Why I feel safe in NYC

Do you feel safe in New York City? You should. Last year, NYC’s murder rate dropped to its lowest level since 1963 — the first year the NYPD started the tally. In January, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city logged 328 murders in 2014, a five percent drop since the prior year. Grand larcenies, burglaries, robberies and rapes also dipped. There was plenty of back patting to go around.

Not lauded by de Blasio? The city’s ever-increasing suicide rate.  This is perhaps because suffers of suicidal thoughts often shield themselves under a veil of silence. Their deaths rarely make headlines.

But, sometimes they do. This week came the news that Dell’s Maraschino Cherries owner Arthur Mondella took his own life in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It remains unclear exactly why Mondella allegedly took his own life, but suddenly the issue was brought to the forefront. Similar to the shock suicide of famed Hollywood comedian Robin Williams last year, the story has people talking, and asking; Why?

In New York City, the rate of suicide is 25 percent higher than murder, according to The Samaritans of New York, the city’s 24-hour suicide prevention hotline. The organization fielded 83,000 calls from distressed citizens last year – its largest record in history. It captured additional staggering statistics: Suicide is the third highest cause of death for 15-24 year-olds and nearly 30,000 high school students try to kill themselves every year.

We live in difficult times and New Yorkers are a distressed bunch. Many of us face fear and anxiety over a litany of concerns from meeting medical needs to feeding our families. Winter sometimes ushers in the last strike.  Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects the mental health of many people during the fall and winter months. SAD is a subtype of major depression that is characterized by hopelessness, worthlessness, low energy, loss of interest, trouble sleeping, and more. It’s hard to look beyond the incessant snowstorms and nor’easters that can feel endless.

Certainly a decreased murder rate is something to be celebrated. Our police force, politicians and community should come together to continue to decrease this gap. At the same time, let’s not carry on the silence over suicide. Let’s not forget those who aren’t seeking headlines, but are calling our helplines.

Powering the future soldier

Tactical Power Cover thumbWhat happens when deployed soldiers lose battery charge during a life-threatening situation? There are no wall outlets in the field or in remote areas, which reduces access to reliable electricity.

Luckily, engineers from the Command, Power and Integration Directorate (CP&I) within the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), are working to develop interoperable power solutions, while reducing soldier power burden and enabling energy independence.

Renewable EnergyTactical Power Page2 thumb

Solar Power: These are not the JanSport backpacks of your high school days. Engineers at the Command, Power and Integration Directorate (CP&I) are trialing solar cells on soldier’s backpacks, making for a new way of collecting some rays. The power capabilities cells could be deployed on large ground mats and large vehicle-borne solar arrays as well.
Wind Power: Instead of wind turbines planted in a wheat field in middle America, these deployable masts are made of lightweight carbon fiber technology containing a wind power system that is light enough for soldiers to carry. The masts reach up to 30 feet in the air and drive the batteries for energy storage.

Energy Harvesting: Soldiers themselves can produce viable energy simply by exerting it. Technology is currently being tested by gathering “wasted” energy exerted through soldier’s movements. Modern, low-power computing devices can be powered by sufficient energy created by kinetics.

Tactical Power Page3 thumbWireless Power

Vehicle Recharge: The less energy exerted to achieve a charge, the better. Engineers are testing transmitting coils that wirelessly recharge a soldier’s equipment while they rest in any military vehicle seat.

How? The process pairs inductive coupling with e-textiles, or conductive fabric, which is routed through the soldier’s uniform, protective vest or load carriage.

Mission ExtenderTactical Power Page4 thumb

Conformal Batteries: Imagine a battery system that behaves like a second skin. Engineers have designed one that does just that – it becomes part of a soldier’s battle dress by seamlessly conforming to the human body, which allows for much easier movement and increased survivability.  This is achieved because the batteries are thin, lightweight, flexible and provide more power.

Read the full article

First crawl, next walk, then run to campus emergency response excellence

This isn’t the “stop, drop and roll” of yesteryear.

emergency responseCampus safety is top of mind for students and faculty alike, which means if your college or university wants to be at the forefront of emergency response – it needs to have a plan down pat. This is no longer a game of choice. Congress amended the Jeanne Clery Act in 2008 to require higher education institutions to adopt and disclose summaries of emergency response and evacuation plans. Annual drills and exercises that involve the coordination of efforts across a range of departments and services are required.

Perhaps no one knows this better than Captain Lawrence Wright, the Assistant Director of Public Safety at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. UMES leads the way in campus emergency response because of its thorough approach to pre-planning, which is a critical stage of the Crisis Continuum.

