Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 .

Webby_LogoHelp UberConference win a People’s Voice Award!

UberConference has been nominated for Best Mobile Productivity App in The Webby Awards. To be a Finalist our content, structure, navigation, visual design, functionality, interactivity, and overall product experience was assessed.

This year, The 18th Annual Webby Awards received 12,000 entries from all 50 US states and over 60 countries worldwide. We are so pleased to be in such great company and send the best to all nominees!

Monday, April 7th, 2014 .

UberConference teamed up with Friends of the Urban Forest to plant trees along Treat Street this weekend as a part of a community wide Mission planting. Over eighty volunteers from around the city came together to plant 72 trees in the Mission.

Friends of the Urban Forest helps neighborhoods in SF plant and care for street trees and sidewalk gardens. This “green infrastructure” improves the city by beautifying neighborhoods, cleaning the air, and reducing polluted stormwater runoff. Since 1981, the group has planted more than 48,000 trees, totaling 43% of the city’s street tree canopy.

Fuf group trees trees

Friday, April 4th, 2014 .

Here’s a piece of trivia you probably didn’t know, unless, of course, you are an entomologist (and even then you might know this): there are 17 varieties of locusts. Well, okay, there’s actually only 12 varieties, with three subspecies of tree locusts, and a couple more grasshoppers that are similar to locusts.

The actual number isn’t important (unless, again, you’re an entomologist, and even then probably not that big a deal).

What is important is that there are numerous ways that different kinds of locusts could come along and really ruin your crops in pretty terrible ways, although I’m guessing the Italian Locust would at least be stylish about it.

Similarly, as part of scholarly research I’m doing for my Ph.D. thesis at the University of Quito on “Violence-Centered Group Dynamics and Interpersonal Relationship Management in Drug Cartels: Why All the Anger?”, I have identified approximately 11 Irritating Conference Call Types. Today, we will examine two of these varieties.

1. The Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Said Guy: Ever heard this kind of exchange in a conference call?

CALLER 1: Okay, so, what we’re planning on doing on the 19th is bringing the cement over the George Washington Bridge in a stream of approximately 125 mixers beginning at 4 am..

CALLER 2: Great. I’ll make arrangements with the city to have lights approved for the site prior to the arrival of the first truck.

REPEATING GUY: So, as far as the 19th goes, the plan is to bring in about 125 mixers across the George Washington Bridge starting at 4 a.m. That means we’re going to have to have lights. I guess arrangements will be made with the city than for lighting the site, right?

(LONG SILENCE)

CALLER 1: Yes, that’s what we just said.

REPEATING GUY: I know. I just wanted to clarify that the trucking of the cement over the George Washington Bridge will start at 4 a.m. on the 19th so that will have to be lit with approval from the city.

(EVEN LONGER SILENCE)

CALLER 2: Can we kill you?

CALLER 1: In a slow and painful way?

REPEATING GUY: So you’re suggesting that as far as my death goes, you two want to arrange it, and to make it slow and painful?

The Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Said Guy suffers from a basic lack of self esteem.  He believes that people think he has nothing to contribute to the conversation, but if he repeats what other people are saying it will make it seem as if he has something to contribute.  In this regard, the Repeating Everything Everyone Else Already Has Said Guy is justified in his low self esteem.  He, in fact, has nothing to contribute.  He should do two things:

  • Not contribute
  • Have low self-esteem

2. The Irrelevant Topics Gal

There you all are, deep in a discussion about pricing levels on volume purchasing by major customers when this happens:

CALLER 1: I have to be honest, Carol, I think 18% is too deep a discount even on a million unit buyer.  Our margin on this is only 4% already.

CALLER 2: But Bilox Industries is offering a 16% discount at that level.  We have to do something competitive to hold market share.

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: Excuse me, but does anyone know anything about upper respiratory infections in cats?  I think my cat, Bobby, has one because he’s sneezing and his breathing is labored.

CALLER 1: We weren’t really talking about cat diseases.

CALLER 2: Bobby sounds really sick.

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: I’m so worried about him.

CALLER 2: Have you spoken to your vet?

CALLER 1: Can we get back to the business discussion we were having?

CALLER 2: Her cat is really sick, Bob.  Don’t you have a heart?

CALLER 1: I do, but…

IRRELEVANT TOPICS GAL: Jerk.

CALLER 1: Sorry.

