Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year of Christa

2012 started off like every other year: full of hope, inspiration, new experiences, and new opportunities.  I declared in the beginning of the year that this would be “The Year of Christa”!  I was still high off of my recent weight loss and the glowing promise of a new year held me in its grip.  

As I sat down to write this narrative of my year, I initially thought that it was not that great and that the “Year of Christa” should have a repeat for better results.  But as I remembered the events that you will read in a moment, I realized that while it was not a totally epic year, it was pretty darn good.  So I am going to take you on a trip down memory lane with the events of 2012 that have shaped me to who I am today.

January of 2012 brought my annual work review.  I love where I work and I really enjoy my coworkers.  I would like to do something different within the company, but have been told no for the past two years.  My heart was broken, but not too bad, as I had now had three rejections under my belt.  I’m sure it builds character.  January was not all bad though; I was able to bounce back quickly with a concert that included Mansions and The Front Bottoms.

February shaped up to be a lovely month.  It was full of love, and not just for Valentine’s Day.  The cause of my love was seeing The Darkness perform again.  I had last seen them in 2004 and was very happy that they had come together again.  And if they were not enough, I fell in love with one of their opening bands, Foxy Shazam.  I closed out February with the Southern Gentleman Tour which featured Ed Roland (Collective Soul) and Kevin Griffin (Better Than Ezra).  This acoustic show was fantastic as they played off each other, played each other’s songs, and told funny stories.

March roared in like a lion by giving me an opportunity to meet one of my favorite authors, Joyce Carol Oates.  Remember how I said I fell in love with Foxy Shazam in February?  Well, I got to see them again!  It was the tiniest venue I have ever seen a band in; so tiny, that I mapped out our exit in the event of a fire!  I expanded my musical selection in March by also seeing Grouplove and Young the Giant.  I went to the show pumped up for Young the Giant, but walked out of there with all of my love for Grouplove.  St. Patrick's Day was celebrated by the Benders with many friends and many bars. 

April started off with my friend Autumn moving in with my husband and I (cue the theme from Three's Company).  The best part of her arrival is her dappled doxie named Isa Bear!   I stayed away from concerts that month, so my ears were thankful.  In April I was preparing myself for the “Summer of Christa”; which meant that I was thinking of taking long weekends at the beach.  Even though summer was still unofficially a month away, I started to dream of sand and water.  And in between my dreams I continued to work full-time and work on my bachelor’s degree part-time.  

May brought a road trip up to the Big Apple.  A van full of people trekked through Staten Island to Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.  The day started at Brooklyn Brewery.  The tour was short as the brewery is in the process of renovations.   We tasted some of the beers that would never see the shelves of our local beer store.  On our drive to Queens I squealed with delight and made our driver pull over so that I could get a picture under the Silvercup Studios sign (yes, I’m a Highlander fan).  We then made our way over to the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden in Astoria.  There was some sort of celebration going on that day, so that meant an oompah band to help us wash down Czech beer and Slovak food.  Sitting there in the oldest beer garden in New York City, you would never have known you were blocks from the El and right in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the United States.  After we survived a quick rain storm and were thoroughly soaked, we then ventured into Manhattan to visit McSorley’s Old Ale House, which was established in 1854 and is the oldest watering hole that has been continually operated in New York City.    It is a sight to see if you have never been there.  Be prepared to have your drink ordered doubled as we ordered 10 beers and received 20.  That is the customary serving at McSorley’s.  Your choices of beer: light or dark.  Who makes the beer?  I have no idea.  All I know is that you drink your beer and don’t nurse it or else you’ll be thrown out.  We happened to be there during Fleet Week so we were bumping elbows with plenty of sailors, which added to the charm of the bar.

