How to Retain Your Customers: A Lesson Learned from Mom

We here at DreamCSX hope you enjoyed Mother’s Day this past Sunday. As I was celebrating with my wife and mother, an odd thought struck me — a marketer’s work is never done, is it?! One of the tentpoles of our company is built on the ideology of Retention. And in thinking on mothers… it struck me that the way a business truly secures it’s customers these days, is to take their cues directly from moms.

Dreamer Spotlight: Alisha Ammons

Dreamer-Alisha.jpg

Alisha Ammons
QUALITY SPECIALIST

  1. Tell us a little about yourself prior to working at DreamCSX. What career highlights would you like to spotlight?

    I have a BA in Theatre.  I worked as a nanny and a camp counselor for 3 years, and I also taught Children's Theatre at the Red Mountain Theatre in Birmingham. 
     
  2.  Now, tell us about what you do at DreamCSX. How do you apply what you learned from previous jobs to make what you do at DreamCSX special?  

    I am the Quality Assurance Specialist.  I use my skills as a teacher and director to help evaluate agents at Dream and coach them on how to improve their customer service skills.
     
  3. Tell me (so far) your favorite moment at DreamCSX. It can be a customer interaction, landing a deal, or even something related to being on the team.

    One of my favorite moments at Dream was Valentine's Day! We decorated the office, had some great food, and got to show our appreciation for one another.
     
  4. When you’re not at DreamCSX, what do you like to do? 

    I like to watch movies, do arts and crafts, and perform. 
     
  5.  What are you a total nerd about? 

    Superheroes! Specifically Superman comics and Marvel movies.
     
  6. Last, but not least: it’s time for “3 Truths and a Lie: Dreamer Edition”. Give us 3 dreams you have for your future… and 1 lie!
     
        1. Learn how to make pasta from scratch.
        2. Have a one-woman show
        3. Own a cat
        4. Go to every house featured in a Jane Austen movie.

Fill the Funnel

Over the last few weeks, I’ve become a bit obsessed over a basic sales principle: Filling the Funnel. This notion that all prospective deals exist in an invisible funnel, that starts wide at the top — where all the deals start — and slowly whittle down to the mouth of the spout — where actual contracts are signed — is a great metaphor for modern business.

What does it mean to be a hero?

Blog_4_11_18.jpg

Just a few days ago, DreamCSX united to participate in the Little Oaks Superhero 5k. Amidst less-than-super weather, the #DreamTeam donned capes, cowls, and captain hats to take to the trail in the name of charity and team-building. The run itself supported the Little Oaks school of Knoxville, TN… a non-profit preschool. With the money DreamCSX and the other race participants raised headed towards a wonderful cause, it got me thinking about what it means to be a hero.

Turn on your television, radio, or computer, and I’ve no doubt you’ll be inundated with negativity from the get-go. Our nation, nay, our world may have never felt more in upheaval. Personal politics aside, everything these days just feels chaotic. Perhaps this time, more than any other, finds us seeking heroes to save us. Don’t believe me? Marvel alone has seen profits in the billions with their recent box-office runs. As we close in on the impending Infinity War it’s clear as the repulsor blasts from Iron Man’s chest that we’re all enamored with the ideology of rising to the occasion to bring about positive change.

But how does that apply to us in business?

More often than not, the business world is likened to words like cutthroat, competitive, or merciless. Perhaps rightfully so. When you’re a startup, every day in business is a war on all fronts. From a marketplace always keen on the next big thing, to competitors’ price-gouging or replicating your own unique advantages. Employee loyalty goes as far as the bottom dollar you pay – which in and of itself is an overhead strain from day one. Or if your business is living beyond the label of startup… you now face the nipping at your heels by those very startups, whose lean and agile pivoting prowess keeps your products or services forever in jeopardy of becoming outdated or over-priced.

How could being a part of that world ever benefit from the notion of heroism?

DreamCSX participated in the Superhero 5k because our CEO, Michael McMillan knew that our business was founded on more than profit-margins and data-analytics. Our team is more than an amalgamation of hungry go-getters and ladder-climbers looking for their next recommendation on their LinkedIn page. Our company is more than the services we provide, and the hours we keep. It is a family, who have more desire than helping just those we are lucky to call our customers. DreamCSX was founded on the principle of positivity. That no matter our size, helping our community would be a tentpole cemented into the foundation of our mission and vision.

In short? DreamCSX aspires to rise to the occasion to bring out positive change in our world. Heroism for short.

Running in the rain for roughly 3.1 miles does not make anyone on our team heroic (as much as it made them soggy and hungry!). Helping to raise money for a deserving school doesn’t grant us any super powers. But training and completing the run as a team created bonds that will be hard to break. Seeing good work leading to bettering our local community not only raised morale and a few errant endorphins. It allowed us to walk in the door Monday morning, reinvigorated to do our work better than anyone else in our space. It allowed us all to take a step back and recognize that the work we do, matters more than us all collectively paying our bills on time, and enjoying Taco Truck Tuesdays.

Our careers through DreamCSX help us center ourselves, and see the bigger picture. We do the best work we can do – helping our customers see the results they deserve – instilling our energy working for them as if we were working out of their offices. The energy is infectious. The results continue to keep us motivated to continuously improve upon them. Not for profit. Not for fame. Not for the accolades of our peers.

Because we don’t strike to be conquerors. No. We strive to be heroes.

Engaged to My Customers

Engaged to My Customers

Welcome back to the new DreamCSX website. Please mind the dust as we continue to tinker and build on this foundation. Our goal is show the world at large how DreamCSX is an expert in our field; and that our hunger is satiated only when we’re able to help the business community dream bigger. It’s how we engage with the world, writ large.

So, how does your business engage its customers?

Always Be Closing... By Opening Doors

Blog14.jpg

For the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about the perils and plunders of customer service. But today, I want to explore another large facet of DreamCSX’s expertise… that of selling. Specifically prospecting and “filling the top of the funnel”.

For those who begin work in sales, there’s a long standing air of derision around entry level sales. It’s the bottom rung of the ladder. The lowest commission probability. The sink or swim methodology made into a reality show of metrics and potential prat-falls. But I assure you: ask any great salesperson worth their salt, and they’ll tell you that prospecting correctly is the most potent and powerful tool in sales.

