I have probably flown 100,000 miles on Taca in the last two years, and ALL of those miles have been regional in Central America. I I only got a Distancia (Frequent Flyer) card, mid year last year, or I would probably have at least 100k in total miles.
Taca has the newest fleet in the Americas, with Airbus 320 and 321's, and their planes are clean and normally well kept, and the crews usually friendly. I was probably one of the worlds most satisfied customers until about a month ago. Until that time I normally received an upgrade on at least one leg of all of my round trip flights. As a Silver Frequent Flyer I really enjoyed this, as it is rare that anyone under plattinum gets such priveledges on other airlines. With Taca I could always count on an upgrade when I got to the airport if Business Class was not full. (I generaly fly minimum once a month and sometimes every two weeks. Taca changed their upgrade process to some arcane system based on fare types... Well, I can not complain, they are only getting more in line with the industry, and I still manage to snag one every now and then.
Scumbag Alert - NEVER use Jetbox as your mail forwarder...
I was a long time user of aerocasillas, to deliver my mail from my U.S. Post Office box to Costa Rica. I left them after two years because they were simply too expensive and too slow. I went through a smaller provider for a while, and while I liked them, they took up to a month at times to deliver a package.
Last year, Jetbox appeared in my local mall. I signed up with them because they were close to my home and I had heard some good things about them.... BOY WAS I WRONG!
Jetbox has nice people working for them. Stephanie, the young woman who runs the branch where my stuff comes, is especially pleasant to deal with. But they are the worst service I have ever used in Costa Rica. I am constantly and grievously overcharged (Example, I paid $28 in shipping and taxes on a $20 baseball cap.)
I just ordered an Apple Time Capsule. I am entitled to $500 of tax exemption per year, so I applied for the exemption for this product. I was then told that even though it would be exempt from taxes, Jetbox would charge me $40-$50 for "processing," whatever the hell that means.... NO, let me tell what it means... "If I can not pad the taxes you pay normally and steal from you in the process, I will just charge you some bogus fee and do it that way." I was sent to a web form to fill out for my exemption. I filled it out, but did not have a tracking number from the ebay vendor who sold it to me. SOOOOOOOO I go by Jetbox today and am told I will have to pay like $75 taxes anyway, or about 25% of the value of what I ordered, and that my product, despite the fact that it arrived in Costa Rica on Monday of this week, would get to me sometimes the middle of next week.
My advice to any of my readers who may be in Costa Rica, DO NOT USE these people, they are the worst forwarder I have every used, and as soon as I have this package in hand, I will be changing back to aerocasillas!
It seems like forever since I last wrote anything. You guys know what that means...
I am working hard... Still doing business in Nicaragua right now. I am helping an existing call center to get up to speed for a new client.
This year continues the pattern of last year in being good for business... I have also been working very hard to help a friend in Costa Rica to build his call center business... I am not at liberty to mention any names at the moment, but things are moving nicely.
This recent picture was taken at a lunch in Costa Rica with the owners of the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Centers. This week I am in Managua doing some training for the owners of the Nicaraguan Center.
I have been saying for a while that Nicaragua has incredible potential in the call center arena.. The fact that Call Center giant Sitel, is setting up shop, more or less validates that assessment.
Marketwire - Sitel, a leading global business process outsourcing (BPO) provider, today announced it will open a customer care facility in Managua, Nicaragua in April 2008. Sitel's new multi-channel contact center will strengthen the Company's ability to provide high-quality, multilingual customer care and technical support solutions to leading companies worldwide. The 14,747-square-foot facility located at Torre Invercasa No. II, Frente al Colegio la Salle, is expected to staff more than 250 associates with the capacity for an additional 180 seats. Sitel's recent expansion to Nicaragua demonstrates growing demand among Sitel clients for Latin America-based contact center support.
"Latin America is a key part of the growing near-shore horizon to support English and Spanish bilingual customers in North America," said Dave Garner, CEO of Sitel. "Nicaragua offers a talented bilingual workforce to support our clients. We're proud to expand Sitel's presence in the region."
I have been advising clients and prospective clients to give Nicaragua a look. The fact is that Nicaragua offers a huge pool of talented bi-lingual workers, many of them with years of experience living in the U.S., and several mature and growing call center operations. I have had the pleasure of working with, advising or evaluating several of these operations, and see incredible potential in the market.
"I have spent most of my life dedicated to the advance of 'people technology,' I have been blessed with incredible opportunities and taught by incredible teachers. Growing up in the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, I learned early that, 'failure was not an option,' but I did fail, and I always had great people there to pick me up, help me dust off, and point out the lessons to be learned. I have made a lot of money in my life, but I finally have figured out that money is not a measure of success, it is only a measure of people's willingness to acknowledge that success! Today I take pride in the achievements of my children, and the opportunity that God and circumstance has given me to participate in the building of an incredible industry in Central America. The secret to Utopia's success is that in a world that seems to be mostly about making money, we are about achieving lasting results and the relationships that go along with them..."
I have been into the social networking thing almost since it started, but have never gotten much benefit from it. The weakness of social network sites is that despite the fact that there are a few biggies like facebook, friendster, etc. You can never be sure where the contacts YOU want to network will be. And if you are like me, you hate getting invitations from people inviting you to yet ANOTHER social network. For these reasons and others, I have more or less avoided investing too much time in Social Networking sites. After all, my personal blog, brings me at least one of two clients a year, and until recently, the Social Networking sites really did not show me any benefit.
I really have seen very little return from it. Well, I have discovered the secret.
You have got to tend your network like a garden. I have spent the last couple of weeks exploring linked in, and getting to know the different features. One of the coolest features for me is the ability to ask a question of your network or the extended network. I have gotten some excellent advice using this feature.
Another great feature is the ability to recommend people, or to ask others to recommend you. Its kind of like having a living reference page for you life and career. I have been spending some time the last couple of days writing recommendations for all those in my network whom I respect and have cause to give an attaboy! It has been a fun experience for me, and bought back some lovely memories.
Anyway, if you are interested in finding out more about David Anderson, please join me on Linked in.
While visiting Nicaragua, I had a chance to spend some time with Connect International, a new call center founded in Managua in February of this year. The call center is primarily focused on outgoing collections activities at the moment, but let me tell you, these guys are comers. They will be one of the dominant call centers in region within the next couple of years, of that I am sure. What I see is a dynamite team of young people, led by a young, intelligent, super motivated CEO, Juan Carlos Montealegre.
Juan is one of the latest generation of Nicaraguans whose families left the country during the war and who migrated to the U.S., now the children of these families, including JC and many of the people who work for him, are returning to Nicaragua and creating a whole new class of professionals.
Nicaragua is going to compete with Honduras as the next "Green Field," opportunity for Contact Center development.
The tx1000, which is the parent model for the 1232, recieved a pretty good review from CNET
HP is one of the first vendors to announce a laptop specifically built to run Windows Vista, and somewhat surprisingly, its initial offering is a convertible tablet. Unlike other tablets, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X60, which are aimed primarily at business users, the HP Pavilion tx1000us targets the more average consumer. HP refers to it as an entertainment notebook, and the system includes media control buttons, dual headphone jacks, a touch screen that works with any stylus or your fingertip, and a new, high-gloss finish--all of which add to its consumer-friendly vibe. The $1,299 base price Pavilion tx1000us (our review unit cost $1,720) isn't set to ship until February 28, which is disappointing, and the AMD Turion 64 X2 processor wouldn't be our first choice, but in terms of performance and features, our first experience with a Windows Vista laptop has been a positive one.
The HP Pavilion tx1000us measures 12 inches wide, 8.75 inches deep, and 1.5 inches high, slightly narrower and deeper than the Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 tablet. It's large enough to work on for long stretches, but the small 12.1-inch screen can strain the eyes a bit over time. The tx1000us weighs 5 pounds (5.8 pounds with the AC adapter), which makes it easy to tote around in a laptop bag or carry around as a tablet, but it's a little on the thick side for easy handling.
