- B2B usually has more 3. Simplicity of Buying Process -- B2C sale is usually simpler 4. Quantity of Leads -- B2C sale starts with more leads 5. Role of Emotion -- B2C sales involve emotion more than in B2B. 6. Value of Sale -- B2C smaller 7. Uniformity of Offer -- B2B tend to be a more customized product offering. Differences between B2B and B2C marketing
    B2B B2C
    Relationship driven Product driven
    Maximize the value of the relationship Maximize the value of the transaction
    Multi-step buying process, longer sales cycle Single step buying process, shorter sales cycle
    Brand identity created on personal relationship Brand identity created through repetition and imagery
    Educational and awareness building activities Merchandising and point of purchase activities
    Rational buying decision based on business value Emotional buying decision based on status, desire, or price
    Differences between B2B and B2C customers
    B2B  buyer B2C buyer
    often understands your product/service better than you do looking for the best price
    wants or needs to buy products or services to help their company stay profitable, competitive, and successful often looks for trusted brands
    has high interest in - and understanding of - your product will research the competition prior to shopping
    interested in quality customer service interested in quality customer service
    B2B and B2C Customer Service innovations
    from B2B to B2C From B2C to B2B
    provide value-based service add human touch when automate online interactions
    promise service levels and deliver on them Exploit consumer-centric interaction channels and rich media
    take a process-centric approach to customer service, allowing seamless and trackable collaboration generate revenue from marketing and sales through POS (point of service) captive marketing
    digitize and integrate paper-based communications maximize customer service RAS (reliability, availability, and scalability)
    Conclusion: Service innovation and POS revenue generation are becoming key to business performance. To stay true to Stage 5 “Continual Improvement” I talk about so much companies need to stay dynamic and continually innovate in service. The businesses have to think outside the box and look at companies outside their own industry sector and even companies that are based on different business models, and apply fresh innovations relevant to their own business. “Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” - Bill Gates
  • Customer Influence through Core Identity

    2014-01-21 13:16:05
    I  recently joined Frank Kern’s army of fans. Not only he is great selling and marketing things, but he is also quite entertaining. It all started with me watching his early Mass Control presentation and another on Core Influence, which I thought was the better of the two and the one I want to talk about now. -          Have you ever attended a sales pitch where the presenter said all the right things, used the right body language, the right arguments to pursue you… but there still was something off? .. as the result you didn’t buy the product. -          Have you ever had a “flow” when everything went extremely well… You met the right people, said that right things… and you thought to yourself “Damn I wish every day was like this!”? Frank argues, that there are two identities (two versions) of ourselves we all need to be aware of: 1) Shell Identity – walks around every day 2) Core Identity – true identity. The person we day dream about and want to be The core Identity is held captive due to the circumstances and lack of knowledge. We don’t spend enough time figuring out our core identity and the core identity of our customers. If we did focus on that, the skills of Core Influence would be easy to obtain. Core Influence comes from the Core Connection/Communication. That happens when you are congruent with your true identity. You are on the same plane with your "audience”  -  you match. Your influence is seamless and not forceful, because you speak to them on the core level. Sky is the limit! Let’s break it down further … There are two questions to ask: 1)      What you REALLY want and who you REALLY are 2)      What your market REALLY wants and who they REALLY are Before you can focus on your customers, start with yourself. Discover your true identity! Wake up! Remember that our deepest core desires give clues to our core identity. For example ask yourself why you are here at this moment reading this blog. If it’s knowledge you seek… ask yourself “Why?” We all want to create and perpetuate experiences. Things are meaningless. A person who drives a Ferrari, it  is not the car (thing) he/she is after... but the feeling (experience) it would provide.  When a family buys a new home, they are not buying “things” but the new life the family will experience in that new home. The trick is to align your brain and your subconscious:  E + I = L Experience (E) - We don't crave things… We crave the experiences the things give us Identity (I) - Our experiences, believes and values create our identity... Communication comes from our Identity. Life (L) - Our experiences and Identity work together to form our life. So how can we go about creating the new life.. the perfect life? Well the good news is we are all dying! If we all l live an average of 40 more years we’ve got 14,600 more days to go before we are dead. Our life is made up of individual days.  So  to design the perfect life and create your core influence you start with a PERFECT DAY. Yes, individual day holds a key to what you really want. Exercise: Answer this question “If there were no Limitations or Consequences what would your Average day look like?” Limitations: Financial, geographical, health, limiting people, etc. Consequences: Stuff that could get you “Into trouble” Average day: You could do it every day and not get sick of it. Don’t think about stuff think about experiences… The following questions should help -          Where would you live? -          What you house would like? -          What time would you wake up? -          What would you have for breakfast? -          What would you do next? -          What would you have for lunch? -          Who would you have it with? -          What would you talk about? The more detail you are the more profound your results would be. Biggest stuff: -          What would you do for personal fulfillment? -          What life purpose would you strive towards? -          What would your business be? -          What time would you start work? -          What would you actually DO at work? Really Big stuff: -          What your relationships with people around you are like? -          What would you do for family time? -          What would you have for dinner? Yes! That’s important -          Where would you eat? -          Who would you eat it with? -          What would you talk about? Wiring Down: -          What would you do at night? -          Who would you do it with? -          Where would you be? -          What would your thoughts be as you went to sleep. Notice these questions are all built on desired experiences.. not goals. Remember that our experiences help shape our Identity. Try this exercise, and next time we shall answer the second question from Frank  “What your market REALLY wants and who they REALLY are” "Repetition is the mother of all Skill" - Tony Robbins
  • Performance Evaluation

