May 9th, 2016 by Oren Smilansky

Most writers learn early on that if they can’t get through to their audience quickly, and in a compelling manner, it’s unlikely that they’ll  hold their attention. The same holds true for businesses, according to Carmine Gallo, author of The Storyteller’s Secret. “Some of the best brands–those that enhance the customer relationship and experience—are those that are immersed in storytelling,” Gallo says. Yet, while “storytelling in business is very powerful, very few people are doing it well.”

Fortunately, Gallo says, leaders—including notables such as Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures–are realizing that simply having the facts on their side is not enough, and that they must master the art of storytelling.

StorytellerFor instance, SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott has been adamant about simplifying complexity. His challenge has been to turn a 65,000 person sales force into storytellers. “That’s why he hired [Julie Roehm] to be a chief storytelling officer,” heading their marketing department, Gallo says. “What Roehm has done is create apps—tools that their salespeople can download to iPads and literally record customer stories.” The marketing department then edits those stories to video, which the rest of the team can access, Gallo explains.

Gallo recalls that at a recent marketing convention, Steve Wynn, founder of Wynn Resorts,  told the audience that “‘storytelling changed my business and my life’.” That Wynn only discovered the power of storytelling about five years ago “is pretty extraordinary—because here’s a guy you would think would know everything there is to know about human behavior and customer relationships,” Gallo says. One thing Wynn realized is that “self-esteem is the most powerful force in the universe,” and “if you can make people feel more powerful about themselves, they’ll be loyal to [your] brand,” Gallo says.

So Wynn started running departmental meetings differently.  The first thing he did was start by asking employees whether they have a customer story they’d like to share. “That one question elicits stories from the particular departments, and people get praised, rewarded, [and ] these stories get featured on the company intranet,” Gallo says. “They get special bonuses, [and] get recognized at their national annual sales meetings. what happens is these stories begin to compound and everybody wants a chance to be a customer service hero.”

Gallo outlined a number of other companies who have made storytelling a bedrock of their culture, including the Ritz Carlton, Southwest Airlines, and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group. “It’s only through stories that people remember vivid specifics and examples,” Gallo emphasizes. “Stories are one of the most memorable ways to transmit information.”

Gallo adds that what great minds share a talent in rendering sophisticated concepts accessible the masses. For instance, what influential tech leaders like Elon Mosk, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs have in common was their ability to simplify complex information for wide groups.

When Musk gives public presentations, Gallo says, he reduces his language to grade-school level, and often uses pictures to illustrate his points. “Here’s a guy who reads Soviet era rocket manuals for fun, and yet when he communicates something to a consumer audience that doesn’t understand the nuances, he reduces the language to a very simple level,” Gallo says. “When you have complex information that you have to distribute to a large group of people, it helps to reduce the language complexity, which means reduce the jargon, keep sentence structure simple, [and] use shorter, simpler words.”

And when business-facing sales reps are pitching their products, it may behoove them to follow a three-act structure, similar to the one employed in Hollywood movies, which includes a beginning, middle, and end. For instance, they can start out by providing  the back story, and describing the world as it is (“Here’s how you’re doing business today,” Gallo says). In act two, reps can explain the conflict on the horizon (Gallo calls this “ a dark force around the corner, one that you may not even be aware of,”).  And when the prospect begins nodding in agreement, a rep can introduce the resolution (”Your product is going to make the world a better place, and everybody lives happily ever after,” Gallo says.)

May 6th, 2016 by Leonard Klie

Research conducted by Jabra has found that as customer calls get more complex, the winning companies will be the ones that invest in ensuring working conditions allow for maximum concentration and efficiency.

The firm, which makes headsets for contact center agents, says multiple communications methods for customer service, such as company Web sites, email, or instant messaging, make phone conversations even more valuable today.

Conversations on the phone are rare, often a last resort after customers have found that other methods failed. Yet 36 percent of agents think there are too many interruptions from colleagues throughout the day, and 34 percent find noise levels in their working environments too distracting.

“Within every business there is a group of employees who spend a significant amount of time and effort on their call-based communication. Conversations that this group is having are important, in-depth discussions, bringing significant value and adding to the success of the business. Yet organizational culture doesn’t prioritize enabling productivity for these individuals, and too often it’s not a consideration at all,” Holger Reisinger, senior vice president at Jabra, said in a statement.

The research defines four groups of workers that bring business value through phone conversations with customers. Each of these four profiles – call center agents, civil servants, traders and advisors – are struggling at different levels to achieve concentration and avoid interruptions. As well as technology issues, they all experience challenges with their physical working environments, with open-plan offices in particular adding to the concentration challenge.

While many businesses recognize the importance of customer service, the value this group of workers offers is due to their interaction with customers. Companies, should, therefore, make sure that agents have the best resources and processes in place to make the most out of every conversation.

“Any opportunity to speak with customers on the phone is more valuable than ever before, and investment in supporting this group should be a strategic priority for any business in order to make sure those conversations deliver the value customers expect,” Reisinger said.

And that has nothing to do with whose headsets your call center agents use. It’s just good business sense.

