My name is Lori McNeely and I am the Customer Support Specialist for Ultriva. My job is to support our customers when they have questions.
Here at Ultriva we constantly strive to engage with our customers to deliver services that are beyond the norm. About eight months ago we discovered that our customers, who use Ultriva software solutions on a daily basis, do need ongoing training for several reasons:
- Change of Personnel – long time users might have left the company or moved on to other positions within the company
- New Users – Could be a result of expansion of supply base or additional parts being procured through Ultriva software
- New Features – Ultriva continuously adds features every few months (they are notified to customers through release notes)
- Forgotten Old Features – Several features are exposed during initial implementation training of Ultriva but only few of them are being used on a regular basis
In order to help our customers satisfy their needs, Ultriva decided to conduct a free monthly web based training webinar, to be hosted by yours truly. The training sessions will generally last 45 minutes to an hour.
I was initially less than enthusiastic. I have supported software applications for more than 15 years so the subject matter was not an issue. I have effectively communicated with all levels within a company, usually one at a time, occasionally in a group. But this was would mean presenting to over 50 people at a time, and recorded. To say I was stepping outside of my comfort zone was putting it mildly.
After doing more than a half a dozen of the webinars, plus tailored supplier trainings to individual companies, I wanted to share with you three main lessons I learned from my path of growth.
- Practice does NOT make perfect
- Be prepared, anticipate, yet remain flexible
- One person cannot do it alone
Practice, Practice, Practice
Despite what the experts say, practice does not make perfect. I always practice the sessions before hand, usually with one of my coworkers who assists. Once I had practiced the training webinar three times, with the last one being the best. Then came the “live” webinar and things didn’t go as smoothly, so it knocked me out of my rhythm.
So although practice doesn’t make perfect, I do want to report it does improve. I have learned from each session something that makes the next session better. Some of the things I learned have been technical, such as investing in a quality microphone so my voice would be clearer. Some of what I learned can be applied to my everyday dealings with our customers. Sometimes I answer questions with what I think are perfect instructions/explanations, follow-up questions made it clear that newer users are not as familiar and that my abbreviated instructions were not understood. Breaking out of my practiced answers and showing the concepts in more steps helps get the information effectively across to my audience.
“Chance favors a prepared mind,” to paraphrase Lois Pasteur, is the second thing I learned. Or like the Boy Scout Motto advises, “Always be prepared.” By these quotes I mean that I learned that I had to anticipate what some of the questions might be about the given topic and be prepared with some examples or views of the software ready for demonstration beforehand. That is a practice I continue to use every day when I have to research an answer and get back with a customer.
And even the best laid plans of mice and men go awry (now paraphrasing Robert Burns). I learned you cannot prepare for everything and need to be flexible. In one webinar someone brought up a question of how this view looked from the supplier side instead of the customer side. I did not anticipate that. So I needed to log out and log back in using the new login. Except I got a message saying the password was invalid. I tried again. Still didn’t work. Several astute viewers and my webinar assistant pointed out that I had added an extra space with my username and that was why it was not working. Space deleted, I logged in successfully and was finally back on track. Now, I make sure to have those screens opened and I am logged in to the system in case I need to jump to that view.
Two Heads are Better than One
I have already mentioned several times about having a webinar assistant. Just as my day job with Ultriva involves me researching questions and collaborating with the engineering staff or implementation specialists, I cannot do these training webinars alone. First, there is the technical aspect of having someone else monitor the real time questions as I am presenting so there is not dead space as I pause to read questions. Then there are many times when my colleague is more authoritative on the subject at hand than I am. Additionally, I like listening to their point of view to see how they present complex issues and how they explain them to others. I always learn something from their different style as well.
Doing these webinars has helped me so much, even if presenting to a large audience is outside my comfort zone. Listening to the recording of myself afterwards, while at first made me cringe a little, has helped me communicate better. I think to myself how I could have done that better and what I will do differently next time.
The last thought I want to leave with you with is always take every opportunity to learn. If you have to give lectures or webinars, or even communicate to just one customer, learn from the exchange, and think how you could do it better, and then put that into practice. Maybe one day practice will make perfect.