By Lionel Snell, Technology Writer
Based on an interview with David Gurle, Founder and CEO of Symphony Communication Services LLC, this article explains how his latest project promises to make business and personal communication and collaboration more straightforward and manageable than ever before, while meeting the strictest standards of security and compliance in an ever evolving landscape.
Since 2014 fifteen of the world’s leading financial institutions invested in a project to develop a scalable, cloud-based and highly secure collaboration platform that would address complex security and compliance challenges while providing a tool to enhance workflow productivity. The consortium comprised: Bank of America, BlackRock, BNY Mellon, Citadel, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Jeffries, Maverick, Morgan Stanley, Nomura, and Wells Fargo.
The resulting company was called Symphony, and the platform would be specifically designed to address the security and compliance challenges in regulated industries, such as financial services, by keeping messages and data secure while facilitating and strengthening in-house compliance.
Some revolutions demand destruction and disorder, others simply happen. By 2012 ICM research estimated that business spent an average of two working days per week on business communication (even more for personal communication) and uses seven to eight different media. People were struggling to keep up with emails, text messages, instant messaging, video conferencing and social networks, with 60% feeling irritated by the need to switch devices while also being concerned about security and information control.
Meanwhile David Gurle, IP communications veteran and visionary, has been the driving force behind what is called “unified messaging”. He defined Microsoft’s Unified Communications strategy, he introduced federated communications with compliance as head of Thomson Reuters Collaboration Services and then ran Skype’s Enterprise Business. Things have been changing as a result of his vision: with Skype and other conferencing solutions it is becoming increasingly easy to use a single interface to make video or voice calls, real-time texting and file sharing at the same time.
This has been a gentle revolution in communications convenience, but sheer usability has highlighted the remaining concerns about security and compliance that Symphony now promises to address. The inspiration for this Symphony came from Perzo, the company David Gurle launched in 2013 to address the proliferation of communication tools and the resulting worries about security. People naturally adapt the way they communicate to suit the audience and the medium – whether it was formal business letters or banter between two friends. The closer the relationship, or the more important the message, the more we want security and dependability. Yet current communication platforms have pressured us into relying on social media that can be accessed by any third party while spreading our memories across too many different communication applications to keep track.
Perzo immediately attracted the attention of the finance industry, where real-time “chat” is a key communications tool. Traders that once crowded the stock exchange floor, using hand signals to attract attention and shout buy/sell messages, now typically sit at their desks before half a dozen screens and maybe twenty or thirty chat windows open at a time. It’s fast and efficient, but poses a regulatory nightmare: if there was any suggestion of insider trading or the leaking of market data, how can one be sure who was listening or how hurried messages might be interpreted? You can open private chat rooms for colleagues, but even the name or existence of that chat room might provide a clue to future market movements and that would undermine compliance.
Financial institutions like that provide a leading-edge example of the basic communication needs faced by all business operations: how to facilitate easy, natural discussion and problem-solving between individuals and teams, while limiting the communication to the right players and keeping a reliable record for later reference while, satisfying regulatory requirements in the extreme case of legal procedures. So those fifteen companies came together to support the development of an ideal communications platform – and Perzo was renamed as Symphony.
While the initial funding would be used on designs and features targeted at the finance industry, the intention all along was to make the platform as open and customizable as possible so that it could eventually serve much bigger enterprise and business markets and be adapted to different industry sectors and regulatory environments.
Think of it this way: after a couple of decades of e-mail usage and experience, what if one had the opportunity to start from scratch and create a new workflow communications system that incorporates all the lessons learnt in that time? This would be the result.
Businesses need the right balance between three potentially conflicting factors:
- Easy, natural communication between individuals and workgroups
- Granular security that can be adapted to any business and regulatory environment
- Strict control over the management and archiving of all communications to meet regulatory requirements and possible legal challenges.
In the first case, Symphony designed a cloud-based platform that integrates work-streams and provides a comprehensive, seamless communications interface that can be tailored to team or individual needs with access on a single screen, or via a choice of mobile or fixed devices. Initially focused on chat as the prime medium of interaction, the system will integrate screen sharing, voice, video and email, as required.
Powerful end-to-end encryption ensures that messages stay secure in the cloud and in transit. In the enterprise version, the encryption keys are generated by secure hardware located on the customer’s premises – this approach ensures that Symphony and its employees are totally unable to decrypt and display customer data. No other financial services platform provides a comparable level of security, as the system was expressly designed to facilitate and enhance customers’ compliance operations and help customers meet regulatory requirements.
An important distinction of Symphony’s “end-to-end” security is that customers retain the ability to archive their employees’ communications by controlling their keys at an organizational level. The key management software also prevents individual users from altering or erasing their messages, so that every chat message can be archived. Being expressly designed to facilitate and enhance compliance, symphony includes an evolving portfolio of added features and tools to ensure customers’ ability to comply fully with changing regulatory requirements.
