When most of us think about oil, we are mainly concerned with how much it will cost to fill up our cars with gasoline. What we don’t consider is how gasoline actually arrives ready at the pump – the refining process that breaks crude oil down into a variety of consumer and industrial products. This process is the domain of commodity brokers – individuals who make their living putting together deals between buyers and sellers of petroleum products to feed the public’s inelastic demand.

Commodity brokers are often headquartered in one office, with several satellite locations located across the globe. Brokers must communicate with other energy brokers, traders, and clients throughout the day, while simultaneously watching movement of the markets. Communication – not to mention access to information – can make or break a deal.

Brokerage firms are turning to unified communications (UC) solutions that include video conferencing solutions to facilitate the deals that take place among numerous participants in dispersed locations. For example, UC solutions are used to:

  • Improve communication among the firm’s headquarters and satellite offices. Brokers in remote locations such as Omaha, Nebraska or Houston, Texas can maintain a presence in the New York City headquarters by remaining on video on a main screen that is visible to everyone. This creates the feeling that the remote brokers are part of the New York team, and information about clients, commodity prices, and deals can easily be shared at a moment’s notice.
  • Improve relationships with clients by strengthening rapport and building trust. Much of the communication among brokers is conducted via instant message and email. This method is effective, but lacks a personal touch. Even when there is communication over the phone, clients may not feel entirely comfortable with a transaction that is worth millions of dollars if the broker is an unknown entity. Once introductions have been made over video, and video is used as part of the communication mix, trust is established and maintained and as a result, deals are facilitated.
  • Monitor the fluctuation in petrochemical prices that occur daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange and other markets. Data from the Mercantile Exchange remains depicted on a main screen the entire day, reflecting prices in real-time.

Video can be used to achieve impressive results in the world of commodity brokers when used as part of a cloud-based UC solution that includes integration with voice, instant message, and data. When communication is improved and deals are facilitated, the result is thousands of dollars in commissions – amounts that easily and quickly justify the cost of the investment in technology.

It’s Friday, you’re sitting at work and realize this Sunday is Mother’s Day.  You forgot to get a card but no big deal you’ll swing by the store on your way home tonight.  Only problem is, your mom lives 1200 miles away.   Not exactly within driving distance and, short of overnighting a card (which will be totally obvious you forgot), there is no way a card will get there on time.

Alright Plan B.  You’ll order some flowers and have them delivered on Sunday, but that just seems so…generic.  I mean this woman raised you and, more importantly, put up with you during those rebellious years.

So, how can you let your mom know just how awesome she is without purchasing the moon?

Then it hits you.

Plan C – VIDEO!  You installed Skype on her computer the last time you were in town.  Your dad is pretty technical savvy and he can make sure it’s set up properly.  So you call your dad to scheme and, all of a sudden, the most amazing plan emerges.   You’re going to deliver the flowers “in person.”

Step 1: Dad is going to head off the delivery guy and sneak the flowers into the office.
Step 2: You connect the video call with Dad while your spouse rallies the troops.
Step 3: Cram everyone in front of the webcam while Dad gets Mom.
Step 4: Mom walks into the room and you all shout HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
Step 5: Mom is so overwhelmed she starts crying tears of joy saying this is the best present she ever received.
Step 6: You and Dad make eye contact and celebrate with a little smile and wink.

Yes, the plan is all starting to come together.  This is going to be the best Mother’s Day by far because, let’s face it, your mom is awesome and she deserves the best of the best!

The social era has had a dramatic impact on the way customers purchase and companies promote their products.  Customer feedback is becoming ever important and now is critical to an organization’s long term success.  We’ve seen many organizations stray farther and farther away from customer needs as they fail to adapt to the changing competitive landscape.  So how can companies ensure they stay in touch with customer needs and ahead of future competitors?

Simple:  Listen to your customers and then listen some more.

Your best customers are a great source of information.  Account representatives and sales managers and even marketing managers should pause before focusing on the next sale and examine customer satisfaction.  Start by asking why your customers selected your organization and what the major benefits are.  Then distinguish if there are any products or services that are unavailable but would make their job easier.   Above all, organizations need to ensure their products and services are perfectly aligned with their customers’ needs.   If there is any doubt, it’s time to hit the drawing board.