As a convertible tablet, the tx1000us uses a center hinge to swivel the screen around, allowing it to fold down over the keyboard. The hinge feels sturdy, and the lid locks down cleanly when in tablet mode. Using the system in tablet mode may take a little getting used to. Unlike most other tablets, the HP Pavilion tx1000us uses a touch screen, not an active stylus. That means that you can use any stylus or any stylus-like object--even your finger. That can be very handy and certainly adds a little bit of that Minority Report-feel as you whip windows around with your fingertip.
You may need to adjust your writing style, however, because the touch screen isn't as responsive as traditional tablet screens--if it were, resting your palm on it would drive the system crazy--so a firm hand and deliberate pen strokes are needed. Whether you prefer this or an active stylus system is largely a matter of personal preference. We like the idea that if you lose your stylus, you're not out of luck.
The Pavilion tx1000us uses the Home Premium version of Windows Vista, which includes all the features home users want, including Aero effects, while forgoing some of the business-oriented security and networking features found on the Business and Ultimate editions. While Vista doesn't offer too many new features aimed squarely at laptop users, tablets get a few new programs including Pen Flicks, which enables basic navigation (forward, back, scroll) and commands (copy, paste, and so on) via simple stylus movements. We found the response a little tricky, but with more practice, we could see it being a useful way to work quickly.
I have not found any real lack of features in the version of Vista that ships with the unit. In all honesty, my biggest challenge is in using Vista in Spanish. Something I am not accusstomed to doing. While I speak and read Spanish fine, it is a bit challenging to use a computer with everything in Spanish. I only started playing with it last night, so I still dont have the complete hang for it. But I can tell you that it has great battery life, and comes with a trunkload of goodies.
While I absolutely adore my Dell Precision M65 for its raw processing power and well, "precision," Carrying it through airports is no fun. I am looking forward to spending the next couple of months working a project in Nicaragua, with a computer that is small, light and powerful.
I am back in Nicaragua this week working with a client who wants to partner with a local call center here. I am impressed with the young Contact Center industry. For the second week in a row, I visited Connect,
The Connect Call Center
And Press2, two of the new, young Call Centers here in Nicaragua.
The management team from Press 2
I have been very impressed with the quality of what I have seen so far, and look forward to doing some business here, and maybe reccomending the country to some of my clients. Gotta run I have a business dinner to attend to tonight here in Managua.
Crossposted to my business blog
Looks like I will be off on another whirlwind trip in a couple of weeks. The Call Center Project in Honduras has been on hold for about a month now, as the client works on some other pressing priorities. This has not meant a vacation for me though. In the last month I have worked with a North American Company to start the process of evaluating three countries, with the purpose of locating a telesales operation.
I have also been working with one of Costa Rica's biggest Real Estate ventures on evaluating and developing a VOIP strategy for their telesales organization and for the companies internal use.
Looks like I will be back on the road the second week in August, and more than likely visiting some of my favorite Central American Cities again. With any luck, I may even have time to have coffee with some of my contacts and friends there.
I am hoping that we will stay at the Raddisson in Guatemala again, what a spectacular hotel, and what fantastic staff.
This coming week will be pretty hectic as I plan for this trip and evaluate some proposals for my North American Client. Things are looking pretty interesting in this project, and I am looking forward to being a part of it right up until it is operational.
In the interim, I also have a client coming in from Russia in the next couple of weeks, I need to set some meetings for him to establish a company here in Costa Rica. I dont expect it to take much time, but it must be done right, he is depending on my recommendations to ensure that he has the right contacts in country to kick his business off right.
A few years ago, a man who had become like a father to me, and was my first great boss, fired me. He had reason, good reason to do so, nevertheless, it took me a while to accept responsibility for my own failures, and for the ways I failed him, he who gave me the tools to get to where I am today.
A few weeks ago, I came back in contact with him via a business networking site, and we have been sharing emails and ideas every since. John has always been a great motivator, and he has been sending me stuff for the last two weeks. All of it has been awesome, and reminds me why nearly 20 years after the fact, he remains my greatest mentor outside of Freemasonry.
He sent me this one today, and it is one of the most motivating things I have ever seen. Please pass this one on, if you know of someone who might need a little encouragement.
I only recently discovered this philosophy... The philosophy of never giving up, believing in myself and digging deep for that extra. But I have to say, as I look back, John was always this way. I recently had a meeting with a client who was very depressed. The client had had one customer abandon him without paying, and was running on fumes as far as finances were concerned. I gave him my speech about positivity and believing in himself, not giving up and fighting on.
A week later I helped him get the money owed to him, and he is now negotiating with two clients.
I have been there.
When I started my business, I was making very high six figures in the U.S., and was living the American Dream, well except for the being laid off part. Hehe... My friends all thought me crazy for coming to Costa Rica and starting the Utopia Group. The first three years were touch and go. I had clients steal from me, break contracts, make promises and then abandon them... But I hung in there. This was a time of test for me, much like the crawl the young man above just went through.
I felt the pain, and no pun intended, I spent a lot of time on my knees... Today, my business is a success. The Utopia Group is known all over Central America as one of the premier Contact Center Development companies in the region, and I have clients in three countries...
None of it came easy, and as I look back I am grateful to Mr. H. for teaching me 20 years ago, what this video teaches today.
Last week, at the end of my three country tour, I went through a nightmare with Taca Airlines, that no one should have to endure. Granted, it was not 10 hours stuck on a tarmac, but it was almost as bad, especially considering the fact that San Pedro Sula's international airport has almost no airconditioning, and that it is one of the hottest cities in the region... Below is a letter I sent to a couple of people whom I know, one who is an executive at Taca. (Keep in mind that this email was sent on Friday Morning, AFTER the disaster.
Here are the details of what happened last night here in San Pedro Sula. I was scheduled to fly out last night on the regular flight (Flight 221 to El Salvador with a connection to Flight 7623, due to leave at 4:50. By 5pm the plane had not even arrived. No proactive status was provided for passengers, and those of us who asked, were given several stories.
· The plane is late, it will arrive in 15 minutes
· It will arrive in 30 minutes
· It will not arrive, but another plane is being sent from El Salvador
After the plane had not arrived in two hours, many people went to the desk to ask what was going on. At no time while I was at the gate, was a proactive approach taken. By 7pm, the word had spread and most of the passengers were aware that the flight had been canceled. Those of us who asked, were sent downstairs to the main checkin counter to see what arrangements could be made. NOTHING was proactive. Old people (Several Grandmothers), and young children some as young as 6 or 7 years old, were forced to stand in line for HOURS, while only TWO agents worked the check-in counter.
Since there is a festival here in San Pedro Sula, no hotel rooms were available. Thanks to the help of Grupo Karims and Alexis Ramirez, I was able to locate one room for myself. But was then told that the cancelation was due to weather, despite the arrival of other Taca and other carrier flights, and that Taca would not pay for my Hotel. I demanded to see a supervisor and informed her (Helga), that the situation was unacceptable and that she needed to take ownership of mine and other passenger issues. Since I was the squeaky wheel, I got help, (A voucher), an rescheduled flight for today. Many people, including a major executive for Pepsi Latin America, were left standing in line for many hours, with no reasonable possibility of an alternate flight last night, OR a Hotel. MANY of the passengers were exhausted, hungry and without water or any drink for hours, including myself. God only knows how many customers Taca lost last night. I cut up my Distancia card and will make every attempt to fly Copa from now on my many business trips in the region. I have already visited Managua and Guatemala City earlier this week via Taca, and experienced other delays with the ON TIME GAURANTEE airline.