    2013-08-31 16:09:19
    It's been proven that 85% of your success in life will come from your ability to communicate and interact effectively with others. If you hold a position where you have to be able to use “OPK” (other people's knowledge) and “OPE” (other people's effort or energy, or enthusiasm) - effective communication is the the most important skill to posses. Extensive amount of research has been done and specific behaviors and mind sets that lead to high performance, working well with other people, and effective communication were found among managers. If you plan to reach the top of your industry, you need to know and practice these traits in everything you do that affects the people around you. The very best managers are clear about what they want and expect. The staff has to know what they are supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it and to what standard. The greatest demorolizer by far is when a team doesn't know what’s expected. It's amazing to to see some managers become angry and upset when people do not do the job they expected and then it becomes clear that the people doing the work have no idea what it was that the manager was looking for. The second characteristic of the very best managers is a high consideration factor. The employees need to feel that the boss cares about them as people rather than just as employees. They need to feel that the boss looked upon them as friends and was kind and considerate to them as individuals, as well as employees. The question is - How can a manager be caring, and constructive while driving high performance and making sure the job gets done..  gets done well and on time? The feedback of course has to be provided, but there is a fine line between constructive feedback and criticism. One of the most successful coaches in the world Brian Tracy said "Psychologically, destructive criticism is the greatest destroyer of human beings ever imagined. If a person is severely criticized as a child, the person can be destroyed emotionally for the next 50 years. Destructive criticism has acted very much like a reverse neutron bomb in the field of human personality. A neutron bomb destroys all the people but leaves the buildings intact. A reverse neutron bomb, in the form of destructive criticism, destroys the person but leaves them alive and walking around, an emotional and psychological danger both to themselves and others." Here are some tips from Mr. Tracy on providing performance feedback (and let me tell you they work):
    • Whenever you have a situation where the job is not being done to your satisfaction, begin by asking questions and getting the facts, in advance. Don’t ever assume or leap to conclusions about a performance problem. Very often, you will find that what appears to be a person dropping the ball is a new and even better way of doing the job. Take your time and get the facts before you react.
    • A good starting point is  to assume the very best of intentions on the part of everyone around you. Assume that they are acting on the best information they have and they are using their talents and skills the very best way they know how. Assume that any mistake that has been made has been the result of miscommunication or misunderstanding of instructions or expectations.
    • Focus on the future over the past - the past is inherently negative. Nothing can be done about the past, so continually harping on the past and reminding a person that they did poorly in the past only makes a person feel badly about himself or herself. In a way, the person feels angry and trapped because the past is like spilled milk, it cannot be redone.
    • The purpose of the evaluation is to give the individual valuable inputs and ideas he or she can use to be better next time. Positive people think about the future and think about solutions. Negative people focus on the past and concentrate on who is to blame.
    • When a person has made a mistake, be sure to criticize the performance, not the person. Talk about the job or the work as if it were something neutral, like a book sitting on the desk or table between you. Instead of saying, “You made a mistake,” you can say, “This job is not being done the way we expect it.”
    • At the end of any session of performance improvement, you should reaffirm your belief and confidence in the other person.
    "Everything that you do or say helps or hurts. Everything adds up or takes away. Everything either builds a high trust, high performance environment or detracts from it. Nothing is neutral. Everything counts!" - Brian Tracy
  • “Who?” is the question