Public and Enterprise release
Feedback on the solutions’ usefulness for team collaboration has been so positive that it was decided to release Symphony as a free public offering, so anyone can sign up and start building out their teams today. For paying customers, there are enterprise and business solutions and customers can use cloud or on-premises infrastructure for key management. The on-premises version is intended for organizations with over 500 employees. Both solutions incorporate the full compliance and administrative feature set for $15 per user per month.
Since October 2014 the enterprise version has been thoroughly tested and accepted by thousands of users in the finance sector. But the same principle of designed-in flexibility that encourages users to shape their own communications experience is also enabling Symphony itself to evolve rapidly. Being subject to an ongoing bi-weekly development process, Symphony has the potential to meet the specific demands of other critical sectors such as healthcare, government and military users.
Among many new developments there has been the recently announced collaboration with Dow Jones, McGraw Hill Financial and Selerity to give subscribers fast, easy access to premium news content – and this has triggered speculation that Symphony will be taking on the giant Bloomberg with an offering whose basic cost is 120 times less than a Bloomberg screen. All eyes are on Symphony following its clearly very well planned and strategically timed product launch.
Please visit https://symphony.com/ to find out more about Symphony.
A technical communicator to non-specialist audiences for more than two-decades, Lionel Snell is a Cambridge mathematical analyst who enjoys getting to the core of complex, subtle subjects and communicating them in fresh and original ways.
Success beyond voice: Contact centres supporting retail shift online
As the nation continues to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19, customers have shifted their channel preferences, and contact centres have demonstrated typical resourcefulness in adapting rapidly and maintaining uptime. It has been a steep learning curve, as they not only learn to operate digitally, but also build an understanding of consumers’ new shopping behaviours.
The closure of stores meant demand for customer service escalated, resulting in long telephone wait times, and consumers quickly realised that they could switch to online channels to fulfil their customer service needs. As a response to this change in channel preference, some providers quickly ramped up chatbots, social channels and private messaging apps. For example, recent research conducted by the CCMA (Call Centre Management Association), in partnership with Puzzel, revealed that some brands opened up their direct messaging channels on social media for the very first time, in a bid to ensure support across popular channels such as Facebook and Twitter. For others, the pandemic underscored the value of migrating customer interactions to self-service channels to manage demand and ensure customer service advisors’ time is directed to problems that customers cannot solve themselves.
Faced with severe constraints in many aspects of their everyday lives, the fact that contact centres remained open for business has been gratefully received by consumers. Even despite longer wait times, many contact centres reported skyrocketing customer satisfaction ratings due to lowered customer expectations. As the new normal starts to take hold, and customer expectations revert back, now is the time for contact centres to implement the right strategies to ensure customer satisfaction
ratings are maintained.
Jonathan Allan, Chief Marketing Officer, Puzzel, comments, “The short term reduction in customer expectations, which is driving increased customer satisfaction scores, will return to previous levels once we’ve all adapted to a new way of living. The accelerated move to online services and digital channels is, however, here to stay. Now, there is an increased expectation from consumers to receive support on social media, or to initiate a web to chat to receive immediate consultation or to book an appointment.
Allan continues, “Adapting to this multi-channel environment has become a necessity, not a nice to have, and relying on voice or email alone is no longer tenable. Customers expect to be able to initiate contact through their channel of choice, and to be able to start a conversation in one channel and seamlessly move between others. As customer’s expectations continue to rise, orchestrating these interactions is essential to ensure the most positive customer experiences, and enable the optimal selection of channels to drive efficiency and satisfaction. As customer behaviour changes for the long term, it is no longer viable to rely on only one channel for customer service as seamless customer experience becomes key to ensuring customer retention.”
7 Ways to Grow a Profitable Hospitality Business
The hospitality industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with lots of career opportunities in hotels, theme parks, restaurants, country clubs, etc. It is one of the fastest-growing sectors as a lot of industries are involved in it.
Though it can be very profitable for aspiring and established entrepreneurs, it can get challenging as it requires charisma, drive, and innovation to ensure you can meet your customers’ demands. Growing a hospitality business for profit requires a lot of thought and innovation. In this article, we’ll look at some practical ways to grow a profitable hospitality business.
1. Yield Management
Yield management refers to anticipating, understanding, and influencing your customers’ behavior to increase your business revenue to the max. This principle was first used in the hospitality industry in the late 80s. The main objective of yield management is not just to increase your rates or occupancy; instead, it involves forecasting your business’ supply and demand through different key factors to maximize your revenue. Let us consider some yield management examples. If you have a hotel, yield management will allow you to maximize the profit you can make from a specific number of rooms that must be sold on a deadline.
