Shopping can be therapeutic. From browsing clothing chains for the latest fashions to searching for the right tools in do-it-yourself hardware stores, the act of shopping can be relaxing and even fun. Sometimes we shop for things we don’t need because we like the experience; the layout of the store, the decor, or a courteous staff member.

In challenging economic times, brick-and-mortar retailers face more competition than ever, so the pressure is on to stand out from the crowd and get customers back in the door. To get an edge, some retailers are turning to video conferencing solutions on the sales floor or behind the scenes to improve customer service, assist in merchandise management, and enhance internal communication.

Video conferencing, when paired with a cloud-based managed service, creates realistic, in-person meeting experiences that translate well to the retail environment. Retail is all about the face-to-face, personalized exchanges that cannot be replicated with online shopping or catalogs. Video improves the in-store customer and employee experiences in the following ways:

Access to remote staff – A customer in a consumer electronics store may have a question about a new computer software application that can best be answered by an expert in a remote location. Or, the details of a product may need further clarification, but in a different language. Video is the ideal way for customers to get the right answer right away, while not having to leave the store’s premises, or engage in an impersonal audio call with a call center. In addition, the store saves money by not retaining specialized employees at each physical location.

Inventory management – When video is used among employees at disparate corporate locations, internal communication is greatly enhanced. One of the most delicate and important components of any successful retail establishment is an effective strategy for inventory control – keeping the right balance of products in stock at all times. With face-to-face communication among the staff at warehouses, corporate locations and store sites facilitated, there is a real opportunity to create an efficient inventory strategy, and store revenue may increase as a result.

Store connectivity –Employee turnover is a major concern for retailers. In addition, operational efficiencies can make or break any major chain or even mom and pop shop. Video can be used to effectively improve store operations and relations by creating in-person meeting experiences that unite a diverse and dynamic employee base. In addition, video can be used within and between retail branch locations to facilitate team meetings and create new employee incentive programs. Video also can provide headquarters with faster access to sales reports and employee information.

The right video conferencing solution can provide immeasurable benefits to retail establishments looking to gain a competitive advantage and attract customers. When video calls are managed by a third-party that specializes in making video equipment easy to use, the investment in technology quickly pays for itself with the revenue from happy customers that enjoy shopping in your store and keep coming back for their quick shopping fix.

A few weeks ago we discussed the characteristics of high performance teams; ranging from member diversity to conflict resolution skills. But how do you ensure the success of a team? Unfortunately, achieving the level of cohesion required to have a high performance team seems to depend more on luck than anything else.

Well, maybe not. A new study from Alex “Sandy” Pentland suggests that building great teams is more of a science than an art. In his HBR webinar, The New Science of Building Great Teams, he discusses several points; including how different communication patterns enhance team creativity and productivity. If you have an hour to invest, this video is well worth the time.

The key take away is how we communicate is more important that what we communicate.

Pentland states that communication patterns; or the manner in which teams communicate, are actually the most important predictor of a team’s success. The best teams produce a “buzz” that is noticeable but indefinable. So what constitutes as a “buzz-worthy” communication pattern?

Participants have high energy, they continually converse with each other and there is little to no dead space between conversations. Side bar conversations coincide with, but do not detract from, the main group discussion. All participants are actively engaged in discussions; this is shown through both verbal and nonverbal cues, such as nodding along or interjecting short thoughts like really or tell me more. There is an equal contribution rate from all members of the team. Every team member communicates with every other team member; there is not one or two people who dominate conversation.

Finally, team members have a high social intelligence. Essentially, they think about what other people are thinking and are able to successfully navigate complex social situations and environments. This also means that team members have high exploration tendencies; meaning they frequently interact with others outside of their immediate team or work group.

What does this mean for remote work teams?

According to Pentland, “The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. E-mail and texting are the least valuable.” Therefore, organizations that rely heavily on remote work teams should invest in some type of visual collaboration or unified communications platform. Video helps remote teams establish the trust factor required for high energy, high engagement conversations. Communicating over email or virtual discussion boards can get complicated and frustrating for participants; thereby limiting their creativity and productivity.

What’s even better is that cloud solutions make visual collaboration even more attainable. Gone are the days where organizations have to invest heavily in hardware or software. UC solutions allow organizations to simply purchase a license and users can be up and running in a matter of minutes.

Building a great team can be incredibly challenging. However, when the right team does come together it can accomplish things far greater than ever imagined.

Would You Like Fries with Your Video Call?

Sample advertising in a Skype call

Late last week Skype announced Conversation Ads within their calling window. The ads will start appearing only in 1:1 audio calls but Skype has already mentioned additional “commercial experiences” in the future. So advertising during Skype video calls is certainly a possibility. Although, for paid customers, it appears the ads will not be present.

