2016: a Year of Innovation and Customer Experience

“It’s been a busy year for ReadyTalk.”

Everyone beamed in response to the analyst’s comment. ReadyTalk has had a year of unprecedented product and service expansion. After a decade of offering a single web conferencing platform, in 2016 alone ReadyTalk brought to market a standalone video conferencing product, an accompanying in-room hardware offering and a replay webinar solution. We also announced our entry into the cloud communications market. There’s actually more news, but that’s just for starters.

It’s not that we haven’t been busy other years. But the work released this year is notable as it is a departure from technical innovation and improvements. Instead of aiming to make our products better, we at ReadyTalk spend 2016 firmly aiming to make your experience (as our customer) better.

Formalizing Innovation and CX

Although we were well into 2016 when we formalized our Innovation and Customer Experience departments, the ethos of customer-focused innovation was heartily adopted. ReadyTalk has always been customer-centric, with our devotion to “delivering WOW” via our customer care and account management services. But this year, more than ever, our product and marketing efforts also focused more on better understanding and helping to solve our customers’ problems.

Talk to the customer … and listen

This year we made a concerted effort to embrace design thinking and jobs theory in our innovation and R&D efforts. We spoke to prospective customers to truly understand their activities. And we listened. We found out how things are done now, using which tools. We learned what was most important, what was working and what wasn’t. As an innovation group in particular, we weren’t representing ReadyTalk the cloud communications provider. We didn’t enter the room with a specific product in mind and hope to hear validation for it. Instead, we were focused on a target customer, to understand where they were underserved. This sort of direct insights-gathering is critical: if you wait to buy a market research report from an analyst, you know all your competitors are getting it too. Where’s the opportunity in that?

Most importantly, this type of customer-driven innovation let us take a step back from incremental product improvement and focus more on satisfying the customer. Too often we get focused on a specific task a user is performing with our product, and we don’t consider the overall progress he is seeking to make under those circumstances. What does he do before or after, and how we can aim to provide a single platform or product that satisfies him throughout the job? Tony Ulwick, founder of Strategyn and author of “What Customers Want” and “Jobs to be Done: Theory to Practice” introduces the concept of the 8 stages of a job. A company can succeed by innovating across each of these stages, rather than over-engineering one aspect of it.

Introducing FoxDen, FoxDen Connect, ReadyTalk Illuminate and ReadyTalk Hosted Voice

A key example is our FoxDen Connect product. This elegant product lets you walk in a room, start your video conference on the in-room equipment and connect with remote participants, all from a single click on your smartphone. This device and its interaction dramatically simplifies and speeds up the “meeting start” experience. Instead of spend minutes dialing in and entering codes, you can begin a meeting in the proverbial click of a button. It knocks significant time off the nonsense and enables people to get down to business. This was ReadyTalk’s first foray into selling hardware, and it makes sense to extend the solution we offer our customers to what they need to start using our software.

ReadyTalk Hosted Voice is another interesting example: ReadyTalk offers audio, video and web conferencing. So why would we offer what could be considered a competing product? Well, conferencing meets enables individuals to connect with a group of people at once: one-to-many. But people also need to communicate with people one-to-one, so rather than drawing a line and saying “we only provide certain types of communications to our customers,” ReadyTalk is expanding to better provide for our customers. By being a provider of both 1:1 and 1:many communications, we can improve the experience so people don’t need to swap out systems to perform what is essentially the same task.

A final example is ReadyTalk Illuminate – Replay. We’ve offered a webinar platform for marketers for years, and in 2016 we took a step back to really understand what challenges they were facing for lead generation activities. We heard loud and clear they needed a solution that gave them confidence as well as control in their outreach to prospects. That’s why we prioritized our exciting Replay feature in our Illuminate webinar platform. It’s also why we’ll continue to add exciting new features to support marketers in all their most critical activities in the upcoming year.

As we wind down the year, I revel in the progress we have made as an organization. Through design sprints and customer interviews, we were able to design and bring to market products that met our customers ever evolving needs.

6 Tech Trends for 2017

The tech industry is constantly striving forward, seeking out innovative ways to revolutionize the world around us. From faster computer processors to dynamic voice-recognition software, it’s safe to say that technology will only get more advanced in the coming years. Here are some top trends you might want to watch out for in 2017:

1. Virtual Reality will become more mainstream

Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to completely revolutionize the way we consume entertainment. From live performances to video games, the possibilities for VR are seemingly endless. And although we all love VR for video games and more, there are practical applications for VR, too like enabling people to do things they couldn’t – like explore planets.

2. Augmented Reality will become more mainstream, too

A sense of purpose improves workAugmented reality (AR) will help revolutionize the way we work — from reviewing 3D models of human bodies where surgeons can practice life-saving operations before trying them on a person to reviewing 3D scans of construction sites and reconfiguring those sites to be safer. There’s a wide range of uses for AR in the business world. Read more reasons on why AR.

