Jerry Roche

Monday, 25 June 2007 20:00

Creating pathways to success

Whether you’ve recognized it or not, colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio are at your service.

“We offer professional development programs, personal enrichment classes, technical associate degrees responsive to workers’ needs, a host of bachelor’s degrees and advanced professional degrees, specialized centers and institutes,” says Patricia A. Book, Ph.D., vice president for regional development for Kent State University. “We seek to find matches between business, industry, communities, colleges and universities.”

Because employers of all types are facing a fiercely competitive environment, they increasingly need a skilled work force, improved research and development, advanced technology and training.

Smart Business talked with Book about educational/training services available to businesses of all sizes in Northeast Ohio.

I’m a corporate CEO. What can you do for me?

Colleges and universities can work with your company on a host of issues related to organizational development. That could involve customized training for your employees in interpersonal communication skills, leadership development, key attributes of successful performance, or emotional intelligence.

We find that there is a lot of need in the soft skill areas, like working in teams, thinking critically and innovatively, basic supervision and leadership skills.

We can provide customized training for your employees as well as organizational assessments, including assessing employee competencies. We can help with succession planning — a huge issue in Northeast Ohio where we have an aging work force.

Also, if you have a fairly large research and development capability, we can connect your scientists with scientists at the university to do collaborative research, to solve problems, develop prototypes, and provide Lean/Six Sigma kinds of programs to improve profits.

There are lots of training providers available in the Northeast Ohio region. For instance, the Enterprise Ohio Network has access to state training funds. Some companies in a competitive or survival mode realize they need to invest in their talent development and their human capital, but they just don’t have the resources to do it. Lorain County Community College, Lakeland Community College, Tri-C and Kent State’s seven regional campuses all have our distinct areas of expertise and we all benefit from our involvement in the Enterprise Ohio Network.

Why has it taken so long for higher education to develop such ties with regional business and industry?

About 30 years ago, in some ways, public higher education institutions got away from their roots as engaged institutions with their communities. They became very focused on developing their research capabilities — and that was a good thing, because they made enormous contributions to the country.

But in the last 10 years or so, there’s been a real reawakening. A national conversation has developed about returning to our roots as public institutions and re-engaging in meaningful ways with our sponsoring public and stakeholders, who have seen higher education sometimes get out of touch with their needs.

An important element of this idea is not that we sit in our ivory towers and bestow our wisdom on the community, but that we seek mutually beneficial partnerships and relationships that are win-win.

We each have something special to bring to the table as we address problems and seek opportunities where we can work together. The university brings faculty, students, and scientists with certain capabilities in research and analysis, and investment. External partnerships also bring their unique capabilities to the table. So when we bring those together in partnerships that are mutually beneficial and respectful, we are achieving the engagement ideal. It’s not one-way outreach but a two-way reciprocal relationship.

This culture shift in higher education gets us back to the ideal of a public university as a resource to its community. We’re predominantly producers of talent — high-quality undergraduates and graduates — but in addition to that, we have a responsibility to engage more broadly in real, live, everyday problems our communities are facing so that we can make a difference.

What provoked this important cultural change at our state’s institutions of higher learning?

The decline in public support for higher education has been a wake-up call. Public policymakers began to invest state resources in other areas, making them less able to support higher education. The cost burden is falling increasingly on the student and family without a lot of hue and cry from the public. That’s why on a national scale public policymakers have lost sight of higher education as an investment in the future of the country — in a very flat world where competition is very fierce. Recent news from Columbus suggests Ohio plans to invest in higher education and this is very good news for the state.

PATRICIA A. BOOK, Ph.D., is vice president for regional development for Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or pbook1@kent.edu.

Saturday, 26 May 2007 20:00

Merely good ... or great?

The difference between good and great customer service can mean the difference between a good and a great company.

“Effective customer service means going the extra mile and creating a situation where you can see your customers as diamonds in the rough,” says Hugh Littleton, training coordinator at Corporate College. “If you don’t look at them closely, you’ll only see a small portion of their potential. But if you go the extra mile, you find out they are really gems.”

Smart Business asked Littleton how new customer service paradigms affect how companies are doing business in the 21st century.

Has emphasis on customer service increased, even as companies ship more such functions abroad?

It has definitely increased. Companies are now understanding that they have to be customer-focused in order to survive. In the past, we might have thought that the human touch didn’t impact the bottom line, but it really does.

