stevemedcroft.com
26Aug/170

Succubus: a supernatural suspense thriller

Succubus: a supernatural suspense thriller

Logan Baker was just doing a favor for a dying relative, but when he enters a mysterious, fenced-off desert compound, he falls under the spell of an alluring but frightening entity calling itself Constance. Sick from her influence, his relative now missing, and with someone trying to burn his entire life to the ground, Logan's favor puts him in the fight of his life.

Available now:

Amazon Kindle

14Oct/180

Dear Twitter (a break-up letter)

I’m sorry, but I can’t see you anymore. It isn’t working between us. I need some space. And by space, I mean, I’m leaving. And I am not coming back.

I know this probably comes as a shock and I’m sorry to be so blunt about it, but I want you to understand that this is about me, not about you. I’ve reached a point in my life where I have to make some changes. Changes for my health, for my well-being, for my sanity even. I want to be happy, and I’m not happy when I’m with you. And honestly, I can’t believe you’re happy with me either. As much as it pains me to let go of a years-long relationship, I need a clean break.

Please don’t cry. We’ve had a good run haven’t we? It’s important for you to know that I see much of the time we spent together as positive. In fact, when we first met and everything was still so new and fresh, you opened me up to a world I hadn’t been part of up until then. At first, we had the same friends, then you introduced me to a whole world of new people. I was drawn to the stories and the people that you knew and could get me access to. I met all kinds of other writers and artists and people I admired. You let me see practically inside their heads and they thought about their work, their place in the world, and shared their successes. I even got to commiserate alongside them for their losses and missteps.

To be part of your life while you became famous was really special to me. I got to watch you grow, to ride along as you empowered people to literally change the worlds. You grew so powerful that you helped people literally overthrow their oppressive governments, settled debates among titans, gave voice to the creative and the suffering. I fed off your power. I felt connected. I felt like because of my relationship with you, I had a bigger voice than I’d ever had before.

The truth is, as strong and powerful my love for you was, I was always reserved in our relationship. I allowed myself to be pulled by you. When we’d spend time together, I always let you choose what we saw and how we spent our time. You set the agenda. I was passive about it. Which is fine. I know this was my choice. But looking back, maybe that was a sign this relationship couldn’t last. I gave you too much power over my mental well being. I didn’t contribute, I just consumed. Which made me feel weak and controlled. And I began to resent myself for it.

The wings of darkness are flapping over us

Then things turned. I know this is tough to hear, but it’s as if dark forces took you over. The Twitter I loved started to get moody and irritable. It wasn’t long before politics, fear, negativity, and hate replaced that beautiful window into the worlds of my creative and positive friends. All everyone wanted to do with you was fret and wring their hands about the world. Even though I still wanted to see you every day, I would leave our time together feeling bad about myself and a bit more scared for the future.

Your success, in the form of attention and growth in numbers, seemed like it was a drug to you. Even if you knew (I believe in your heart of hearts, you knew) that it was bad for you, you kept taking it. You acted like that attention was all that mattered. You didn’t seem to care that it was corrosive and negative and harmful to the great collective human soul. Attention was attention.

You are feeding on darkness. You have become infected with desperateness and mean-spiritedness. I catch a little more of it every time I am around you. By being with you, I am allowing darkness to grow inside me. Which means, I am then feeding your need. It is a nasty cycle and I hate myself sometimes for both what being with you is doing to me, but also by what this co-dependent relationship does to you.

Worst of all, you have started to take sides in some of the debate that you are enabling. You had never done that before. And I find myself almost constantly on the side you chose against.

So, for both our sake, I have to let you go. I’m making a clean break. I don’t trust myself to just take some time off or put us through a trial separation. It’s over. I’m leaving. I’m deactivating my account.

I know that this will have no real impact on you, I’m not naive. I was always just a teeny-tiny blip in your journey. You meant way much more to me than I ever meant to you. But I didn’t want to leave without you knowing why. I still love you enough for that.