Not to fly off on an tangent before we even get to the meat of matter mind you… but I can hear the pushback already. “But what about brand identity? Marketing? Networking?” Well, all of those things are great tools to draw attention and people to your business, or help seat your company at the table of their prospective purchasing. But it’s going to be that actual face-to-face interaction (or voice to voice, or email to email, what-have-you) that will move that prospect from a loose feather floating in the wind into a tangible client who could represent years of potential business and an evangelical level of referrals.

Alec Baldwin’s famous speech in Glengarry Glen Ross (You know the one. “You like this watch?”) seems the hungry ideology every bullpen needs to succeed. A vicious bowl of sharks all attacking each lead with guile, cunning, and savagery mustered until they yield, and relent.

But that’s a movie. It’s not how it’s actually done well in 2018.

Today’s consumer – be it B2C or B2B – comes in the front door with a wealth of knowledge never comparable before in commerce. Thanks to the power of the internet, every business is in competition with every similar business around the world. When you’ve got a prospect on the line, they want to be sold… through a combination of empathy, intelligence, authority, and frugality. In other words? They want you to make them not only feel like you care, but that you’re selling with the conviction of a top provider, all while meeting their bottom line expectations. And whatever your business chooses to denote as what separates itself from the herd – be it through superior customer service, unmatched technology, the best price available, or incomparable features – is being expertly introduced to them by someone who can convey it all while caring.

The thought that carries me through this new way of thinking about your sales efforts, is to think about the chivalry of opening a door. When you open a door for someone else (be they a date, a friend, a client, or even your dog), you’re communicating a litany of ideals. The simple act represents: 1. humility, putting their needs before your own; 2. competency, your willingness to lead them towards their intended direction; and 3. authority, showing your strength to allow them freedom to pass unencumbered. Now, apply that ideology to that very base-layer of sales in your own business.

With that very first interaction… how are you opening the door? Are you putting the needs of your potential client before your own? Simply look at how you measure those initial calls. Is it a meat grinder meant to rattle off a script, get to the call-to-action, demand reaction, rinse and repeat? How are you showing your competency? Are you providing prospects with useful information that allows them to dive further down your funnel on their own, or are you simply casting the widest net possible and counting on volume to even the odds? And lastly… how are you showing authority? If the tenant of authority unencumbers your prospect, how are you effectively communicating it? Every purchase we make – be it a product or service – is ultimately fulfilling a need. When you don’t focus on that need with your customer… you effectively close the door on the potential and opportunity.

And if you want to win that Cadillac El Dorado instead of those steak knives… you can’t do it if you’re not opening the door.

Love Your Customers and They'll Love You Back

This week, love is in the air, is it not? With a plethora of folks scampering off to flower and chocolate delivery service websites, and the card aisles across all local drugstores being picked over like the apocalypse, we thought it might be nice to get you thinking about your customers much the same way those exasperated couples might be in the not-too-distant-future.

Oftentimes, we think of our customers — be we a B2B or B2C — as means to an end. They represent our bottom line, our overhead being met, our product quality and assurance testers in the field… all potentially line-items to be scatter-plotted and analyzed every quarter. But beyond the data (which is immensely importantbut spared for another week), is the anecdotal evidence you need to not only sustain your business… but grow it.

And it all starts with love.

Blog13.jpg

Go back to the very beginning of your business, and I’ll bet my bottom dollar you remember your first customer. From the moment you pitched them your product or service to the second they nodded yes to the deal, should be a sensory memory worth doting on from time to time. More than any other customer since, this first customer is the one your business loved first. They (hopefully) represent the standard by which you measure all future prospects and deals. But rest assured: no deal will ever cost you as much time and effort as that first.

And ask yourself… are they still a customer today? If not, why? Did you outgrow them? Did they outgrow you? Much as any relationship may be… a partnership can be fleeting. But it never discounts the quality of what you had when you had it. Remember your very first love. The butterflies in your stomach. The feeling of anticipation each time you’d talk to one another. The head-spinning euphoric joy you had at all your firsts (first date, first kiss, first joint credit application…). With that relationship in mind, look at your business today.

Every customer you earn, is earned by your pitch, your reputation, your value proposition, and the specific needs being met by the specific customer. If you invest in their satisfaction — that is to force your company to express a love of their commitment to your business through that purchase — they will invest in your company’s future prosperity.

In Jeffery Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling, as many other “101” guides to basic sales and support will tell you: making your customers evangelists of your brand is crucial to growth. And when your customer feels loved? So to will they reciprocate the love outwardly to the world; carrying your signal farther, on the wings of organic referrals (the kind of referrals that simply can’t be bought by selective adword buys and statistical analysis).

In the best relationships, both partners make the other better. They help provide a focal point, and a driving-nature to succeed. When a business makes you feel special for making a purchase, you as a customer almost unescapably evangelize.

Buy a car from a salesman who made you feel like a million dollars… Who got you the deal you never thought, and found a way to sneak in those seat warmers, and a year of satellite radio for no extra cost? Well, I sure bet you tell the next coworker or family member that comes within earshot will wind up hearing your pitch to them about your great experience. 

Or when you purchased that software suite to help manage your overhead… and they took to time to not only train your staff on implementing the tools, but then followed up every month to ensure you were using the suites robust features? Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you’ll be sending their team an extra basket of cookies come Christmas season, right?

So, consider this your homework for the week:

1. Make a list of 5 products or services your company has used that you love.

2. With each one of those 5… list 5 reasons why you love the company that sold you that product or service.

3. Now, look at your business, and ask yourself the hard question: How many of those 25 things you just listed above are you doing to ensure your customers love you?

From Loss to Loyalty

Blog12.jpg

So, you’ve read of my recent misfortune when a company I was loyal to, decided to be unloyal to me. In doing so, they lost a 17-year relationship that would only continue to gain in prominence and payments. So it goes.

Let us flip the switch and see what it’s like to earn loyalty in high-quality customer service then, shall we?

One of the mainstays of my own personal brand (“Always be branding.”) is to carry a custom-printed phone case. Because of my illustration background, I have been self-promoting my artistry now for nearly as long as I’ve carried a smart phone – the only phone really large enough to showcase my work without it being undecipherable. For those who read my last blog, you no doubt know I have recently come into ownership of a brand new phone. Which meant a need for a brand new case.