    2013-04-30 18:07:27
    The most important decisions we make as leaders are not what, but who decisions. As Jim Collins author of "Good to Great" said "Who is your #1 problem, not what". What refers to strategies you choose, products and services you sell and the processes you use. You can spend your whole career chasing solutions. There are millions "What problems" affecting your business. That's what most managers do... Unfortunately focusing on What means you will continue to feel stressed, make less money and lack the time you desire.. Or you can decide today to focus on who. • Who refers to people you put in place to make What decisions. Who is running your sales force? Who is assembling your products? Who is occupying the corner office? • Who is where the magic begins or where the problems start. Managing is easy except for people part - Economist cover story 2006 reported that finding right people is the biggest business problem today. Virtually every manager struggles to find and hire the talent necessary to drive the business forward. Hiring Process 1. Score Card First thing first - Start with the Score Card. SC describes mission for the position, outcomes that have to be accomplished and competencies that fit with both culture of the company and the role. A lot of managers don't bother to define what they want before they hire someone. 2. Source Now when you know what you are looking for let's talk about the Source. The traditional method is to wait for the opening and ask HR .. the wait. This method is very passive as it relays on finding people in the talent pool at the particular point of time. As we all know talent pools go stagnant. Most people that you really would want to hire most probably have a job. Address this lack of innovation by seeing people that you interact with on daily basis as the best sourcing opportunity. It's simple just ask the talented people you know who are the talented people they know you should hire. You will be surprised! Ask your customers for contact information of sales people they enjoy working with the most outside of your company, ask your partners for the best managers they worked with ask your vendors ... Never stop looking! 3. Select Common interview processes are almost random predictors of job performance. Extensive research performed by the top hiring companies proved that the best way to Select is to use a serious of 4 interviews that build on each other. A-player you are looking for should have a track record that matches your needs, competencies identified within your score card and plenty of passion. The 4 interviews are • The screening interview - 15min call • The top-grading interview - registered trade mark that is based on 5 /simple questions (google it) • The focused interview (verifying the specific skill-set) • The reference check There is a final formula I like to refer to while looking for talent - 4 Es + 1 P = A-player • E - positive Energy.. Ability to go go go • E - ability to Energize others • E - Edge .. Courage to make tough yes-no decisions • E - ability to Execute • P - passion .. Heartfelt deep excitement about the work "If I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could. I'd put off everything else to fill my bus. Because things are going to come back. My flywheel is going to start to turn. And the single biggest constraint on the success of my organization is the ability to get and to hang on to enough of the right people." - Jim Collins
  • The Power of Postive Thinking

    2012-11-15 11:25:28

    I'm often asked where my never-ending optimism and energy came from.  I look for positive in every single situation through what I say to myself and what I believe. It is not about the circumstances, but how we respond internally to what happens to us.  That determines our thoughts and feelings, those result into action and ultimately set the course of our destiny.  I've learned to control my inner dialogue and that helped me to take charge of other areas of my life. This is of course a journey with no destination...