Has the bar been raised higher? Are customer service practices that were acceptable then not acceptable now?

In business today, there are more positive customer service initiatives than ever before.

For instance, look at the banking industry. A customer comes in for one transaction. Today, bankers are being trained to look at the customer as having more needs than might be evident at first. It’s like only seeing 15 percent of an iceberg. That 15 percent might a business need. If you look beneath the surface, though, another 85 percent is related to personal needs. So to find out the other needs of that customer, he or she needs to be touched at the personal level.

What are the key elements of effective customer service?

Corporate culture, hiring and training will all affect how efficiently and effectively you service your customers.

The most important is corporate culture, which all starts from the top. The CEO sets the stage for how employees relate to both internal and external customers. He or she has a great responsibility for making sure employees respect and are accountable to each other, which helps foster the process of customer service. If you as CEO can focus on customer service internally, employees begin to take the initiative to do things more expeditiously when they interact with external customers.

You also have to hire people who want to serve others. There are some effective ways to do that. You need them to have the desire to understand customer service, but then you must provide with different skills that potentially become competencies, like effective communication and listening skills. Hearing is passive, but listening is a learned behavior that can develop to the point where an employee can become an excellent customer service manager just by listening.

To that end, we want to our employees to receive: to stop, to hear what the customer is saying, and to get on a two-way street to clarify and better understand the customer’s needs.

How does a CEO stay one step ahead of the competition in his company’s approach to customer service?

Traditionally, a company may have categorized its customers by certain demographics. Now, selling and customer service is personalized in a more nontraditional way. It’s been a paradigm shift.

Today, you have to make sure to ask each individual customer what he or she needs, rather than saying, ‘This is what you need.’ One solution doesn’t fit all anymore.

If CEOs can look at each customer individually, not collectively, they are staying one step ahead of their competition. That’s how you get repeat business.

How do customers judge the companies with which they do business?

They judge us on five key points: attention, speed, trustworthiness, accuracy and resourcefulness. To become a great company, you must meet or exceed their expectations in those five areas.

You will note that none of those five points has to do with technology. We work in a high-tech world. Technology is fine. It will always be with us. It’s a part of our future. But the human touch — the human voice — is what customers really want.

Any last thoughts?

When it comes to customer service, you have to do unto others as you would have them do unto you — only give them more than what you would want. Go beyond their expectations.

HUGH LITTLETON is training coordinator at Corporate College. Reach him at hugh.littleton@tri-c.edu or (216) 987-5926.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007 20:00

Different strokes

The term “situational leadership” has occupied a spot in the general business lexicon for almost 40 years.

 

Because it is a broad theory, its relevance to business managers is ever-changing.

“The theory is so ingrained now that people don’t necessarily call it situational leadership,” says Anne Hach, executive director for professional training at Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College. “It’s accepted as a management truism that good leadership does not come in one size. Different types of employees and different types of situations dictate different responses.

“The most important thing for managers to know is that the more they can understand their employees and the forces around their employees, the more productive they can make their employees.”

Smart Business spoke with Hach about how to put situational leadership theory into actual day-to-day practice.

What is the theory of situational leadership?

The theory is that people can be ranked into four different quadrants that measure their competency/skills and their level of commitment/dedication. The theory dictates that you should differently manage people who fall into each quadrant. Based on the theory, the four styles of management are directing, coaching, supporting and delegating.

Employee competency should determine how much direction you give them. Their commitment level should determine how much support you give them. For instance, if someone is highly committed but has a lower skill level, you would want to train and direct him, so his skill level matched his commitment level. If you had a highly skilled employee, you could just delegate a task without direction.

So in order to practice situational leadership, you have to know the person you’re dealing with and you have to know the complexity of the task at hand.

In all fairness, can’t a manager treat all of his or her employees the same way?

From a practical standpoint, it makes sense to have different ways of managing or leading because you can produce better outcomes in your day-to-day interactions with employees. If your employees are more productive, your company will be more profitable.

What are the fundamental differences that situational leadership takes into account?

There are three forces at play in any management/subordinate interaction: forces around the employee and his or her work style; forces around the manager and his or her management style; and forces around the task or the situation.

Forces around the employee can be age, culture, personality and skill set. The forces that you bring to the table as a manager are similar.