Customers love to share their thoughts and options; but often times, they are hesitant because they are unsure how their feedback will be received or if it will simply fall upon deaf ears.   Connecting over video not only shows the customer you are interested in what they have to say, but the face-to-face interaction helps establish trust.   With trust, comes more candid feedback that could potentially reveal a product flaw or, even better, an untapped market need.

As the saying goes, the only constant in life is change itself and organizations need to stay flexible in order to survive. Collaborating with customers not only provides visibility into future trends but helps create a sustainable competitive advantage.  Technological advances now make it possible to connect to any customer with a webcam; so pick up the camera and give your customers a video call.

It seems like everywhere you look some analyst is saying video conferencing has hit a tipping point and its usage is skyrocketing.  The technology continues to improve while the cost of entry continues to decrease, which is great news for just about anyone who needs to communicate with people in other locations.

What happens though, when an organization finally decides to pull the trigger?  It partners with a solution provider, picks a technology or manufacturer, sets a budget, and implements.

Great! Now it’s time to watch the investment pay for itself as members reap all of the personal and business benefits video has to offer.  Or, maybe not?

One key piece of the implementation puzzle that cannot be taken for granted is the need to promote the use of video within an organization.  It is crucial to design a usage that is tailored towards the needs of end users and the organization’s overall goals.

A good roll-out should begin with a communications plan that outlines how video should be marketed internally.  Key components of this communications plan include:

  1. Program Goals
    In most cases this will be as simple as “to successfully deploy video by creating awareness and excitement while driving user adoption.”
  2. Key Messages and Objectives
    • Why should employees use video?
    • What previous perceptions of video technology need to be addressed?
    • What corporate initiatives are connected to video (going green or sustainability programs)?
  3. Marketing Vehicles
    What media/technology/events will be used to get the word out? (Email, launch events, internal video messages, etc.)
  4. Timeline
    What is the overall roll-out timeline and structure for the program?

With a comprehensive communications plan in place, it is vital to obtain executive sponsorship of the plan. In most cases, any events associated with the video roll-out should include executive participation (launch parties, demos, etc).

The final piece to the puzzle is ongoing marketing. It is not enough to simply announce the launch; a continuous effort must be made to provide updates, additional training, and success stories.  If the internal communications effort is consistent and continues to showcase the value of video, usage and adoption of video technology will skyrocket!

Hospitality professionals know when they need to turn on some serious charm to attract customers. Given the economic environment in recent years, tourism and business travel have declined, leading to a reduction in occupancy rates, daily room rates, and REVPAR (revenue per available room). Competition is intense for the available customers – the question is, how do hotels, resorts, and casinos not only bring in new guests but ensure repeat business?

Ensuring excellent service is a given. To truly differentiate their establishments, hotels can utilize unified communication (UC) technology to transform not only the customer experience, but also improve the operating efficiency going on behind the scenes.

UC solutions, including video conferencing systems, are used to create the ultimate customer experience by:

  • Providing hotel staff with the ability to communicate efficiently in real-time, between all remote properties equipped with UC and video conferencing equipment.
  • Holding one general meeting for all hotel managers across locations, ensuring the consistency of information that is covered; topics may include customer service, housekeeping, and maintenance. In addition, the hotel staff at multiple locations can be managed from one place, greatly increasing the efficiency of operations.
  • Delivering interactive group training sessions to new employees, reducing the time and costs associated with covering the same training material at each property.
  • Addressing high turnover rates typical of the hospitality industry by facilitating the human resources recruiting process.
  • Allowing guests to easily hold face-to-face meetings with remote business associates, thereby not missing a beat while traveling. Content such as presentations, videos, and data can be shared with several participants over multiple locations.
  • Setting up video conferencing rooms that can be rented to companies looking to cut down on travel expenses. Video allows guests to hold their meetings in real time, with various partners around the globe.

UC integration can provide the hospitality industry improved and more efficient operations, better collaboration through real-time communication (with reduced travel costs), and improved guest satisfaction. The resulting guest experience is really quite charming.