stevemedcroft.com
7Nov/180

We Need You! (to become a cycling official)

The number of active cycling officials is dwindling. If it drops any further, the race calendar will have to shrink. Some races will cease to exist altogether. Are you willing to be part of the solution?

Could you, should you, take the USAC Officials exam?

There is an ecosystem to local cycling. Promoters (and their organizing collectives), God-bless them, work long, long hours, take incredible risks in securing permits, to give racers a safe, clearly-defined battlefield to compete on. They do this for little (sometimes even no) financial reward.

Timing companies, registrations services, and sponsors provide valuable services and support. Volunteers give their time and energy to help promoters make races possible. And the racers themselves! Oh, how we would all not exist without the racers.

Officials are just one part of the ecosystem, but vital. We are the mandatory, on-the-ground resource for the sanctioning body. That sanction ensures liability insurance is available to protect promoters and racers. It gives competitors rules under which the races happen and a path to greater and greater personal achievement.

We need new officials in Arizona (and, as I’m hearing from my colleagues, in many other active cycling communities across the country). Despite there being a good core of experienced, talented officials in my home region, there are only a couple of us who are active (take the regular, every-other-weekend local race assignments during crit and ‘cross seasons).

Local races need two officials, yet for two of the last three races, I have been the only person available. Working a race alone is not only the opposite of fun, it is unsustainable. We need backup to get the results right (as close to right as possible on the first posting), to keep the event on schedule, to be available to help riders with challenges, to manage accidents and incidents. And, maybe I speak only for myself here, we would also like the time and freedom to encourage and coach and promote the sport within the rider community we serve.

The rewards that come with sometimes long, stressful assignments

What can I say to you so you’d step up, take the exam, and become an official? Should I paint a dark picture of what happens if the sport has no officials (promoters would have to hire from out-of-state which would add travel and time costs that would simply bury smaller events)? Or should I spin officiating as some kind of pious and smugly rewarding pursuit?

Neither of those arguments do the role justice. The truth is that although the days can be long and tense, the work sometimes tedious and monotonous, officiating bike races...

  • Is a way to give back to the sport, to be of service to the racers, the promoters, the sponsors, and everyone else involved in the sport. Cycling has been an important part of my adult life. It has given me a healthy and fit lifestyle. It has challenged me to compete. It has given me work and income. It brings me mental wellbeing. Cycling gives a lot. I officiate as a way to give back.
  • Is a way to be part of the scene if racing is not your thing. I crashed badly in a crit in 2010 and did some physical and mental damage that means I don’t want to race crits anymore. But I wanted to be around racing. Officiating is a great way to be at every race, to see the action from the best position, and to immerse yourself in the race itself, all without the risks of actually racing.
  • Allows me to act as a guardian of a sport we all love. Cycling works as a sport because there are rules; a structure and format to the competition. Being an official allows you to support racers by acting as the independent voice at events for the rules.
  • Enables me to make a difference in the future of cycling. One of the best parts of officiating is helping junior riders live out their cycling goals. Without the local crit, ‘cross and MTB racing scenes, these kids would not really have cycling on their radars. Knowing what the sport does for me personally, I would not be able to live with myself if I let the door to cycling close on junior riders by not helping to to make opportunities for them to race and develop.
  • Let’s me support local shops and clubs that hold events that would not exist without us. Cycling thrives when all of its constituents thrive. Racing is one of the ways cycling brings new people to the sport, and one of the ways the business community of cycling can interact with riders. Officiating allows me to play a part in enabling riders and the business of cycling to come together in the real world.

Take the USAC Official Exam

It’s not hard to become an official. There is an online course that gives you the basics. USAC also offers occasional classroom sessions. The cost is minimal (and under some circumstances free for first-time officials). I and many of my colleagues are ready to mentor you into your first season; to teach you what the course material touches on, but does not adequately cover. And there is a technical team at USA Cycling ready to give you opportunities to grow and develop (to ultimately work at national-level events, to gain additional certifications that add variety to the kinds of races you can work, and to offer you courses and seminars so you can elevate up the officiating ranks).