    Rise and fall of civilizations Arnold Toynbee, the historian, developed what he called the “challenge-response theory” of history. In studying the rise and fall of 23 civilizations, Toynbee concluded that each civilization started out as a small group of people - as a village, as a tribe or in the case of the Mongol empire, as just three people who had survived the destruction of their small community. Toynbee concluded that each of these small groups faced external challenges, such as hostile tribes. In order to survive, much less thrive, these small groups had to reorganize themselves to deal positively and constructively with these challenges. By meeting each of these challenges successfully, the village or tribe would grow. Even greater challenges would be triggered as a result. And if this group of people continued to meet each challenge by drawing upon its resources and winning out, it would continue to grow until ultimately it became a nation-state and then a civilization covering a large geographical area. Toynbee looked at the great civilizations of human history, ending with the American civilization, and concluded that these civilizations began to decline and fall apart when their citizens and leaders lost the will or ability to rise to the inevitable external challenges occasioned by their very size and power. One of my my favorite authors of all times Brian Tracy was the one to point out that Toynbee’s theory of civilizations can be applicable to our life as well. "You are continually faced with challenges and difficulties, with problems and disappointments, with temporary setbacks and defeats.  They are an unavoidable and inevitable part of being human. But, as you draw upon your resources to respond effectively to each challenge, you grow and become a stronger and better person. In fact, without those setbacks, you could not have learned what you needed to know and developed the qualities of your character to where they are today. Much of your ability to succeed comes from the way you deal with life.  One of the characteristics of superior men and women is that they recognize the inevitability of temporary disappointments and defeats, and they accept them as a normal and natural part of life. They do everything possible to avoid problems, but when problems come, superior people learn from them, rise above the, and continue onward in the direction of their dreams." - Brian Tracy
  • HostingCon here we come!

    2012-06-27 13:26:51
    Hello everyone! The year went by extremely quickly and it's time for another HostingCon Conference! We are less than a week away! This year it's taking place in Boston, and the list of presenters and sponsors is amazing. I'll be speaking  on Wednesday, July 18th at 9am on the subject of "Service Cloud". If you are attending make sure to join me for this exciting session. I promise it will be engaging and you are to take away a lot of useful information. Check out my Q&A with HostingCon where I expand a bit on the subject of Service Delivery via the Cloud. Hope to see you in Boston! Elya HostingCon 2012 Speaker: Join Me There!
  • Customer Service by Gen Ys

    2012-03-20 14:00:42
    MillennialsGen Y group (also known as Millennials, Echoes and Reagan Babies) is over 60 million in size, now represents 80% of that workforce. With Baby Boomers starting to retire there is not going to be enough "Gen X'ers" to replace them. The next people up for promotion are the Gen Y's. Gen Y - the youngest generation of employees, born between 1979 and late 1990s. They are arriving on corporate doorsteps with a host of life experiences already under their belt. Management must gain an understanding and respect for this new entrant worker — for without that, corporations are losing opportunities for competitive advantage. Generation Y brings a unique perspective to the work environment that is often misconstrued as laziness, arrogance or selfishness. What influenced this outlook? In many cases, it's baby boomer and generation X parents who, after experiencing the era of downsizing, warned their children about the realities of new corporate America. Gen Ys serving your clients This is a challenging area, since Gen Y group has been able to get whatever they want, whenever they want at lightning speed and they don't really see a need to be loyal to anyone. To them, speed is a way of life. I've been observing Gen Ys in the IT help-desk environment for few years. The definition of great customer service to them is the speed of service delivery. They are intelligent, direct, impatient and paragons of multitasking. If an organization strives to encourage the Gen Y staff to build a relationship with a customer it needs to invest in training. The culture of empathy has to be nourished and developed. Questions "why we do what we do" and "who our customers are" have to to be answered. Gen Ys Observations Work to Live Want to learn and want more responsibilities High expectations of employers Bring on the Changes! Prefer Email or IM communication to the in-person meetings Working style: Fulfillment Interactive style: Participative Messages that motivate Gen Y: You will work with other bright & creative staff The Best Way To Retain Gen Y 1. High-quality colleagues 2. Flexible work arrangements 3. Prospects for advancement 4. Recognition from the boss 5. Steady rate of advancement & promotion. 6. Access to new experiences and challenges "Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we've ever known." - Ronald Reagan
  • HostingCon 2011