I was elated at the timing of it all, as I recently completed the cover artwork for my comic book company’s first ever graphic novel. It represents the culmination of 5 years of work – over 1,000 hours of my time – and as such I figured what better piece to represent the milestone, and show off with! Rest assured, it was either that, or the DreamCSX logo, which I also designed!

After a brief google search for custom printers of phone cases, I landed on a well-reviewed business whose site was well-designed (criteria as an artist that definitely matters to me). Why didn’t I use my previous printer you wonder? Simple… they closed up shop at the end of 2017! But I digress.

I selected my phone from their easy-to-use site, and uploaded my artwork. Everything looked good, and I proceeded to check out. BUT WAIT! Before checking out, the chat feature on the site blinked open.

“Are you a new customer?” … Yes I am! “Fantastic. Let me get you a 10% discount code for working with us.” Amazing!

A week later, my case arrived. To my horror, it was a murky and muddy mess. My artwork – replete with rich textures and effects– was a dark blotch of unrecognizable form. As such, I quickly logged back into the printer’s site to see what I could get done. In under a minute, their chat agent and I were looking over the order. It would seem that my original upload of artwork mistakenly was lower resolution than suggested. With that oversight presented, I was ready to accept my error, and place a reorder. BUT WAIT! My chat agent interjected.

“Please sir, it was a minor error. Let me get you a coupon code for a free reprint.” Astounding!

I uploaded new, higher-than-high resolution artwork, applied my coupon, and awaited my reprinted case. You might think you know the rest of the story, but I assure you, stick with me.

A week later, my new case arrived… as bafflingly dark and unrecognizable as before! I was dismayed and defeated. Clearly a mistake of my artwork preparation – which was perhaps the biggest alarm of all given my decades as a designer – I admitted defeat. But, we must always learn from our mistakes, no?

I logged back on to the printer’s site, this time merely to find a way to speak to their production staff to determine what I’d done wrong. Fully ready to make manual adjustments and pay for a new case (and happily give my now 2 muddy-cruddy ones to my 5 year old to use for Lego builds or some such fun). Once again, the same chat agent greeted me. I explained my conundrum. I sent over pictures of my art and of the replacement case.

“Sir, let me get to the bottom of this. I refuse to accept that your case it not matching your artwork.” A day later, I received an email. As my customer service representative would go on to explain: my artwork was perfectly acceptable. But somehow, the production line missed the obvious discrepancy between the on-screen art and the final printed piece. Because of this, the production manager retouched my file personally, and sent along a picture of the re-re-printed case with desire for feedback and my approval. “Sir, we stand by our products, as such, having twice failed to meet our own standards is simply unacceptable. I will be overnighting you this approved case in the morning, along with a coupon code for a free case in the future. I hope we have earned your business in that future.”

And that, my friends, is how customer service is properly managed. Even when I as a customer, came to mistrust my own judgement, this company stood by it’s reputation. They were determined not only to save face by righting their production wrongs… they took the opportunity to do what they could to show me that I mattered to them. I’m sure I am nothing but an errant blip of data on a scatter graph that sits somewhere between their operations and marketing department (as I should be!), but I can’t deny the anecdotal evidence of their pride in service. As such, they’ve gained a customer for as long as they are in business… and I’m in need of amazing phone cases.

Chief Dreamer's Spotlight: A Letter to My Fellow Leaders

Dear Aspiring Entrepreneur,

Here is what business school has not told you (for reasons beyond my comprehension)...

What ever amount of money you think you need? Double or triple it. I don't care how much research you did. You. Are. Wrong!  As I've found — by living through it — all the typical models for estimating your budding business needs actually take significantly more money and time to come to life. Simply put, you will bleed out your money far faster than you'll ever imagine. 

Shop your banks early and often, and never go with a bank because they are who you are presently with. Make sure they fully comprehend your business model, and can give you clear line of sight to being bankable, and getting a line of credit. 

>> Please Note >> The banking industry is built to help you fail. If you have dependency on them as a startup, you must rethink your plan. Your money wires will always be late, and your loans and deposits will always have holes or delays. 

Payroll weeks suck! Have a close advisory team you can confide in fully, and seek support from. 

Your family will not be able to bail you out every time. Make sure you have more resources available to you beyond your most forgiving safety net (should you be lucky enough to have one). 

Build with scale in mind. Once you have 5 employees, you will not have time or ability to do everything as you have up until that point. Have a clear strategy for both who and how your operations will run. 

No matter how good you think you are at sales, you will never be good enough to float the entire business on sales alone. 

Be ready to miss paychecks. It is real, and going to happen. If you are not ready for it, you will fail. 

Prep your friends and family that your relationships will suffer. Sadder still? Be ready for some of those relationship to die. In your first year, an average week will be 80-100 hours. 

HIRE SLOWLY, but fire QUICKLY. Yes, we all have heard this a million times. But in the beginning, bonds form quick between you and your team. Remember though... your business will not wait for you to figure out when personal preferences take heed over better business practices. While you need to take the time to get the right people, know they may only be right for a period of time. It is the cost of doing business to recognize that you may or will outgrow those who stood with you when you began.

Don't be a whore! Yes money may become tight, and a sale may feel necessary. But don't sell to the wrong customer. In the long run, a bad client can sink your company faster than tight cashflow. 

Stay positive under all circumstances.  Even in your darkest moments, you mustfind a way to see the light no one else sees. It is the only way I've personally found to survive. 

Finally? Start networking NOW! The old saying 'it takes a village' is no joke. To build a business, it takes a nation.  Politicians, vendors, investors, bankers, college professors, et al...  you must know everyone, and build close ties to them. Trust me. You will need to call-in help and favors early and often. Invest the time early, while the time still exists to do it. 

If you follow this advise, you'll have at least a 10% chance to make it past year one. For some of you, 10% will sound impossible. To others, it will be the challenge you intend to meet. Take that for what you will.

So if you are ready... Good luck, and God speed!

To Your Success & Prosperity!

MikeBlogBioShot.jpg

About The Author: Michael McMillan is the Chief Dreamer of DreamCSX. Living life by his motto of, "never become a statistic" Michael is ever pushing himself and his teams toward creating amazing solutions for consumers.  

