Congratulations on their promotions!

Big congratulations to two team members who were both recently promoted. Alexander was promoted a short time ago and Miguel just today. In both cases we had a team lunch scheduled, but no details. Lots of guessing as to what would be discussed and then we were surprised with the good news.  It’s nice to hear such news for our team mates while at a celebratory lunch!  Well deserved by both. While they have donea great job across the board, some major accomplishments stand out. Alexander was the driving force for our initial Influitive project which has been hugely successful.  Miguel is working with one of our clients who is among the first to move to a new advocacy platform. Both have been at the forefront of new services and technology expertise we can now offer our clients. We are proud of their accomplishments, congratulations again!

Process review for us - growth for our clients

We have many clients and each has a slightly different advocacy program. Over time, added experience and viewpoints has increased our knowledge and capabilities. Together, those led to our decision to do a complete process review. It’s good to take a step back now and then to ensure we’re using the best processes and tools across the board. It’s also a chance to do some cross training. Team members who work on accounts where our services are very focused might not have yet had the opportunity to participate in the full range of our offerings. The first step was to update our master template. This will give us a refreshed starting point for new clients and updated documentation for training new hires. This process review is an opportunity to look for growth for our clients. We can share best practices and genericized information about where other clients are seeing the most impact. And we know there’s no better salesperson than a happy customer!   As we help our clients harness the power of their happy customers it leads to increased sales. And that’s really what we’re here to do, help our clients grow.

Response to survey comments!

It’s not often that you complete a survey, agree to be contacted for further information, and then receive a follow up call.   Well it happened today!   We began use of Zenefits, primarily to streamline the hiring process, earlier this year. We knew we would have to change medical plans this fall, our old plan would be grandfathered no more, and having Zenefits as our broker of record would be helpful. We are nearly finished with the benefits open enrollment process and recently received a survey asking about the process.   We had a glitch or two, looks like the result of clerical errors on the medical providers' side, one missed step on our side, and confusion about a request made to Zenefits. To Zenefits' credit they followed up internally and with the medical provider to make sure all was well. And then management called.   They wanted to make sure they knew the full story from our side and that we felt everything was resolved.   They asked about anything further we would like to see from Zenefits in terms of functionality, and offered to be a point of contact if there was ever the need in the future.

The first time through open enrollment with a new provider – we expected there might be a glitch or two. I commend Zenefits for their follow up and for listening to our ideas for change. All in all it was a good experience.

Meetings - rarely face to face

It’s hard to know the exact number of people working from home in the US. According to the American Community survey, 3.2 million workers telecommute. That’s a 79 percent increase between 2005 and 2012! We all come in to the office.   With the pace of our expansion having everyone here makes it much easier to train our new employees and collaborate on tasks. At Referential we all are externally facing so spend much time in email, on the phone, and in virtual meetings. While we don’t work remotely as a team, our clients are all over the US, even the world. As obvious as it sounds when meeting with others you need to be clear about the date and time. With international contacts finding a common time for a meeting can be challenging, California and India for example have a 12 hour time difference!

When it’s more than a simple call we never assume the other person has experience with remote meetings or the software we use to conduct them. It’s a good idea to send out clear instructions ahead and even practice yourself if the tool is new to you.

As the number of remote workers increase and our business dealings become more and more global, the need for virtual meetings will continue to climb. The technology will improve but meeting best practices will always be called for.   What’s your favorite tip for virtual meetings?

Location Helps

Several of our clients have either their headquarters or major offices here in the Bay Area.   We’re also a popular location for user conferences. That gives us a chance for frequent face to face meetings. The RSA Conference, “where the world talks security”, was last week at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Many of our clients were there, participating and/or exhibiting. It was a great opportunity to get out of the office for a day and meet people we hadn’t seen in awhile, as well as make some new contacts.   While we may frequently talk, Skype, email and communicate in other ways, It’s good to see each other in person now and again!   Luckily our location makes that possible.

Phone Flexibility

Our new offices are set up with the majority of us in one room, with executive space and financial records in another.   That means some of us work at two different desks and you never know when you’ll need to make a call. Our voice over IP phone system is proving even more useful here than in our previous location.   We have power cords specific to the phones at each desk and you can just pick up and plug in where ever you want to work, be it another desk or in one of our conference rooms or at the treadmill desks!   Very helpful when a call requires either privacy or a group and the speaker phone. The ability to have multiple phone numbers is extremely helpful, in fact necessary for the type of work we do. Many of our clients engage us to work directly with their customers, recruiting them into customer reference programs and then matching them to advocacy activities.   They prefer we answer the phone representing their company rather than our own, Referential. Easy to do with our phone system. As appropriate we set up a unique number and our phones notify us if the caller has dialed Referential or a number set up for one of our clients. Makes answering the phone so much easier, you know something about the call before answering!   This is just one facet of how we seamlessly represent our clients as we work with their customers on reference activities.

