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How should we answer our phone?

Posted by Nils Menten on May 23, 2007.

It's an age-old problem in a modern small business. How should we answer our phone? What follows was about 1 second away from being an internal email, but I thought I'd open it up to more general comment. Non-iMarcians and iMarcians alike, please weigh in. For a little background, we've had a longstanding policy for all 10 years we've been around that a human would answer the phone. It's one of my peccadilloes, but there is something too impersonal for me in serving our customers from behind an auto-attendant. I want our customers to know that we are always accessible to them. So the policy for all these years has been that we all take turns answering the phone, more or less by the honor system. Inevitably some folks are more willing then others, and that sometimes ends up inequitable, but it has generally worked out fine. As we've grown however, it's becoming a bit more of a burden and an honest drag on productivity. Let's face it, if you're in the throes of writing the Best Proposal Ever or the Most Elegant Code Object it's frankly disruptive to see if I'm in, try and be polite and helpful to a caller when you're on a deadline, etc. We need a better solution. Here's the almost-sent email. I would really appreciate your comments: Gang, I'm having a chatty evening. New topic, how we answer the phone. Consider this a request for comment on a proposed change in policy. The goals of a change would be to: - Spend less time answering the phone. - Spread the task of answering around better because it becomes less onerous to do so. - Still provide human contact in nearly all cases, and a prompt, easy-to-access human alternative to voicemail. This is what I'm suggesting we adopt. The phone rings, we answer it. We also do a better job about taking our respective turns in doing so :-). Caller asks for Craig. We say 'just a moment please', and transfer the call to Craig's line. We don't see if he's there, we don't screen. Poof, transferred. 15 seconds elapsed. Craig answers or not if he's there or not. If he's not it goes to vmail. Here are the critical factors in this working well: I DO NOT want us to adopt a culture where we routinely let our calls go to voice mail when we're sitting there and then call folks back. I would accept that no more than 10% of the time. Note the rare use of all caps. We're not doing that. Our vmail greetings need to be short and sweet, and need to direct them to call another specific extension or 0 if they need immediate assistance. This part needs some consideration because dialing 0 means they all land on Nick and that's not a good default solution either. Ringing extensions can be annoying. It'd be good if we could shorten up the number of rings before a call goes to vmail. Furthermore, we could all turn our ringers down to the minimum and still hear them fine. In fact, please do that. We've all got to bone up on transferring calls quickly, and keep the phone rosters handy and up to date. Last thought: The dreaded auto-attendant answering. My knee-jerk reaction is that I do not want to go there, but let's have a poll of everyone's opinion on that issue too. Comments please. Best, Nils

Evolution of a Conversation

Posted by Jeff Turcotte on May 23, 2007.

Question: Can you link developing an ebay clone to first degree murder?

Today, in the developer room, we managed to do it in about 10 minutes.

Here's how it happened:

  1. We were talking about a hypothetical ebay like system to scalp vacation trips that you may have already purchased.
  2. It came up that scalping tickets was rampant on ebay, and some states might legalize it.
  3. A debate ensued over whether scalping tickets should be allowed. Somehow it boiled down to a free market pro-scalping system vs an anti-scalping Karl-fest
  4. The anti-scalping bunch equated the act with buying up domain names with the intention of swindling money from a big corporation.
  5. Will said that intention doesn't matter, only trademarks do.
  6. Elaborate scenarios about revenge, friendship, domain names, love, money, and truth were given.
  7. Turns out, intention is part of first degree murder. So one could say that, in some cases, intention DOES matter.
  8. Conversation dissolves back into actual work.

Coming next week: iMarc associates pickpockets to the Nerf Turbo Football, with complimentary twists and turns.

Evolution of an Event Marketing Plan

Posted by Karin Klapak on May 15, 2007.

It started in a late afternoon meeting last November with the realization that we have experience in Biotech websites, and the International BIO conference is in our backyard this year...

Then a plan was outlined. Here’s an excerpt.

Core booth design goals were:

  • Have at least 2 or 3 stations with computer screens at eye level to talk to prospects and demonstrate work.
  • Create signage and spend budget on pieces which could be re-used for other events.

Other goals included, reflect iMarc’s core brand attributes, demonstrate relevant experience of our work, and, of course, gather good new business leads.

The booth design began with several internal meetings where we reviewed conference exhibitor rules and brainstormed. As you can see in the sketch below, the awesome creative minds hatched a plan. From this drawing – we started to divide responsibilities and order the necessary items.

Bio booth concept sketch

Every part of iMarc played a role in the event’s success (which I’m sure Event Planners out there can agree- it takes an entire team to make all the pieces come together seamlessly).