    2011-07-25 13:19:45
    HostingConIt has been very busy few months; I left the beautiful island of Oahu and moved to the east coast (Toronto, ON). It was tough to say good bye to magical Hawaii, but for the professional reasons I had to persevere. New city, new job, new life... same old nerdy and sporty me :) I have some news - I will be presenting at the HostingCon 2011 Conference next week in San Diego, CA. My talk is at 9am on Wednesday. If you are attending, it is definitely worth checking out. I will discuss methods for achieving higher rates of customer satisfaction, including some of the new initiatives introduced at SoftCom around customer engagement, public ratings improvement and training. You will find out what it really means to focus on your clients as the key to the competitive advantage. I hope to see you all there!
  • All that we are is the result of what we have thought

    2011-03-31 13:02:39
    Emotional IntelligenceHere are the two most important lists you'll ever keep: 1. Things That Keep Me Up At Night. 2. Reasons I Get Up In The Morning. According to Alan M. Webber, blogging on Harvard Business Publishing, the items you put on these lists helps define who you are — the first step toward becoming a better manager. “Managers and leaders have got to know themselves before they know their businesses,” writes Webber. “They’ve got to have passion for their work and concern for their world. Otherwise they’re just punching the time clock and risking everyone’s future.“A thought which does not result in an action is nothing much, and an action which does not proceed from a thought is nothing at all.” - Georges Bernanos
  • What to expect in the 11th year of the 3rd millennium

    2010-12-29 19:00:12
    I am a firm believer that each and every one of us holds the key to his/her destiny.  My outlook on 2011 at the end of December will be affected by how I managed the year’s opportunities and challenges.  At the same time, either we like it or not, we are affected by global events and trends. I recently came across an interesting article by an executive leadership coach John M McKee, where he pointed out  five mega trends he thought would impact most of us in 2011. If you’re thoughtful and strategic, the odds are better that you’ll be celebrating a good year. If not — or if you try to ignore the big stuff — you may find this new year to be rough. With that in mind, here are five megatrends that Mr. McKee expects will affect us all, one way or another: 1. The global recovery is for real - Although threats remain, and some regions will take longer to return to “normal,” we’re past the worst of it. Expect organizations to start acquiring and increase hiring (although that will be more part timers than in the past). The stock market, after two great growth years, will continue to pay off for smart investors. The United States will continue to keep the currency value down. As of today, Canada’s buck is at parity, and the OZ $ and the Yen have been greatly impacted as well. 2. Wellness takes the stage - Good health will become more of a status symbol than ever before. Those who continue to be sloths (even great performers) will lose “value” internally at corporations, while healthy looking individuals who appear to have greater stamina will move ahead more quickly. Organizations that market health or wellness products that can fix ailments or prevent misery will grow faster as consumers seek to be seen as healthy and wise. Outdoor activity will become more “status-y.” 3. BRIC grows more important - The countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China will affect everyone, worldwide, even more. Investments in people, facilities, natural resources, and infrastructure will continue at the current fast pace in many areas of these countries. At the same time, “older” (in terms of the twentieth-century growth) countries of the Western world will be cutting back on similar spending for years to come as they try to deal with debt management. 4. EnGen Era is on the rise - In the Western countries, the end of gender wars is nearing an end. A new era where gender roles and lifestyle are less rigid is spilling across all aspects of life. In the United States especially, there is much higher male unemployment, and consequently the “bread winners” are more frequently female. Additionally younger people still want children, and there’s greater awareness that old role models were pretty fictitious anyway. With this comes greater integration of tech and art on the job front. 5. World continues love/hate relationship with the United States - Many people around the world enjoyed watching the struggles experienced by the United States over the past two years. It’s almost like when you see an uppity person slip on a patch of ice and fall on his tail. It’s a “They got what was due to them” kind of thing. And yet, when I deal with my clients, subscribers, and colleagues around the world, it’s still very clear that there are many things about the States that they deeply admire and desire. Additionally, the United States accounts for 1/4 of the world’s economy. It invests in fighting wars, at least partially, to prevent horrible situations for poor people and/or women in other parts of the world." “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible." - Albert Einstein
  • HostingCon: Engagement Marketing - Email, Social & Mobile Media