“I would recommend establishing a timeline and start to planning at least 9 to 12 months in advance. Review your emergency plans and test your plans by conducting drills and tabletop exercises, which will allow you to determine what additional resources will be needed, prior to conducting a full scale exercise,” Wright says in an interview with Omnilert.

Crawl, walk, run

In Spring 2015, UMES gathered local fire, police and EMS and campus personnel to participate in a full-scale hazardous material response drill. The goal was to “crawl, walk then run” in order to learn wherein lies each department’s weaknesses and strengths, says Warner Sumpter, Chief of Police and Public Safety Director at UMES.

Crawling is the first stage when the concept of the emergency response effort is introduced. The team then “walks” through the “table-top exercise” as a verbal run-through.

“The table top helps the leaders to, on a tactical level, make a plan. When you implement the tactical solutions and the on-the-ground people getting their hands dirty, that’s when you find out where your weaknesses and your strengths are” says John Barnette, Senior Field Instructor at the Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute, who participated in the full-scale drill.

Once the emergence response team is fully studied up on the plan, they must take a graduation examination of sorts in the form of the full-scale drill. Full-scale is all hands on deck spanning all departments, plans and technologies and thereby testing their communication and teamwork.

Responding in real-time

Captain Wright served as a member on the UMES Emergency Crisis Management team during the planning, preparation and coordination of the drill. He was there when the allied first responders held monthly meetings and gave walk-throughs of campus facilities to identify all UMES hazardous materials, and more.

In the event of an emergency, the university’s Office of Public Safety is primarily responsible for sending out notifications, largely from having firsthand knowledge of an incident or circumstances for sending out an immediate notification without delay and to meet compliance with the Clery Act requirements.

During the exercise, Wright set the notification system in motion after receiving the 911 call into the UMES Police communication center. The e2campus emergency notification system instantaneously informs everyone on campus through so many channels that it would be almost impossible to miss. E2campus sends out the alert via text message, email, desktop pop-up alerts, alert beacons, display monitors and the outdoor emergency siren and public address systems.

The e2campus has proved valuable in real-life scenarios.

“It was used to notify the campus community members about the stabbing homicide death of UMES student in 2013,” Wright says.

Within the parameters of the exercise, however, Wright’s role became dynamic. He discovered that he had to step into the role of the on-scene Incident Commander who was expected to respond in real-time to Fire, EMS and Hazmat personnel and administrators. He also had the honor of sending out the “All Clear” message to resume normal activity.

“Nothing beats going out there and actually physically touching and doing stuff and seeing how the plan works,” says Tim Jerscheid, Senior Field Instructor, Maryland Fire & Rescue Institute.

“What came out in every segment was communications. Communications is so important, and we just reinforced what we already know. Years ago, fire, police, EMS, all used the same radio system, so that’s not part of the problem. It’s taking those devices, and us as humans, putting the verbiage in there to share our knowledge … so that everybody knows what’s happening,” Sumpter says.

10 marketing email phrases to avoid

The Grammar Gram is back. Time after time, I find myself making the same edits to emails across the board – old habits die hard. We all know by now that brevity is key, so if you won’t take my word for the below, perhaps you’ll take Inc. Magazine’s tips?

They say marketers can increase the likelihood of getting a response to emails by avoiding the following trite and ineffective phrases. I agree and disagree with some of the below, so here goes:

  1. “I hope you are well…”

The idea behind this phrase is to express positive concern for the customers so that they will think kindly on whatever you’re about to propose. However, unless you’re actually friends with somebody, inquiring about his or her health rings false.

Hannah’s take: I start most every single one of my personal emails with this line. I would never use it in a marketing email, however, because it’s a waste of precious, precious time and space.

  1. “I am writing to you because…”

These are just wasted words. Customers already know that you’re writing to them with some purpose in mind. Rather than pointing out that you’re writing for a reason, jump immediately to the reason.

Hannah’s take: Agreed. This goes along with my most-hated remarketing email the begins like this – “I wanted to check in with you and see if anything has changed since my last outreach…” If I were the recipient, I’d already be moving my mouse to the delete button. How about instead replace it with, “Have you given a second glance to the materials I sent over a couple of days ago?” “We were wondering if what’s holding you back could be reversed with …” or “Given your expertise, we believe your attendance at the event would be invaluable to …”

  1. “In today’s business world…”

Sentences that begin this way always end in a platitude, like “managers must be cost-conscious.” Telling customers something that’s painfully obvious doesn’t make you seem like an expert. It makes you seem like you think the customer is stupid.