I hope you understand my choice. And I hope that somewhere, maybe deep inside you, you know that I’m actually doing the right thing and you can be happy for me.

Anyway. Thank you. I love you. But goodbye.

Steve Medcroft

PS: The steps to deactivating a Twitter account are:

  1. Login to Twitter in a browser on your PC.
  2. Click on your profile image to open Profile and Settings.
  3. Select Settings and Privacy.
  4. To save your history, click on Request Your Archive. You will receive an email link that allows you download the history of your activity on Twitter.
  5. Click Deactivate Account. You will be taken to a confirmation window that notified you your username is reserved for 30 days

After deactivation, some of your activity may be available in search engines, internet archives, and the feeds of other people. You will receive a confirmation when the deactivation is complete. Then you’re free.

11Oct/180

The leap from PBX ACD to CCaaS?

A long time ago, I wrote a book called Call Centers Made Easy. It was an attempt to help small businesses realize that they had a call-center inside their company, in the form of their sales team, their service department, IT department, or Human Resources. The book taught that modern PBX phone systems could give them access to the tools large call centers used to manage interactions between customers and staff more efficiently. The book is outdated but the premise is still valid.

Last week, I met with a client with an HR staff of fifty servicing a national workforce using basic PBX ACD functionality and reporting. The goal was to help find ways modern contact-center systems could improve their staff's workflow and, more importantly, help them serve their customers (the company's employees) more efficiently.

The meeting challenged us to lay out clear gains for the business to move from a PBX technology frozen at it's latest release to a provider delivering under the CCaaS model.

So what are the gains? Do we just rattle off a checklist of features that our CCaaS provider partners offer? Or can we frame the discussion in terms that help a business realize their mission-oriented goals of improving department efficiency, enable them to give better client service, and provide them the kind of analytics that help them make smarter decisions is service of the mission?

Here's the case we made. What do you think? What did we miss? What are the other wins for a customer in this same position? And if you are customer with the same challenge, can City Communications help you solve it?

The potential gains for a business moving from PBX-based call-center technology to CCaaS:

  • Improved efficiency for the staff. Today's contact-center systems offer new call-routing and agent-grouping methodologies. You'll be able to design workflows to help your team manage more interactions with finer analytics. You can add the ability for your agents to handle department-bound email, chat sessions, text messages and other digital interactions. Which will improve your staff's work experience and your ability to establish policies and processes for how you're handling contact with your clients.
  • A better experience for your customers. The goal with any new system is to find ways to reduce friction for your clients and help you to meet clients where they live (increasingly on mobile devices). Allowing you to offer text messaging, mobile-app integration, and chat capability means clients get better access to your department. Interactive Voice Response and integration to your back-office systems could allow you to open up self-help options so employees can get questions answered outside normal hours and offload some calls and messages. Automatic callback and other outbound-calling services allow clients to connect with you at the best times for them (and help you manage busy times more efficiently).
  • Analytics that improve service. By integrating all contact types into one system, you'll be able to improve (and demonstrate the improvement of) service levels. You'll get granular, cradle-to-grave data on how well you're servicing your clients (how often they call, email, chat or text with you). If we can integrate to your current CRM, the systems should be able to share information (contact records and notes posted to the CRM, the analytics being able to reference ticket information to contacts).
  • Future-proof investment. Cloud-based systems are services you subscribe to, not products that you buy. Your expense is limited to the subscription cost. No capital outlay. No annual maintenance. No upgrade or expansion charges every year or two. Every company we partner with that provides this kind of service maintains you at their latest release and offers new features as they come online as part of the service.

Originally posted on LinkedIn in October, 2017

10Oct/180

Beryl Burton – Britain’s first worlds double winner

One of the great joys I have in copywriting assignments is when I'm asked to contribute copy to be printed on a fabric label that will adorn a very special cycling jersey. Santini makes jerseys that celebrate famous world championship wins (and special world championship winners). The labels come with a demanding word limit (350 words) and challenge me to write the story of an event famous to people who know the history of the sport (or the people involved). I *must* get them right. That's a challenge I enjoy. Being proud of the final copy is a great reward. What follows is the most recent example. 