Ah, June has arrived!  While it was now officially the “summer of Christa” I had yet to make it to the beach.  I wasn’t worried; the summer still had plenty of potential.  I started the month by attending Comic Con in Philadelphia.  I was so excited as I was finally able to meet Lou Ferrigno!  I also met Stan Lee, Anthony Michael Hall, Kai Owens, Chris Hemsworth, Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery, Bruce Cambpell, Melissa Joan Hart, and “Uptown” Kevin Brown.  The event was four days long and I spent three days there!  I wasn’t the only nerd in my family as my cousin Billy and his children were there also, so we got to mix pleasure with family (but not in a weird way).  Later in the month I was excited to see the energetic band The Hives.  They put on a fabulous show and it was the only show of 2012 where I met a guy who lost his shoes and his shirt was dancing.

So far, the year had been pretty good.  Perhaps it was my year after all!  Well, July had other plans for me.  Halfway through the month I unexpectedly lost my mother.  My world as I knew it came crashing down around me.  I had known friends who had lost parents and while I had expressed my condolences and support, I never really understood their loss.  I do now.  I am still amazed at the outpouring of support and concern that I continue to receive from coworkers, friends, and family.

August didn’t bring too much of anything.  I was going through the paces and getting myself back together.  The summer of Christa didn’t happen.  Perhaps it will in 2013.

September brought me Peter Gabriel.  Not literally, just in the form of a concert.  The show itself was great, but it was definitely the weirdest crowd I had ever been in for a concert.  This tour was the So album in its entirety, plus other classics.  I think for most of the crowd this was their first concert since the So album came out 25 years ago…people didn’t want to cheer or stand up.  Very strange.

October started off with a bang with the celebration of my cousin John’s wedding to his beautiful wife Dolly.  It was a grand outdoor wedding on a farm in the middle of nowhere Virginia.  October also brought my 6th annual Oktoberfest celebration to my house.October brought a cold Halloween and as usual we had few children come to our house (yes, we are allowed to have our lights on that night).  So I made sure I bought candy that my husband and I like!

November started off with a bang with a third Foxy Shazam concert.  I am beginning to think I have a problem!  I finally took a trip to the ocean and had a fantastic time, even though it was not bikini season.  I celebrated Christamas (my birthday) in November by attending the Classic Beer Festival. This was our fourth time attending this particular beer festival in Split Rock and it was a great time as always.  Thanksgiving was spent with my aunt Rose and her family.  It was nice to try something different this year; I’m not sure if it will become a new tradition, but sometimes change is good.

December brought me the Valley Forge Beer Festival.  Our group attended the morning session this year and I absolutely fell in love with Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer.  Christmas Eve brought me, my brother, and my dad together.  December also brought me the chance to have lunch with a friend that I have not seen since high school.  Gina and I have known each other since elementary school, when we would pretend to be sisters on the days we were our matching purple sweater vests.  I also got the chance to reconnect with my best friend from school, Sarah.  I have not spoken or seen her since 11th grade, so 2013 is bringing the promise of a reunion.  Christmas Day took me back to my aunt Rose’s house for another new experience.  I ended December with another gathering of family at my aunt Donna’s house where there was four generations of people ranging from 8 years old to 94 years old.

My husband and I will be ringing in the New Year tonight at our home.  But before that, we will be attending a James Bond themed symphony performance.

This trip down memory lane has served me well.  It has made me realize that despite the devastating loss that I suffered this year that I have amazing friends and family that helped me through it.  I also did a whiz-bang job of seeing a lot of concerts!

Happy New Year my friends and I hope that 2013 brings you joy and prosperity.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Don't forget your tail!