3. Videos will become even more prevalent

It’s no secret that people love watching videos. While already prevalent, videos are now being used more frequently across numerous industries. For example, more marketers are beginning to use videos to successfully interact with potential consumers online, while employee trainers are using them to speed up and improve onboarding processes.

4. We’ll learn from machine learning

The tech industry has been buzzing about machine learning advances for years. In light of AlphaGo beating Lee Sedol at Go, researchers are beginning to learn more about machine learning than ever before. As machines learn, so will the people interacting with them. Some suggest that machine learning may soon have a significant impact on the way people approach education and training as a whole.

5. Autonomous vehicles will become more accepted

It’s not just Uber who wants this. One of the main goals of the research into and the creation of autonomous vehicles is to reduce the number of human-error car accidents. This desire extends beyond the inventiveness of creating the world’s first truly smart mainstream cars. For example, an AV should be able to swerve and maneuver in a way that protects its passengers in the event of an accident. In an age of texting and distracted drivers, AV might make frequent car crashes a thing of the past.

6. Businesses will move to unified communications

Lastly, while only 19% of businesses have moved away from desktop phones, the vast majority want to. Unified communications (UC) combines all the different communications systems and enables you to integrate them easily. Businesses can save money, scale as they need to do with their business and enable their IT resources to do things that support the business — more than ensure phones are working. And since more than half the workforce will work remote at least some of the time, chances are pretty good UC will become more and more important.

My First Webinar – From Panic to Calm

Have you ever been asked to recommend someone to do something, that isn’t in your comfort zone, and you panic, because the recommendation is you? That happened to me. A member of our Marketing team asked for a recommendation for a speaker to talk about and demo our new product, ReadyTalk Illuminate – Replay. The correct answer was me. Afterall, I’m the Product Manager. Panic washed over me. I had never been a speaker on a webinar. To add to my anxiety, the webinar was slated to be done live. I gave a noncommittal answer, said I needed time to think about it, and, as a well-trained Product Manager, asked for the deadline.

Drew, Robyn and Sam talking about the webinarAfter getting over my panic and getting a, “You know the right answer” nudge from my manager, I committed. As we planned the event, and my anxiety didn’t subside, it dawned on me. “Why not use Illuminate – Replay?” A Replay about Replay! My anxiety turned into sheer giddiness. Without much selling, my co-worker agreed. Then, the team changed. Our webinar pro was no longer available. The new team responsible for this webinar included two webinar newbies, and one person who hadn’t conducted webinars in a while. Using Replay sounded like an even better idea now.

Replay enabled us to laugh, joke and enjoy the experience

We decided to do an interview style discussion, a demo, and then the big Replay reveal. The preparation ended up being a planning session, a recording session for the interview portion, a recording of the product demo, and a review of the edited recordings. We all had some angst going into the planning session, which was supposed to be our recording session. By the end, we were laughing and joking. I looked forward to the recording session. During the recording session , it was awesome to be able to redo the bloopers (and to laugh at them). Not having the stress and pressure of being live was even better.

I recorded the product demo portion of the event on my own time. I loved being able to fix mistakes and produce the demo about which I felt good. Again, I appreciated not having the added pressure of being live.

Instead of stress, the day-of was fun

On the day of the event, all three of us went about our normal morning work in the morning. We met 15 minutes before the start of the event. I had butterflies, which was silly. I only needed to monitor and respond to chats. The rest of the work was done. My webinar-experienced coworker shared that normally the morning would be filled with nothing but preparation for the event along with a lot of stress and anxiety. Instead, the three of us had childlike excitement with an overall sense of calm. We discussed what a strange set of feelings those were.

We continued to be productive in that 15 minute pre-event window. When the event started, we began whispering to each other. We burst out laughing. We didn’t need to whisper. No one could hear us. We monitored chats and even did some brainstorming. Another realization came to us, we could be interacting with our attendees right then. We started posing questions in chat to spark a conversation. We didn’t get a lot of chats during the interview segment. Once the demo started, a few attendees started asking questions. We responded in the moment.

Great feedback about the webinar

After the big reveal, that our event was a Replay, we asked if the attendees noticed. We received some great feedback – all positive. There were no concerns with the fact that it was pre-recorded. We also received some very humorous chats.

Webinars can be stress-free

The whole experience was pleasant and positive. I loved that experience and the feelings I had leading up to, during, and after the event.

My main takeaway: webinars can be fun and stress-free. I will never shy away from doing another webinar again … as long as I can pre-record it.

For more about Replay

For more about Replay or webinar referenced here, watch below.

Viva La Revolution: Remote Workers Need Communications

About fifteen years ago, I got up at 5 a.m. and used the company’s VPN to update our external website indicating there was a snow storm in Portland, Oregon and we’d have reduced customer service hours. My manager at the time, the VP of Corporate Communications, was on a task force helping to determine disaster recovery procedures for our company, including communicating with customers and employees. She fought hard to ensure I had VPN access. Fought because at the time, only a handful of employees had access. The company was more willing to give her access instead of the person doing the work: me. IT was concerned about remote working policies, something HR hadn’t had a chance to address.