Hannah’s take: I can’t summarize better than the above, but the good news is I rarely see this! Side note: Editorializing (where you’re gratuitously offering an opinion on a matter for which you’re not an obvious expert) is different than leading in with a quote or statistic.

  1. “[Our product] reduces costs and increases revenue.”

Every product that’s sold business-to-business makes these exact same promises. Unless you can put numbers on them, talking about cost savings and revenue growth is just so much empty noise.

Hannah’s take: PREACH. Again, I don’t see this very much, if at all, but could you imagine….

  1. “[Our product] enables/empowers users to…”

Either your product does “X” or customers do “X” with your product. The concept of “enabling” or “empowering” customers to do “X” adds extra verbiage and an unnecessary level of abstraction.

Hannah’s take: This kind of verbiage usually happens when the copy of a marketing email is pulled from homepage copy. It should go without saying, but not everyone on the team is a prolific writer and therefore no one’s writing should be taken word-for-word in your emails. More importantly, however, website copy and email marketing copy are in two different media – therefore the messaging needs to target the intended audience.

  1. “[Our product] was designed specifically to…”

The idea behind this phrase is that “if it was designed to do ‘X’ it must be good at doing ‘X.’ ” However, customers don’t care about your design process; they just want to know how things will be better if they buy “X.”

Hannah’s take: Eh, moot point

  1. “I would like to know if you’d be interested…”

As a general rule, customers don’t care about what you want. Stating your wants and needs keeps the focus on you rather than on what you can do for the customer. Your credibility suffers accordingly.

Hannah’s take: While I agree that customers don’t care about “us” or “our company,” I’m not sure if this phrase really means that.

  1. “I am absolutely certain you will enjoy…”

Really? Absolutely? Either you’re exaggerating or you’re insane, because you can’t predict the future and you certainly can’t read the customer’s mind before the customer has even had a chance to think about your offering.

Hannah’s take: CHURCH

  1. “Please don’t hesitate to call me at…”

In addition to being corny, this phrase is presumptuous. It’s like you’re claiming that you’re so busy that normally you’d resent it if the customer called, but in this case you’d be delighted.

Hannah’s take: I don’t agree with the description, but I do agree that we shouldn’t be putting the responsibility of outreach into the hands of the prospect. You must go after them time after time. Do you all agree?

  1. “For more information, visit our website…”

First, your customers know that there’s information on your website, so pointing that fact out is wasting words. Second, most customer are in a constant state of information overload anyway. Just put the URL after your signature.

Hannah’s take: The URL in your signature thing obviously won’t work all the time, but like I’ve said many times people know what to do when you provide them with a link, email address or phone number. It is wasted space and it is kind of treating them like they’re stupid.

Until next time!

Loudoun: The happiest place on Earth?

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be,” Abraham Lincoln once said.

If that’s the case, then it seems Loudouners consistently choose to be content. SmartAsset, a New York-based financial technology firm, last month released its official ranking of “The Happiest Places in America,” and Loudoun took the crown.

Listed are the top five happiest counties in Virginia.
Listed are the top five happiest counties in Virginia.

What does it mean to be happy? Personal definitions of happiness are expansive. Some measure it based on success in marriage, family planning, the obtainment of professional goals or robust participation in charitable works and community building. Considering the number of sweeping variations, it’s difficult to believe this adjective can describe one location in particular.

The firm’s analysts addressed this issue by identifying eight metrics to compare one county’s happiness level over another. Despite Loudoun’s population nearly tripling within the last 25 years, it still outranked approximately 1,000 counties in the study in six of the eight metrics considered.

The metrics were organized into four categories and weighted equally: family stability (marriage and divorce rates); physical health, which namely focuses on life expectancy and the percentage of population who regularly exercise; personal financial health, including bankruptcy rates as well as the ratio between median and minimum income; and economic security, (average unemployment and poverty rates between 2009-2013).

Loudoun’s 3.6 percent poverty rate is the lowest of any major U.S. county. Its marriage rate ranks eleventh at 62 percent and residents have an average life expectancy of 83 years-old, which tallies sixth overall.

“Loudoun County is very proud of all of the things that it offers its residents, such as a quality, award-winning government; quality schools; great communities in which to live; and a healthy job market,” said Glen Barbour, Loudoun’s public affairs and communications officer.