I love the A/V industry because there are always catch-phrasings flying around.  The catch-phrases intrigue me because no one can really tell you what they mean.  The top three catch-phrases that I am hearing right now are:
·         Digital Signage
·         Unified Communications
·         Services
Digital Signage has been around for quite a few years, yet when the topic is brought up, not everyone agrees on what it is.  We all can agree that it can contain a display monitor that shows content, but that is where the similarities end. 
Unified Communications is creating quite a stir right now as it is one of the hottest trends discussed at the InfoComm tradeshow this year.  As with digital signage, a lot of people are throwing around the term UC, but not always meeting eye to eye.  When you get down to the nitty-gritty of UC, it is an idea that has been around since the beginning of technology.  It is basically the idea of sharing your ideas with others.  I am very excited to see how UC solutions will evolve, especially with “the cloud” hanging over our heads.
Services, like digital signage and unified communications, is an evolving solution.  There is always something more that you can offer to your customers, you just have to listen to hear what your customers need.  For some companies this means having their own in-house service department.  Many are providing managed services for their customers.  Others are providing unique, out-of–the-box solutions that they may never do again or that may become commonplace in the A/V industry 3 years from now.
My roommate has a miniature dachshund named Isa.  She is either dappled or a piebald doxie – meaning she is white with brown ears and spots of brown coloring throughout her coat.  Isa is approximately 2 ½ years old (she’s a Scorpio and likes long walks).  In human years, she would be approximately 17-years-old.  Most teenagers that I know are aware of their bodies and understand how they operate.  Not Isa.  This past weekend she actively chased her tail as if it was a smaller animal that needed to be eradicated.  Thankfully, she never caught her tail, but I’m still waiting to see how that will work out for her…
So why do we chase our tails?  We all do it – we get busy providing solutions to our customers that we forget (or don’t) take the chance to step back and survey what we have provided or could have provided. 
Don’t forget the many solutions your company can offer your customers and don’t be afraid to attempt a new approach.  You may be surprised what happens when you catch your tail.

Friday, August 26, 2011

(Gulp) I know you: Reasons why you should maintain your customer service role

Last week I discussed some of the reasons why providing great customer service to your clients is important.  This week I want to discuss some reasons why you should continue to offer great customer service to the internal client (your coworkers).

No matter what industry you work in, chances are you have witnessed someone consistently be inconsiderate of other coworkers (or you may have been that someone).  This said person typically doesn’t adhere to the team player mentality and likes to play the lone wolf.  While being a lone wolf is not necessarily a bad thing, it can become bad when the wolf decides not to work well with others in the group. 

Another person who can be destructive in the workplace is simply the jerk.  This person may play well with others, but then decides to be uncooperative with a certain individual or group.  Sometimes there is a reason (whether justified or not) and sometimes they behave this way just because they can.  If this person has direct contact with clients, they may behave similarly with them as they tend to not have an off switch when they become agitated.

So what does it mean if you happen to know one of the two people above or you are one of them?  Well, if your industry is anything like the audio visual industry, there is a good chance that you will be working with that person in the future in another capacity.  One day they are sitting next to you and the next day you are buying from them (or they are buying from you).  Since the audio visual industry is rather small compared to other industries, people know each other from working together over the years.  And most of the people are passionate about what this industry stands for and they tend to stay in it, no matter what shape or form.  That makes it imperative that you treat everyone the same way you would expect to be treated: with respect.  Treat the internal client just as you would the external client.  People don’t need to be best friends at work, but they do need to work well with each other to get the job done.  Trust me, there are plenty of people that I have worked with that I would not have a beer with after work, but in the confines of the workday, we were the ultimate team to get the project done and provide the client with a fantastic service. 

If we all take the moment to review the problems we face with a rational though process, it will help to make the workplace environment more hospitable.  You may not like the person you have to deal with to fix an issue, but that doesn’t mean that the two of you can’t make it right.  It is easier to fix an issue and be done with it than to let it linger because you want to prove a point that the other person is wrong.  Maybe they are wrong, but is it really your place to point it out?  You never know if the person you choose to have a vendetta with will become your boss in the future. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

Considerable Customer Service

What comes to mind when you think of the phrase “customer service”?  Most people may envision a smiling person who assists you with your purchase or transaction.  This smiling person was knowledgeable, polite, and competent in providing you with your needs.  This assessment is correct; however, there is a lot more to customer service than assisting a customer with just one transaction. 