The Irrelevant Topics Gal also suffers from a basic lack of self esteem.  She believes that people think she has nothing to contribute to the conversation, but if she changes the subject, she can hide this fact.  There’s no hiding it, however, but she can do three things:

  • Not contribute
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Let the cat go

In future essays, I will examine additional character types who ruin conference calls. It’s important to be able to identify these types quickly during the call so you can mute them or lock them out in order to keep your conference call moving forward.

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 .

Let’s face it: sometimes our beloved customers, are a lot of trouble.  And every once while in a while we feel like this:

One of the most important decisions we made leading up to the launch of UberConference was to have live customer service.  If we had service problems (and there is no company on the planet that doesn’t have service problems), then we wanted to make sure that was a live person our customers could talk to.

Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

Actually, for many American businesses, the decision to have live customer service is not obvious.   But it has been for us.   It is in customer support where we differ from other companies.

  • Most startups don’t do much with Customer Support. We have two offices to cover 5am to 6pm PST (both coasts) with live support during business hours.

  • Most companies think of Customer Support as a cost center. We think of it as a marketing opportunity to make our best customers, aka the ones using the product, the happiest.

  • Most companies dread support. We relish it.  Everybody in the company from the CEO to the newly hired intern, spends a week doing CSR and it rotates every week.

One of our company policies with new hires is that each employee at some point in their first month on the job must spend a week working in Customer Support. One week. Everyone. Each new employee working Customer Support has to go to either our San Jose or Raleigh office and spend a couple of days training with our CSRs there. Not only does this help build up the knowledge base about the product for our employees, it gives us all a better sense of what our customers are dealing with, in the field, on a daily basis.

With everybody sitting in a Customer Support Representative (CSR) seat, every employee gets a sense of what our customers are like: how they are using the product and what suggestions, problems and concerns they have. This experience creates a great insight to the product and empathy for our users. We have an entire company of fully trained CSR agents to help out.

We keep and track detailed data on our customer service requests and queries: what kinds of issues come up frequently? Why? What types of complaints do our customers have?

The other fascinating aspect of this system for us has been the number of product features, suggestions and improvements we have received through our customer support system.

Some of our best product insights come from listening to our customers’ requests, and having an attentive, responsive and respectful CSR team makes that a close loop of innovation.

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 .

“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” –Aristotle, “The Politics”

When you sit down and think about it, many of the greatest accomplishments of the human race are collaborative efforts. The cathedrals of medieval France. MGM musicals like “Singing in the Rain” or “Royal Wedding”. Democracy. The Renaissance. A double double cheeseburger with fries from In ‘N Out Burger.

These are things that could only have been created by a group effort – human beings working together.

Why?  Because we are, as Aristotle observed more than 2,300 years ago, social animals. We live a common life together.

So if we live a common life together and are, at heart, social animals; why do so many teleconferences not work? What, exactly, causes them to be disappointing? I think I can confidently state that it is not because we are either beasts nor gods.

What causes many teleconferences to fail is a combination of inefficient technology and basic human politeness. These are what I call “the pain points of teleconferencing.” And they are solvable problems.

1. Set an agenda. Stick to it.

Unless the teleconference is between NFL owners, nobody gets to talk about the Super Bowl.

Before your next teleconference, send out an agenda to everyone. These are the items we will be discussing, and this is the order in which we’ll be discussing them. People are busy, and while your teleconference may in fact be the most important part of their work day, it is not the only part of their work day. Nothing kills a teleconference quicker than desultory talk about the weather, the latest flu outbreak or last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. We all have other things to do today besides chit-chat right now. Stay on point, stick to the agenda, finish the call.

2. People are going to arrive late. Deal with it.

It’s just going to happen: people are going to show up late. They’ll have a million good reasons. We don’t need to hear them. We also don’t need to recap what’s been discussed already.

Think of it this way: somebody shows up late to Mass. The priest doesn’t stop the proceedings, introduce everyone, and then recap what’s happened so far. No. If you show up late, you check where in the liturgy (agenda) we are, listen in and catch up on your own.

There’s no reason a teleconference can’t operate that way either.

3. Use technology that works.

Teleconferencing technology should do the following:

— allow automatic sharing of documents during the call

— visual identification of who is speaking and participating

— late entrants can join without interrupting — or stopping — the call

If your teleconferencing system can’t do these things, your calls are going to be less effective, more painful for the callers, and, ultimately less collaborative.

We’re human beings. We’re social animals. We’re working on a problem together. Any technology you are using that disrupts collaborative work is anti-social and goes counter to who we are in our essence.