A little sweetener…

beeFor over a year now ComXo have had their own bee hive and we are sadly down to the last pots of the 2014 crop of delicious honey.

The story of our hive has been a fascinating adventure into the perception, fears and fondness for this tiny miracle of nature and serves as a good parable on industry, belligerence and doing the right thing.

We wanted a hive because I love honey and apparently their impending doom may threaten my craving.  So we had space next to the car park, we border the wondrous organic estate of Windsor Castle and most importantly we had Stuart.

stuart1Stuart has been part of the ComXo team for more than 3 years.  Last year, we discovered, that over and above his many talents as an expert on exceptional service it turns out that his fastidious eye for detail also made him a natural bee keeper.  In fact Stuart had at the bottom of his garden 2 hives, a veritable honey factory.

As with all entrepreneurial endeavours the concept is the easy bit and our concept was “Lets have a hive in the car park!”  We invested in all the kit,  splashing out on traditional wooden hives and prepared the site.  We considered all the aspects: proximity to houses, wind direction and speed, away from direct sunlight, the side closest to the river and thereafter the Royal Estate…surely we had thought of everything.

stuart 2

We set the hives up and took delivery of our colony.  We screened the area and as the spring sun began its slow but transformational work on the neighbouring flower meadows we began to see the steady stream of bees hard at their daily commute.

meadows

Unfortunately so did our co tenants in the building we rent and naturally as part of the car park is theirs they took umbrage at not having been consulted…which of course caught up in my excitement I had neglected to do!  Then so did the land lords notice who referred to the clause in our lease that we were not allowed to keep pets on the premises.  Apparently the health and safety concerns that a bee hive in a far corner of the car park presents is so draconian I am surprised we’ve had no deposition request from DEFRA .

Well whilst we were fending off every parry and riposte from powers way beyond our influence, our busy friends were in full production of their sweet nectar unaware of the furore and machinations as their fate was determined.

comb

When Stuart knocked on my door smiling like an innocent in spring I knew our efforts had been rewarded.  Sure enough the tiny pot he produced tasted as sweet, floral and fragrant as any I have had, gloriously amber and delightfully runny.

Over the past 6 months of winter we have been asked on a number of occasions to move the hive but weather and conditions have never been suitable but now the pressures are on from the pollen police to move on our humming collective and we need to act…publish or bee damned (sorry!) I thought…so thus this post.

So what is my plan to stop the nectar nasties getting their way?

honey

Well lets just say that when I go to in to London to meet existing or prospective customers I often take a jar of our home made honey as a little demonstration of how we at ComXo differ from other businesses.  Taking care of our hive takes time, requires attention to detail, rewards patience and of course delivers delight…all things our team here ambitiously strive for.

So back to my plan….I intend to deliver a little sweetener to our detractors.  I will let you know how it goes!

bee happy

 

 

 

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Ask me about ‘the why’….

I was very fortunate last week to be invited to a very smart dinner at Windsor Castle in the company of the Earl and Countess of Wessex.  The event was connected to my company Comxo’s sponsorship of the Windsor Festival Youth Art Competition.  As we went into the dining room of Norman Tower, one of the oldest rooms of its kind in the country I scanned the table for my place setting and saw that I was to be seated next to a ‘Lady’.

norman tower

I soon discovered that not only was my dinner companion titled but she had also been High Sherriff of Berkshire…impressive.  As the dinner progressed she asked me the perennial question…’So what do you do?’ .  In a panic that I might find myself explaining the fascinating details of ‘outsourced switchboard’ and ‘global on demand business services’ I had a flash of inspiration and told her ‘don’t ask me what I do…ask me why I do it’

The Why

If you don’t recognise these circles Google Simon Sinek

The why is always more interesting than the how or what because it gets to the heart of the matter.

For my why lets go back to 1989.  Fresh back from graduating university in Boston where I had been working directly with futurologist and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis (ISUX Prize, Singularity University) setting up The International Space University..(that’s another story!)