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Beryl Burton - Britain’s first worlds double winner

When Beryl Burton, OBE, first took up cycling, riding with her husband Charlie and the Morley Cycling Club in Yorkshire, she had to be helped along. By her second year, she was a contributing member on group rides. In her third year, she started racing and went on to dominate the UK time-trial scene for most of the rest of her amazing, but sadly short, lifetime.

Burton earned the respect of global cycling fans and journalists with her world championships win in Leipzig in 1960. Against aggressive Soviet competition, racing behind the intimidating Iron Curtain, Burton led the pack for the first half of the race. She broke away with Elsy Jacobs of Luxembourg. Jacobs couldn’t hold the Briton’s pace, so Burton spent the final 35 kilometers off the front. She crossed the finish line with a three-minute margin over a chasing pack of thirteen riders.

The accomplishment is especially remarkable because Burton won the individual track pursuit world championships earlier that week, delivering the most-elusive prize in cycling; a same-year track/road worlds double championship.

Although she chose to remain an amateur, Burton is one of the most decorated cyclists in history. Domestically, she was virtually unbeatable. Burton won the Road Time Trials Council’s British Best All-Rounder Competition for 25 consecutive years (1959 to 1983). She earned 72 national individual time trial titles at multiple distances and set records that stood for decades. She also won 24 national titles in road and track racing. Internationally, she won five pursuit world championships on the track (1959, 1960, 1962, 1963 and 1966) and road worlds a second time in 1967.

Burton was recognized for her achievements in sport with appointment as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1964 and an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1968. She died in 1996.

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8Oct/180

The Telecom Industry’s Newest Buzzword

Rather than walking into a prospect’s business thinking about what products you’re there to sell, put yourself in their executive’s shoes. You’ll have a much more powerful conversation if you’re asking how you can help them with their customer-experience challenges.

Selling to the Customer Experience?

I am at a conference called Channel Connect. The two days involve sitting in multiple educational sessions and panels, including an opening talk on the state of the industry and the state of the company who puts on the event. A theme that has come up repeatedly so far is the concept of Customer Experience (CX). Specifically, how to recognize that your prospects are talking about customer experience so you can insert yourself (and your solutions) into the discussion.

The term Customer Experience (or Customer Journey) has been part of contact-center lexicon for some time. Large, professional customer support and sales centers typically have a Customer Experience team; people dedicated to mapping and understanding the customer’s journey through the contact center, who create processes to manage to the businesses’ key performance indicators. Today, Customer Experience means more to businesses than interactions with their support and sales teams. It’s being looked at across the enterprise.

Businesses need to grow to thrive. They need to compete and win. And the foundation of all business is communication and the way that human communication has evolved (specifically thank to evolving technology) presents challenges to almost all businesses.  

Communications, as it relates to business, used to depend on the fact that the world was ruled by gatekeepers. Brick and mortar retailers controlled access to customers. Distributors controlled access to retailers. Manufacturers controlled access to product. Print and television media controlled perception. To gain access to the market, you earned (or bought) the cooperation of the gatekeeper.

And then the Internet broke the world

The Internet changed everything. It changed how we communicate. It changed how we use applications and services. It changed how we buy products. It changed how we get information. It changed how people publish information. It changed how people share information. It created an ecosystem for individual interaction. Customers now expect to have a one-to-one relationship with the companies they do business with. They want to buy product direct from the source. They want to interact directly with the source. They want to use whatever tool they are most comfortable with (phone, text, social media, whatever) to conduct their interactions and transactions.

Because companies of all sizes are faced with a world where they need to foster direct, one-to-one relationships with customers and compete against agile, nimble competitors, any investment they make in technology has to take into consideration its impact on the customer experience. How do we make our sales conversation align with our prospect’s business goals?