While Loudoun scored markedly well in areas the firm considered to be most important –GDP growth, upticks in new business licenses, building permits and municipal bond investment, SmartAsset’s Kara Gibson wrote in a statement to the county – its softer skill attributes are what shine for the residents who live here.

Although it sits in the outskirts of Washington, D.C., which is one of the most congested cities in the nation, the county “feels like a perfect escape with its rolling countryside, farms, historic estates and gardens,” said Beth Erickson, chief executive officer at Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism bureau.

“Its breathtaking beauty and numerous attractions make it a great place to live and visit,” she said. “People enjoy the growing beer and wine scene, the farm-to-table cuisine and outdoor opportunities that range from hiking and kayaking to ziplining and biking down the W&OD Trail.”

Happiness knows no boundaries. Virginia also takes the crown as the happiest state in the nation with three of the five most happy counties situated in the Commonwealth – cheers to Fairfax and York counties, as well.

Organic bronzing: Let your glow shine

Aldie resident Jennifer Wignall is shining a different light on the tanning industry. The time has come to ban the act of baking in a tanning bed. Take a moment to wash clean of orange streaks and rinse off the potent stench of chemical-laden creams.

Tanning, at its core, is a practice laced with a tinge of egotism. It’s akin to whitening, waxing or other self care regimes and is not exactly a must-have service. Or is it?

Jennifer Wignall is introducing a safe way to get that glow.
Jennifer Wignall is introducing a safe way to get that glow.

Jennifer was once a lifelong tanning bed user who visited the salons on a routine basis to obtain and maintain a bronzed glow. She loved the way she felt with tanned skin. Years later, after her twins were born and she suffered a bout of Melanoma – of which she has since fully recovered – the entrepreneur decided to drop tanning beds altogether in favor of spray tan.

But the best of intentions are not always well met and she suffered an allergic reaction to the spray tan.

“People don’t realize that your largest organ is your skin. What goes into your body is just as important as what goes on it,” she said.

Instead of retreating to a life of pale and insipid skin she took matters into her own hands. She has a medical background, a natural curiosity and built-in gumption that helped her as she dove into research of the ingredients of typical spray tan solutions. She spent months breaking down the chemicals and striped bare what wasn’t needed. The Organic Bronzing Station was born.

The company is not a vanity project for Jennifer. Sixty percent of materials placed on the skin are absorbed into it. Over time this can be toxic to overall health. Armed with this knowledge the 28 year-old mother of two twin boys then developed her own custom formula that is organic, vegan and gluten and paraben-free in 2013 and the company was born.

The spray is high quality and high-end. It runs an average $50 for a seven-to-10 day tan and is currently found in 33 stores throughout the Washington, D.C., metro area, Florida, Arizona and New York. She hopes to hit 75 partnerships by the end of this year.

The product has four strengths that blend nicely with people of all skin tones and nationalities and clients discuss their ideal color with consultants who create a customized experience. The goal is to give clients a glow or a step or two darker than they’re natural color.

Jennifer isn’t aiming to transform anyone. She just wants to let them shine.

Cigna on customer-centricity & experience

Have we reached the end of the call center? Not according to Mindy Lamb at Cigna. That being said, personalization is key to keeping clients and it doesn’t happen overnight. In this interview, I sit down with Mindy Lamb at Cigna to chat about how personalization, customer-centricity and experience can lead to customer retention, thereby leading to long and fruitful relationships.

Mindy Lamb is Head of Operating Effectiveness – Customer Experiences at Cigna.
Mindy Lamb is Head of Operating Effectiveness – Customer Experiences at Cigna.

Most of us are well aware that retaining customers is more fruitful than forging new relationships. Will you tell us about the customer lifetime value at Cigna? How has developing long-term relationships provided better value for customer and company alike?

Customer lifetime value is an ongoing concept that Cigna and many other companies are starting to use. It’s not the only metric we use, but it’s developing and ongoing as we figure out how to leverage it better. If you think about customer lifetime value only, it really is a predictor of an individual customer’s profitability over time. So when you combine the power of that information with personal segmentation of your customers around what they need and what they value and then you understand those customers that have higher profitability projection for your company over the course of their lifetime it allows you to prioritize bringing those capabilities, products and services that individual segments of customers value the most. You’ll see higher retention where you prioritize and spend your money and investment dollars to drive that retention. Of course we benefit because their with us and they benefit because the longer they’re with us the deeper our insights grow into what they need and value so we can continue to deliver on it.