Another example is if you have a hotel located next to an event center or stadium, you will charge more for rooms than you do on a typical weekday or weekend during a conference or sporting event. Yield management involves targeting the right customer at the right time and selling for the right price.
It involves using gathered data to understand your customers and their sensitivity to pricing and combining that with seasonal demand. High demand, seasonality, and special events can allow you to alter your rates to increase revenue. Though the idea isn’t to increase rates only, it also involves attracting the right customer at the right time.
Yield management allows you to make more profit from your existing inventory.
2. Create a Website
Your hospitality business should have a well-maintained website as it adds to the first impression prospective customers have when they check out your business. For example, if you have a vacation rental, you can hire a competent web designer or a web design company to help you build a vacation rental website. Also, customers can make bookings through your website if you have one, and this will help you save more money as you will not have to rely on listing channels to gain customers.
Though listing channels can help you get bookings, you’d have to pay a commission and follow the transaction terms, which you will not det. When you have your website, you’ll have more control over how you present your business to customers. You can display a photo slideshow with high-resolution images of the property or add other enticing features that will help you gain more customers. A professional website helps to give your business a professional image while making it more visible online.
3. Maintain and Improve the Quality of Your Service
The hospitality industry is a highly competitive one, so it is important to stay on top of your game to gain more revenue. If your business is reputable for providing quality service, then you should maintain that standard. You can check out your competitors to get ideas on how to improve your service and set your business apart. This is very important as the reputation of your hospitality business is primarily determined and affected by your quality of service.
If your customers are satisfied with your quality of service, they are more likely to recommend you to prospective clients. To get more ideas on how to improve your service, you can check the online reviews about your business. Check what your past clients have said about their experience, what they like, what they dislike, and any improvement they might suggest. Once you improve your service quality, new and old customers will be willing to pay more even if you increase your rates as they will get enough value for their money. To grow a profitable hospitality business, you should be ready to offer more value than your competitors.
4. Have an Active Social Media Presence
This is a great way of making your hospitality business more visible online. It is also a means of reaching prospective clients. Apart from creating and maintaining a website, you should have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
These are where a bulk of your prospective clients are, and most brands take advantage of this. Nowadays, brands and businesses employ social media handlers that stay in charge of their social media pages. They are responsible for creating content and interacting with customers and prospective clients on social media.
You can post images and videos of your property on social media to attract new customers. Another way you can grow your business on social media is through sponsored ads. Most social media platforms offer various forms of advertisements at a reasonable price.
With sponsored ads, you have a higher chance of getting new customers or driving traffic to your website as you’d be able to reach a wider audience.
5. Create a Rental Agreement
If you are fully managing your business, then oral agreements with customers may not be enough. Your clients may have some assumptions about the terms and conditions or interpret the rules and regulations differently.
Sites like Airbnb can take care of this for you if you are not fully managing your rentals. For example, you can easily create an Airbnb house manual visible to prospective clients once they click on your property.
To avoid misconceptions and misunderstandings, you should create an agreement that will be visible on your website or any booking medium you prefer. Your guests will sign this agreement and protect both you and the guest if there is a dispute.
Though the terms and conditions may vary depending on the type of hospitality business, you can consult a business attorney for verification before using the agreement for your business.
A rental agreement should include information about the property, rental party details, occupancy limitations, the minimum stay requirements, house rules, rates and additional fees, cancellation policy, payment details, and the customer’s signature.
You can add other details and terms depending on your type of business. Creating a rental agreement is an excellent way to ensure your hospitality business runs smoothly as it makes it easier to prevent and resolve disputes between you and your customers.
6. Make the Booking Process Easy
A complicated or strenuous booking process is likely to discourage new clients from patronizing your business. Firstly, your hospitality business should have an online booking and buying platform.
A large percentage of people prefer to make bookings online. If your business does not have an online booking platform, you are bound to lose a lot of customers. If you choose to use listing sites or booking platforms, make sure the platform is reputable and offer good customer service.
If you use your website for reservations, then customers should be able to make a booking with simple steps. The required information boxes should not be excessive.
The less time your guests spend booking, the better. You should include additional informational text to help your guests through the booking process. Before your booking system goes live, ensure you pre-test it to make sure it’s hitch-free. Also, you can create a mobile app that allows your guests to make bookings and other transactions.
7. Keep in Touch with Your Customers
Apart from gaining new customers, a good way to grow a profitable hospitality business is retaining valuable customers. Guests will value a company that can offer a personalized experience.
If your guests can get a personalized experience, they are more likely to make more bookings or refer your business to others. Always interact with your guests on a personal basis. You can send emails or appreciation messages after a successful booking.