    2010-07-31 13:00:43
    Another interesting session I attended at the HostingCon was by Joel Book (with ExactTarget) called "Engagement Marketing: Email, Social & Mobile Media" He started the session with a very interesting statement "Marketing is 24x7 Conversation.. Are you equipped to fuel that conversation?" Ladies and Gentlemen, apparently we are in the middle of Marketing Revolution and the sooner we embrace this fact and understand the new rules of customer engagement the more successful we will become. According to the research called "Marketing Budgets 2010: Effectiveness, Measurement & Allocation" ExactTarget performed - Marketers are increasing spending on Mobile, Email, Search and Social Marketing: 28% of marketers are shifting budgets to digital channels 54% plan to increase budgets for email marketing 66% plan to increase investments in social media 56% plan to increase investments in mobile marketing 64% of companies plan to increase budgets in SEO 51% plan to increase budgets for paid search Joel identified the following Big Three (called it "the new triangle of offense")
    1. email marketing (no it's not dieing out, rather transforming)
    2. social media
    3. mobile marketing
    Email is still the Backbone of Customer Engagement. Once a person gives you permission.. Email aids the buying process... Email drives repeated usage... Email keeps the customers  connected to the brand. The Customer Life Cycle: Business Getting = Interest + Evaluation + Purchase Business Keeping = Usage + Re-purchase + Loyalty In 2009 more then 50% customers made a purchase due to email (ExactEmail X-factors 2010) In 2009 82% of top marketers said email was their channel of choice  for retention (research by Winterberry Group) To backup his suggestions Joel presented few "Business Cases" where companies took full advantage of Email, Social & Mobile Media to drive their sales. Here are some examples of engagement strategies, channels and companies: Email + CRM - It's all about Customer Education The newsletters the company "Scotts Lawn Care" sends to their clients is all about commitment of delivering content that teaches consumers what to do and how to take a full advantage of their products. They however do not mass email, rather send newsletters based on the interests of their clients. Email + Analytics - Behavior triggered offers Strategy: behavioral modeling -  promotes next best offer based on past purchases made The company called "Johnston & Murphy" drives quicker re-purchase with personalized offer. They maintain a database that focuses on the age groups of their clients and their products of interest (based on the purchases they already made) SkyMallwas used as another example. This company is one of the most proactive out there. You see the  biggest problem in sales is people that abandoned the check out process right before making the final step (apparently 70% of customers do so). The SkyMall came up with an interesting resolution - they have the series of 3 emails sent to those clients that didn't complete the check-out process with a goal to re-engage and convince to complete the purchase. The process is completely automated and guess what it accounts towards 30% of SkyMalls yearly revenues!!! This is the money they would be simply loosing... Email + Social Media – Fueling the Conversation The Hosting Companies that want to stay in business and be successful need to get on the "Social Media wagon" asap. Here is why: Face Book – 500M active users Twitter – 190M active users Linked in – 70M active users 75% of social media users say that email is the best way to communicate with them 50% of all content shared on the internet is shared using email (Tim Scigel, CEO, Share this) The very first step for companies to take is incorporation of "Social sharing” into all of their customer-facing emails. The company "Dream Fields Pasta" almost went out of business three years ago, but through their "Email+Social Media" efforts they are now the most successful brand of pasta out there. Not a lot of people heard of them because they are all about engaging their specific target market. The product is 100% organic, so they made it their mission through the site design/content,  SEO  efforts ans Social Sharing to work with their "groups of interest" Email + Social - Fueling the conversation with Twitter Apparently out of all the companies out there  "Whole Foods" Leverages Twitter the most:
    • 1,750,000 Followers on @wholefoods using CoTweet
    • 294 stores on Twitter
    • Tweets promote the store events and invite customers to opt-in to WholeFoods' email newsletter
    Facts on Twitter
    • 66% of Fortune 500 companies engage customers via Twitter
    • Twitter users twice as likely to engage with brands than other social network users
    Email + Mobile - Direct Response Attention - Smart Phones will comprise 37% of global handset sales by 2014. Is your site ready? Conclusion: Get to know your customers, avoid mass-newsletters and start sending information that is relevant to customers' specific needs/interests. Utilize social media channels to deliver that information... email is still to be used.
  • HostingCon: Increasing Profits and Prospects with Marketing Best Practices