On Wednesday, my flight from Managua to El Salvador was over 40 minutes late, and I had to LITERALLY RUN when I got to El Salvador to make my connection to the SPS Flight, despite my bad knees, because they were announcing final boarding…. My gate was 8 gates away.
I am tired, angry and not looking forward to my flight tonight. My knees hurt and I am not looking forward to being treated like a vaca and cramped up for another two flights. But I am one of the lucky ones. At least my contacts and ability to plead my case resulted in me having a bed last night. Over 50 Taca passengers were probably not so lucky. It would seem that a company the size of Taca would at least have the decency and human compassion to see that grandmothers and small children, for that matter ALL of their passengers, would have something to drink and a sandwich!
I intend to write a full accounting of this experience on my website, which is visited by over 2000 people a day, and is one of the most popular websites in the world, and the number two rated Blog in Latin America! I will also be talking to the editor of La Republica in Costa Rica. I am often interviewed for the paper and have a relationship with its owners. I do not intend to rest until this issue is addressed fully by Taca, and an accounting is made of how they handled this case. It was PURE CHAOS!
Of course Taca itself has not even bothered to respond, and friends in Honduras tell me that it is unlikely that anyone will be held accountable for this disaster in Honduras. Unfortunately, I am in a situation where Taca is often the only game in town when it comes to regional travel, so I am stuck with it.
UPDATE: Taca sent me an email offering me 500 miles for them failing to meet their "on time guarantee. " I guess they missed the rest of the email huh?
I am just getting back from a whirlwind tour of Guatemala City, Managua Nicaragua and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Three cities in 4 hectic days. WHile I have founded call centers in Costa Rica and Guatemala.... and am in the process of developing one in Honduras, I had never traveled to Nicaragua. I was pleasantly surprised at the growth of the industry in Nicaragua.
The week started on Monday, the 25th, when I left Costa Rica at 6:30 am for a flight to Guatemala City. The flights were uneventful, and I landed in Guatemala about 9:40, after a short layover in El Salvador. Actual flying time was about an hour and a half, not even enough time to get uncomfortable. I started my day in Guatemala with breakfast with an old friend (My taxi driver from the period I spent there last year). On arriving at the beautiful Radisson Hotel, I found out I had recieved a room upgrade.
The view from my Ninth Floor suite was spectacular.
Guatemala City is one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America, and much has happened in the year since I last visited.
The Call Center industry has littery exploded and it is easy to see why. Invest in Guatemala, the organization responsible for bringing investment to Guatemala, has done a spectacular job recruiting outsourcing orgazinations to Guatemala.
Having founded a call center in Guatemala last year, I was not surprised at the progress that has been made there . What I found most surprising was Nicaragua. While in Nicaragaua we visited a couple of BPO and Contact Center Operations, these two young ladies worked for one of them, a company providing support to an Investment Bank in California.
The level of talent was amazing. Both of these two ladies spoke English as well as I, and the one on the left is an MBA. The operations ranged from sophisticated operations in ultra modern facilities, to simple voice over ip based cubicle farms in small houses. It was not the sophistication or lack thereof that made the impact, it was the variety and intensity in which the Nicaraguans are attacking the opportunity.
With the project I am managing (currently on hiatus) in Honduras, I am certain that the industry will take off there as well.
I received another email today from someone interested in building a call center somewhere in Central America. It will be an interesting summer. And likely a lot of flying... Speaking of which... If I had an option, I would never fly Taca again...
One of four LATE Taca Flights, last week. This one from Managua to San Salvador...
I am off tomorrow on a business trip to Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. I expect to be back next Friday. When I return, I am planning on a relaunch o9f ISOU. Also looking for guest bloggers. Anyone interested, drop me a line at:
My client in Honduras, is publishing an exciting new magazine called Central America Today. Check out the website for some really good content on business in Central America. I was asked to contribute to their second edition, and wrote a piece about Contact Centers.
Click on the thumbnails for a readable version of my article. The article is not available on their website. If you are interested in dynamic content about Central America, and expecially information on the business environment, check out their website or order a subscription. I hope to have the opportunity to be a regular contributor to the magazine.
Why I like my trips so much. Hehe... I get chauffeured around by intelligent and pretty women!
Haha! No, that is Verushka, Marketing Manager for my Contact Center Client in Honduras, and I rode around with her most of the week last week. He front door on the passenger side would not open, so I ended up riding in the backseat. I am sure we got some interesting looks....
Verushka is quite the Marketing whiz and I learned a lot from her during my stay. She also happens to date the owner of one of Tre Fratelli, San Pedro Sula's finest Italian restaurant. The name of the restaurant means "Three Brothers," in Italian. Anyway, good food, decent prices, nice guy.
As you can see by the picture, we had a blast there on Friday night.
The place made my list of must visits while in Honduras...
My new site for all things Contact Center and Call Center Related in Central America. The site will be the home and hub for our Contact Center Consulting Practice, which is growing regionaly with clients now in Costa Rica, Guatemala and most recently Honduras.
CCCA will be a hub of communications and news about the call center industry, and will offer potential clients more information about The Utopia Group, and Solutions Costa Rica, consulting services.
Our goal is to continue to expand our reach and vision for the Contact Center Industry, outside of Costa Rica, and to be partners in the growth of the contact center and call center industry, throughout the region.
The reputation of the Utopia Group has led to opportunities in many countries in the Central American region, and a growing respect for the quality of our work and extensiveness of our network of contacts.
From founding one of the first Multinational Call Centers in Central America, to developing a reputation as "the call center gurus," in the the region, we take pride in being, "out front," in the Contact Center Market. CCCA is just another example of us taking a proactive approach to developing and growing our market.
In 2007, we will plan and open the first "major," contact center in Honduras, and will help to establish the Honduran Contact Center market. We take pride in our previous trailblazing roles in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and in the many strong business relationships we have forged in those countries. It will be a few days before the site is up and running, in the meantime, join me in welcoming CCCA to the Utopia family of websites.
Socialism and Monopolies will be the death of Costa Rica
Just about two weeks ago, Costa Rica suffered a historical blackout that darkened the entire nation for about three hours... Just a few days later, the Electricity and Telephony Monopoly (ICE), asked the Costa Rican Government to allow them an average of 23% in rate hikes, siting the increased cost in petrol to power thermal energy plants. According to La Nacion, the countries biggest newspaper, the Utility had already used 80% of it's operating budget for the year for Thermal Electric generation. ICE claims that an exceptionally dry dry season has depleted Hydro Electric dams of water needed to generate electricity. When the government refused, the Utility commenced with rolling blackouts over the entire nation for the last nearly two weeks. Every day for 3-4 hours, communities have their power shut down. Those companies with backup generators are forced to bear the cost of paying for the generation of their power. Smaller businesses and individual families, simply suffer. The imagery is amazing.... Meat markets forced to lock up all their meat in freezers and unable to take the meat out for fear of losing the cool in the freezer, are losing money every day.
Other small businesses, including offices of various types, are basically without productivity for 1/3-1/2 a day. And to make matters worse, they change the time of the outages per area, seemingly AT RANDOM! Last week our power was out every day from 2-5pm. Yesterday it was 7am-11:30 am, and today 11:00am-2:00pm, making it impossible to plan... Phone lines that supposedly allow one to consult when the power will be off, are congested. News reports are speculative... It is an incredible scene of lost productivity on a national scale, and ARROGANCE on the part of ICE.
Interestingly, over the weekend there was an article in La Nacion, where several residents of the area of a Large Dam just south of San Jose, accused ICE employees of dumping water from the dam.
In recent months, Syndicatos (Unionist) from ICE's trade union have been in the forefront of trying to block passage of CAFTA, or the TLC as it is known here. An incredible amound of cowardice on the part of the Costa Rican legislative and executive branches, has led to Costa Rica standing nearly alone as a non signatory of the treaty in the region. As a result, Costa Rica plods along with Energy, Telephony, and Insurance Monopolies...
