By Salena Wolfe, Everett Sales Support (and first place winner of SNDA competition)
I had the privilege to attend last year’s conference in Tuscon, Arizona and had a fabulous time. The resort was beautiful and so many of my friends and co-workers were able to attend as well. It was a real party.
This year’s conference was held in New Orleans, Louisiana and I have to say that it was a phenomenal decision! The contest is tough, so I had no hopes of going this year. I thought New Orleans would be a great place to visit and I tried my hardest. I wrote and re-wrote my essay questions until I was satisfied.
Anne Ogama, John Provost, Cami Halstead, Dean Packard, and I were winners for the year. Another year of five winners! John won in the Technician category, Dean is a Shining Star Technician, Cami is a Shining Star Operator, and Anne and I were winners in the Admin category. Shining Stars are Outstanding first year entries. Also, they don’t announce TOP winner or first place until the awards ceremony, so naturally Anne and I were competitors for two months. She thought she could bog me down with calls, HA!
Anyway, after two plane rides and nine hours, we landed in the Big Easy! Though I was exhausted, there was no mistaking the beauty of the city. I fell in love with their cemeteries, as morbid as that sounds. As you may know, their deceased have to be buried above ground. Dig two feet down and you’re in water. I would have loved to spend some time there, but we had a schedule. On the way to the hotel, we even saw the Superdome. The question that I’m asked the most is, “Could you tell there was damage from Katrina?” My answer is no. I could not tell that the city went through anything dramatic at any time in the recent past. I’m sure that if I went on a tour and the guide was nice enough to point the “little” things out, I would then be able to tell. Not knowing the city like the residents do, I could not tell that in 2005 the city had been torn up. They’ve also had 6 years to rebuild and have done a wonderful job.
So, when we got to the hotel there was about an hour to get checked in and dressed for a reception/cocktail hour. There they had the famous “New Orleans Hurricane” cocktail at the bars, with which one landed in my hand mysteriously, *cough* Mattie *cough.* It was very delicious! A lot of mingling: people looking at your name badge to see who is who and who the winners are.
We went out to dinner that night in the French Quarter at Bubba Gumps on Decatur St, which was about six blocks from our hotel, a quick walk. The food was fabulous and they do Cajun right! I’m not into the hot stuff, but I loved those Cajun shrimp. The atmosphere was great, all decorated in things from the movie and the staff even had a trivia round with prizes for us. We then split up and went where we wanted after that. There are little gift shops, bars, and random shops all along the street. The cigar shop was a popular one.
Breakfast started early at 7 AM the next morning, followed closely by classes. After all, we went there to learn. Did I mention, my guest, Tara Fulmer, and I did not make it to breakfast until 7:30AM? I had a rather difficult time pulling myself out of bed. I’d gotten no sleep the night before, little sleep on the plane, and only a few hours that night, but who’s complaining? Not me. During breakfast we were able to go ahead exhibits, vendors who had set up stands to show us the newest technologies and software.
Our first class was for everyone in the Ballroom, Bob Harris, spoke about how to better satisfy customers and “Stirring the Pot” to get everyone in the company involved in solution finding. Bob did a great job involving the crowd and had vigor for customer service that radiated from him. This was a great class.
We had a 30 minute break so Tara and I ran to Starbucks for some desperately needed caffeine. The line was LONG. Apparently there were many in desperate need, but 20 minutes later we were back in class.
Our next class was another Customer Service course with Bob. He introduced the C.A.R.E. program. What you would expect if you were the customer, from your security customer. Compassion, Accountability, Responsibility, and Energy. We also came up with alternative words within CARE that we would expect of ourselves. Creative, commitment, courtesy, continuity. Add value, attitude, accessibility. Reliability, reactive, reasonable. Experienced, expressive, educated. There was so much in this class: six basic customer needs, how we say things is more important than what we say, and six steps to defusing really angry people. Basically it taught us how to watch tone of voice and how to treat others exceptionally well. Great class!