From Loyalty to Loss

Blog11.jpg

Follow me, won’t you, down the rabbit hole of horrendous customer service.

When I got my first cellphone 17 years ago, I was a meticulous consumer (just starting college). I researched all the available carriers, and found the one with the best network. I figured out how many minutes I’d need (and NEVER would I pay for texts! Who would TEXT someone when you could talk to them!), and purchased my very first phone. I could not have been more proud as a consumer.

Over time, this carrier and I would have an occasional call. I’d see (like most of us) some “grass is greener” advertisement from another phone company trying to lure me away. I’d call my service up, ready to leave. And every single time, the friendly agent would figure out a way to continue to earn my business. Be it with a minimal discount on my bill, a new phone upgrade, adding some text messages in to my plan (turns out, texting is fun!) or some other bric-a-brac… I would wind up right where I started, but feeling pride in my decision. Loyal to my brand, as they’d been loyal to me.

Sounds familiar, I hope.

Well, such as it was, the other day an advertisement caught my eye. After 17 years, my single limited-minute no-text plan grew up in a family plan; 4 lines on smartphones sharing talking, text, and data. The shiny new company was offering me unlimited talking, texting, and data, new phones, and a lower monthly cost. Too good to be true, so I called up my friendly agent. Well, that’s not exactly what happened.

As a Millennial (so they say), I opted for my first initial contact to be via a webchat. As I was working in the office at the time, it made sense to be able to discuss my plan and such via chatting versus being on a phone. And so I went to the carrier’s site, logged in, and found a chat agent. So far, so good.

I let loose my thinking – how this other deal was ‘too good to be true’ and I was hopeful that my service might find a way (as they always had) to help me rationalize continuing my loyalty. Let me clarify: I had no desire to hold a service I paid for hostage over this… it’s truly a matter of dollars and cents. As a father of two with one on the way, making sure I’m living the frugal life trumps everything else. And so the agent hemmed and hawed, and ultimately gave me a phone number to call. “You’ll need to speak to a specialist about that.”

Fine. I’ll play along.

On my drive home, I dial their super-secret number to the super-secret agents. I’m immediately placed on hold. And hold I do… for 17 minutes. When someone finally connects with me, I detail the whole story to them. They listen attentively to my five minute diatribe and interject:

“You’ll need to speak to our customer retention department. Please hold.”

And hold I do. For another 22 minutes. By this time, my drive home is complete. I need to be a dad again, so, the call is ended. I am displeased, but not deterred. After dinner, bath, storytime, and beddy-bye for my boys, I sink into my basement office, and redial the super-secret number to the super-secret agent. 13 minutes on hold, I immediately tell the person who picks up I need to speak to Customer Retention. Another 8 minutes pass, and finally I reach the mystical person who should be the one to help me. I let loose the same story I’ve pitched out now in writing and on the phone previously.

“Well sir… that does sound like a great deal. If I tweak things here and there and…”

He does his best fiddling in his computer. At best he suggested a way to reduce my bill by 5 dollars, and in turn, truncate my data service to a smaller package.

“So, after 17 years of loyalty, the best you can do is offer me an inferior package in an effort to trim 5 dollars off my bill, versus the 60 dollars the other guys are giving me, plus new phones?”

“Yes sir.”

And so, I politely informed him that wasn’t enough. Not by a country mile.

Still with me? Good.

The lesson here is actually simple to digest. Look how I, a loyal customer, saw my business float away with one customer service failure after another. From a lengthy chat on the web leading me to a phone call, leading me to hilariously long wait times (with no helpful “we’ll call you back when the line is free” services), ultimately winding up with an agent unwilling to work with me… the carrier I’d given literally the entirety of my business for (in their product line) actively worked AGAINST any chance of keeping me as a customer. And I even laid it out for them! I wasn’t looking for a dollar-for-dollar match. I was looking for this company to rationalize staying with them. Such as they had numerous times before.

My bill and plan only increased with them over time. Such as it were, that will continue to expand further (no doubt) as my children eventually need phones (thankfully a LONG time from now!). But without seeing that potential and using it? They acquiesced to my argument of a greener pasture, and turned me away without any attempt to retain me as their customer.

The question is now turned on you:

When it comes to your customer service… What are you doing to ensure you’re keeping your customers loyal?

Chief Dreamer's Spotlight: Reflection

CEO1.jpg

In the world of startups it is so easy to get lost in the every day, and forget what the future can hold. But It is critical for us as leaders to take the time to reflect on where we came from on a daily basis.

Reflection on your past trials and successes is critical to help keep you focused on what worked and what did not — so you can reach your vision of the future. If you don’t take this time for yourself, it is too easy to forget the lessons you were taught, and risk repeating your failures.

The question I commonly get at this point is, “Okay I agree, but how can I make the time to do this... when my days are already 10 – 15 hours long, 7 days a week?” 

My response is always the same: Your days will become shorter when you schedule 30 minutes a day to simply reflect.

Personally I use my time before my kids wake up (5:30a – 6:00a) to reflect on the past day. On Sunday after church, I take an hour with my journal, and reflect on the past week.

This practice has provided me insight that has fundamentally changed both my personal and professional life. It has allowed me to catch mistakes I've made, and correct them before anyone else was even aware they occurred! This has been my greatest tool; keeping me humble to the fact that as a leader I still have a lot to learn.

Using this time to reflect, I came upon a bit of a revelation. Discovered in one of my first reflection periods, I realized how much I needed to force myself to take 1 hour per day to study and read. This time is blocked off on my calendar and my team knows that I am not to be disturbed... no matter what.

At first? My team thought I was crazy. And when I asked them to all follow me in doing this? They really thought I'd lost it! 

Slowly after enacting it though, light bulbs started to appear all over our office. New ideas and concepts were being spoken about from the books they were reading. Processes and systems were being improved at a blinding pace. All of these positive changes, all derived from a simple 30 Minute reflection time!

To date, I have estimated that this practice has saved our company, on average, 10 hours of work per day, per person. Converted into dollars, the impact to our bottom line is staggering.

So I leave you with this: Are you taking time to reflect and ensure you repeat what worked, and not live through those trials and tribulations again?  Are you leading your team to do the same? Finally, are you helping them find even better solutions through dedicated education time?  If not, then I will tell you that you are leaving an INSANE amount of money on the table, and owe it to yourself and your team to fix this today!