    2010-07-22 12:58:46

    There was one more session I thought you would all  appreciate hearing about called “Increasing Profits and Prospects with Marketing Best Practices” by Hartland Ross (Ebridge Marketing solutions).

    Heartland started the presentation with the basics, and slowly built us up. The first question I heard was “What is your business strategy?”

    If you don’t have one you need to decide are you:

    • In Global ..  National …  or Local market
    • Low cost leader or Differentiation
    • One stop shop with suite of hosting plans (Blue Host) or just one plan … or a  budget shared one brand .. or perhaps have multiple brands
    • Consideration (cost, cannibalization, simplicity of one brand, dilution of a brand)

    Who are u targeting?

    • Consumers – the focus on conversions
    • SMBs – then focus on conversions
    • Enterprise – then focus on lead generation
    • Specific group/niche (e.g. Developers) – then focus on  both

    Implications of Target Audience

    • Layout and language of the site
    • Types of testimonials
    • Domain name
    • Marketing Channels
    • Types of customer support (hours)
    • Company culture (impression is important)
    • Reliance on upstream providers – DCs, level of redundancy
    • Publications of news via newswires, social media

    Market needs

    Once you are clear on target audience become clear on the needs

    • Consumers don’t need much, but they want it all and for cheap (very price sensitive)
    • SMBs (resellers) need more valued services, you are still to think about the price
    • Enterprise customers’ needs are higher, but prices are higher

    Positioning

    Now you have to position yourself as the best solution to fulfill those needs. Here are some suggestions:

    • Describe the level of Customer Support
    • The more testimonials the better
    • Post last Awards
    • Provide an SLA
    • Keep news and blogs current
    • Post comparison charts of top competitors vs you (take a look at what SingleHop hoster is doing)
    • Update your copyright dates
    • No Voice Mail (pick up the phone when clients call)
    • Offer Trial Periods VS Guarantees (yes, give your customers to try out your services)
    • Add a personalized letter from President, CEO or owner (this is who we are, this is what we believe in, here is where we are going.. if you have any questions or concerns you can reach to me personally (take a look at Silicon Valley WebHosting under  About Us section)

    The Marketing Mix

    Let’s identify Niche vs Mass Marketing approaches first

    Niche is when you are using:

    • PPC - use specific keywords
    • SEO –use  specific keywords
    • Trade Publications
    • Sponsorship or exhibiting at Industry events
    • Direct Mail pieces
    • Online developer communities

    Mass Marketing is when you are using:

    • Newspapers
    • TV/Radio
    • Sports Events
    • Hosting Dir Sites
    • SMBs sites
    • More general search items

    Implementing your Mix

    • Tracking – ex Google Analytics
    • Be attentive to your marketing
    • Make changes / update banners, offers, websites
    • Always know what your competition is doing (take a look at the sites - compete.com, spyfu.com, keywordspy.com)
    • Trends – stay informed on economy, industry, products / technology