Peter Diamandis

Cramped in a tiny office above a bagel shop I was intern to Peter building an institution that today is the foremost institution for space studies  the world.  As part of a team of 4 people building a dream the work pace was frantic, always on the phones (way before mobiles) we called sponsors, professors, ex astronaut and presidents.  The US was a phone based economy, they understood that being easily contactable made doing business easy and that drove revenue.

So back in the UK I was stunned by the pedestrian pace and slovenly approach to phone interaction.  Setting up my business my experience of calling into businesses large and small companies was appalling.  You were lucky if anyone picked up the phone, you were even luckier if they were polite to you and hit the jack pot if they had the nouse  to take your details correctly and put you through to the right person.

We have all suffered her wrath!

We have all suffered her wrath!

My story came to a head when the property of my dreams came within my reach.  A small farm my family had been trying to buy for generations came on the market and a race to buy it ensued. Trying to contact our lawyer  to put the deal together was a nightmare.  Every time I called no one picked up,  messages were not delivered, no one returned my call…we lost the farm and the law firm lost our family as customers.

In retrospect perhaps I should thank them because it was in this moment of anger and frustration that I thought…

“There must be a better way, there has to be a need for an absolute specialist, delivering exemplary switchboard experiences to law firms.  I can help lawyers be easy to contact and make doing business with them (at least) a pleasure at ‘first contact’ and this will drive their revenues.”

So was born my business in Windsor providing extraordinary people, polite in nature, professional in demeanour, proficient in technology with bags of personality delivering a wonderful experience to my customers clients whenever they want to get hold of their trusted advisers.

Midnight on National Telephonists Day 2015!

Midnight on National Telephonists Day 2015!

Today 40 top 100 law firms and hundreds of professional service firms in banking, insurance, architecture and financial services use us to impress their customers whatever time they call, from wherever in the world they happen to be for whatever they want…that’s WHY I do!

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A governors view of Ofstead

logoAs a new governor for The Berkshire College of Agriculture I am having to learn a whole new vocabulary of acronyms…FE (further education) and HE (higher education) , SFA (skills funding agency), Ofstead (office for standards in education), STEM (Science, technology, engineering and Maths) , QRB (quality review board) …in fact in the run up to an Ofstead inspection (any day now) I have just received a list of 543 acronyms used in the every day life of our college.  Abbreviations Acronyms MAY 2015

What I am learning is not that education loves to abbreviate but that the complexity around further education is staggering and the responsibilities of governance immense.

Hall place2

Before becoming a governor of what I thought was a sleepy rather quaint Land Based college on a beautiful Georgian estate on the outskirts of Maidenhead, I had imagined the role of governor in such a middle class area was all about showing up 4 times a year, judging a flower show and being no more than a back seat advisor. How mistaken I was!

cars

This extraordinary college has often been described to me as the last chance saloon for a teenager who finds main stream education un-inspiring. Here at BCA at the age of 16 you can study to be a farmer, a gardener, a zoo keeper, a beautician, a car mechanic, a film director, a stable manager and much more beside.

Recognise the arch?

Approaching the college down its grade 1 listed lime tree avenue towards the stately magnificence of Hall Place you might be mistaken on thinking that this was a private school rather than a state school. On further investigation of the facilities you might, as I was, be astounded at the quality of facilities the class room technology, the breadth of campus and the passion of staff.

However looks can be deceiving as the college is currently under review by Ofstead as “needs improvement” or “grade 3″. This might mean little to the un initiated but, as I have now learnt, to the staff of BCA this is serious. “Grade 3″ means seriously under performing in the key purpose of the college;  namely the education, preparation and welfare of the 1500 learners in our care.

Before I became a governor I had only been aware of the “dreaded Ofstead inspection” through parents or teachers who had experienced a visit. The stress of 4 days of interviews, the stress of a snap shot approach to understanding, the stress of a detailed examination into every area, every level and a forensic approach to uncover the facts.  The apocryphal stories of it all being down to the nice or nasty inspector etc., However it is only now as BCA approaches its inspection that I am beginning to understand the true very effective purpose of Ofstead…and surprisingly I like what I see!

untitled

 

So why does the inspection outcome matter so much? Well the difference between grade 3, grade 2 and the holy of holy’s grade 1 or “Outstanding” is the difference (in football language) between being Sunday league football and the Premiership.