The challenge of multiple calendars!

As a company Referential has quite a long list of clients. I don’t think any of us work with just one client and often they assign emails to us for the duration of the engagement. When you have multiple clients, that leads to multiple emails to check, and multiple calendaring systems. Some of us consolidate everything to our personal calendar or our Referential work calendar to see it all online, all in one place. But that doesn’t work well for everyone.  One has a colorful notebook with meetings color coded and another has a fairly sophisticated post-it system.  It’s clear this is a case of ‘one size doesn’t fit all’!

Checking 2, 3, or even 10 emails and associated calendars is not easy.   Do you have any helpful hints?  It’s a common issue when you have multiple clients, we’re interested in hearing what works best for you.

Background checking the checker!

We’ve changed background check companies, or nearly so. We wanted some additional services which led to a change of companies.  We’ve chosen a firm that not only meets our needs but comes highly recommended by several business associates. Before we can begin to use the services of the new company we’re getting checked ourselves. There was quite a thorough application form to complete.  Then a level of business review, followed by a site visit.  At the site visit there were questions about topics ranging from shredders, data security, and company history to site access.  Then photos were taken of doors and file cabinets and locks and building signage.   We are now in the final stage of review, though not quite sure what that entails.  Within a week we should know if we’ve been approved as a customer.  This process has taken a bit longer than expected, good thing we had the services of our original company still, as in the interim we made a job offer so of course did a background check.

They’ve done such a thorough job checking us out we’re doubly confident they’ll do a great job meeting our needs.

Every business needs a great team

Any business needs a great team to be successful.  Employees are central to that and we’ve been so pleased with our growth and ability to hire quickly.  We’ve also assembled a small team with specialized expertise.  For example, we use a payroll company rather than figure out payroll intricacies and the necessary reporting on our own. We have decided to change one key member of the team, our accountant.  While we manage our finances and track everything through QuickBooks, we don’t have tax expertise in house.  We never quite got comfortable with the approach of the tax professional we’ve used since incorporation and decided it was time to investigate a change.

Since we specialize in customer reference programs no one will be surprised to know we started by asking other small business owners for referrals.  We did additional research to narrow a long list down to a couple of firms and have met with each. While we can’t make a wrong decision, there are big differences in their personal style, firm size, approach to ‘on-boarding’ new clients, and fees.  Whichever we choose, we’re confident we’re about to begin a long term relationship with this new team member.

Languages, Languages

English, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese.  We just finished program documentation for one of our clients in all of those languages.  Language expertise has been a priority for our recent hires and they’re busy translating program documentation, speaking with our clients’ sales reps in local language, and working directly with their end customers.  We prioritized languages after discussions with our clients and analysis of their customer base.  Our hires are a mix of native speakers and folks who learned primarily in school, but who coupled that book learning with significant time abroad.  We have found that even native speakers don’t necessarily know the complete suite of business terms we need but that’s been fairly easy to address.  We have our next priority languages set and are actively recruiting now.  Our languages list will be longer shortly!

Is process documentation like broccoli?

It’s good for you but still not a favorite, sort of like broccoli.   Though I’m not talking about food, I’m talking about process documentation.  We all know we should do it, but it’s hard to get that to the top of the to-do list.  That said, guess what we’re in the middle of right now?  Documenting all the processes with all our clients.  It’s a preparatory step for more complete account reviews.  It will accelerate the on-boarding process and as we’re hiring yet again, and that’s a very good thing.  It will help backups when someone is out on vacation.  And, it’s just what we all should do.  A business basic. For us it’s really a matter of gathering all the bits and pieces into one place, in a consistent manner.  The info is all there, just needs to be organized a bit better.  Having a common template is ensuring  consistency to our documentation.   And we know once we are done, we’re not really done.  The end result needs to be continually updated, so this documentation is continually valuable to both us and our clients.

How about you, does your company have all it’s processes well documented?  Hopefully so!

Frozen - the Database!