In the last two years I have done very little business IN Costa Rica. My consulting business has expanded regionaly and I am building Call Centers and Contact Centers in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras... These countries have long lagged behind Costa Rica as a destination for foreign investment, especially in the technology sector. Today a company is more likely to establish a Call Center in Guatemala, than in Costa Rica, where I helped found the Central American Call Center industry, 13 years ago this month... The fact of the matter is that this is happening because Costa Rica is NOT as business friendly as these other countries, and because turning the power off for four hours a day EVERY day is not the way to build confidence in your infrastructure.
The last two weeks have been a slap in the face to the Average Costa Rican, but Costa Ricans are famous for "grinning and bearing it." ICE's horrendous customer service, poor performance, bureaucracy, all of which I have experienced first hand, are NORMS to the average Tico, most of which have never traveled, the majority never getting further than 100 miles from their own neighborhood... I often muse that if Ticos, who have been waiting nearly 6 months for new cellular phone lines, realized that they could get off an airplane in Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras and purchase a GSM Chip in the airport, along with prepaid time... Or that in Honduras, one can order Cell Phone, Home Phone, VOIP, Cable TV and Internet from the same provider and have it appear on the same bill.
The average Costa Rica has no clue as to the impact of the TLC Positive or Negative on their lives, but the Unionist have done a better job of presenting a negative case, than business people have done in pushing the benefits of the treaty.
I have always been amazed at the staggering inefficiency of Costa Rica's socialist society. Life consist of standing in one line after another, being treated at best as an inconvenience by bureaucrats, who seem to think that their job is a RIGHT, and at worst, like second class citizens. ICE employees are some of the worst....
ICE is one of the largest companies in Central America, and certainly the largest in Costa Rica. It is not uncommon to go to an ICE office for some service just before lunch, and have more than half the service representatives get up and walk out to lunch, with a line of 100 people or more. But its not just ICE, its everywhere. The entire Costa Rican Society seems to be based on employing the maximum number of people, and having the lowest amount of productivity and efficiency...
Example. I often take my family to a local McDonalds. It looks like any other McDonald's in the world, including an abundance of perky young people working the counter. Almost every time I go to McDonald's, I am reminded of a Keystone Kops film. 25 people running around in the kitchen and 15-25 minutes to get my order (No I am not exaggerating). Costa Rican companies.... The majority of them, are just like the big monopolies, they have little concept of Customer Service, and when you find an exception, you stick with it. Unfortunatly, with ICE, INS, RACSA and the other monopolies, you have no "choice," and if the TLC fails to pass, it will be a triumph of ignorance over what is GOOD for the country.
For years ICE has maintained the loyalty of Costa Ricans by boasting what are arguably the lowest rates in the region, and they have boasted that their penetration in rural areas was greater than that of other institutions in neighboring countries. The rates are probably still lower on the whole than other parts of the region, but when you see little Mayan women in the outback of Guatemala, sporting the latest Motorola V3, you know that the second boast is a thing of the past...
Whether ICE dumped water from a Dam to help justify these ridiculous rolling blackouts, we may never know since investigative journalism in Costa Rica is about as effective as a FOX news investigation of the Bush White House. What IS clear is that Costa Rica will either vote to end Monopolies and demand more of thier public and private sector, or...Costa Rica will continue to have high employment numbers, with some of the most educated coffee plantation workers in the world, because I can tell you that the future of hight tech investment in Costa Rica is riding squarely on the ability of Costa Ricans to demand more...
Call Centers and big multinational back office and service organizations have invested heavily here, whether they will continue to invest in an environment where the Electrical Monopoly can hold the entire nation hostage, is questionable...
Why Cafta is Super Important to Costa Rica's Future
In the last two weeks, two important events have occurred that are linked to the future of investment, and expecially the Call Center Industry in Costa Rica.
The Legislature announced that there would be a nationwide referendum on the TLC, as CAFTA is called here in Costa Rica.
The Entire Country went dark for three hours last week when one of ICE's (The Costa Rican Telephone and Electrical Monopoly), Electrical Stations blew up. This in turn exposed major problems with the Costa Rican Electrical Grid.
The Country has been forced into three hour a day forced rolling blackouts for the last week.
The Referendum was a sign of failure on the part of Oscar Arias, the Costa Rican President to get the TLC through the legislature. Massive street demonstrations, led by the ICE Union and other Unionist were giving the legislators cold feet, and TLC opponents renewed hopes for defeating the treaty.
The Massive Power failure and fiasco that has followed has now put ICE on the defensive, and caused many who supported them and their anti Free Market Stance, to rethink their feelings. You dont realize how badly a monopoly sucks until it fails spectacularly. The arrogance that followed the failure:
Demanding a Rate Hike of an average of 23% to make up for poor planning (And some speculate, to fund additional raises for ICE employees).
When failing to get the rate hike approved, using it to hold the entire country hostage with rolling blackouts...
Were more reason to erode ICE support among the population.
I have written a number of articles on the Call Center business, including one that will appear next month in Central America Today. With the exception of bold visionaries like Rogelio Douglas, whose Admire Americas has opened the first call center on the English Rich Caribean Coast of Costa Rica, Call Centers in the Central Valley, are all competing for the same stagnant pool of English Speaking Talent. Add to this complexities in doing business, extremely high taxes for those who dont qualify for Free Zone status, and the ICE Monopoly, and you have a very volatile market for Call Centers, one that is being challenged by new Call Center Clusters in Guatemala, where I helped to found a new center last year, El Salvador, Panama and Honduras, where I am helping to develop what promises to be one of the most sophisticated Contact Centers in the Region for the Karims Group.
If the TLC fails, Costa Rica will be left with an aging monopoly that once led the region in every statistic that counts, but which is now finding itself behind in technology, (ICE just approved GPRS Internet, and has NO prepaid Cellular Service), availability of services, (New GSM Phone Lines will not be available until August of this year), innovation, and redundancy.... The Country will also be the only one in the REGION without competition in the Telephony Marketplace, or for that matter, any part of the public sector.
Costa Rica has failed miserably to take advantage of the lead they had when I established the first call center in Central America in 1994. While other countries have invested in Infrastructure, opened up their telecommunications markets and focused on developing strong English Language Bases of Employees. Costa Rica has arrogantly held on to a reputation that they no longer deserve. Visit any other capital in the region, and you will feel the progressive Energy. In Guatemala, millions are being invested into creating Call Center friendly parks and infrastructure. In Honduras, companies like Karims are working closely with the Honduran Government to define a new industry.
CAFTA is an important key to the future of Costa Rica. Without it, Costa Rica may see itself losing more and more of its key technology businesses, to other, more aggressive and progressive neighbors.
In the Utopia Group, we are looking at the REGION as our opportunity, Costa Rica just does not seem as promising as it once was.
The view from right outside the lobby of my Hotel, the Copantl. The Copantl is an older hotel in the heart of the city, perhaps slightly past it's prime, but still considered one of the better hotels in the city of San Pedro Sula.
One of the downsides to the place is that it is a businessmans hotel, catering mostly to American Businessmen from the garment and textiles industries. It has been a mostly pleasant place to stay, comfortable rooms, nice staff, a good cold beer at the end of the day... The food in the Cafeteria style restaurant in the lobby is mediocre, as are the steaks and grilled fair in the restaurant located on the top floor. My first really bad experienced happened last Monday night. One of my fellow Americans.... who happened to be in the room next to mine, decided to bring a female "friend," to his room, and to begin a two person party about 1am... The party got louder and more explicit by the minute, and despite my finaly complaining to management, it did not end until 3:30, which meant I got almost no sleep Monday night...
A seasoned traveler like myself can usually spot the "pros," in a hotel bar. The girl partying wih my neighbor was obviously one...