One of the common problems today is managing the generation mix. Different generations have entirely different thought processes and attitudes, not just different competency levels. While effectively managing the generation mix is intuitive — you can’t manage your grandmother the same way you manage your child — the difficulty is knowing how to react to their differences. That’s where the learned — situational — approach comes in.

Is the situational leadership theory documented by research?

According to research from the Gallup Group, there are 12 major management issues that include: letting employees know what is expected of them, giving them the materials and equipment to do their job right, giving them recognition, making their jobs seem important and listening to their opinions.

It would certainly seem that the business of being a good manager is fairly intuitive. The trick is to practice the skills enough so that, in stressful situations, you make the right decision. You have to know which arrow to pull out of the quiver and when to pull it out — and then you have to be steady enough to hit the bullseye.

Where can managers find out more about situational leadership?

You can take college-level programs or register at business schools like Corporate College, which offer courses like ‘Managing the Generation Mix,’ ‘Managing Priorities’ and other issues surrounding situational leadership. Leadership conferences are valuable, too.

Blanchard’s book ‘Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership’ is available through www.amazon.com, as is the article ‘Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II’ and ‘12: The Elements of Great Managing’ by Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter, Ph.D.

ANNE HACH is the executive director for professional training at Tri-C’s Corporate College. Reach her at (216) 987-2962 or anne.hach@tri-c.edu.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006 06:37

Learning from others

Successful selling is more than a one- or two-way street. It’s a dizzying network of connected interstate highways that will take you wherever you want — provided you’ve built the right roadways.

“If you can work a complete, vertical sales model, your organization will be better,” says Brett Hunsaker, senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis. “In the past five years alone, the Internet has created some mind-boggling lessons on how to sell. New opportunities present themselves every day.”

Not only that, but the best new sales ideas present themselves at your very own doorstep on a regular basis. How? In the person of the vendor or supplier who wants your company’s business.

The key, Hunsaker says, is to think sales, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to learn from others. Smart Business asked him to elaborate.

How might corporate officers and directors improve their approach to sales?
Most CEOs and CFOs that I know are pretty smart. They buy into sales. They have to, because the company’s No. 1 purpose is to sell. Yet some C-level people resist entertaining sales calls like they’re the plague. They continually use the word ‘no’ or have a gatekeeper to keep sales people away. Instead of perceiving the sales person as someone they can learn from, they perceive the sales person as a lower-level person.

Donald Trump is a C-level person who sells all the time. No CEO will open the door eight hours a day for sales people, but they can create mechanisms and programs to see what people are selling to their company and how those people are selling. The smart CEO can use that foundation to overlay a system-wide modification for increasing sales.

Is networking through your vendors/suppliers a viable way to expand business?
Vendors/suppliers selling to your firm can be used by evaluating what techniques they’re using to sell or market their firms. They may also have key contacts that can help you network for new business.

All your sales people need to expand their networking relationships. The more contacts they have, the more new targets they will have. They can add to their list by:

  • Knowing what the competition is doing

 

  • Meeting more decision makers

 

  • Creating an individual matrix of contacts

 

  • Expanding direct branding with buzz via your vendors/suppliers

How can you take full advantage of the expertise of your vendors/suppliers without seeming like you’re taking advantage of them?
Observe their best practices: best presentations, best proposals, best marketing tools. And don’t worry that they might think you’re taking advantage of them, because you’re not. If you’re buying from them, then you’re not taking advantage of them.

Learn from them. Take their calls and don’t avoid them. Listen and learn from what they do, and give them credit for good efforts. Then reward good vendors/suppliers with some business.

Give me an example of this concept working to the advantage of both a company and its client/customer.

Have good vendors/suppliers come into your office and host a ‘lunch-and-learn’ for your sales force. We have done this with several vendors/suppliers, and in turn have shown them what we do and how to sell in the commercial real estate sector.

For clients that do not have a big sales force (like law firms), we present key sales skills to their partners and associates. We are happy to meet with and give them our expertise in relationship building, branding, marketing and direct sales — with real-life examples of what to do. Our goal is to have them make more money so they will grow and need more office space. Then we will be in the driver’s seat for that opportunity.

Does that philosophy of learning from your clients filter through an organization?
Yes. It can start at the top and infiltrate all the way down to the guy sweeping the floors. And — by the way — the uncle of the guy sweeping the floors might be a potential client. So don’t leave anyone out of the loop.