Customer service is the embodiment of the interactions that occur between the customer and the provider.  Customer service is something that should never go away, even after the project is completed. Great customer service is the reason why your customer will continue to do business with you and will have no qualms referring additional business in your direction. 

Recently my company provided a bid response for a large opportunity.  One of the requirements to be included in our submittal was client references of projects that were similar to the opportunity we were vying for.  This is not a rare occurrence, as we often provide references of similar projects to help showcase our capabilities.  After we provided our submission, my coworker and I were talking about this opportunity (we both contributed to our bid response).  My coworker said to me “I really hope that our references are happy with us”.  We went on to discuss that we know these customers are happy with us, at least they tell us they are, as otherwise we would not have used them for a reference.  We went on to discuss how a customer could be perfectly happy with the sales representative, but not be so comfortable with the installation staff (or vice versa).   We concluded the conversation agreeing that customer service is fluid and needs to continually happen with the customer and that it needs to flow from all positions within the company. 

You never really know if a customer is fully happy with you until they are asked from another source.  That is when the most honest reviews will surface about your workmanship and competency.  What you can do to help make sure a customer is happy is take the time to talk to them.  Confirm they are happy with what they have purchased or received.  Confirm the overall feeling that they received from your company is positive.  You want the customer to feel like you were their champion during the project and that you were looking out for their best interests in providing the best solution for their needs (which you should be doing anyway).  There is nothing worse than having a good customer receive bad service because you were rushing to complete the job, or you were having a bad day and leaked it out to the customer (whether they were the reason for your bad day or not).  There have been surprise instances (luckily not that many) where a customer who you thought was going to give you a glowing recommendation was actually not happy with your performance. 

Continue to follow up with your customers; show them that you care.  While there are a few customers who never seem to be happy, most customers will continue to do business with you if you provide the extra effort to show them they are important to you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Morale and it's affect in the Workplace

Many of us talk about morale in the workplace, but what is it that we are talking about? 
Per the Random House Webster’s Dictionary (2001), the definition of morale is:
Morale, noun: emotional or mental condition, as of cheerfulness, with respect to work or a duty.

Per the Roget’s II The New Thesaurus (1996), the definition of morale is:
Morale, noun: a strong sense of enthusiasm and dedication to a common goal that unites a group.

Of the two definitions provided, I prefer Roget’s definition.  A workplace is a unity of people working towards a common goal.  Sometimes that goal gets lost during the process.  As most of us in the A/V world know, we are coming down the homestretch of our busiest season.  With this occurrence, everyone has a role to play and multiple balls to juggle.  Once in a while tempers fly and we have to be reminded that we are all working towards a common goal of customer service to the customer and to ourselves. 

There are many moments where we do not think of our actions and how they are perceived by others or how they affect the office environment.  If another coworker hears you flipping out on someone, they may label you as difficult. Most people remember the saying “If you don’t have anything nice to day, then don’t say anything at all” from when we were younger; it helps to try to keep that saying in mind when in the workplace.  Even if you are confiding to our best friend at work the juicy rumor we just heard, we are spreading negativity, and that affects the workplace atmosphere as well.

There are days where I leave my desk totally pissed off, either at myself, a coworker, or a customer, but I remind myself that I do like my job and my coworkers.  Sometimes that reminder comes later in the day, but it does surface.  If we can all take a moment to realize that our actions do affect others positively and negatively, we can work towards improving the morale in our work environments. 

Having a great morale in the workplace makes everyone have a more enjoyable experience.  Turning the morale around won’t happen overnight, and there will always be negative people in the workplace.  Give out more smiles and hellos during the day and most likely you’ll receive them back.  I certainly like to see smiles instead of frowns throughout the hallways at work!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Value of a Warranty

Many times in the A/V world people weigh the option of purchasing an additional warranty.  For most people, the more expensive the item the more likely we are to purchase an additional warranty (such as a washer, dryer, refrigerator, or car). 