Lunch was phenomenal as it was last year, with the exception of the Gumbo. First time I’ve ever had Gumbo and it was the big deal of the day. I still think the Praline Cheesecake took the gold. I’m not a “nut” fan, but loved that cheesecake!!!
We had two more classes for the day, but Operator Think Tank was my favorite. All the representatives from different Central Stations across the nation get together in one room and compare how they recruit and test for Operators to hire and bonuses used to keep them on staff. I love these comparative classes because everyone does something different. Great ideas can be found in a sharing class such as this!
Friday the 13th! Oh and did I mention, it was the French Quarter Festival? What a party! It was also Tara’s birthday so we hit the town and celebrated as best we could. Started the night out on Bourbon Street with a Tropical Itch and Po’ Boys! I found out that not every bar has a New Orleans Hurricane and the Tropical Itch was the closest drink to it. Oh yeah and they have it on TAP. It’s actually a delicious drink too. While we were wandering around, a little parade showed up and went down the street with many people following. Street performers were everywhere! Kids with make-shift tap shoes dancing away for money, men painted gold and posing as a statue, men on stilts, men dressed up in costumes, and even street performers. We ended the night with Coyote Ugly where Tara was asked to get on the bar, she declined, and I was yelled at and forced to take a shot without hands. Atmosphere is everything. Our sweet Jeff Geiger, Sales Manager in Portland, even got his own little nickname. Which need not be mentioned here.
Seven a.m. came early the next morning, I slept through both of my alarms. Starbucks was our first stop and then breakfast. Thank goodness for Starbucks! False Alarm Reduction was the first class of the day taught by Tyrone Swinton and our very own Heather Rosenthal. We discussed False Alarm Reduction plans and split into groups to see what each category could do to help reduce false alarms. It was a great way of “Stirring the Pot” and learning what works best for everyone in all the different cities.
Our final course was a “Best Ideas” Panel. Submissions were made prior to the conference, in which everyone was eligible for, and a select few were chosen to be voted as Best Idea for the category. In the Admin category an idea for an email with picture of the sales person and a short bio along with company information was sent to each potential business or residence. This way the contact would know who will be showing up at their door and more information about that person and the company itself. This could be used to send out before a service call or to introduce Customer Service Representatives before a visit is made to a business or residence.
After classes were done around noon, we were on our own until the awards ceremony that evening. Much of this time was spent walking down Decatur Street shopping. There was even a flea market set up with GREAT deals on memorabilia and gifts. After shopping we dressed for the Awards Ceremony and made our way down to the reception. Pictures were taken, drinks were spilled on dresses, and there was a band with dancers.
The awards ceremony was decked out New Orleans style and started right into the Admin category. Anne Ogama was called first. I believe this was Anne’s third National Achievement Award and very well deserved!!! Two other Admin were called and I knew I had taken First Place. After the emotions I had last year winning, this year all I wanted to do was scream and jump up and down, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself so I just giggled, that little nervous giggle you sometimes get. I had promised Maureen from Nevada that I would trip but I was desperately eating my words because I did NOT want to trip. Beau met my arm and after a hug, escorted me on stage. I nearly slipped on the walkway (loose carpet), but made it safely to Heather. Big hugs from Heather, she handed me the award and pictures were taken. I couldn’t quit giggling either. Congratulations from the others at my table and the awards quickly moved on.
Sunday was a “sleep in” day, but I was up and dressed by 10AM. Checked baggage with the hotel for more wandering and shopping the city before our shuttle arrived. Four p.m. and we were on our way home, flight delays made it slightly more stressful but we made it. An exciting weekend! New Orleans had never been on my list of places to visit, but now its on my list of places I want to go back to and Vegas has been bumped from the list! Next year the conference is around San Diego and I hope I’ve inspired my co-workers to try their hardest to go next year. As a winner you are treated extremely well and everyone is friendly and supportive. It’s a fabulous experience that I hope everyone gets a chance to experience!!!