Whether it’s pencils or multimillion-dollar office buildings, it’s the same principle: whatever works best is best. You just have to adapt it to your industry. And networking makes it all work.

Are there any scenarios where you would not want to try this approach?
No. Never. Every firm sells and wants to know how to sell better. So if they listen to the best, it will be a win-win situation for both companies.

BRETT HUNSAKER is senior managing director at CB Richard Ellis. Reach him at (404) 923-1350 or brett.hunsaker@cbre.com.

Monday, 31 July 2006 07:55

How to choose an IT partner

Companies that are still using two networks to handle voice and data transmissions face the possibility of falling behind their competitors and eventually falling by the wayside, according to Pat Scheckel, vice president of Berbee Information Networks’ Cisco Practice.

“There are two big reasons to converge your networks,” says Scheckel. “One is to take advantage of new applications, and the other is return on investment.”

Experience in network conversions is only one of the qualities that your IT partner should possess. Smart Business talked with Scheckel about the ability to converge voice and data networks and other factors that go into choosing an IT partner.

What hot-button products and services do today’s customers inquire about?
A good IT provider will deal with a company’s entire network infrastructure: IP communications, IP contact center solutions, security, wireless, IP storage, networking and support. Within that infrastructure, converging voice and data networks is a hot-button item.

If you are setting up a new remote site, it will just need a single device to run both data and voice communications. It’s cheaper from a maintenance and support perspective. That’s where return on investment (ROI) comes in.

Besides ROI, what are the other advantages to integrated IP communications?
Say someone calls into a bank branch, and the employee is not available. With IP telephony, instead of dumping the caller into voicemail right away, that call can be rerouted wherever you want. You can have the call sent to a live person at another location or you can have the call ‘follow’ your employee to his or her cell phone, or home phone, or wherever. And the routing is completely transparent to the caller.

If the call ends up actually being delivered to voicemail, the message is available as traditional voicemail, or your employee can pick it up through e-mail as an attachment, or listen to it through a mobile phone or laptop computer, or even forward it to a coworker.

How big an issue is IT security when choosing a provider?
There have been some advances in the way security incidents — invasion of a system by a virus or worm — are correlated and managed. In the past it used to take a lot of forensic work to figure out what happened and to then mitigate the damage.

Today software talks to networks, servers and PCs and correlates all the events. It immediately lets your IT staff know what’s happening, and recommends changes that can prevent the attack from proliferating.

The idea of security integrated into fabric of network is one that businesses are taking advantage of. Why? Networks are so important — with all the business applications running on them - that downtime can cost a company a ton of money.

What are some other advantages being offered in the IT realm today?
If an operational support service is in place when issues arise, the IT provider can take control of the system via VPN, resolve the issue and provide the client with full documentation. Because the tools and processes have evolved substantially over the past five years, remote expert support is a big differentiator. You have to be of a certain size for it to work, so it’s the upper echelon of IT providers that have legitimate offerings.

However, one of the things we find is important is having local sales and engineering expertise. Technicians in vans are yesterday’s support paradigm, because the better IT providers have the people, process and tools to resolve issues more quickly from their headquarters than they could by rolling trucks.

When a company changes its IT provider — and thus its entire IT system — is downtime a factor?
Implementation downtime is minimized through very robust project management and change management. That means getting the system up and running, largely in parallel, then picking a maintenance window (usually Sunday morning), and typically performing a flash-cut — cutting everything at once — if the system is not too large. Of course, the system has to be fully tested before the cutover, and the cutover itself has to be as transparent to end-users as possible.

When selecting an IT provider, what should companies beware of?
Make sure that what you need is among their core competencies. Some providers, for instance, can try to be all things to all people. They might not have the competency, but they take the project on anyway. That ends up biting you in the long run, because the IT provider has not invested the time and expertise to get deep into the needed skills for your particular job. Beware of IT companies whose technicians are spread too thin.

PAT SCHECKEL is vice president of Berbee Information Networks’ Cisco Practice. Reach him at pat.scheckel@berbee.com.

Saturday, 29 July 2006 20:00

State of the art

From databases and call management software to workstations and headsets, call center technology should be able to meet any and every one of your needs. Some providers even make available such “back-end” services as fulfilling orders, adjusting accounts and completing transactions initiated via fax or e-mail.

“The flexibility to customize solutions is the key to it all,” says Michael Van Scyoc, senior vice president of IT client services for InfoCision. “One size does not fit all. But that doesn’t mean you have to start at ground zero to create a custom solution that’s cost effective and timely.”