May 5th, 2016 by Sam Del Rowe

Global virtual business teams are struggling—particularly when it comes to productivity—according to a survey conducted by intercultural global business skill consultancy RW³ CultureWizard. Based on responses from 1,372 employees representing 80 countries, 85 percent of corporate employees work on global virtual teams, with nearly 20 percent spending over half of a typical workday participating in these teams.

Despite the prevalence of such teams, the survey found several drawbacks to the model, particularly due to a lack of face-to-face contact. 51 percent of respondents reported that understanding communication was an issue, 51 percent reported that managing conflict was an issue, and 45 percent reported that establishing trust and building relationships were an issue.

The survey revealed several other noteworthy findings. 23 percent of respondents said that their virtual teams fail to capitalize on cultural diversity, despite the fact that 48 percent of respondents reported that their virtual teams include members from a range of cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, 79 percent of respondents reported that lack of participation is a significant problem, 79 percent cited the pace of decision making as a problem, and 74 percent said that disparate expectations for how to manage or be managed were problematic.

“Organizations large and small continue to make the erroneous assumption that virtual teamwork comes easy because of cutting edge communication technology. Only 22 percent of virtual team members receive any training to prepare them to be effective on an intercultural team. Surprisingly, this is an increase of only 1 percent over the 2014 survey results,” Michael S. Schell, CEO of RW³ CultureWizard, said in a statement.

Charlene Solomon, President of RW³  CultureWizard, added that a change in leadership attitudes is essential, saying in a statement that “The leadership skills that work domestically, often break down when applied to multicultural virtual teams, where leaders need to anticipate how their leadership style affects people from diverse places.”

April 29th, 2016 by Leonard Klie

The overwhelming majority of customers (89 percent) would prefer to engage with artificial intelligence-driven virtual assistants to speed up how they find information from companies, according to new research.

The findings, from Opus Research and Nuance Communications, indicate that consumers expect a conversational interaction when it comes to customer service. Granted, Nuance is a vendor that offers a conversational virtual assistant platform named Nina, so the research might not be totally unbiased, but the numbers are just too high to ignore:

  • 89 percent of consumers want to engage in conversation with virtual assistants to quickly find information instead of searching through Web pages or mobile apps on their own. This is the same for the phone channel, where the majority of consumers would prefer to engage with systems that let them speak naturally when calling businesses.
  • 73 percent of consumers want their conversations with customer service to be personalized.
  • 64 percent of consumers want customer service to be proactive, with suggestions and reminders.
  • Consumers want conversational, personalized, and proactive interaction throughout their entire service experiences, including authentication, with 83 percent of respondents seeking an alternative to passwords and PINs and the majority eager to use voice biometrics as the method to identify themselves.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to actual usage, the numbers  here tell a different story.

MindMeld, another intelligent voice assistant vendor, in its latest quarterly user adoption survey, found that only 61 percent of smartphone users have adopted intelligent voice assistants in the past 12 months. The firm is claiming this as a huge victory, pronouncing 2015 as the tipping point for voice assistants. That might be a bit of a stretch, but the scale is definitely tipping toward more mainstream adoption. Heck, even I joined the smartphone revolution (or is that, evolution) just last year, and use Cortana on occasion, but apparently still much less than most people.

According to MindMeld’s research, 55 percent of voice assistant users turn to them regularly (daily or weekly). This is a substantial gain from the previous quarter, when 49 percent reported regular voice assistant use.

So where are all these voice assistants going? By and large, they’re staying home. MindMeld found that people most commonly use voice assistants in the home (43 percent), with the car coming in second at 36 percent.

Beyond that, they want voice capabilities on different apps.  Music apps rank the highest, with 50 percent of users wanting voice enablement. Other apps where voice would come in handy include shopping, travel, video, and local services apps.

Not surprisingly, given all the advances in the technology recently, overall satisfaction with the voice experience is generally high: 48 percent of users report being satisfied with their voice assistants, despite sometimes recognizing areas for improvement. Only 13 percent of users expressed dissatisfaction.

I guess they’ve never used the voice interface in my car, which is still very frustrating. I’m just hoping that with machine learning, the voice recognition will get better.


April 28th, 2016 by Sam Del Rowe

Google, Uber, Lyft, Ford, and Volvo recently announced a new coalition with the goal of speeding self-driving cars to market. Known as the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, the group plans to push for federal action regarding fully autonomous motor vehicles.

One of the Coalition’s main messages is that self-driving cars will be safer than human-operated ones, due to a lack of human error. In a recent statement, the coalition noted that in 2014, there were 32,675 fatalities and 2.3 million injured in 6.1 million crashes in the U.S., and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that about 94 percent of all crashes are the result of human error.

If self-driving cars become a reality, a rise in demand for automotive sensors and the incorporation of smartphone features such as calling and music and video streaming will likely follow. All of these features would increase the interconnectivity of the Internet of Things, and be a tremendous source of customer data for companies.

The Coalition has appointed David Strickland, the former top official of the NHTSA, as its counsel and spokesman. Strickland said in an interview that “What people are looking for is clear rules of the road of what needs to be done for [fully autonomous] vehicles to be on the road,” and that “Nobody wants to take a shortcut on this.” He also described the Coalition as “a full policy and messaging campaign and movement.”


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