To Your Success & Prosperity!

 

MikeBlogBioShot.jpg

About The Author: Michael McMillan is the Chief Dreamer of DreamCSX. Living life by his motto of, "never become a statistic" Michael is ever pushing himself and his teams toward creating amazing solutions for consumers.  

New Years: New Opportunities

Blog10.jpg

Tis the season, Dreamers!

Not long after DreamCSX opened its doors to the business world, there came a simple but effective question we as a team asked ourselves. “How do we grow fast, but smart?” It’s much the same as nearly any business in its infancy must keep in mind. The concept of growth and scalability should be on the tip of the tongue of nearly every business owner. It’s never good enough to be good enough. But in order to strive for better… there are things that must be kept in mind along the journey.

With 2018 upon us, and many customers and business returning to the normal work week, it’s time we all take a close look at our businesses – and ensure that scalability and growth are at the top of our short and long-term to-do lists. It’s a new year, and new opportunities await those who are best prepared for it.

To begin, you as a business must define what a new opportunity looks like. For some businesses, new opportunities may exist with existing customers. Users of a product or service are more likely to repeat and expand their business if they are satisfied with the product or service they are presently receiving.

A great example here in my own life: As a long-time user of the Blue brand of USB microphones, when it came time to revamp my podcasting equipment… I first turned to Blue microphones when considering the next level of product. Because of this, Blue as a company could consider me a new opportunity from an existing user. As such, I upgraded from their Snowball to their larger and more impressive Yeti microphone. I’ll look forward to sharing some recordings with you in 2018, so you can judge my taste in audio devices.

Beyond mining an existing user-base, there is always the prospect of completely new customers. No matter your product or service, there are always new people entering your marketplace ready to consider your business.

The key question then for both sets of opportunities is a complex one; What are you doing to deliver your message and the best experience for them when it comes to making a purchase? What are you doing to ensure after purchase your customer is well-supported? And how are you leveraging the data you capture with each customer interaction with your business? The answers to each of these should both excite and frighten you!

What you’re doing right and wrong will dictate how much each new opportunity costs your business. Remember that every new customer in your door costs you employee time, energy, marketing dollars, and support costs for the span of their patronage. Your duty is to ensure you’re not only covering those costs, but are profiting to boot. If your New Years resolution list doesn’t include line-items to audit all your processes to track exactly how much each opportunity costs you? Well, you’re welcome. We just gave you your first bit of homework for the year!

But what is good for the goose is good for the gander, or so they say. Rest assured DreamCSX has asked all of these questions and more internally as we stare down 2018. Our answers are as complex as yours are; by continuing to grow our base of experience specialists, developing new and engaging marketing and educational materials, and ensuring the success of our existing partners is our not-so-secret recipe for success.

As always, this blog is meant to make you think, make you act, and make you excited for the future. If DreamCSX can help your business scale and grow efficiently – while increasing your profit through intelligent, data-driven service solutions – we want to talk to you. Because, let’s face it…

You might very well be our next great opportunity for success.

Dreamer Spotlight: Sara Hilzendeger

sara.jpg
  1. Tell us a little about yourself prior to working at DreamCSX. What career highlights would you like to spotlight?

    I haven’t had a typical or logical career path. I worked for a small medical equipment resale outfit out of Atlanta. I got to interact a lot with doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators and find out how their equipment they used was helping or hurting their business.

    People are my passion, so it was quite fun to interact with so many people from so many places. From there, I went to work in middle school ministry where I had been a volunteer. I loved my job there primarily because I still think like a middle schooler. I did find that I missed the interaction with kids that I had as a volunteer. Once on staff, my interaction was dedicated to our volunteers. I loved it, but I really belong hanging out with middle school girls braiding hair or playing Just Dance on the Xbox.

    I then started my own business as a personal chef in Atlanta. I loved that as well, and did quite well for myself, but I missed working as a part of team. It’s probably better for me to keep cooking as a passion/hobby rather than for business.
     
  2. Now, tell us about what you do at DreamCSX. How do you apply what you learned from previous jobs to make what you do at DreamCSX special?  

    I was hired as an Experience Specialist to make cold calls and warm up leads. I am moving into doing other work within the company using my talents in outbound prospecting. I learned to work hard but still play hard in my previous positions. I have a continuous drive to push myself harder every day—but I also never pass up the opportunity to brighten someone’s day or make them laugh if I can! It’s my belief that hard work shouldn’t “feel” like hard work if you’re doing it right. I’m grateful to work for a company who embraces that culture.
     
  3. Tell me (so far) your favorite moment at DreamCSX. It can be a customer interaction, landing a deal, or even something related to being on the team.

    My favorite moment working here is working with another team member to develop an official cheer for our company. She is running point on the project, but we’re collaborating together. We expect to hear it around here all the time soon. Super fun!
     
  4. When you’re not at DreamCSX, what do you like to do? 

    I love to cook. Cooking is like therapy to me. No matter what I’m stressed about, deglazing a pan just makes life feel easy again. I go home at the end of the workday singing music loudly and off-key in my car. I walk in, change into sweats (such a homebody), crank up music in the kitchen, and dance. Whether I’m cooking more complex meals or just a grilled cheese, pumping up the jam in my kitchen is such a great way to start the evening. When I’m not cooking, I’m probably at a ballfield watching my son play whatever sport of the moment he’s into, or I’m watching Friends with my husband. If I were a character on TV, I would be Monica on Friends even though she annoys me the most. She wants everything to be perfect and is always playing hostess, but her friends are so annoyed with her worrying about all the stupid details (like how her ribbons are stored) so much. I relate so strongly to that!
     
  5. What are you a total nerd about?

    FOOD. How it’s prepped, where it comes from, the origins of a recipe, ALL. THE. THINGS. I am always learning a new dish to create or finding the worst looking restaurant on the block that makes the most amazing food. If the building of a restaurant looks like it should be condemned but the parking lot is full, you can bet it’s legit.
     