    Be your customer’s friend

    • Offer support alternatives (video chat is getting more popular)
    • Provide prompt support (don’t make your clients to jump through the hoops, fix it)
    • Perform a customer satisfaction surveys
    • Remember every piece of communication counts
    • To the extent possible get to know your customers (develop relationships with your customers.. personalized approach, personal notes)

    Ways to reduce Costs

    Quote to remember If you can not measure it - > you can not track it -> and if you can’t track it -> you can not change it

    • Ensure tracking solutions are in place so you know which 50% of your marketing is working
    • Renegotiate terms with your vendors (easier in current climate – do it now)
    • Focus on Customer Retention and increasing conversion rates – not just more traffic

    Ways to increase Sales

    • Website is user friendly & check out process is not confusing – INSTILL confidence
    • Optimize Conversions – Use A/B split testing or multivariate testing (Google Optimizer, Webtrends)
    • Offer incentives (referrals, urgency, bundling)

    Retain Customers

    • It all comes down to understanding the Lifetime span of a customer
    • Referral programs – lowers CPA from 1 to 3 years of revenue
    • Get customers to sign up for longer terms
    • Offer Package deals (hosting plan + design + ?? = 10% discount)
    • Offer other services to strengthen relationships and aim to be a “one stop shop” you will have sticker customers.

    Conclusion: It's all about being innovative while having a solid strategy, knowing who your customers are and what they are looking for.

  • HostingCon

    HostingCon 2010: The Demise of Hosting – What’s replacing it

    2010-07-20 12:56:37
    I'm in Austin, TX at the moment attending the biggest webhosting event in the world called HostingCon. This is my fifth year at the conference, and the second in the row as a speaker. HostingCon never disappoints especially since iNET Interactive took charge. I presented on Monday July the 19th with CS Expert Douglas Hanna. The subject was "Building Customer Focused Company regardless of your size", we were pleased with the amount of questions and positive feedback received. For more details check out The Web Host Industry Review. Throughout the conference I made sure to attend as many sessions as possible. The Sales/Marketing track was my favorite and Dave Murphy's (Hostopia) presentation called “The Demise of Hosting – What’s replacing it” definitely stood out. Dave suggested, to stay competitive we (hosters) need to look much further than hosting offerings (this comes as a given these days ). It’s all about the “Value added products” now -  in many cases have nothing to do with hosting, but what they bring on top of it. Hostopia calls it 'Inside the Box” approach.. Here are some of the main points Dave presented: SMB spends on average $1700 to build a website and  $1000/year to host it The biggest challenge SMBs face is finding new customers, as a result during the past few years we have witnessed few firms experiencing flat growth or even worst - going out of business. Challenges SMBs face:
    • Top line growth
    • Customer Retention
    • Most difficult job is sales (#1 pain point – sales)
    Half of SMBs didn’t have marketing budgets and do it on their own, not always successfully due to the lack of expertise. Majority spend $5000/year on marketing Unmet needs of the SMBs:
    • Cost effective leads generation
    • Proactive customer retention, cultivation and management
    • ROI effectiveness
    59% smaller SMBs 1-5 employees have low satisfaction rate with their sites 64% of SMBs need to update the sites within 6 months Here are some of the areas were SMBs want to grow:
    • Email marketing
    • Website hosting
    • Direct mail marketing
    • SEO
    • Mobile marketing – new niche
    • Search engine marketing
    The SMBs are confused - too many choices while 60% of them looking for one stop experience.
    1. Website design
    2. SEO
    3. Lead capture
    4. Lead generation facilitation
    5. Help our customers to see what is working (analytics.. tracking)
    6. Help them with other online processes/services
    7. Help them to retain their clients
    8. Leverage their online investment
    9. Be a trusted advisor
    Conclusion: Mid and small size hosting providers are now to get invested in the business success of their clients (something larger players already picked up on). Ten years ago no one imagined traffic and storage being taken for granted (well we did.. but not to this extend). The hosting industry as we know is transforming, I wonder what the next five years will bring.