As a governor who is accountable for ensuring that the college is fulfilling its purpose:

” delivering high quality education that gives our students the knowledge, skills and experience to be successful in their chosen career”

it is all about overseeing a vision, culture and working practices that consistently deliver excellent value to the tax payer.  Success is seeing a cohort of leavers prepared and enabled to be able to support themselves with out state intervention.  Learners who, like me, failed in the classroom of academia but are able to find their vocation and purpose in areas with equal value to society.  It is without question that many of BCA leavers armed with qualifications in hair dressing, car mechanics, agriculture  and horticulture will eventually become part of the entrepreneurial class that drives the UK economy.

What impresses me about Ofstead is that the rigour of the inspection ensures that the educational establishment delivers root and branch.  This will not be a beauty parade and style over substance is bound to be uncovered.  What gives me hope is the tireless work that the entire college has done over the year that I have been involved.  The focus, professionalism and passion to manage adversity and manage fundamental reform  would set it on a par with any excellent organisation of a similar size in the private sector.  That is not to say it is perfect but it wants to get it right…and for the right reason..not for the inspector but for the learner!

Bring it on!Ag students

 

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Managing Partner Magazine article on 21st Century Switchboard

I wanted to share an article that appeared in this weeks Managing Partner magazine.

The human story at the heart of this is that the two ladies that appear in the picture below are the grand children of the lady that appears in the switchboard picture at the end of page 2 during the war.

Their jobs of 21st century switchboard operator and war time switchboard operator are professions which did and still do require extreme mental dexterity, lateral thinking, charm, politeness, technical expertise and an ability to be constantly positive in how you project yourself.  It is a profession that never ceases to surprise me in terms of its difficulty and it makes me immensely proud to have so much talent working for Team ComXo! Managing Partner page 1

Managing Partner Page 2Down load article below

Page 1 

Page 2 pdf

 

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Why we sponsor the Windsor Festival Youth Arts Competition

Who would think that the art room at the local state school is the future engine house of the UK economy?  But those were the sentiments of Desmond Shawe-Taylor,  Keeper of the Queens Pictures and one of the nations leading art experts.

Keeper of the Queens Pictures

Keeper of the Queens Pictures

Desmond was not in this instance appearing on television but speaking at Herbert Smith Freehills, one of the London’s great law firms, at an exhibition of work from young school children.

Exhibition brochures

Exhibition brochures

The work which spanned multiple disciplines including painting, writing, poetry, music composition, sculpture and clothes design was curated professionally by Windsor art gallery ICE and came together through The Youth Art Prize part of the Windsor Festival and sponsored by my business ComXo.

Fisherman Olivia Clarke

Fisherman Olivia Clarke

Why are we, experts in switchboard support services and 24/7 business concierge, interested in youth art? Well it comes down to ‘purpose’ and as a mentor of mine explained “purpose is what gets you out of bed on the coldest darkest dankest day in February raring to get on with what you do.”  In my case my mentor made me think about it for some time, testing each answer I came up with, like the obvious ‘money’, or ‘global domination’, or ‘lifestyle’ and even what had been my stock answer for years ‘master of my own destiny”. In the end I wrote down the following words and they have stood the test of time

” to build an organisation where creative, energetic people with a passion for being the best can challenge the status quo and build a better future.”

Now I would forgive you if you dismissed that as navel gazing guff but I  stand behind it because it means everything to me.

Waistcoat Christabel Turnbull

Waistcoat Christabel Turnbull

Dismantling and re thinking what we do today and through creative thought rebuilding and re shaping and then trial and error we progress.  When we hire at ComXo we are less interested in school grades, past experience and knowledge and more interested in a persons aptitude for challenging what we take for granted and why and how we do things and putting together creative teams that can evolve any existing process, procedure or product to make it better.

 

Self Portrait 30's Style Katie Underhill Churchmead School

Self Portrait 30’s Style
Katie Underhill
Churchmead School

Creativity sits at the heart of this process and creativity is honed, developed and set free in the art room, music room and drama studio.  It is surely a misconception that information or facts learnt by rote and regurgitated in the exam hall is the determinant of successful learning…with out creativity to stretch, manipulate, de-construct, re-arrange, turn inside out, upside down and as such to alter perspective, uncover insight and discover the new our world will indeed stagnate.