  6. Last, but not least: it’s time for “3 Truths and a Lie: Dreamer Edition”. Give us 3 dreams you have for your future… and 1 lie!
    1. I’m going to launch a podcast next year and it’s going to be incredible.
    2. I dream of visiting every country in the world one day.
    3. My husband and I aim to be completely out of debt in the next 10 years.
    4. I dream of a world where no one drinks their cereal milk in front of me. So gross!

Outsourcing: Give a Gift to Your Business

Blog9.jpg

Tis the season, Dreamers!

As often is the case, our Chief Dreamer, Michael McMillan’s YouTube channel has sparked a great debate for us to discuss this week:

Outsourcing. To many, this word is a harbinger of doom. Mere utterances of it fills employees with dread over the loss of their jobs. Management cower with back-pocket anecdotal feelings of letting strangers handle the nuances of their businesses culture, product, and customers. The term, sadly, is dirty as a piece of coal left in a naughty boy or girl’s stocking.

In reality… Outsourcing is the plate of cookies and glass of milk left for Santa. Follow me down this silly little metaphor, will you?

Santa brings gifts for all the good little boys and girls of the world. In return for this outsourcing of gift procurement for the season, you in turn, pay with some sugar, fat, and starch. It’s more than a fair deal! You didn’t have to make the gift, wrap it, or even deliver it. Instead, you outsourced and receive more than you had to pay out! A plate of cookies and milk is far cheaper than both the material goods and labor involved in the gift giving process!

Outsourcing can mean the difference between profit and loss. Between a product or not. Between your customer’s satisfaction or not. When the right partner is involved, outsourcing lowers your bottom line and frees up your resources to better focus on whatever it is your business does the best.

The fear with outsourcing for many managers and business owners comes down to the misnomer of the loss of control. The feeling that by carving off a piece of the business and wholly giving it over to a vendor strips your business of its agency. This couldn’t be further from the truth — when you partner with the rightvendor!

When you choose the right partner to outsource with, you’re gaining an entire workforce where you once likely only had a few employees. Your dollar stretches one or two employees into five or ten. And when those five or ten are contractually obligated and specifically trained to represent your business (matching both your specific business culture, as well as having access and complete knowledge of your product), your control is actually far greater than it ever was before!

Because the right outsourcing partner is not only accountable for successful interactions with your customers — they are experts in service where you specifically are not. This can’t ever be seen as an admission of fault or weakness. This is, in fact, good leadership. As with many who are the most successful in business today: it’s less about your ability to control every decision… more about your ability to have all decisions being made by those best equipped to make them for you!

As always, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make an attempt to draw some specific allusions to our own offerings. DreamCSX is Customer Experience and Sales Support. The complete care and coaxing of the client lifecycle. Our partners recognize the grind that represents mining sales leads, generating quality appointments, and properly managing customer support issues. When one of our customers works with us, they are outsourcing these specific needs because DreamCSX can provide a service they simply couldn’t replicate in-house — without heft overhead and precious time and monetary resources. DreamCSX lowers their bottom line while increasing their productivity. In short? For the price of a plate of milk and cookies? DreamCSX is leaving every one of our partners the gift of time and money under their tree.

And that makes for one happy holiday season.

Stay Humble, Hustle Hard

Blog8.jpg

A few weeks back, our CEO shot a quick video at a friend’s office. In the video, Michael touched on shaping a company’s environment to match their goals. He never drives into specifics – more or less touching on the basic idea to get you to think about how the office your employees inhabit can be augmented to drive success. But I digress.

Behind Mike, framed wonderfully, was a bit of wall art that inspired me to write to you this week. The phase “Stay Humble, Hustle Hard” rings true to DreamCSX, and as such, deserves some attention.

DreamCSX has yet to blow out candles on a single birthday cake. To stay humbleis woven into the fabric of our company charter. We recognize, more than most, that businesses do not stay successful when they lose sight of reality. Every line-item on the company ledger needs to be scrutinized – from company-sponsored parties, all the way down to office supplies. While DreamCSX was founded on the ideology to grant every employee the tools they need to be successful, it comes at the price of needing to always account for that measurable success the employee will deliver. The data always sets your free, my friends.

The yang to humilty’s yin is the hustle. Simply put, without drive, the car does not move. Too often in business we get buried in the weeds, or can’t see the forest for the trees. But set aside the mantras and platitudes for a second. The real world constantly presents us with real problems – like making payroll on a week when sales may not have come in, or dealing with the loss of a client unexpectedly. There are times when facing these challenges, we wind up taking one on the chin, pushing our plans and dreams aside to put out the fires. The issue then comes when the fire is out; are you going to push your plans back? Or double down to catch up to where you’re supposed to be? DreamCSX always chooses the latter. The hustle, then, is always on.

Now, circle back to the environment. DreamCSX recently moved into its brand-new home. Amidst the clutter, boxes, and temporary furniture, our hard-working team has been living humble while hustling hard. Our continued successes have been outlined each week at our State of the Dream addresses – a feature in our business that not only drives culture (of being transparent), but awards individual efforts that ultimately lift our team up higher. While we’ve yet to really build out some installation art of inspiration we have made it a continued mission to celebrate our work, take time to truly welcome each new member of our growing team, and always account for the contributions throughout the company. Our employees are living, breathing inspiration to one another. Beats a little painting or sculpture any day of the week, I tell you what.

“Stay Humble, Hustle Hard” may adorn the wall of another office, but the words ring true inside each Dreamer who works between our walls. The mentality of any startup business is to find the balance between the hunger and the disruption. Our shingle in the BPO space comes attached with more than bleeding-edge technology and uncompromising employee talent. It comes rooted with a passionto be the best, and never lose that spirit. Whether we close ten clients or a hundred in a given week, we have chosen the path to Dream (with a capital D). We will never take our eyes off the horizon. There will never be a point at which we settle for what we have. There will always be innovation, expansion, and a commitment of uncompromising results.

We follow these feelings because we are forever humbled under the auspices that everything worth having doesn’t come without a fight. We stay humble, so that we can always hustle hard.

Are You a Problem Solver?

You know some weeks, our CEO makes it a little too easy to bring you an interesting topic. As I hope you took some time out today to watch the video above, Chief Dreamer, Michael McMillan, posits a very direct question?

Are you a problem solver?

We’d all like to think so, right?