Skype is a fantastic application, great for linking family and friends, as well as easily pulling in remote employees into video meetings. But, do you want to build your organization’s entire strategy behind it? Improved bandwidth and cameras have helped blur the lines between Skype calls and business video calls; and at times, they can be indistinguishable.

But when Skype decides to make a big change, like building advertising into calls, it can cause all sorts of issues. Do you want the CEO of your company taking a video call with an advertisement for maple syrup?  I don’t think so!

The key to Skype, is using it to compliment your business video environment. If you have implemented Polycom, Cisco, Lifesize, Radvision, or some other technology, a cloud service can provide the link between those higher-end business calls and Skype. It is important to maintain those solutions and use them for business critical meetings. Skype should be used sparingly!

In situations where remote participants are looking to connect from a mobile device (iPad, Smartphone) or from a remote location, Skype makes perfect sense. The best way to think about these meetings is to focus on the fact that the reach of the meeting is more important than achieving the highest audio and video quality. We’ve seen clients running a fully managed meeting in their boardroom and a remote participant connecting via Skype from the Middle East. It was important for this person to be seen and heard in the call; the fact that he/she was able to connect at all was enough.

The consumerization of IT is apparent from the largest to smallest companies. As these companies embrace it and encourage employees to BYOD (bring your own device), Skype is going to continue to be more and more prevalent. Embracing it as a complimentary technology will not only make managing Skype easier, but will provide users with additional avenues to collaborate with their co-workers.

Here we are on the Friday before Father’s Day. In this case, it’s my first Father’s Day as a dad. My son was born just a few months ago and I have to say, it’s pretty amazing being a dad. I have learned so many things since the little guy was born!

  1. Changing a little boy’s diaper requires you to be far more agile than I ever realized.
  2. Diapers are not as foolproof as once thought.
  3. Eight hours of continuous sleep is about as likely to happen as winning the lottery.

Despite these lessons, it has been an absolutely amazing time. What I really didn’t expect though, was how video collaboration would work its way into these early days of parenting. Recently a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, was home watching his recently born child. Said friend was not as “active” of a participant in child care as one would hope and on this particular day his wife was out with friends.

At around 2pm my phone beeps with a text. “Are you around? Help!” I quickly pick up the phone and call him. Apparently, my friend is unable to figure out the finer points of a diaper change. Really? Apparently his wife always handles it and he didn’t think to ask when she went out. So I say, let me show you.  I fire up my iPad and connect to him via video. He’s on his smartphone and I quickly show him (with my son as a model) how to appropriately change a diaper. Crisis averted. Or so I thought.

About an hour later, he calls me back on video. “What about bottles?” Again, I’m dumbfounded.  And because I’m somewhat of a mean guy, I decide I need to share his incompetence with another friend.  So I quickly set-up a cloud meet-me room so the three of us can all meet over video and my other friend can see just how desperate this guy is.  Ha. I’m terrible, I know.  We successfully help him through the bottle and the crisis ends, again.

In all seriousness, it was amazing how video permeated through a casual Saturday at home. It made me realize just how ubiquitous this technology is becoming. I believe the key lesson learned here, for me anyway, is that video gives you the power to stay connected with business colleagues, family, and friends while providing the means of making fun of those you love most!

Happy Father’s Day!

Cloud video conferencing providers are popping up everywhere, each one promising the best service with the best features. Comparing all of the different offerings can become quite overwhelming. How do you determine which company is the best fit for your organization? Here are a few things to help narrow down the options:

Expertise: Video environments consist of several different components; endpoints, infrastructure, desktop software clients, tablets and complete audio visual integrated rooms. Look for service provider with a wide range of expertise which allows them to assist with all aspects of your video environment. This eliminates the frustrating finger-pointing when you are having an issue with one of the components.

Adaptability: An organization’s initial video needs typically differ significantly from its future video needs; therefore, select a video service provider that has a wide range of offerings. This helps build a comprehensive video environment and enables the solution to adapt to an organization’s changing needs.

Experience: The best type of experience comes from running a true production environment for a customer. A service provider might have a strong background in monitoring network activity and hardware, but have they managed the day-to-day operations of a corporation’s video environment?

Security: Sensitive data is continuously transmitted during video meetings; therefore, a service provider’s security measures are paramount to ensure this data is not intercepted. The network should be encrypted in addition to containing firewalls. Furthermore, non-disclosure agreements should accompany any comprehensive managed video service.

Attitude: Most likely, you will have a very close relationship with your video service provider; therefore, selecting a company with a customer oriented attitude is important. The best service providers realize that every organizations needs are different and will customize their offerings to best fit their needs.

While only you can determine which service provider is right for your organization; these tips can help provide a foundation for the selection process.