Put Customer Experience at the center of your sales discussion to give yourselves a better chance of engaging upper-level strategic managers. Learn how to talk about the importance of Customer Experience. Become conversant in mapping the customer journey. Educate yourself on how to analyze these flows to spot friction or insertion points for where your technology can make improvements and add efficiencies. You want to walk into a potential sales opportunity with the mindset that you’re not there to sell them your technology, you’re there to understand how the technology you sell can help them with the CX experience.

Where does Customer Experience intersect with the products and services we sell?

Customer Experience, at first pass, means all the ways a customer interacts with a company. For a retailer, it’s their experience walking in the store. It’s the transaction process. It’s the product experience (opening the product, using the product). It’s managing interactions with the customer post sale (for support, for resolution of product issues). It’s their experience with the marketing material the company puts out. Think of these interactions as an experience flow. They can all be mapped from the customer initiating the experience to it’s resolution.

When we’re talking about Customer Experience in the context of our mission to help customers by selling communications and data technology products and services to them, we mean the following:

UCaaS. Customer Experience discussions that lead to UCaaS sales start with questions about how your prospect’s employees communicate with each other (because the employees can be the customer in this CX context). Ask your prospect how their employees *want* to interact with each other. Ask how the business measures the communications effectiveness of its employees. All these discussions will lead to discovery around your ability to deliver solutions that allow employees to work across their devices, to communicate seamlessly when away from the desk phone, to collaborate, to integrate video and screen sharing. It leads to discussions about how management wants to understand how the technology is being used and to provide data (recordings, call reporting, etc.) to manage the technology to suit the business’ goals.

CCaaS. The conversation around Customer Experience when meeting a contact-center prospect is more direct. It is literally a conversation about the prospect’s customer experience. How do customers contact you? How do you wish they would contact you? How do you think, based on the demographic of your customer, they want to communicate with you? What teams within your organization responds to those contacts? How do you measure the effectiveness of those teams? How do you know if your interactions with customers leave them happy? How do you know if they lead to a successful, ongoing relationships? These kinds of conversations lead to discussions about multichannel and omnichannel contact-center systems. They lead to discussions about reporting and analytics. They lead to discussions about AI, consulting services, QA tools, Workforce Management systems, and so on.

AI and Machine Learning. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning come up constantly in discussion with prospects about their business communications systems and services. The first thing to accomplish with a prospect who wants to talk AI is to agree on a definition of what it actually is. Start with the question ‘What does AI and Machine mean to you and what do you believe it could do for you?’ You may hear about chatbots and virtual agents. You may hear about speech analytics or sentiment detection. You may hear about intelligent data analysis across multiple datasets from disparate systems. Whatever the starting place, the CX conversation around Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is a discussion about how you measure the satisfaction and happiness of customers. What questions would you like to know about your customer’s experience that you feel are difficult or impossible to answer? Where in the Customer Experience Flow are there pain points for the customer, or for your business, that you feel AI could have an impact? That discussion should lead you to talk about the AI and Machine Learning applications available across our portfolio of core and peripheral communications systems.

Network. The CX discussions above will likely lead to communications-technology recommendations. In our case, that means cloud-based services and systems. Which means that the design and strength of the underlying transport network for the business will have a major impact on the success or failure of the technology we sell. Asking about challenges with the current customer experience should naturally lead to conversations about protecting call quality, calls, the importance of CRM and VDI systems, or the cost of business delayed by network issues. You should be able to talk about SD-WAN and improved transport options.

Integrations and Managed Services. CX conversations could also lead to discussions about resources. A prospect may want to take advantage of technology to improve their CX, but could be challenged with too few, or a not specialized-enough workforce. IT departments that are born of the requirement to physically manage and maintain company resources and infrastructure are evolving into groups that manage a portfolio of services and resources delivered in a cloud model. CX discussions that lead to the question of ‘how are we going to implement and manage these improvement’ open the door for you to talk about managed services. Managed services to secure and implement the technology growth that will fuel their CX mission. Managed services to properly define, build, and manage the all-important underlying transport network these services will run on. Managed services to integrate the various systems and services so they connect with each other. Maybe even managed services to help your prospect pull together data from all these systems into meaningful metrics for them to run their business on.