But as Mike breaks the term down, I’d believe many of us taking an honestinventory of our careers might find that each of us has trading up and down through the roles he defined. As an exercise in both education and humility, all me, the Marketing Dreamer, to show you how all of us work through Mike’s Buckets of Problem Solving from our first roles in business through to today.

The Problem Creator

When we begin our careers, we often are giving a limited set of responsibilities, and more typically, a very exhaustive process by which to complete them. All too often, either of our own volition or by proxy of the instructions given, we become a Problem Creator. Let’s just go ahead and toss away the typical mistakes of our youth though. It’s rare we step out from college, into an internship, and waltz into an entry-level position with absolutely no mistakes to our name. Toss the baby out with the bathwater there; being a creator because youthful hubris leads to a clerical error, or other smudge on our record is simply a given.

As Mike hinted above, where Problem Creators become a valuable resource for our companies comes into play when their following of a process gives way to never-seen-before issues. All too often when people transition out of a job, and are left to leave the instructions for the next guy things can get hairy fast. Directions too detailed can complicate simple processes into mind-boggling tedium. Conversely, lax instructions can lead a newer employee to either be dependent upon their supervisor to finish their tasks… or worse… be left making crucial decisions they’re not equipped to handle. When we find these Problem Creators we should celebrate the discovery of ways to improve our business. The creators grant us the opportunity to better ourselves in truly tangible ways.

The Problem Finder

Let’s be honest. When an employee makes a mistake, they don’t often proclaim it loudly (except when they learn that Reply All is right next to Reply!). Our Problem Finders become our key players to sniff out the issues, and shine the light on them. There’s not much more that needs to be said here. Most often well-placed in HR and Operations, your Finders exist to help flesh out areas and processes to improve. Use them as your guides, and you’re left with a roadmap to your future prosperity and success.

The Problem Complainer

When an issue arises in our businesses, It’s a needle to thread; how do we solve itcan often be losts when a Complainer sits in our midst. These ne’er-do-wrongs tend to find the problems, not unlike our Problem Finders, but miss that crucial skill to offer a path to improvement. As Mike details, there is value to a Complaineron staff, when your Finders are perhaps more introverted.

The Problem Follower

On your front line, the Problem Followers are your day-to-day grunts. Not to be uncouth about it, but we recognize who they are. Those folks who punch in on time, eat lunch on time, take a piece of cake on the birthday celebrations, and leave like clockwork at the stroke of five. Issues that come up are left right where they were when your Creators were making them, your finders were sleuthing them out, and your Complainers were loudly discussing it in the breakroom. Finding your followers, and mentoring them into your Finders and eventually Solvers is one of the key tasks you should focusing on as a manager or leader. Your Followers are clay to be molded. Never shaking the boat is an indication they can one day steer your ship.

The Problem Solver

Last, and truly most important, are your Problem Solvers. Those key staff members who actively engage you and your business with an eye to constantly evolve. Staff members willing to identify issues, offer solutions for them, and most importantly… roll up their sleeves and get dirty eliminating. The more of these folks on your team? The more your bottom line always stays clearly in the black.

Your role here is to not only be your companies’ biggest Problem Solver, but to also deputize, train, and lead the future Problem Solvers throughout every department under your roof. These folks are your C-Level managers; whose responsibilities and measurables grant them the burden of always seeking the best solutions for the company. They think lean, and win big. They plan, and execute. They are always begging for forgiveness, not seeking permission. They turn a large breadth of skills into tangible results you can count on to deliver success from errant failures. They are your team captains, and as such, should be ones bringing you the big-picture-ramifications having always been in the trenches wrestling victory away from defeat.

And now? HOMEWORK.

Yup, you better believe we weren’t going to let you off the hook this week. We want you to pull up a roster of your employees. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Now, next to each employee, evaluate and grade them (Creator, Finder, Complainer, Follower, and Solver).

Look over your list, and start seeing the forest for the trees. How many solvers do you have? How many Followers and Finders are ready to take a step up?

Make your plan of action, and promote someone this week. Fortune favors the bold. And the bold don’t scurry away from the problems that plague your business. They solve them.

Have You Dreamt Today?

Blog7.jpg

I was lucky the other day to have a bit of time to myself while on the road for the company. Enjoying a rare evening when no toddlers would wake me up at the crack of dawn to ask to use my cellphone granted me a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. I will ask all of you reading this to ensure my wife does notsee this blog. With blackout curtains pulled taught, a king-size bed all to myself, and a room chilled to a brisk 67 degrees, I hit slumberland like my beloved Cubs hit the baseball – hard. And then I dreamed the most glorious dream. There I was, moving new furniture into a new house down the street from my current tinier home. My sons were there, being helpful. And then I got the call that my latest comic book (you do know I make comics right? No? Well, maybe it’ll be my turn for an employee spotlight soon!) was picked up by Marvel to be made into a movie. What a dream!

And it leads me to ask you a very basic question: Have you dreamt today?

DreamCSX beyond the basic elevator pitch, is the sum of many moving parts. But what binds those parts, rote as it may be, is the constant of aspiration. The company was formed by Dreamers for Dreamers. In short: business men and women whose eyes are purposefully bigger than their stomach. DreamCSX wants to find each and every last one of those people, and give them the Buy One Get One coupon right to the Vegas buffet of business success.

But I digress. I could make up metaphors all day.

From our chief Dreamer straight down to our account representatives, we represent the ideal that all businesses should be able to focus on what makes them successful. In previous blogs, I’ve asked you to do some simple homework. To capture what you do better than your competition, and then take down the tasks that get in your way to doing those things you outlined previously. I did these exercises with you to help you see the bigger picture. Or in short… to dream.

Too often in the business world, we get mired in the muck of the minutiae. We can’t see the forest for the trees. Because the day-in-day-out sundries of account management, administrative work, or even just the grind of prospect nurturing can all clog the gears of innovation. If your company makes widgets… how often are you really working to improve your widgets, design brand new widgets to edge out your competition, or work to collect market research to determine the strategy of your current widget offerings? If you’re worried about answering the phones, monitoring your sales team, or solving your customers basic problems? The fact is you’re spending money inefficiently. Leaders assume their roles to steer the ship, not determine what the galley serves for supper.