Customer centricity has been redefined in today’s new digital paradigm from a B2B and B2C perspective. Are you now more enabled to use metrics to determine the value of your relationship with your customers?

It’s been around for a long time. For a long time we’ve heard web to call, what’s the call rate, etc., and that’s real. If they’re going to the web to try to achieve their services and they can’t and they have to call, then we’re aware that their satisfaction scores go down. That’s one way you can look at it. But beyond that in this digital age of social media and multitudes of apps; we at Cigna try to meet the customers where they are in order to determine if they have a particular need or a interest. From there we can personalize that information within the digital space and watch to see if they react to that digital channel. We can measure what they find interesting, what they don’t and how to reach them in the way they want to be reached.

There will always be a need for a contact center, but more and more in the Internet age, people like the advantage of going to digital technology to find solutions to what they’re looking for.

How have you aimed to ‘retrain the brains’ of agents to find new means of customer acquisition?

It starts first with technology. Once you understand your individual customer segments, what they value and what they need, then you start to understand the additional acquisition opportunities in the product that you have for that customer to find value in. The technology enables the agent to then take a client in an inbound channel and then segue into a conversation that centers around them. They can say, “I know this about you, and based on that we also have X, Y or Z, would you be interested in hearing more?” It’s really about placing the information in the agent’s hands so they know what to pass along to the customer to continue the conversations.

Not all businesses have robust budgets. How can these agents create a customer experience that is five-star without all the trimmings?

Particularly as it relates to the agents and what they can deliver – if you don’t have the budget and technology is a challenge for all of us – it’s important to remember that at the root of it is people serving people. The best thing you can do in that regard is focus on your hiring and retention of your employees and hire for the right capabilities. You can train individuals to be computer saavy, but what you can’t train so much, and what you’re really born with, is what I call the “servant’s heart.” You either have it or you don’t. You can hone people’s skills around being personal or empathetic, but that person’s never going to be successful at really getting to the heart of customer-centricity and helping customers if they don’t have that baseline nature.

The best thing to focus on when you don’t have the five-star budget and all the wizardry that comes with it is to first start with the right people and then make sure that you incent and reward them right. Give them the power to satisfy the customer within the constraints of whatever the product or service is that you’re delivering. What you may consider as a small ability to make things right or give something back to the customer is in reality the opportunity to create both a great branding image and empowerment for our employees to know that they’re making differences every day. So hire right for the personal touch, for empathy, for people who can proactively think of creative solutions for customers and then empower them to do so.

In Conversation: MediaOcean’s VP of Support & Training

I spoke with Stephanie Dorman, VP of Support and Training at Media Ocean, about how she singlehandedly overhauled two merging departments.
I spoke with Stephanie Dorman, VP of Support and Training at Media Ocean, about how she singlehandedly overhauled two merging departments.

MediaOcean’s VP of Support and Training, Stephanie Dorman, singlehandedly restructured and advanced the company’s contact center department with an eye for customer centricity and employee satisfaction. She spoke with me in an exclusive interview about how she did it.

“There were times when we all thought we were going to lose our hair […] but we developed a very strong team out of it because of what we had to go through together,” she said on navigating her team through the company’s early days of a company merger.

In the interview, Dorman outlined several options for building a strong team. She insists on support from executives, approachable and readily-available training and foregoing a tiered-management structure as key elements to a successful contact center.

The four-part series on www.CallCenterWeek.com emphasizes customer centricity. Dorman stressed that they key to customer care is in making a personal connection, which means creating a culture where employees are viewed as integral to the department and company. Dorman will discuss these topics further at the event. She will also touch on the tools to empower and train employees.

Google’s Chris Vennard on integrated mobile functions

Chris Vennard and me in their Chelsea Market offices.
Chris Vennard and me in their Chelsea Market offices.

Google’s Global Product Lead, Chris Vennard, predicts mobile calls from search will double to 86 billion annually by 2018. Vennard, who heads up Google’s Call Ad product, spoke with me about improving the user experience with customer support.

“Nobody will disagree when I say the world is going mobile,” he said.

Vennard outlined several options to enhancing the customer journey – and they begin and end with mobile. First, a ‘bail out’ function is important. Mobile users visiting a company’s website should always have the option to hit a call button to automatically connect them to an agent for help. The next step will be to show the agent their search history.

During the interview, which can be seen in a three-part series on www.CallCenterWeek.com, Vennard went on to talk about the difference between mobile apps and mobile webpages and the benefits of these strategies.