But that day, fifteen years ago, our website was updated and disaster communications were completed. My VP called every couple of hours to let me know what was expected. I updated the website. Communication worked, even though I was remote.

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, that story isn’t so unusual. There used to be gates and issues with getting access to work remotely. Typically executives and senior leaders were given access, even if they weren’t the ones doing the work.

Fast forward to today. It should be easy to work remotely, but typically … it isn’t. Here are a few questions to consider on improving your remote working situation … and revolutionize it. Heck, we all need the communications revolution, even when we’re in the office.

1. Is it easy to communicate and work?

man attending webinarOur workforce right now is teeming with different needs: digital natives (Millennials), digital transplants (Gen Xers) and people who grew up typing … not on a computer (Baby Boomers). Some places still have the Silent Generation, those who remember WWII, working. The technology introduced in their homes when they were children was the radio. Most likely their family got a television when they were teenagers.

That’s a difficult challenge to meet — digital experts who expect technology to work and people less comfortable with that technology who get easily frustrated with it.

The perfect solution is something that’s easy for all of them. What’s easy? Can you just click something and it works? Technology is so good many of the solutions these days offered are all about one click. One. Even communications.

That means the technology needs to be intuitive. In other words, people who have never used a product need to know what to do. People don’t want to read instructions. In fact, if your technology needs instructions, probably time to rethink it. You shouldn’t need a manual to start a video meeting or wait on the AV guy. If it’s easy, users will adopt it. Wouldn’t you?

2. Is it fast?

I recall the days where it took a minute to connect to the Internet and look at emails. Those days of modems are long gone. In fact, we’re consuming more content on our smartphones than ever before. That means technology, like websites, needs to be super fast. If it takes more than a few seconds for something to happen, I don’t know about you, but I run out of patience.

Communication needs to be even faster. I want to instant message (IM) someone to get a quick video downloaded. I’ll pop my head over the cube and ask if we got a customer to review a story. The faster the better.

Does the communication platform start instantly or almost instantly? Can I communicate with someone quickly to get something done?

3. Does it make you feel good and smart?

Here’s a tricky one. When people use technology, they don’t want to feel dumb. They want to be able to use technology and feel smart. Confident.

I love Photoshop. Although I’m good at jumping into new technology and figuring it out, Photoshop took a while. It took classes. I learned tricks from friends. I’m still learning things about Photoshop and I’ve been using the tool for more than ten years. When I ask co-workers, they don’t want to use Photoshop. Why? It’s hard. They can do a few things in it, but really they don’t like using it. They don’t have time to take classes and in the meantime, it makes them feel dumb.

Okay, so that’s a photo / design tool. Communication demands people feel good. That actually adds to the experience of communicating. If we just had a terrible experience trying to use software to communicate, the conversation isn’t as meaningful. And typically we grouse at the beginning of that meeting about the stupid technology that didn’t enable me to join a meeting on time. That’s a communication detractor. Those barriers need to be removed.

4. Does it add more to your communication?

I had an interesting discussion with the chief strategy officer of ReadyTalk recently. And he brought up something that’s so true and something we take for granted: communication is about grok-ing. What’s grok? It’s to understand deeply and completely. Although I’m a writer, I don’t know of an English word that really nails it the way Heinlein’s “grok” does in Stranger in a Strange Land. Grok involves a lot of things: active listening, empathy, rapport, trust, intuition and connection. We’re all seeking the ability to grok each other, even in business meetings. It’s the human condition. We’re put on this earth, really, to grok each other — our spouses and partners, our friends, our children, our parents, our teachers ….

A guy I work with, Tim, had a brilliant observation in a meeting the other day. “When we trust each other, we get beyond the why and get to the how.” He meant people are ready to roll up their sleeves once they grok each other. Good communication enabled that to happen with the team he’s on. Instead of asking whether their salesperson did a number of things, their engineers worked to fix the things she said were issues. They trusted them, the engineers, to do it. Everyone wanted to help. Teamwork Nirvana.

When you’re remote, you need that more grok-ing. I worked remote for a while. Most of team was in Atlanta, except for me and three other people. I heard about team lunches and them working late together. I worked late, too … but what I didn’t have is working late with them in the office. That experience isn’t unusual. My husband works remote now and he complains about one issue and one issue only: communication. In fact, that’s the number one issue businesses are facing: communication. It’s the lack there of and miscommunication that are the biggest problems.

Video communication is a great way for remote employees to grok each other. So is the phone. Face-to-face discussions. Email. IM. Forums. The list of communication is endless. More than anything, it’s about the mix of communication.

It’s the nuances that really drive those connections, from seeing a smile to hearing a sigh. They all drive to what we’re grok-ing about each other.

Putting it all together

Easy to use, fast, that makes people feel good and enables true understanding. That’s what ReadyTalk is doing and why we’re so busy. After all, it’s our job to help you flourish and be productive. And we care about that. Really and truly.