And with that, I come to dreaming. It’s time you dream again. Recall the times at the infancy of your business (or perhaps when you yourself started in business). Do you remember a time when innovation was on the tip of your tongue? When development, research, prototyping, and making those initial sales kept you up at night and then woke you up early to keep pushing? These are the things we want to talk to our customers about.

So, close your eyes. Envision your administrative work, cold calling, and data collection all being handled without stress. Replace that stress with a big fat pile of empty space. What will you put there? What will you allow your company to aspire to do, when the day-to-day isn’t an unending fire to be put out?

Dream. And then tell us what that dream is. Together? We’ll make it a reality.

Dreamer Spotlight: Tara Slusher

Slusher.jpg

TARA SLUSHER
DREAM HUNTER

  1. Tell us a little about yourself prior to working at DreamCSX. What career highlights would you like to spotlight?

    I’ve had a fun career so far! I started in TV production at a local NBC affiliate, went to national cable programming (HGTV, DIY, Oxygen), on to PBS... and then went corporate!  My biggest rewards have been meeting community changers — you know, those people that are really giving it their all, and making a difference in their community. It was my role to help these people wanting to share their story on TV.  

    I’ve always been a curious person and being in TV production gave me access to meet all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.  While I benefited from being exposed to many ways of life and schools of thought, I was also able to apply my skills to help them share their voice. 
     
  2.  Now, tell us about what you do at DreamCSX. How do you apply what you learned from previous jobs to make what you do at DreamCSX special?  

    I’m the Dream Hunter here at DreamCSX.  I help our company find talent across the entire business spectrum, and I’m looking for people who want to have a greater impact on the world than what they’re already doing. People who want to find a company that values their contributions and wants to see them grow!

    I’ve worked in Casting and I apply similar skills to finding good talent for DreamCSX as I would for a TV show.  I’m a people person and I thrive in organized chaos! That comes from working in newsrooms, being on tight deadlines, and knowing I have a responsibility to do my job accurately and professionally. For me, organized chaos is loving the excitement of an ever-changing, ever-growing company, and loving me some post-it notes and lists. Oh the lists! 
     
  3. Tell me (so far) your favorite moment at DreamCSX. It can be a customer interaction, landing a deal, or even something related to being on the team.

    By far my favorite moment at DreamCSX was when I received my first account to handle for the company.  They are of the same industry that I came from... so I knew the lingo, I knew the tone they were looking for, and I could very quickly become one of them. I hit it out of the park! It solidified what our company is all about, helping our clients take care of certain business processes so they can focus their time and energy on reaching even higher business goals.  That kind of success right out of the gate happened because our senior leaders in the company have an expansive career in this business, they know what they’re doing, and who to match with what account.  It’s impressive!
     
  4. When you’re not at DreamCSX, what do you like to do? 

    I’m a family person and everything centers around my tribe. We even have our own nickname.   When I’m not at DreamCSX you can find me either in the mountains enjoying this BEAUTIFUL natural habitat, at the movies, at church, at a ballpark, or in my kitchen.  I still date my husband (so important!) and we love to catch live bands playing on the weekends and discover local new eateries.
     
  5.  What are you a total nerd about? 

    I am a NERD about awards shows.  Yes, I block out my entire afternoon/evening to watch the red carpet shows. Yes I plan out my own wardrobe, and tweet about it. Yes I get emotional about acceptance speeches and have been known to YouTube them a few times afterwards just to relive the moment.  No, you will not judge me.
     
  6. Last, but not least: it’s time for “3 Truths and a Lie: Dreamer Edition”. Give us 3 dreams you have for your future… and 1 lie!
     
        1.  I plan to live in a motorhome and travel the country after the kids leave for college.
        2. I plan to start my own non-profit.
        3. I plan to pursue my singing career one day.
        4. I plan to start a podcast and it will be AMAZING

Oh Captain, My Captain

Blog1.png

Every morning, as I check down my various news sites to start my day… I always wind up at YouTube. While there, I’ll tag a handful of videos to Watch Later, so when I get home and have a minute or two to myself, I have some quick entertainment at hand while I catch up on personal e-mail. Fancy that only a few days ago, YouTube suggested a new channel for me.

It suggested the new vlog of DreamCSX’s CEO, Mike McMillan. #Synergy

So, half-jokingly, I went ahead and clicked subscribe. Later that evening, I pulled up Mike’s very first clip, and turned my attention to my second screen. His words stopped me from moving my mouse an inch. As he set himself up, I could feel the sincere passion Mike brings to the table for the employees at DreamCSX. Before long, I’d caught up on all of his entries (now on his 6th as of this article). There’s so much to unpack, that I fear a single blog of my own will hardly do Mike justice. With that in mind, I cite one clip:

As you’ll see across the span of eight minutes, Mike knows what it means to run a startup. Beyond the excitement of running a business, comes the responsibility of making it work. As I myself have worked in and around startups for over half of my own fifteen year career, I can personally attest to the breadth of startup CEOs that exist in the space. From the CEBro to the Trustfund Kid, I’ve worked for them all. Mike though, as you see above, represents the best kind of leader; the one never willing to give an order he himself wouldn’t do to see victory.

So there, in the dead of night when some of us were watching TV, playing on our phones, or taking in that last glass of wine, DreamCSX’s head-honcho was crunching numbers to see his aggressive goals be met. As a leader, he’s been committed to keeping the inner-workings of the company transparent to his employees. And let me say beyond a shadow of doubt: when you know the direction and passion of your company without the veil of subterfuge or extraneous hype? You believe in your company. As such, it’s every reason why I personally believe so much in DreamCSX.

As I like to do, I want to end this week with a brief assignment for you and your business. I want you to think of where you stand specifically at your company. What roles do you take on. What duties do you delegate. Now, imagine it’s midnight. Your staff – be they above or below your paygrade – is off for the night. What are you willing to do to see success? Now, I want you to write it out. Type it if you’re handwriting is sloppy (we know, we know… you have too much to do to be neat). And tape it somewhere you have to see it daily.

At the end of the day, we must all answer to ourselves: if we are to lead, then we must build up those who follow us. Do the work you have to do to see your goals met. And where DreamCSX can partner with you to allow you the time to do it? Well, you’ll know that the leader of our ship is doing the same things you are to see every one of us succeed.

And that… is the dream we’re all trying to achieve.