In short, Nick and the creative trio, led design, getting the pop up booth artwork, Bio website sign banner, and the iPod giveaway table signs made. Nick commissioned the construction of the large Cube. Kim made sure we got carpeting, internet, and electrical services in the booth and if you got one she is the one to thank for the Cube of Truth business card holder giveaways and for the iPod raffle. Rob found a place to rent the “no longer in production” Mac G4’s. And he and the developers turned the heat up to launch the new iMarc site in time for the Exhibit Hall opening. As with any event, there are many other unrecognized tasks that happened - here’s how the booth looked.

Bio booth reality photo

Also see Rob's blog from the show floor.

Overall, we executed the original plan and had a very successful show. The booth design worked to achieve our demo and lead gathering objectives, strong branding and the new web site created a presence at the show and we’ll be able to re-use the booth at the next iMarc event.

9 Expert CSS Ideas You Should Think Twice About Before Using

Posted by Will Bond on May 10, 2007.

Smashing Magazine does an excellent job of providing quality resources for web developers. Today while checking out Digg, I noticed that they have a new article entitled 70 Expert Ideas For Better CSS Coding. The article contains lots of good information on how to improve your CSS, however there are a number of ideas presented that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Section 1.1

Idea: Keep a library of helpful CSS classes

This concept really breaks the separation of presentation and content that we strive for when using CSS classes and writing semantic code. If we have some html:

We gain NO benefits over the following, except for a few characters:

Instead, it makes much more sense to create classes based on the content:

Then if you have multiple callouts, you can change all of them with a single CSS rule, as opposed to editing the HTML when you want to change the float or width.

Section 1.3

Idea: Keep selectors to a minimum

The rationale for this is to reduce the number of selectors needed to override the rule, and helping keep troubleshooting time down. From my own experience I have found that using specific selectors more often helps with troubleshooting. You’ll first want to start with styling all of your basic html tags, then create specific styles for the sections that override the defaults. If you have auxiliary panel that needs styling for links inside of an ordered list, don’t use:
.aux_panel a { }

Instead, you will probably find less issues down the road if you use:

.aux_column ul li a { }

This will especially be the case if you add more links to the right column that are not inside of a list.

Idea: Keep CSS hacks to a minimum

This advice really should read: Don’t use CSS hacks.

CSS hacks break over time, see IE7 for an example. Instead, use valid CSS, and try some different presentation techniques. Most often CSS hacks have to do with IE. Check out Dean Edwards’ IE7 script for info on how to make your life easier with IE.

Section 1.5

Idea: To work with EMs like with pxs, set font-size on the body-tag with 62.5%

This is a little dangerous since EMs cascade and pixels don’t. Say I have the following CSS:

html { font-size: 62.5%; } body { font-size: 1.3em; } h1 { font-size: 1.5em; }

As a result my h1s would have an equivalent font-size of 19.5px, not 15px.

Idea: Use universal character set for encoding.

UTF-8 is a wonderful character set, don’t get me wrong, but you have to know more than just including the following inside of your head tag:

<meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/ html;charset=utf-8" />

If you present your files are UTF-8, but your editor is saving them as ISO-8859-1, Windows-1252 or Mac OS Roman you could have issues for characters above between 129 and 256. Better advice is to make sure you include a meta tag with your actual character set.

Section 2.2

Idea: Use the power of selectors

These selectors are awesome, but be very careful! None of them are supported by IE6 unless you use Dean Edwards’ IE7 script. Hopefully this will save someone from developing a whole project in Firefox, Opera or Safari just to see it get destroyed by IE6.

Section 2.3

Idea: You can mark external links automatically.

Marking external links is great, but really think twice before using content:. CSS is about presentation and really shouldn’t be adding content to your pages. Instead, add a background image with a little right padding.

Idea: You can remove dotted links with outline: none;

This seems like a great idea, especially if you use negative text-indent values. The real issue is with accessibility. As soon as you hide the outline, people with keyboards are gonna have no idea what link they have tabbed to. This might be a good time to look and see if a different technique than negative text-indent might solve your issue.

Section 2.5

Idea: You can force IE to apply transparence to PNGs.
Idea: You can define min-width and max-width in IE.

Don’t code these into your style sheet. CSS hacks will degrade over time and it makes your CSS all messy. Instead I would recommend using Dean Edwards’ IE7 script to fix issues with only IE, leaving your css nice, valid and clean. The IE7 script also adds support for all kinds of good, usable CSS. Check it out!

At BIO 2007 - Booth #2152

Posted by Robert Mohns on May 7, 2007.

The booth is up, the iMacs are webby, the staff is caffeinated, and the Cube of Truth is ready to do its duty. Drop by and get a sneak preview of the new Massachusetts Biotech Council web site — it's even better than Spiderman 3! More updates (and photo) as the show continues — check back tomorrow. If in doubt, subscribe to our RSS feed (learn more).