Anyway the week finished fine and I came back to my usual ton of emails and backed up work.
I just got back from the first planning session in Honduras, where I am planning a new Call Center for a big multinational there. I have not been blogging much lately, as the workload has just been intense. Admire Americas also just signed their first client. I worked with them to close the deal.
I am very excited for Rogelio Douglas and the Admire Americas team. Rogelio is proof positive that vision, perseverance and faith, win out in the end.
I will be quite busy for the next couple of months completing the Honduran project and assisting with the new call center in Limon, (The Admire Americas project). Blogging may be light.
In 1994 when I founded one of the first call centers in Latin America, the idea of "outsourcing," call center services was just beginning to be explored.
That first call center, Acer Information Systems, had 450 seats, and was eventually sold to Sykes, which grew the center to several thousand. Today there are 35 "Official," Call Centers in Costa Rica, with an estimated 8,000 positions, and 50, with close to 10,000 positions in Panama, according to the Central American Call Center Report. There are also numerous private brand Call Centers, Sports Books and National Call Centers, which are not counted in this number.
The growth has been phenomenal.
In 1994, the Acer Call Center was based on Nortel Technology, VOIP was in its early stages and the Multi-channel Contact Center was a "concept." Today, innovations by Cisco Systems, Avaya and other major players in the Contact Center market, have driven an industry that continues to innovate as much as grow.
In the last five years, the concept and terminology of “Contact Center,” has all but replaced the traditional call center, where agents sat and passively waited for calls.
Today, the Contact Center is a multi-channel operation, allowing customers to interact via
traditional phone calls, interactive voice response systems, chat, email and fax. The best
of these systems is tightly integrated and gives the customer choice in how to interact with the center.
In 1998 I got a look at the future when I chose the Interactive Intelligence platform for a
Silicon Valley call center operation I was managing at the time. The InIn platform was one
of the first to advocate the concept of Customer "Interactions," rather than calls.
Interactive Intelligence provided an integrated mailbox concept that allowed agents to
control all customer interactions from the same desktop application. It was a bold innovation and one that led to the type of integration we see today in products from Avaya and Cisco. Once dominant Nortel was too slow in adopting new technologies and integration and lost ground to Avaya and Cisco in integrating true Contact Center applications into their platforms. Today’s Contact Center more resembles the War Room from the Movie "War Games," than the old cubicle farms of 20 years ago where I got my start.
In those days a Call Center was run by pure sweat, instinct and numbers, constantly playing the game of cost vs. revenue. I remember it well.
I sometimes miss the days of the old fly by the seat of your pants, schedule in Microsoft
Excel and keep track of customers in flat file databases. When I first started in the
Business, as a Team Leader, Supervisor, Manager and eventually Director, at Packard Bell
Electronics, we did not have all the fancy tools and analysis we have today. But we helped
to create many of them. We were one of the first organizations to integrate a Knowledge Base and CRM application. We pioneered the "Rescue Disk," for personal computers, and we created the first 900 number for software support. We drove and created innovations and were part of the history of Call Center development.
A Call Center Manager “made his bones,” back in those days through instinct and a good mastery of the spreadsheet. Today’s software and hardware solutions allow a modern day contact center to operate practically on autopilot, and to analyze and adjust for maximum performance and cost efficiency.
All of these changes have created an environment and an opportunity for Outsourcing
Operations that we could not have imagined back in the early days of my career.
Voice over IP has also created opportunity. Using Voice over IP and modern networking
technology, tying together contact centers in diverse parts of the world has become almost as simple as basic networking. Today it is not only possible to link sites with full voice capabilities over the network, but transmit other types of data over the same pipes. Fiber Optic technology has created the mythical superhighway where data flows bi-directionally 24x7x365.
In the last five years, I have consulted for numerous existing Contact Centers, and helped to found several, including one in Guatemala. The price of technology continues to go down, while the capabilities continue to evolve. While India still dominates the worldwide
Outsourcing Market, many companies are finding that technology advances, and the near shore locations of Central American Contact Centers, offer an attractive alternative to a nearly saturated Indian Market. In fact, while planning the call center in Guatemala last year, several Indian operations expressed interest in joint ventures. Advances in Contact Center technology, especially in the area of Voice over IP, create opportunities for regional
contact center operations, without the massive investments once required. In fact, many
smaller operations, including satellite, virtual call centers and back office outsourcing
operations require little more than $20,000 worth of networking hardware and some
workstations with IP phones, to get started. Entire operations are run with nothing more
than a few thousand dollars in hardware and a Vonage subscription.
Small, boutique style call centers are not the norm though, and companies like SITEL, Sykes and other big outsourcing players are investing millions in creating mega-centers with all the bells and whistles of a Network Operations Center. Such Centers include training centers, advanced IP based networks, data repositories and advanced Contact Center Technologies. In the next 12 months it is estimated that Guatemala and El Salvador will lead growth in the region that will exceed 38%. El Salvador and Guatemala already have over 7000 Contact Center employees working in 14 Centers.
A more interesting option may be Honduras, where I am currently working on implementing the first World Class Outsourcing Center in the country. The ICT Outsourcing Center will be a multi channel contact center and Network Operating Center combined. The ICT center is a unique opportunity, as it is being built from the ground up to be state of the art.
ICT is owned by the Grupo Karims, and is a part of the Grupo Karims family of companies, one of the most successful enterprises in the region. The Center is unique in that it is being designed from day one as the hub of an outsourcing network, complete with the most advanced Networking and Contact Center solutions, and designed to scale to meet the needs of clients large and small, national and international.
Having worked on a number of projects in recent years where implementation cost was the driving factor, it is great to have an opportunity to, “do it right,” and to provide ICT clients with a no compromise suite of solutions. ICT also has the kind of regional and global footprint (through it’s parent company Grupo Karims), to be able to offer clients a
wide range of cost effective data management and contact center solutions.
Costa Rica may have reached a saturation point when it comes to English Speaking employee pool, and it’s telecommunications infrastructure. The drain on English speaking talent has led to widespread poaching of employees from one company to another, and higher per seat cost. As the only country in the region with a telecommunications monopoly, Costa Rica is increasingly at a disadvantage with other countries in the region in providing flexible communications options. Costa Rica in fact recently suffered problems with it’s international data pipeline that caused outages and slowdowns for many of the companies utilizing land based systems.
As a new entry to the Outsourcing provider market, Honduras has much promise to provide excellent service at competitive prices.
The market in Central America will continue to grow. With the Central American Free Trade
Agreement opening markets and providing incentives for near shore operations, and with
technology continuing to evolve, the world is becoming a smaller place. The Utopia Group’s call center consulting business has grown by several hundred percent in the last five years, and we project even more growth as we continue to expand our operations to support new outsourcing projects in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. We believe that the region has much more growth potential over the next few years than even the projected 38% for the next year indicates.
David S. Anderson is president of The Utopia Group, located in San Jose, Costa Rica. He can be reached at email@example.com
I have neglected our little blog here for the last two weeks, but with reason. I just started a new project in Honduras. I have been working the last two weeks on preparing for the project and spent part of last week in San Pedro Sula.
Beautiful city and beautiful country. Will try and get caught up this weekend....
It's nice to be acknowledged for one's accomplishments in life...
The other day I was visiting a client for the first time. When I walked into their office there were four support engineers manning a help desk, of the four, three were former employees of mine when I founded the first call center in Central America. I hadn't seen any of them for years, but they greeted me like a long lost brother.
The General Manager of the operation is a cousin of one of my former employees, who is now a senior executive with Western Union. We had a conference call with the clients main office in Miami. The GM started the conversation by proclaiming to his associates in Miami, "I don't know if you know this, but David Anderson is a Pioneer in Call Centers. He is the Father of the Call Center industry in Costa Rica."