You’ll begin as a C-level official. For your first few races, you’ll be paired with someone with more experience until you’re ready to take a leadership role. You are paid (nominally, but enough to legitimize your presence as a professional) to work races. And you get to say no to any race assignment offered to you.

So here is my plea. Everything is in place and ready for you to get started as an official. The sport needs you. My colleagues and I are ready to help you through the process. Contact me if you have questions. All we need is for you to raise your hand.

What do you say?

- Steve Medcroft

3Nov/180

A Love Affair with the White Tanks Library

Going analog for my next read, I re-discovered what has to be one of the best public buildings in the state of Arizona; the White Tanks Library.

I recently finished a book on my Kindle. Sensitive to my near-constant cycle of reading/buying/reading/buying, and maybe just looking for a different experience for a minute, I went to the library for my next read instead. It is a good library. Because of the layout, I was able to choose quickly. I always seem to choose quickly.

When you first enter the  White Tanks Library, there are a couple of display shelves featuring new editions. I always start here. I want to see what’s new, the latest best-selling fiction, new ideas in the non-fiction space. Within a minute, I had selected two books and checked out. Not in a hurry to head hone, I took a few minutes to ponder the building I was in and was amazed at how much of a gift this place is to those of us lucky enough to enjoy it.

Sitting on an isolated lot at the very edge of a county park, the White Tanks Library is a marvelous building to look at. Interestingly shaped, modern, clad in a slightly green pebbled treatment, with winding entry walks and a shaded courtyard just before the main doors, it is a compliment to desert that surrounds it.

The broad, pressed-earth and gravel walkways, the pebble-embedded concrete walls, the colored cladding and awnings, all reflect the natural surroundings. The parking spaces and walkways intertwine with protected patches of unchanged desert. As a visitor, you feel like you are walking into something that grew up out of the landscape, not something that was built on top of it. Outside the building, you'll find a Desert Tortoise enclosure as well as an outdoor amphitheater, and a trail entrance into the county-maintained park itself.

Inside, the building is shaped like a Japanese folding fan, with a broad curved rear wall that faces the White Tanks Park and a narrow entryway at the front. To protect the line of that back wall, all the busy space of the building is at front; meeting rooms, the bookstore, bathrooms, activity rooms, staff offices, as well as an amazing nature center with displays of reptiles and snakes found in the park. Even the sorting center is tucked into the front of the building.

Extending out from the library's infrastructure are working spaces; librarian’s desks, the children’s apparatus, the private workrooms for patrons, computer desks, etc.

The next concentric ring to this highly-functional building are the stacks. Fanned across the heart of main library chamber, and organized in bookstore categorization (which is hard to get used to for a Dewey-trained library nerd like me), shelving and display units filled with books, periodicals, and digital media follow the curve of the room.

The real treat to the White Tanks Library though is the back wall. A brilliant decision that honors the park adjacent to the library. The back wall is one, long, panoramic, curved window. No matter where you stand or sit in the library, you have a view into the park.

The stacks end five feet from the windows and nothing else is allowed to get in the way of the expansive view. It is like an IMAX theater experience; a surround-sound view of the thriving Sonoran Desert landscape, backed by the copper-colored White Tank Mountains. The building is so ideally situated that the terrain curves up and away from the view, like it’s really a diorama, or a carefully curated display like the famous Neanderthal man exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The placement is such that from inside the library, almost no distracting elements of the park (roads, trails, or shelters) are in the view.

The windows perfectly frame a Western view. That means sunsets, which can be spectacular in the desert even on the most mundane of days.

The White Tanks Library was designed by Arizona-based DWL Architects & Planners and is a living testament to their ability to imagine a building that honors its surroundings, is designed to have minimal environmental impact, and is practical enough to be constructed in a challenging environment.

If you ever get the chance, I encourage you to pay a visit to the White Tanks Library. If you're a lover of libraries, of nature, or of architecture, I promise you'll be impressed.

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 to me that I believe much of the time we spent together was 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 how 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 change the worlds. You grew so powerful that you helped people literally overthrow their oppressive governments, settled debates among titans, and 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 wellbeing. 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 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. Being with you, I allowed 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-dependency 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

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.