So thank you to Ian Gatt QC of Herbert Smith Freehills, Partner responsible for the firms extra ordinary art collection who said

“Through ComXo, who provide telephony services to Herbert Smith Freehills, the firm became involved with the Windsor Festival Schools Programme in 2014.  As we were impressed by the extremely high standard of work we invited the winners and commended entrants to exhibit their art on the commercial stage in London, in front of clients and guests visiting the firm offices.”

Click the link below to see the press coverage

Schools Programme 2014 Exhibition at HSF Press Coverage

 

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Better Connected (interview published in Briefings magazine October 2014)

 

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BYOD managing business calls on a personal device

BYOD or Bring You Own Device is both an advantage and a headache for companies.  Whilst it enables anybody to use their own smart phone to transact company business and allows for personal taste it can be a headache to manage and administer.

Here is a typical scenario of one of our newest customers.  With a $6 billion business and 8000 people across the globe the move to a BYOD had made sense for them.  Savings were made in device purchasing and support, savings were made in negotiating a one size fits all air time package and moral was boosted by enabling employees to decide what model and brand of phone they wanted.

However the unintended consequences began to outweigh the advantages.  Namely with 3000 people making regular international business calls from their devices the administration became excessive.  At the end of every month the companies accounts department had to deal with 3000 bills with international calls identified and needing to be paid back through their expenses process.  A nightmare of reconciliation, authentication and validation not to mention a mountain of paper to record and store.

Luckily they came across our own Call2 Corporate solution which whilst it was not specifically built for this problem solved it simply, quickly and effectively and saved the business money in the process.

Call2 corporate enables a user to download a smart phone app to i-phone,  android and Blackberry phones and through this make high quality ‘real’ (ie not VOIP) calls from and to anywhere in the world.

The advantages are this:  a global business can buy all its global minutes centrally and distribute them to individual devices anywhere in the world.  This means that none of the corporate business calls show up on the individuals bill and what’s more the corporate can report and administer thousands of accounts simply and easily from an on line portal.

Best of all our local and international call costs are up to 80% cheaper than you would pay your mobile company and can be bought in your currency of choice.

In short no billing reconciliation, guaranteed high quality low cost calls to anywhere on the planet, full management and administration suite and 24 hour customer care if you every need it….smiles all round!

If you are interested in this solution or would like more information call our expert Paul Roake on +441753710430 or email him at paul.roake@comxo.com

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Surviving the Datchet Floods

My normal route to work

As some of you might know ComXo offices are right in the centre of Datchet an area seriously affected by the great floods of February 2014.

I returned from a break in the sun with my family on February 10th and came into an office dealing with an ever rising Thames the effects of which were becoming all too close to home.

My car park space

As part of our Managed Communications Services around the function of Switchboard ComXo provide over 175 City of London businesses with Business Continuity Support and for this reason we had considered and invested significantly in our own resilience.

Les Wilson wading into the Crisis

With the waters rising it was on with the waders and the invocation plan went into action under the trusty and experienced lead of Les Wilson our BCP crisis Commander.

Time for a morning dip

With our own operation under threat due to our plant room being situated in the car park the emergency services were deployed to keep us operational at all costs.

All hands to the pump

At this point we used all of the tools that we have developed as part of our managed service Emergency Desk solution.

Emergency generators were fired up, text blasts went out to all of our own staff to update them on the situation as it changed, emergency conference call rooms were established, the employee help line was updated as the crisis evolved, our SBA virtual cloud based telephone switch was fired up at our ‘Sun Guard’ emergency site and we began to take calls and provide services from dual sites simultaneously, the intranet became the hub for photos, stories and humourous comment and our marketing department began sending regualr updates to our customers.

A photo of my parents caught on their way to a meeting with me that appeared in the Metro newspaper.

In retrospect it was the ‘unknown unknowns’ that determined the evolution of the crisis.  We had not ever thought that the emergency services, the army and the press arriving and camping out in our ‘back yard’ would actually be the main issue as car parking spaces became impossible to find within half a mile of our facility.