Smart Business talked to Van Scyoc about current technology and how it can positively affect customers and the bottom line at the same time.

What state-of-the-art technology is available to call center customers today?
Integrated Voice Response (IVR) can fully address caller needs and leave them feeling great about the call. It gives callers simple, efficient options for accessing information and doesn’t require a communicator or operator. Its chief advantages are giving callers 24/7 access to your products and services and providing an efficient, economical solution for fielding frequently asked questions.

Remote call monitoring allows analysts, managers and clients to monitor a program’s calls from any location. This gives them the opportunity to hear communicators in action and evaluate their performance while listening to the script and making any adjustments they feel are necessary.

Digital Audio Recording Technology (DART) allows you to digitally record every call in its entirety. This service is available at any time in a variety of formats or a proprietary format that ensures privacy.

Automated voice messaging allows you to speak to your customers and donors easily and cost-effectively. It’s quick, inexpensive and a great way to generate inbound call volume and improve direct mail response. The benefits of automated voice messaging include more contacts in less time, increased consistency in your message and higher inbound call volume.

Lastly, some call centers can build and host Web sites with features such as dynamic content, credit card processing and electronic shopping carts.

What technologies have the most positive impact on a call center experience for customers?
The right customer relationship management (CRM) solution is very important. Some possible features of CRM solutions include comprehensive customer profiles, screen pops and script on screen. Your CRM or call center information system must provide your communicators with the right information to handle your customers’ needs efficiently.

Just because a CRM solution is rich in features and provides unlimited access to information doesn’t mean it’s going to have a positive impact on your customers’ experience. If your communicators have to navigate through too much unnecessary information while trying to help your customers, the experience won’t be positive for either of them. If it’s not a positive experience for your call center staff, it probably won’t be for your customers either.

Also, make sure the CRM solution complements your existing business processes. Your business shouldn’t have to revolve around the CRM <m> it needs to be able to adapt and revolve around your business.

A company with advanced technology should be able to custom-build a CRM solution for your program or seamlessly integrate your existing applications into its call center technology.

From the standpoint of running an efficient, high-quality call center, what technologies impact the most?
A call blending solution improves efficiency and contributes to higher customer satisfaction. With an automated blending solution, if communicators are handling outbound calls and they get an influx of inbound calls, they are automatically diverted to handle those inbound calls that have a higher priority. This maximizes utilization of communicators and reduces or eliminates the time your customers have to wait on hold.

A comprehensive quality assurance program drives a high-quality call center. A good program is going to require supporting technology like remote call monitoring, digital audio recording and quality scoring software. Without state-of-the-art technology, any quality assurance program is going to be limited.

How does state-of-the-art technology translate to a higher return on investment?
It makes the entire call process more efficient. If you provide the right information at the right time to your call center staff, your customers’ needs are going to be satisfied with less time on the phone.

Usually companies are well aware of the cost of their call center operations per minute or per hour. They are often looking at ways to reduce these costs, but fail to look for ways to reduce the talk time.

Also, investing in a flexible call center technology platform will also pay off in the long run by reducing the cost to modify call center applications when the business needs change.

MICHAEL VAN SCYOC is senior vice president of IT client services for InfoCision. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or mikev@infocision.com.

Thursday, 29 June 2006 12:04

Enterprise risk management

With the federal government placing corporate fraud squarely in its legislative crosshairs over the past few years, a new term has emerged in the accounting community: enterprise risk management (ERM).

“Enterprise risk management is an overall umbrella term,” says Ken Haffey, the partner in charge of Management Advisory Services at Skoda, Minotti & Co. “ERM goes into the areas of internal control reviews, quality assurance reviews and SAS 70 audits, just to name a few.”

ERM, Haffey notes, is relevant for companies in all industries and of all sizes. During an ERM review, a company’s areas of greatest material risk are targeted, and the focus is on maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs, both immediately and over time.

“The accounting firm, using professionals from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, sets up a system to provide reliable financial statement data and to enhance communication between the company’s functional areas,” says Haffey.

Smart Business talked to him about how ERM audits can help companies large and small.

Why have enterprise risk management programs become so popular so fast?
The federal government’s Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) of 2002 has created all sorts of additional different attestation and reporting requirements. One of the reasons is that the customers of major corporations are demanding SOX compliance. Customers are saying, ‘We want a piece of paper that says you’re processing our information correctly.’