While I have often been described as the "father of Costa Rican Call Centers", and of the Technology industry in Costa Rica, it is most striking to me when it happens on an occasion like this one.
Sometimes I sit back and just think about my life... The places I have been, the adventures I have had, and it's all good. But there are times... When it is just nice to reflect on one's accomplishments, and perhaps even more important, the impact of those accomplishments on others.
I founded the Acer Call Center in 1994, it was the first or at minimum one of the first in all Latin America, and almost certainly the first International Call Center. Today, Call Centers are a thriving industry in Costa Rica, with thousands of employees in Call Centers from Sykes, Dell, HP and others.
It could be said that the Acer Center paved the way, and served as a proof of concept. What it did was to create a market, and train a legion of pioneers, who went on to establish and manage all those that followed.
So if you are interested in purchasing property in Costa Rica as an investment, or potential retirement home, feel free to contact us at "info - at - solutionscostarica - dot - com, or leave a comment with your contact information.
"Yesterday, iambic introduced a simple, yet powerful [application]. It quite simply COMPLETES my Treo...For $10, this is a piece of must have software. Keep an eye on iambic. They have some really compelling solutions for the executive on the go, or even for just busy people who need to keep their schedules and work on track."
Not much blogging lately, but that is usually a sign that I am busy...
I am preparing for two major projects the Utopia Group will be involved in in December and January, one a call center expansion project, and the other an Internet Portal, as well trying to get Solutions Costa Rica off the ground, the later of which we are still looking for investors.
We are also planning a major open source seminar for early next year. I am very excited to have a well known expert from KDE.org, as a potential keynote speaker. Will be working on identifying some sponsors and a tenative date for the activity in the next week or two.
You don't think I have been suffering through the indignity of learning a new operating system for nothing... do you?
Business has been pretty good this year, but the end of the year... due mostly to cultural stuff, (Costa Rica almost shuts down in December, as does most of Latin America), it can be slow for us. Fortunately, we usually use the time to build momentum for the next year. This year is no different, with a number of exciting projects on the horrizon.
We have been fortunate in that we have finally created something of momentum and sustainability. This has mostly been accomplished by being almost sharklike (Never sitting still), constantly moving.
I am very proud of the things we have accomplished this year. Utopia has grown, our reputation for delivering has grown, and our opportunities for expansion and diversification (ala Solutions Costa Rica), have also grown.
One of the key drivers for Utopia's success, has been our willingness, and our enthusiasm to tackle projects outside our normal areas of proficiency or expertise. This year has seen us take on, successfully I might add, several such projects.
Our plans for next year include developing a call center in Honduras, expanding our "newcomer services," portfolio and possibly creating some exciting new mobile solutions.
It has been said, that the best companies are those who regularly reinvent themselves. The chairman of Motorola Corp, said during a CNN interview, that the time to do this, was when you are at the top of your game. The Utopia Group is at about version 5, and we continue to constantly evaluate the market and opportunities.
We see opportunities in Open Source Software, services, wireless technologies, especially those based on GSM technology. We also see opportunities in creating alliances, partnerships nd synergies, based on a vision of technology for the region. Call Center Consulting will continue to be one of our fundamental core competencies. Our History as a leader in developing call and contact centers around the globe, is capital which we will continue to utilize to broaden the appeal of our new businesses.
So from time to time, I may disappear, but it's all good. When I do, it usually means I am up to something.
From being a small regional Consulting company limited mostly to doing business in Costa Rica, Skype has given me the ability to do business on a global scale, and to save potential clients in the United States, the cost of a sometimes expensive call to Costa Rica.
It has also given me a suite of powerful communication tools that I can use to communicate with clients and family around the world. I am not at all surprised to find this article from Money.cnn.com.
That people are doing interesting things with Skype, comes as no surprise at all to me. That the media has taken so long to recognize it, is a surprise.
The Utopia Group was an early adopter of Skype in Costa Rica, and we have been using it as our primary form of international communications for over a year.
(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- Free Internet phone service was always likely to change the world - but until recently we had no idea how. A little more than a year after eBay (Charts) bought Skype for $2.6 billion, the service has become a business tool on a surprising scale.
A million people worldwide, 300,000 of them in the United States, will rely on Skype as their primary means of business communication in 2007, according to telecom analyst Albert Lin at American Technology Research. And those are just the power users: Skype says nearly a third of its 113 million users now log on to make work-related calls.
That suggests the next few months could be a boomtime for brand-new Skype-based business models. What can't you do with an intercom on the Web?
"This is a growth industry," Lin says. "Most people look at Skype and think they're just going to save money. It's only recently you've seen any attempts to turn the technology into another business."
Business models whose time has come
Saving money, of course, can be enough in itself to transform a small business. When Bill Lewis taught software to executives over the phone using a landline, he suffered phone bills as high as $10 an hour and felt tied to the San Francisco area code, where he could get a lot of execs as pupils.
With Skype, Lewis is bringing in the same $5,000 a month he did when working on a landline. (There is, after all, only one of him.) But now he has no overhead from phone charges.
And he's doing it from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he lives two blocks from the beach. He's considering taking on employees and says a small expansion could triple his revenue.
Lewis's business at least was possible before Skype. But more interesting are the ideas that have only now become commercially viable, like that of entrepreneur Mike Hollands.
A former language teacher born in Brazil and schooled in England, Hollands often experienced shortages of fellow teachers. So he tried a few tentative language lessons over Skype, and was delighted to find they worked. He set up his tutorial company, Toniks Languages, in April 2005.
This time Hollands had no trouble with staff shortages: He got 900 applications for 12 virtual tutor positions in less than a week. The tutors, who live around the world, get paid $30 an hour.
If Hollands had to pay conference call fees to set up the group classes, he says, it would cost him $25 an hour and erase his profit. Instead, Toniks is making $40,000 a month.
While I am certainly not making $40k a week utilizing Skype, the potential to explore new markets in a cost effective way is certainly there. While we explore new business opportunities, and continue to grow our business, Skype will likely prove to be an even more important tool.
What is so exciting, is that the internet is turning into a great equalizer for small entrepreneurial businesses like The Utopia Group and Solutions Costa Rica, providing us with cost effective tools that nearly equal the tools available to companies with Million Dollar IT budgets.
The Utopia Group has been a technology innovator in Costa Rica since it's fouding over five years ago.
We installed the first public wireless network in the Country, and have been responsible for countless technology innovations in the Country.
Utopia was also one of the first organizations to test the country's ADSL broadband internet service, and to promote the use of the wireless (GPRS), internet service using smartphones, and Palm Connected organizers with bluetooth connections to GPRS capable handsets. (actualid9-2003.pdf )
Skype has allowed us to broaden our international communications abilities, while maintaining a low cost communications budget. We are looking forward to the day when Skype becomes available on Palm Handhelds, as other VoIP providers have done.
One of the great things about Skype is its API which enables developers to work with clients to embed Skype applications into Enterprise platforms, or to develop add-on functionality like the Skylook product, which I am a big fan of.
Since making the move to Linux, I miss the Skylook functionality, but hope that the popularity of Linux Distros will eventually lead to the Skylook team developing a plug-in for Thunderbird, or some other open source email client.
At any rate, we see Skype as an "enabler," for a number of business opportunities, and will continue to have it as a part of our corporate communications strategy.
As one of the recognized leaders in the field of Contact Center and Call Center development, I often get emails from people looking for outsourcing relationships, or to build a Call center in Costa Rica.
Grupo Utopia is going in another direction these days, (more in line with our high technology consulting vision), we have therefore created a new company that will focus on working with businesses and individuals looking to establish relationships or businesses in Costa Rica.
While evidence suggest that much of this will involve Contact Centers and Call Centers, we are also prepared to offer extensive services to other types of businesses as well.
