All posts by Andrea Hill

Andrea joined ReadyTalk in 2013 as a Product Strategist, and now heads up DART, our dedicated innovation team. She holds an MSc in Computer Science and an MBA in Strategy and Entrepreneurship. This left-handed Canadian has completed over 40 marathons and is an unapologetic introvert. INTJs, unite! You can find her on Twitter at @afhill or on LinkedIn.

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.

Are You Helping Your Employees Perform Their Best?

Here at ReadyTalk, we’re big fans of Jacob Morgan and his book (and philosophy) The Future of Work. Jacob identifies the changes we’re seeing unfold in the modern workplace, specifically related to how to get the most out of your employees by giving them the environment and tools with which they can best thrive.

So what are these future of work principles?

7_principles_of_the_future_employee1311

That is,

  1. Has a flexible work environment
  2. Can customize own work
  3. Shares information
  4. Uses new ways to communicate and collaborate
  5. Can become a leader
  6. Shifts from knowledge worker to learning worker
  7. Learns and teaches at will

Change and unified communication isn’t so scary; it’s happening now

Any change can be scary, but some of the trends are especially concerning for management and information technology (IT) professionals. These trends shift control to the employees, which can be a nightmare to manage. Until recently, we had our own little break in internal communication, where certain teams were using one messaging platform, and others were using something completely different. So before you could connect with someone, you had to stop to think about how you could reach them. Talk about technology getting in the way of communication!

There has to be a balance of personal preference and organizational efficiency. But I’m probably preaching to the choir, here.

Unified communications attempts to offset some of challenges of connecting and collaborating with your co-workers. When I want to call Dwight, I don’t have to worry about whether he’s in San Diego or Denver this week. I can just call his extension, and he can answer regardless of where he is.

Wait, a phone extension? This is the future of work? Yes, it is. See, the future isn’t so scary 🙂

Letting employees be accessible using a standard business phone number is a step in the right direction. I can get my calls (or my voicemails) without being in the physical office. Heck, some of my coworkers don’t even have a desk phone; their number rings on the softphone on their computers, and their mobile device.

Yes, mobile phones are a huge part of the future of work, too. Right now, people are using their personal mobile devices to get information about work anyway to be more productive and to have that flexibility. I can be at the doctor’s office waiting to be seen and still provide needed information. I don’t need to be tied to my office phone or computer. This has been huge for our team in terms of getting work done effectively and quickly. Some companies bring in meals so they can ensure their employees don’t wander off to eat at all hours of the day. Ah, the horror!

At ReadyTalk, go ahead and leave the office. And if a coworker needs your thoughts on something, he can just shoot you a quick IM or fire up a video call. Just because you’re not physically in the same spot doesn’t mean communication can’t take place.

Workers are more productive when they leave the office

A 2016 study by TINYPulse found that remote workers are not only happier, they also feel they’re significantly more productive than when they’re in the office. Imagine that: the important communication can still happen, but the distracting noise is cut out?

TINYPulse 2016 Study: What Leaders Need to Know About Remote Workers
From TINYPulse Report: What Leaders Need to Know About Remote Workers

 

So here’s the not-so secret truth: the Future of Work is already here. That’s especially true at ReadyTalk. Both in how we get things done, and in the tools we’re creating to help you work better, anywhere you wish.

Cloud Business Communications Saves Money at Your Office

A lot has been written about the increased agility, customer service and productivity benefits of using cloud-based business communications services. Cloud services enable many worker types, such as executives, knowledge workers, project managers and customer service staff can work productively anywhere. Unified communications and collaboration tools enable the dispersed workforce to regain the benefits of spontaneous “water cooler” conversations via messaging, voice and video.

That’s right, you don’t have to be in one office to work as if you’re a big company. Your sales team, customer service and creatives can all be dispersed — working from home, in other states or even other countries. That’s the beauty of unified communications.

Office SpaceHowever, there’s another tangible benefit to more agile, flexible working practice – and that’s the reduction of traditional office space required. More small business and midsized companies can benefit.

Office costs

With office space rental costing anywhere from $4,000 to $14,000 per year, per employee in major US cities, freeing workers from their cubicles can save organizations serious amounts of cash! (Source: Market Watch and TheSquareFoot, 2015 data)

Remote working, including working from home

One of the biggest perks small and medium-sized businesses have in recruiting is flexibility. Indeed lists three top reasons people join new companies — pay and flexibility are the top two. Some people even prefer flexibility of time and location to pay.

Some have even gone the extra mile, and become completely virtual enterprises, with no traditional bricks and mortar office premises. While this will probably remain the exception rather than the rule, there’s no doubt cloud communications and near-ubiquitous broadband is providing unprecedented freedom in where and how we choose to work and live our lives.