So businesses that had been resisting certain levels of risk management are finding that the world is changing.

Plus, a company’s position is strengthened when they’re selling their business. They can separate themselves from their competitors who may not be SOX compliant.

Because of those recent changes in law and philosophy, selling ERM services is not as tough as before.

What are the different types of ERM services?
First, SOX consulting. Accounting systems and procedures are reviewed and, if they are not SOX-compliant, they are made SOX-compliant.

An SAS 70 audit engagement is a risk assessment opinion from an independent service auditor, and it assures that a company is not eliminating or double-processing some accounting functions.

Also included in ERM are quality assurance reviews, which are more targeted to a specific functional or operational area than SAS 70 audits.

Finally, supplementary services and systems are examined, including processes and procedures that include better and stronger internal control policies.

When is an ERM review most needed?
Many organizations, in early stages of their life cycle, work and focus completely on revenue generation — as they should. They never really establish a proper accounting and finance culture. Rather, accounting and finance are done on the cheap, because the company needs to pay salaries first.

By virtue of working through an ERM project, we can help companies identify areas where the right people should be put in place to perform the proper functions to make sure the right things happen.

Also, if a company is preparing itself to be acquired by a larger company that’s under SOX rules, they’re much better off to upgrade their systems and become SOX compliant. We’ve seen larger organizations back out of purchasing certain smaller organizations that are not close to being SOX compliant.

Is an ERM review costly?
I haven’t met one person who says anything other than, ‘Yes, but it was worth it because we shored up things that we knew we needed to shore up.’

Some say, ‘Yes, it’s a pain and yes, it’s costly, but it’s been beneficial.’

One of our clients did a cost/benefit analysis on the SOX project that we completed for them, and they were able to identify multiple instances where they had been missing revenue opportunities with some of their customers. Management was able to justify to the audit committee the cost of the SOX review. The client spent hundred of thousands of dollars, but it was all worthwhile, and it strengthened the organization.

As a business owner, you might be tempted to think that the accounting firm is reaching into your pocket one more time for one of these types of projects, but as an accounting professional, I would recommend it.

What are other benefits of an ERM review?
It creates peace of mind at the highest levels of management — who now are required by law to sign off on the financial statements, making them personally responsible — and for corporate audit committees. After an ERM, upper levels of management certainly have a comfort level that they didn’t have before.

KEN HAFFEY is the partner in charge of Management Advisory Services at Skoda, Minotti & Co. Reach him at mailto:khaffey@skodaminotti.com or (440) 449-6800.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006 07:04

It&#x2019;s a big country

Employers take note: Successfully recruiting top executives from outside your area takes more than the promise of a plush office and an impressive job title. Thirty-one percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) say the quality of life in a new city would most influence their decision to relocate for a job; 27 percent cite compensation as the foremost consideration.

This, according to a survey for Robert Half International Inc. that includes responses from more than 1,400 CFOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

“Taking a job in a new town is not just a career decision,” says Max Messmer, chairman and CEO of Robert Half. “It is a lifestyle choice. Companies that highlight the qualities that distinguish their city — such as a reputation for safety, highly regarded school system or cultural events — increase their chances of attracting top professionals.”

Smart Business talked to Don Forrest, vice president of Robert Half International’s Chicago Region, about subjective factors that can be read into the objective survey results.

What were the key findings of the survey, and what do these results mean to employers?There are multiple components that are factored into the decision to take another executive position. Most executives aren’t as concerned with how far away the new location would be, but family considerations — things like education, health, etc. — are high. The candidate has to decide if the new position offsets those things.

‘Family considerations’ ranked low (1 percent) in the survey. Why the discrepancy?
“Quality of life’ ranked high. Employers need to find out what that phrase means to the individual candidates they’ve identified. Quality of life can consist of different things for different people. It’s important for employers to understand what the candidate values most.

Despite the fact that ‘family considerations’ ranked low, people are indeed looking out for their families as well. By assessing the quality of life in the new city and if the compensation offered meets their needs, professionals can determine whether their families will thrive in the new environment.

What should professionals consider when deciding whether to relocate for a new job?
When an executive takes a job in a new city, he or she is also taking on a new lifestyle. The executive has to consider how well that lifestyle matches not only his or her current lifestyle, but also where their career is going if it continues on its present course.