One of our clients has a major database update shortly and yesterday was the last day for changes.  Everyone was scrambling until nearly midnight to complete as many updates as possible.  For the interim period we have to log our changes manually, then when the new database is live we’ll input everything. We were talking about the change this morning and someone made a good analogy.  It’s like moving from one house to another.  You clean up your old place and it’s exciting to move somewhere new and fresh.  We did take advantage of this database change to do some ‘housekeeping’ and data clean up so when we’re live in the new environment we’ll have not only new functionality but ‘fresh’ data too.

Over time large databases often need some attention and this was the time.  An opportunity to make sure phone numbers were formatted consistently, to change the few UKs to United Kingdoms, and so on.  A little planning and work up front will really pay off with great benefits. Just one of the special projects our clients have where our data expertise can automate tasks and ensure accuracy.  Looking forward to when we go live!

Certifiable skills

Most of our staff is about to embark on Microsoft Office certifications.  We purchased training packages for the key office apps – Excel, PowePoint, Word, Access, and Outlook.  We don’t use Access much so that will be optional, but we want our staff certified in the other applications.  It’s one thing to say you know an app, it’s another to prove it. Over the years we’ve had temp personnel who told us they were proficient in a tool, handled all the interview questions well, but when it came right down to it they over stated their proficiency.  While we don’t give tests in our interview process other companies do.  Rather than have candidates bring in writing samples they’re given a writing exercise to do right then.  Instead of talking about budget issues they’re asked to create a sample spreadsheet with proper categories and formulas.A

Testing still isn’t in our plans, though our interview questions are now tougher!  We do want our clients to have complete confidence in our skills, from strategy to spreadsheets.  The certifications will be one more way to show our expertise.

2014 More Growth Ahead!

We’ve had many 2014 planning discussions with our clients recently.  It's exciting to see our clients expanding and there's lots of growth ahead for us too. The discussions remind me that 2013 has been quite a year for Referential, Inc.  We moved into new offices early in the year.  Being right across the street from Ebay not only makes us easy to find but some pretty good food trucks are nearby daily!  We hired several new people, more on the horizon.  Yes, training takes time but it’s been great seeing our company culture evolve.

In 2013 we also added important skills, such as support for more languages and expertise in additional industries.  Our business and technical knowledge means we can see the value our clients bring to their customers and we  highlight that value in all deliverables.

Finally we also added new services.  We’re often called upon to automate tasks, technical skills to the rescue!  This year we’ve also advised many clients on data issues  Spreadsheet or database and if the latter which one!  A conversation we’ve had often.

Whether our clients outsource the entirety of their customer reference program to us, having us do everything from initial program design through to fulfillment, or we do a smaller project such as a case study, all clients get nothing but the best from us.  Give us a call, let's see how we can help you get even more impact from your customer references.

An ex-customer as a reference?

Yup.  That's what we had to find.  One of the requirements of a recent RFP was to provide a reference that is no longer a customer.   So a friendly ex.  I thought our recent blog post was a good example of people asking the strangest things, but this even is stranger!     Finding a match seemed impossible but was actually easier than we expected.  First tip, never delete customer records from your reference listing.   Whether you use a spreadsheet or a DB keep them all.  You never know when even “not referenceable” accounts will come in handy.  Next tip.  Keep 'qualitative' notes about the status of your references.   That's how we found our match. 

We reviewed  the records for companies not currently referenceable and found one that was perfect.  The notes from our outreach, plus additional information from the sales rep, told us they had done a pilot project, loved the product, but failed to get funding.  They were just the friendly ex we needed.  Not a customer, but with lots of good things to say to a prospect.    

Bottom line - keep your data, keep good notes, and expect the unexpected when dealing with customer references!

People ask for the strangest things

“Let me get this straight, your customer wants to implement software using a methodology we don’t recommend?  And they want a reference customer who will tell them it’s OK?”    Yes, that’s what I heard the other day.  For several of our customers we do the ‘matchmaking’ of sales rep or marketing request to the customer reference which best meets the need.   Usually the request is for a customer in a similar industry, or using a particular product or product feature, maybe they want someone in a specific geographic area or a current customer the same size as a prospect.   In this case the sales rep had a prospect who wanted to talk to a current customer who had implemented in a way that’s specifically not recommended!   In the end we helped the sales rep realize this wasn’t a good idea, for many reasons.  He went back to the customer so implementation would follow best practices. 

Not only do we do reference matching but sometimes we need to provide guidance on strategies to overcome issues and keep sales moving forward.  But it really is true, people ask for the strangest things.