You’re in a virtual office?

What’s your favorite part about being dispersed and virtual?

9 Questions to Ask Before Upgrading Your Phone System

phone-systemsBuying the correct phone system can make a difference to the success of your business in the next 5-10 years. Choosing the right system could mean hiring less staff, winning more contracts, worrying less about disasters and yes, saving you money. Take the time to find answers to the 9 key questions outlined below before upgrading your new phone system.

Key questions

  1. Cost: Check what is included and not included in the minutes bundle. Are there any exit clauses in the service contract? Do you have to rent the phones for longer than the service contract? It can be a gotcha with some providers.
  2. Flexibility: Can you add or remove users during the service contract? Do you have to pay for devices or for users? This is important as you grow your business or as people are hired and leave your company.
  3. Disasters: Can the system divert calls to tablets or mobile phones when the access network is down? Are there restrictions in the features when people are remote? Disaster planning is crucial and one of the biggest advantages of having the right communications systems.
  4. Consistency: Are all the features available to remote workers or do some get removed? Is the quality the same – for example, some mobile systems only use a technology called VoIP when remote, which can hurt voice quality if the network is congested.
  5. Usability: Are the features the same on the phone, PC and mobile devices or are they different? Do you still have to rely on a telephone?
  6. Professionalism: Does the system support features such as auto attendant, music on hold, automatic call distribution, call queuing, so you never miss a call? Missing the wrong call can be disastrous.
  7. Productivity: Does the system have features like conferencing, room-based collaboration and instant messaging and presence? Integration of communication is how the working world gets things done these days and your phone system should be able to accommodate it.
  8. Mobility: Does the system support iOS and Android devices? Can it support all the productivity features above when mobile? The right phone system can handle when you’re on the go.
  9. Maintenance: Does the system have web-based user self-administration and allow you to control powerful features from a single web page? Does the service support diagnostics so the service provider can quickly identify any issues that you may run into? Enabling you to have control ensures your phone system is meeting your business needs.

Be sure to ask about the underlying technologies that the service providers have in place that allows them to innovate rapidly and drive the biggest impact for your business. The fanciest features or the lowest price won’t do you much good if the quality, reliability and security are not core components of the service provider’s platform upon which your service relies on.

Your business depends on the right solution and communication integration.

Calculating the Value of Innovation

Innovation is critical. But in a world of finite resources, how do you decide when to invest in a speculative project?

impact-effort matrix
The “Effort and Impact” matrix isn’t enough for some decision-makers. Some folks need to see numbers!

I was first introduced to the concept of Innovation Accounting by David Binetti at the Lean Startup Conference in 2014. In 2015, he introduced a means to calculate ROI and Risk of Pre-growth initiatives with his Innovation Options Framework.

This summer, Dan Behr from the Innovation team developed a version for our own portfolio management here at ReadyTalk. I asked Dan, a self-professed “excel hound”, what drew him to this project.

“I’m fascinated by the challenge of quantifying value and risk, especially when there is no historical data to base these estimates off of. This challenge is intriguing because it addresses a fundamental problem all businesses face: how do you make a good decision under uncertainty?” — Dan Behr, ReadyTalk

While I initially mentioned this approach to Dan as a way for us to compare our own initiatives within the innovation team, he quickly made a case for this to be used across our existing lines of business as well. This enabled us to compare projects that were already in flight with those our team was proposing for funding.


At ReadyTalk, we have two lines of business, and an innovation team charged with exploring alternatives: new products, new markets, new business models.

It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to come up with possibilities than to execute on them, so the Innovation Options framework helps us with decision-making. It lets the numbers tell the story, so we aren’t always biased towards what we know and ‘less-risky’ bets.

The framework helps project leaders make their initial request for investigatory funding.

  • What is the eventual market potential
  • What funding are you requesting now
  • What will you need if this investigation goes well
  • How long is the investigation period
  • How frequently will you provide update/check progress

This level of funding helps get things off the ground: it helps move things forward. As progress is made (positive, negative or inconclusive), the future value of the project is updated, so it is clear whether further investments should be made or not.
Dan cautioned me that his model has some flaws, but it’s a great starting point to help inform our decision-making and investment process.


As the summer draws to a close, we’re eager to kick off using Innovation options to help us weigh what we work on next.
As for Dan and his own take-aways from this project?

“I was most surprised by how big the problem [valuing a new idea] I was addressing truly is. Upon reflection, I should have known that there would be many answers to this question, all of which have strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately though, the depth and breadth of this question only makes it more interesting. That’s why I hope to continue looking into solutions to this problem.”

I’m pretty sure Dan was contemplating trinomial trees during this hike.
I’m pretty sure Dan was contemplating trinomial trees during this hike.