Professionals must look at the big picture rather than one element of a possible job change that excites them. If they get too focused on one element, they may overlook other very important factors. Sometimes overlooked are responsibilities of the job, expectations of the CEO or Board of Directors, the chance to undertake the right kind of projects that enhance their career, and further growth opportunities.

Executives contemplating a move must also examine existing company culture. Is the new company in question looking for the executive to adapt to that culture or change the culture?

Do you have any negotiation tips for executives relocating for a new position?
Professionals need to ensure the move won’t compromise their quality of life. They need to consider whether they’ll be able to afford the same things in the new city as they can afford currently. Lay out your own hierarchy of what’s important. You’ve got to be willing to compromise, which is tough at the highest level, but essential.

Research the compensation trends in the new city. Review resources such as professional association reports and compensation surveys, along with local job postings, to determine what you can expect to be offered. Also check with your contacts in the new city about the salary and benefits trends they’re seeing.

What elements are typically included in a relocation package?
Moving costs, temporary housing, assistance in selling the employee’s existing home, traveling or lodging costs while in the process of moving, outplacement assistance for the spouse or significant other, extra time off to visit family, expenses for trips back home to see family and friends. That’s all in addition to the obvious compensation, benefits and perks.

What’s the deal-maker?
Regardless of management level, employers need to find out what candidates value most in a relocation package.

Incidentally, it’s important to paint an accurate picture of the job, company and quality of life in the new city. Hiring managers should be completely honest about the negatives, as well as the positives, to provide prospects with a full picture of their potential new job and home. Not only will this eliminate any surprises after a move, but candidates will appreciate the candor and feel more loyal to the company as a result.

In the end, candidates at this level won’t be strong-armed.

DON FORREST is vice president of the Chicago Region of Robert Half International. Reach him at (312) 616-8200.

Thursday, 30 March 2006 10:20

Customer service metrics

British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

InfoCision’s Steve Boyazis respectfully disagrees. Boyazis believes that you can glean plenty of good customer-care information from statistics — providing you know what you’re looking for, and providing you can get apples-to-apples statistics.

“But you have to dig deeper into the numbers,” Boyazis says. “Just looking at whatever numbers your call center provides doesn’t lead to satisfied customers.”

Boyazis is senior vice president for business development at InfoCision, which provides teleservices to corporate America. In an exclusive interview with Smart Business, here’s more of what he said.

What are the most important statistics when judging the effectiveness of call center operations?
The two or three basics that people think of when they think of customer care in call centers are: (1) How fast is my call answered? (2) How long are people on hold? and (3) How many callers abandon the call before being serviced?

For instance, are 80 percent of your calls answered in 20 seconds or less? Are less than 5 percent of your calls abandoned? The longer people are on hold, the more likely they are to hang up. If they call to order something and they’re put on hold, they get frustrated or change their minds. If they call to complain, they just simmer and get angrier.

Of course, it depends on the business or industry you’re talking about, but generally 20 to 30 seconds is acceptable as a wait time. When you start getting up near five minutes, that’s when people start getting frustrated.

What are some of the nuances behind those numbers?
You have to find out what’s driving the numbers, and you also have to determine what each customer is worth.

For instance, we recently ran a test with a client interested in ‘save’ calls. Those are callers who are calling to downgrade or stop a service. The company felt its current vendor was doing a pretty good job. It had a 3 percent abandonment rate, a wait time of 2.5 minutes, and it dispositioned 37 percent of the calls as ‘savable.’

We were able to improve the wait time to 20 seconds, which led to the abandon rate decreasing to 1 percent. And — because our agents better understood the customers, their needs, and what levers we could pull on behalf of the service provider to ensure customer satisfaction — we identified almost 43 percent of the calls as savable.

What does that mean? That’s where the ‘nuances’ come in.

Let’s say the opportunity is 100,000 phone calls. With 2 percent fewer abandons, that means you have 2,000 more opportunities to talk to customers. With 6 percent more dispositioned ‘savables,’ that means 6,000 additional opportunities. If both companies saved 1/3 of their potentials, we’d save 2,600 more clients than the competitor, which simply defines their key customer service metrics by wait times and abandons.

But it even goes a little deeper. To really decide how aggressively you want to save customers, you need to understand their lifetime value and build an ROI (return on investment). For instance, if the value of the customer is $500 and you just paid $30 for a customer acquisition, that’s a fantastic return. If the value of that same customer is just $20, then the effort isn’t worth it.