Warranties are often viewed as “insurance” and are considered an expense that is not needed or that it will never recover the money put into it.  I say that all of the naysayers need to remember back to a time when an extended warranty helped them out in a crisis.

Last week I took one of our cars to the shop for an oil change.  While there I also explained out there was a banging, bumping noise coming from the driver’s side front of the car.  I was staying at the shop anyway, so I broke out my laptop and book to wait it out and hope that the banging, bumping noise wasn’t anything extravagant that would require extra money or another visit to the shop.

After an hour or so the employee who helped me at the counter informed me that I had a damaged control link that is in stock at a local dealer and that it would be there within the hour.  Also, this fix would be covered under our warranty.  That was exciting news as when we purchased this vehicle (used) we decided to add on a 3 year extended warranty just in case.

My car was fixed in a total of 2 hours and all I paid for was an oil change.  Even though I knew the value of extended warranties, I was excited that I had one work in my favor that day.

The same principle of an extended warranty can be integrated with an A/V system.  If you don’t have the ability to maintain a system or simply don’t have the time, an extended warranty on your A/V system could really work in your favor, especially if you are trying to make your equipment last one more year before you purchase an upgrade.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Perseverance in the Workplace

When I was of middle school age, my family summer vacation consisted of a day at a water park.  My brother and I loved this idea!  We went on every ride and raft possible, except for one.  From the ground, this one slide looked amazing and everyone who went on it was screaming their hearts out on the descent.  My brother and I looked at each other and decided we wanted to go down that slide.  As we climbed the steps we delighted in the screams we heard from the passengers riding down the 60-degree angle slide.  Being the big sister, I was to be the first to go on the slide.  I put the plastic surf-boggan under me and was waiting for the ride operator to ask me if I was prepared.  He did not and suddenly the platform underneath me tilted to start my descent down the slide.  Only I didn’t go, my arms shot out to my sides to hold me back.  Looking down that slide and realizing it was only as wide as I was scared the hell out of me.  All of a sudden thoughts of plummeting off the side of the slide filled my mind.  The platform beneath me went horizontal again and the ride operator asked me what was wrong.  “You didn’t ask me if I was ready!” I screamed.  He asked if I was ready now and I said no.  I took my surf-boggan and put it back on the pile and walked to the top of the long staircase.  I asked my brother if he still wanted to go down the ride and that I would meet him at the bottom.  My 2 ½ year younger brother said no, he would walk down with me.  I don’t believe he was scared of the ride as I suddenly became, this was his moment to be the big brother that he never could be for me.  By the time we walked down the steps we were ready to go back to another ride we previously enjoyed.

Every day in the workplace we have “fight or flight” moments, most are not to the extreme of my story above.  Yet, we have decisions to make regarding co-workers, customers, manufacturers, etc. that affect us in how we deal with them.  These moments can also happen within the confines of a meeting; you have the ability to bring your ideas forward or you sit back and allow others to lead and present their ideas, knowing that your ideas are just as good or better.

If we allow the flight moments to take over, then we start to offer sub-par customer service.  We start to allow quotes to take longer than they should; we lollygag in returning phone calls to customers or manufacturers.  We start to get lazy.  Laziness spreads like wildfire and once one co-worker sees another exhibiting this, they start to do it as well.  Suddenly the moral of the workplace and level of service plummet.

Fight moments allow us to shine and provide top-notch customer service.  We strive to provide customers with timely quotes, timely order status, and timely information. This dedication to be the best we can be for ourselves and others is perseverance.  When the laziness threatens like a storm on the horizon, persevere through it and continue to challenge others as well as yourself (not to a dual or anything, keep that kind of challenge on the playground). 

Persevering through the good times and the bad times will help to make you a well-rounded employee who is willing and able to deal with anything.