You can also refer your customers to your social media pages or ask them to sign up for your newsletter if they prefer to. Though you shouldn’t spam your customers with ads or emails, ensure you send information periodically about new offers, promotions, or other relevant details.
This will help keep your business on your customers’ minds, thereby increasing the chances of having repeat bookings. Once you identify your most valuable customers, you should try to keep the communication lines open. Also, you can ask for referrals or recommendations from your long-term customers.
As we have previously stated, the hospitality industry is very competitive. You need to come up with creative ways to market your business. To ensure you get a steady flow of revenue from your hospitality business, ensure you follow these tips we have given above. Apart from these, always be on the lookout for new trends and innovations in the hospitality industry to help you stay on top of your game.
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Finding and following your website’s ‘North Star Metric’
By Andy Woods, Design Director of Rouge Media
The ‘North Star Metric’ (NSM) is one of many seemingly confusing terms to come out of Silicon Valley but its message is simple and universal.
It refers to the single metric businesses use to guide activity, drive key decisions and measure success. And while it may seem naïve on the surface, to boil business success down to a single metric, there is a method to the apparent madness.
It doesn’t mean businesses simply ignore all other performance data but instead measure it against the overarching goal they’re working towards.
Here’s how businesses can create their own North Star Metric and follow it to website success.
What is a North Star Metric?
The idea of a North Star Metric is to focus on the goal which delivers the most value for the business and its customers.
It’s a popular strategy adopted by successful business around the world. For example, Spotify set its North Star Metric as ‘time spent listening’, while Amazon focused on ‘purchases per month’. Every business decision was then geared towards increasing these metrics.
For the business, this increase means greater advertising revenue and sales, while for users, spending more time using the service or making more purchases shows the platform is meeting their needs.
Chasing this North Star Metric sees businesses align their efforts towards a single goal. For ecommerce businesses, this means sales and marketing activity is aimed at taking users to the website, where service experts provide relevant content and information and website designers add natural calls to action.
Finding the North Star Metric for your website project, whether it be sign-ups, purchases or more time spent on site, allows the whole team – plus your agency, if you work with one – to move in the same direction.
What does a successful NSM look like?
Nominating your NSM before undertaking a website project allows you to focus all your efforts in design, functionality and content on delivering your goal.
However, some businesses may have been operating for years with a North Star Metric that isn’t quite right. If you’ve been focusing your efforts towards a goal which isn’t driving value for the business or customers, and for which you struggle to measure impact, you may need to switch focus.
Key considerations for making sure your NSM delivers a positive impact for your business include:
Generating engagement: the internet is full of businesses fighting for custom and users don’t owe them anything. If a website doesn’t give them what they need, they can find one that does within minutes.
Solving consumer challenges: Customers want a product or service that solves their problems and they want it now. Does your website contain information that answers their questions? Does it call out the key features of your product or service that makes their life easier?
Building trust: The chances are, many businesses offer a similar product or service to you. Customers need to know your business is trustworthy if they’re to part with their cash. Case studies, awards and user reviews are examples of content which can improve your brand authority.
Finding your website’s NSM
Identifying your NSM doesn’t mean picking a goal that sounds good in the boardroom. It needs to be a targeted, realistic and measurable goal.
Dial-in on your NSM by answering these three questions:
What is the single most important thing your website should deliver? The answer to this should be simple and obvious – more sales, sign-ups, downloads or leads.
What do users want from the site? You’re likely to have many users, so try to identify your main three here. What are they looking for when they enter your site? Advice, a product, a follow-up from an employee?
Which metrics tie together the above? You need to be able to measure your performance in answering these questions. If you’re after more leads, monitoring on-site user data – like time spent on site and number of pages visited – gives you an indication of what users want and how well you’re meeting their needs.
There are many questions to answer when finding your NSM. A useful way to arrange the information is in a visual hierarchy. Place your NSM at the top, with the answers to these key questions as branches.
Breaking it down into a visual flow chart like this also helps with gaining crucial buy-in from the whole business, with teams visualising how their role fits into the wider goal.
As your business grows and industry and user demands change, you may need to adapt your NSM.
If you’ve been working towards an appropriate NSM, it may only need tweaking slightly. For example, as a start-up, your NSM may have been building awareness by generating more leads. After a few successful years, the business may decide to switch the focus from leads to online sales.
While the metric changes slightly, the original strategy has already laid the foundations for the new goal, with your website designed to drive traffic and provide helpful content to inform users’ buying decisions.
Using analytics data, businesses can make changes to their website to align with their changing goals. Look at how users are behaving on your site. Are there ways you can encourage them to convert or sign-up?
This data helps you understand where to add calls to action or how to improve website design and functionality, so completing a form becomes a natural part of navigating the site and accessing content.
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