Our initial focus will include:
Call Center and Contact Center Development
Outsourcing Relationship Management
Real Estate Development
Cultural Adoption Consulting
Legal Services for expatriates and those seeking residency
Outsourced back office services (Small Operations)
SCR is a one stop solution for companies and individuals who wish to establish rapid deployed organizations in Costa Rica, or who wish to understand their options.
For those of you using the GTD system of time management, this is a HOT new application.
GTD Gmail is a browser plug-in that allows you to create an entire GTD based system within the Gmail environment. I have been flirting with GTD for several months now trying to integrate it's principles into my more traditional Franklin Covey approach to time and task management.
My personal system relies heavily on iambic's fantastic Agendus software on my Palm. Agendus Premier, along with Agendus Desktop for Outlook, have been mainstays in my own time management system for the last year.
My recent move to Ubuntu Linux has made the desktop portion of my experience, a bit more challenging, but I am still a STRONG supporter of Agendus on my Palm Handheld.
I am still struggling and experimenting with GTD, so I am far from proficient in it. But I have adopted several tools, that I hope with time will help me to adapt to the process and to become even more efficient. Memoleaf in particular has been a great tool in adopting GTD. I rarely even used memos as a tool in keeping track of things. Memoleaf has given me a way to better keep track of memos and notes and to incorporate them into my planning process. If you use a Palm Handheld or smartphone, it is well worth the investment.
The new GTD Gmail tool, is just another step in my incorporation of GTD into my daily process management scheme. For those of you who might be interested, there is an excellent Yahoo Group on Palm/GTD located here.
I am a mobile executive. It is the nature of not only who I am, but also what I do. My purchase of a Palm Treo 650 a few months back, was probably one of the best investments I have ever made. I have been an iambic Agendus fan for many years now, going back to the Action Names days.
As a busy consultant, I am almost never stationary, and I depend on my Treo to be my “office, away from the office.” It manages my agenda, alows me to carry important documents while away from my computer, acts as my messenger (via SMS) and has always on, Blackberry style push email. But the Agenda function is second only to email in importance to me.
I am always looking for an edge in managing my business, and Iambic has given me that edge with it’s outstanding time and project management features. Lets start with Agendus Premier.
Agendus Premier Takes the Hassle Out of Scheduling Meetings
Sending Appointment Invitations Simply choose contacts from your address book, create the meeting’s description, and Agendus will send a SMS (text message) immediately to the invitees.
Checking for Free Time Agendus automatically scans invitees’ schedules for availability (if they have Agendus installed as well) and informs them if detects a conflict in their calendars
When the intelligent notification arrives, the invitee can accept or decline without delay.
Tracking Responses Agendus keeps track of responses so you’ll know exactly how many people accepted, declined, or have not replied to your meeting in real time.
With Premier I am able to intelligently manage my schedule while on the run. If the person I am trying to schedule a meeting with has a Treo, the features are even more powerful. My biggest enemy is time, and Agendus helps me to control it in ways that are both powerful and flexible, and it even has an outlook plugin.
All exciting stuff, but yesterday, Iambic introduced a simple, yet powerful augmentation to the system. It is called YourCall, and it quite simply COMPLETES my Treo.
YourCall integrates with Agendus, and the phone application on your Treo. When you recieve or make a call and end the call, a dialogue like the one at the left appears on the phone and allows you to immediately create an action in Agendus. This has been very helpful to me already. I recieved several calls today relating to meetings I have scheduled for Friday. Normally I would try to remember to later make a note in my Treo regarding any follow up actions. This is a lot easier for me since I have Call Record, which automatically records all my phone calls, and I can refer to the recordings later as cheat notes, but YourCall really automates the process of setting up next steps.
Today, after each call, I was prompted with the action screen, and quickly scheduled a meeting and several tasks directly from the screen after the call. The call information was also automatically logged in Agendus. For $10, this is a piece of must have software. Keep an eye on iambic. They have some really compelling solutions for the executive on the go, or even for just busy people who need to keep their schedules and work on track.
I was working on an exectutive management seminar I will be doing this weekend and was looking for some motivational materials when I came accross the above video. When I was growing up... (In my Pre-USC Trojan days, I was a big fan of OU football. As a lineman, I absolutely loved their dominating running game.
I am still an Oaklahoma fan, as long as they are NOT playing USC.
This video is powerful on a bunch of levels. The imagery of the coaches, the language.... "The History of Oaklahoma is winning championships," and "Oklahoma invented," championships, are powerful words. Words that speak of, "expectations," not hopes. OU is a school and a team that expects to win. When I started thinking about the winners I have known in my life, I see a common thread... They ALL expect to excell, expect to win, and will be satisfied with nothing less.
Enjoy the video, it's about much more than football.
One of the things I do quite often (At least once a quarter), is to do some “business housecleaning. I take a few hours and go through a ritual of sorts.
Cleaning the Address Book I pride myself in having a very impressive rolodex (well a virtual one anyway, using Palm Handhelds and Microsoft Outlook). My address book includes some of the biggest names in Costa Rica’s Technology industry, and some major international players as well, but it also includes friends, family, clients and service providers like my favorite taxi driver and carniceria (meat market).
First I use an online tool called Plaxo, to validate my existing address book. Plaxo sends an email to everyone in the book, and asks them to update their information. After ensuring that all of my information is up to date, I go through the list and delete addresses that no longer have use, or revise addresses by using Outlook’s notes field to document special relationships, etc.
Outlook and more often the Palm, will slow down if there are too many records in the Calendar. After three months, I will archive my calendar files for items over three months old, and then use the “purge” function on my palm to do likewise with calendar information there.
I use the same Outlook Archive function to archive old email. I usually keep six months of email available, but filtered to folders for easy access and sorting. Filtering and sorting is not really necessary with the use of Google Desktop Search, Yahoo Desktop Search, or my preference, X1. All three of these products allow you to do lightening fast search of your email, calendar or even documents and files on your PC. I can find an email from three months ago, as easy as one I received yesterday. I keep my inbox more or less empty, as it syncs to my handhelds and too many emails tend to take up too much space. I leave emails in my inbox that may require some action from me while I am remote, but it hardly matters since I am always in sync with my IMAP server using Push email and my Treo 650 Smartphone. During the process of cleaning and organizing my email, I will also review the last two weeks of email and flag any that I need to answer or that may require some follow up.
Files and Documents
After sorting out Outlook and my basic organizer functions, I will take a much dreaded visit to my documents folder. Despite my organizational skills, I am sometimes lax at “filing.” Despite the fact that I have a very organized docs folder, I have a tendency sometimes to save a new document in the root folder of Documents, rather than save it in the appropriate folder, i.e. /clients/clientxyz. When I do my cleanup, I review any “wandering documents,” and assign them to the appropriate folder, and subfolder. Tools like X1, can make you lazy in this regard, since no matter WHERE you store a document, it is just seconds away via the powerful search capabilities. After organizing, I will then go through and review each folder for outdated documents. Using a compression utility, I will categorize such documents and then compress them into an archive. Any other documents that I don’t need, get deleted.
Programs Many of us, who are considered power users, will install and uninstall countless little applications and programs on our PC’s, some of which we use, and others are forgotten. These applications can eventually slow down your computer, or cause conflicts with your core applications. While I am doing my cleaning, I will launch the Install/Uninstall control panel and go through the list of installed applications. I run a full virus and spyware scan to make sure there are no hidden applications on the PC. Any programs which are not being used, and probably wont be used, are uninstalled, and then I used a registry cleaner and optimizer application to go through and clean and compress my windows registry. I then reboot and defrag my hard disk. After a second reboot, the system runs faster and with fewer problems, but more importantly, I am organized!
Lot of Business activity going on right now. I am finishing up some training for a client, and working on future plans, so blogging has been light.
My students hard at work, click for larger image.