Are those kinds of numbers fairly typical?
The customer service numbers are industry standard. But you really have to start by understanding them at the front end: why the customers are calling, what they need, what you can do to fix them. And you’ve got to identify as many of those people as humanly possible that are savable. Then, by applying the lifetime value of that customer, it’s easy to put together an ROI on every customer who’s a candidate.

What about customer service minimums?
There are several ways to handle calls. One is scripted with few options, for frequent, well documented programs. Another is the more complex relationship-building call, where you have to understand the customer and what he or she needs to be saved and what’s going to work for that particular customer.

What are other factors determining level of service?
Volume is one. Different call centers are set up to handle different volumes. In order to be able to train people to a certain level, you have to have enough critical mass.

Another is language. Customer care provided by folks with different language skill sets has an affect on the ROI. If you go offshore, the cost is much lower; if you choose a domestic provider, you get a better customer experience with agents who speak the same language as the caller.

STEVE BOYAZIS is senior vice president for business development for InfoCision, Inc. Reach him at (330) 668-1400 or steve.boyazis@infocision.com.

Thursday, 30 March 2006 10:08

Long-term estate planning

With a lifetime gift to a generation-skipping transfer tax trust, you can eliminate estate taxes on up to $1 million of assets in your child’s estate, according to Sherry Maynard, financial consultant, vice president and Chartered Wealth Advisor at Hilliard Lyons in Dublin.

“High net-worth clients are most likely to take advantage of this kind of trust,” says Maynard.

If you’re a grandparent and are wealthy enough to consider providing for both your children and grandchildren, if your children have accumulated wealth on their own, or if you have a family business you want to keep in the family, you should consider a generation-skipping transfer tax trust. This kind of specialized trust assures those assets are preserved for your grandchildren and future descendants, thereby creating a legacy for future generations.

Smart Business spoke to Maynard at length.

What are the key questions to ask yourself, if you’re considering a generation-skipping transfer tax trust?
One: Do you want your assets to grow and pass through the generations without incurring a federal estate tax in every generation?

Two: Do you want to protect those assets? The trust provides protection because the assets are not owned by the beneficiary but by the trust; and with a properly worded trust the assets cannot be reached in legal proceedings like divorce, lawsuits or creditors’ actions.

By law, how much are you allowed to transfer?
Each individual is allowed to make lifetime gifts up to $1 million without paying gift taxes — a total of $2 million for you and your spouse. Once the gift is made, the asset is no longer part of the grantors’ estate subject to estate taxes.

Cash and other assets like stocks, bonds and real estate — and their cash value — can grow through the years. If they’re in a generation-skipping trust, they pass from generation to generation. Although generation-skipping transfer tax trusts eliminate estate tax for the next generation, your children can only enjoy income and dividends from the assets. However, your grandchildren can actually enjoy more of the benefits. The trust can pay for education, travel, medical and health care expenses, housing and more.

How can the trust be written up?
You, as the grantor, can establish who will be the administrator or trustee of the trust: a banker, a brokerage firm, a financial institution, an estate manager, or even a member of the family or any combination could be appointed.

The trust itself might provide for distributions to your children, or it might exclude the children.

It might be set up to provide that all assets are distributed to your grandchildren as they reach certain ages, or it might continue to benefit more remote descendants.

You can set up provision where the beneficiary could become a co-trustee or administrator upon reaching a minimum age set by the trust, to help oversee the trust and have fiduciary responsibility.

By law, some states allow for the trust to exist in perpetuity while some allow 90 years.

What are some of the drawbacks?
The trust is irrevocable, and the beneficiaries will not enjoy outright ownership of assets. For instance, funds can be used to purchase a home, but the home must be held in the name of the trust.

[Also], if an asset is ever taken out of the trust, then it may be a taxable event for the trust and/or the recipient.

Who will write such a trust?
You would definitely need a competent estate-planning attorney who understands the complex Internal Revenue Code. The trust needs to be a part of a larger plan that would include wills, living trusts, power of attorneys and perhaps other types of trusts.

SHERRY MAYNARD is financial adviser, vice president and Charter Wealth Adviser at Hilliard Lyons in Dublin. Reach her at (614) 210-6284 or smaynard@hilliard.com.