Whatever solutions your discussions lead you to present to your customer, start the conversation around the concept of Customer Experience. Tie your proposals back to how your offer impacts CX, and you’ll be seen as someone trying to solve to their greater business goals, rather than a salesperson presenting a catalog of items for purchase.

7Oct/180

Our stay at Steinbeck’s Traveler’s Cottage

Sleeping in a famous writer's guest house

I traveled to Monterey for a conference. The conference was spouse-friendly (short working sessions, plenty of free time, and excursions for spouses), so my wife came along. When I registered, I had the option to stay at the conference center hotels, but my wife and I like to stay in interesting and quirky places. The Steinbeck Traveler’s Cottage, which we found on AirBNB, was the perfect experience for us.

The story of Traveler’s Cottage appealed to me because I’m a writer. Steinbeck had a big influence on Monterey so we chose the cottage as a way to have an experience relative to the community we were visiting. Steinbeck owned this home in the 40’s and lived here while writing a couple of his earliest works. There are actually three residences on the property; a main house, a guest house, and the cottage. The cottage sits at the back of the property, furthest from the street, in a private courtyard with a private entrance and parking space off the alley that runs behind the house.

Check-in was easy. The host sent instructions for the lockbox before we arrived. The address and instructions that lead to the alleyway parking space were clear. The parking space was a bit of a squeeze but big enough for my SUV.

Walking into the courtyard for the first time is a treat, The well-groomed space contains a four-person seating group and a picnic table and presents the front of the cottage beautifully. The cottage itself is equally well-presented in baby-blue paint with white trim and neat landscaping. Everything outside is trim and clean and perfect. A great first impression.

Inside is just as nice. Wood floors, simple furniture, lots of light, interesting artwork, just lovely attention to detail. Inside we found fluffy towels, plenty of bed linen, a heater, a fan, an ironing board and iron, coffee, sugar, and a French Press, pretty much anything we needed for our stay.

Right in the heart of Monterey

Traveler’s Cottage is in a convenient location, close-enough to the Monterey Aquarium and Cannery Row to walk (downhill one way and a bit of a hike home) and only a little over a mile to Fisherman’s Wharf and the conference center. We found the cottage and its surrounding neighborhood pleasantly quiet at night.

Speaking of night-time, the cottage had both good overhead lights as well as table lamps and night lights for a variety of moods. There was a bookshelf with mostly Steinbeck work (I had never read Cannery Row and got through most of it on this visit - a real joy to read Steinbeck’s work in a place connected to him). The guest book is super thorough and included background on the place, instructions on the remotes, the heater, and other appliances, recommendations for local restaurants. It also included guest letters and notes going back five or six years.

The hosts were great. I had a challenge with the lockbox and called for help. I got an immediate answer. We received a text the next morning making sure we were happy with everything. It felt like they had us in mind and that it mattered that we had a good stay.

The place does have a couple of quirks - there is not a lot of room for two to move around in the bedroom. The kitchen entry requires navigating a couple of mean steps with a low overhang that is tricky in the middle of the night. The cottage is also very small overall - the size of a hotel suite or a tiny house. But quirks are what make a place like this a unique experience compared to the homogeneity of the modern hotel.

I had only a couple of manageable challenges. Neither of things are complaints, just observations. There is a beautiful hand painted sign on the outside of the cottage facing the alleyway. The night we arrived was windy and the signs knocked against the wall annoyingly. I wadded some paper towels and stuffed them behind it to quieten it down and I hope the host amends this permanently. And under the category of beds-are-very-subjective, I found the bed overly soft and wished I could have done something about it (or, if there was some kind of control that I could change the firmness of the bed, it was more obvious than it was). This critique definitely falls under the category of personal preference though - my wife loved the bed.

That’s it. We would happily, gladly, without reservation, recommend Traveler’s Cottage to a couple (three people at the most) who are planning a stay in Monterey.

Here's a link to the Traveler's Cottage on AirBNB.