But as Les Wilson later said ‘knowing that 24 hours a day a team at ComXo was on hand to take instruction and communicate with the rest of the company meant that accurate and rapid information could be deployed whenever it changed.

On the fourth day the waters subsided and whilst we had been tested we had prevailed with no loss of service or interruption to our customers….an extraordinary result.

Crisis overcome and smiles resume

 

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National Telephonists Day

Myself and Greg Mace from Rapport with Credit Suisse

On the 10th of March 2014 ComXo and our Strategic partner Rapport founded what we are hoping will become an annual celebration of Professional Telephonists.

The date of National Telephonists Day was set to coincide with the anniversary of Alexander Graham Bells’ first ever telephone call and gave us here at ComXo the opportunity to understand, appreciate, celebrate and spoil the cohort of extraordinary people who provide exceptional Switchboard Services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to our 175 Professional Service sector clients.

We all made cupcakes for the Telephonists

The appreciation of the professional telephonist is limited and their role is sometimes poorly understood as it is often confused with a Call Centre operator, yet their job is eminently more complex, challenging and valuable to our customers.  For instance the Switchboard telephonist is the gateway to an organisation and simultaneously protects their clients first impression of their brand whilst also supporting and enabling their staff.

National Telephonists Day gave me a platform to think about this profoundly and experience it personally as I went back to the floor and did a 24 hour shift, midnight to midnight with these extraordinary people.

Midnight trolly service

Although I started myself on the phones 25 years ago and often boast that I did the first night shift 18 years ago when we moved to 24 hour cover, getting back to the front line was an eye opener.

The sales team washed the telephonists cars

I am now reminded of just what a great job our Professional telephonists do, how technically skilled they need to be, how motivated and dedicated to exceptional service they are and what a lucky man I am to have them!

Nearing the end of my 24 hour shift

 

 

 

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Phone hacking in my business? Should I worry?

Now you might not think anyone would want to listen to your work conversations…right?  What could be more dull?   There is no celebrity tittle tattle worth listening to, no juicy gossip to fill the front pages of the tabloids.  But as we found out in a recent piece of market research there are other reasons and other people who may find what you are speaking about on your calls rather interesting.

ComXo now supply 50 of the top 100 law firms with managed communication services around the function of Switchboard.

That is to say 7 days a week 24 hours a day we have specifically picked, highly trained people based in Windsor whos job it is to protect a company’s brand at the first point of contact ( ie we answer the phones) but also to enable and support their staff by providing managed services whenever they need them wherever they are in the world…For instance booking taxis in the middle of the night in Beijing , providing a 500 person conference calls on a Sunday in Dubai , sending out 5000 text messages to a workforce to tell them what to  during the recent storms, or providing follow the sun first level help desk resource for a multi country facilities team.

However we also supply the financial sector and more specifically we are known for providing 24 hour managed services for complex and sensitive conference calls.

Now ComXo differentiate ourselves from our competition by building all of our managed communication solutions on our own proprietary platforms.  This means that we bespoke all of our solutions not only to the requirements of the professional service sector, nor to the specific requirements of the legal or finance sector but to the specific requirements of a single firm.

This means that we have been able to create a specialised managed service for firms where security is of paramount importance and apart from the finance sector you would think that city based lawyers conversations would be one of those.

However when we transferred our best practice knowledge from the finance sector into the legal sector we were surprised to find that the thinking around security and best practice was very much less developed.

Our relationship managers were coming back with stories that horrified us and we could not believe we’re true.

For instance one top 5 law firm recounted an example of one of their senior partners who was found to still be using the conference number and PIN code from another top 5 law firm he had left 5 years prevously.  This guy was billing all his calls to the competition!

So we  commissioned The Legal Support Network to carry out a survey across the sector to get a representative study of what the sector saw as important, what the current landscape for conferencing is and where the future is taking it and what best practice exists for what is a quickly becoming a sector as highly regulated as the finance industry.

The findings of this report however are startling and you can download them below.

LSN_ComXo_teleconferencing_report_2013_DIGITAL

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