The whole group.
We have been conducting a three month long management training program for a local call center organization. The response has been enthusiastic and extremely possitive. Will be training this Wednesday and Friday as well. Having said that, I have still had time to have a little fun.
This is Jeff B., a friend from the U.S. who was here on business and invited me out to dinner on Friday night. I can assure you, a good time was had by all.
Anyway, just wanted to explain my absence. Will try to post a few more things today.
As if things weren't busy enough, I just took on a new project to do some management consulting for an expat businesswoman. In the interim, other projects are progressing nicely. I am doing some more corporate management training tomorrow and all of next week, so blogging will likely be somewhat light.
Today I spent the day training my client in Santa Ana. Tomorrow I have my monthly investor training in Esterillo, Wednesday, more training for Santa Ana, Thursday, planning sessions for the Limon Call Center, and Friday more training for Santa Ana.
And tomorrow is Costa Rica's Mothers day, so to all the lovely mothers of the world, especially las Ticas, Happy Mothers day...
A lot of stuff going on the last week that I want to comment on, but I am simply swamped with work. I have had solid days of meetings followed by action items in the evening. I will try to catch up this weekend.
I have been in meetings all day today. Just got home a few hours ago, stuffed my face and watched the repeat of The Sopranos first season.
Got a chat from Chris Short of Conservative thinking. He runs a post today about an Airman who needs help.
I have a young Airman that has a tremendous family emergency on his hands. I can't give out all the details but essential his wife and two-day-old son are in critical condition.
I'm trying to get three of the Airman's family members and his immediate family some assistance with airline tickets (already bought) and hotel rooms (already paid for). I'm calling in every favor I can to help this family out in their darkest days and now my call is going out to you.
Blogging has been coming in spurts the last couple of weeks. I am working on several projects here in Costa Rica and abroad. Will hopefully be closing a major project out of the country in the next few days. If I dissapear for a day or two, you will know why.
All those who read the blog on a regular basis know that the last two weeks have been especially hectic for me.
I spent last week finishing up the first round of training for one of my local clients (See picture at right), and flying off to Honduras for a meeting with an investor who is interested in me helping them open a call center in that country.
Suffice it to say, I did not get much sleep last week. This week has not been much better.
I spent Monday working on finalizing some new proposals and beginning work on a new project for La Republica Newspaper. And then spent yesterday on my monthly Sojourn to Esterillo Beach.
The trip to Esterillo is a painful 3.5 hours each way, but views like the one on the left make the trip much more pleasant.
Trying taking the 5.5 hour drive from San Jose, California to Los Angeles, down Highway 5 sometimes, and you will know exactly what I mean.
One of the things I dig about the drive to Esterillo, is stoping at little roadside stands like this fruit stand.
We have made it a tradition now to stop off at the fruit stand and pick up fresh Mangos and Avocados.
The place has the freshest fruit and veggies you will encounter anywhere in Costa Rica. Especially the Avocados, as they are grown local to the stand.
Will be having a bit of Guacamole in a bit here. Will let you know how yummy it is.
The class I do in Esterillo is a short one, about 30 minutes. Seems hardly worth it for the seven hour round trip drive. But it is a nice opportunity to get out of the city once a month, and it pays pretty damned good for 30 minutes of work.
And honestly. Do you really think I am going to complain about an all expenses paid trip to the beach, where I get to spend thirty minutes in short, sandals and shades giving a short talk to some of the richest people in North America? I think NOT!
The next few weeks will likely be very, very hectic. I have several projects coming to head at the same time, so it will be an interesting time and project management challenge to keep them all sorted out. Thank God for the work!
Had another great meeting today. It looks like my current client is so happy with our work, that they want to extend our services to them for the next several months. Good news, and all thanks to God's guidance and support. For my friends Marty and Boyd (My Brother), sorry I dont have time to get into the political discussion right now. To be honest, I just dont want to get into any negative stuff right now. I am happy, content and making money. Some other time. Raincheck?
A lot of stuff going on right now with Grupo Utopia. I will probably be personaly involved in the redesign of the web site of one of Costa Rica's largest daily newspapers. My Call Center client is very pleased with the results of the training we have been doing for them the last few weeks, and today I met with a company that is interested in establishing a Call Center in Honduras. They are so interested in fact, that they are flying me to Honduras on Friday to discuss. Will let you all know how it shakes out.
In the interim, I guess my regular readers have noticed that blogging is coming in spurts these days. Sorry about that.
I am doing a customer service management training tomorrow for one of my clients. Happened to stumble accross this article on the web today.
How hard can it be to cancel an AOL account? One man's frustrating call, caught on tape, resounds in the blogosphere
By Jane Wells
Updated: 9:42 a.m. CT June 21, 2006
More than 800,000 people canceled their AOL accounts last quarter. So it must be easy to cancel right? Not always.
Two weeks ago, Vincent Ferrari tried to cancel his 5-year-old account—he'd heard from others in the blogosphere that AOL customer service could be awful. So he recorded the conversation with a representative named John. Here is the transcript of the conversation:
AOL: Hi, this is John at AOL. How may I help you today?
Ferrari: I want to cancel my account.
AOL: OK. I mean, is there a problem with the software itself?
Ferrari: No. I don't use it. I don't need it. I don't want it.
John disputes Ferrari's claim that he never uses the account.
AOL: Last year, last month it was 545 hours of usage.
Ferrari: I don't know how to make it any clearer. So I'm just gonna say it one last time. Cancel the account.
AOL: Well, explain to me what is wrong.
Ferrari: I'm not explaining anything to you. Cancel the account.
It goes on like this for 5 minutes.
Ferrari: Cancel my account. Cancel the account. Cancel the account.
CNBC later interviewed Ferrari by phone about his experience. “I've never ever experienced anything like that,” he said.
He recounts how the AOL representative as a last resort even asked if his dad was home.
“I think I could've put up with everything, but at the point when he asked to speak to my father, I came very close to losing it at that point,” said 30-year-old Ferrari.
Ferrari then posted the call online, and the response was tremendous. AOL sent him an apology.
Chris Denove of market research firm J.D. Power & Associates says companies talk about customer satisfaction but actually see their call centers as a costly investment.
“They're trying to squeeze every penny out of that cost center without regard for what may be happening, the damage that may be done,” said Denove.
Watch CNBC's video, its hillarious. Sadly, this has become the state of customer service these days. Below is the audio of the conversation.
AOL claims they fired the employee, I bet they gave him a medal!
Someone decided they wanted to rip me off... They got caught in a lie in the process. Long story and one I dont want to go into right now. Lets just say I lost a few thousand bucks, and respect for some people in Guatemala. But it is in God's hands now, and I will just let it go.
Looks like I closed some business on a major training and consulting deal. It has taken a lot of work and there is a lot still to be done, but I am confident it is the begining of a new relationship that will bring some great opportunities.
I have a major speech I am delivering tomorrow. It will be up the coast, at one of the beach hotels. The General Manager has kindly offered to host me for a few days after, so blogging will be light to non existent, depending on whether I can get access to a connection or not.
Any of my guest bloggers want to kick in while I am gone, go for it...
The last week I have been working on the business plan for Synergetic Wireless Solutions, and some research on my planned market, revealed some astounding numbers. The only fear I have is in putting together sales projections, my numbers are absolutely incredible, even in counting 1% of the Top 10% of this market, (And only projecting initially for Latin America.
Me in "presentation mode." I love to speak to clients and to make presentations.
I have a major presentation to do on Tuesday, for a group of Investors here in Costa Rica. If all goes well, they will be funding a new company I want to start, one focussed on some cool wireless technology. If you are so inclined, say a prayer for me, or wish me luck.
I am in the process of forming a new company, something along the lines of RIM, Meeting with a group of Angel investors on April 3rd. Will be posting light over the next few weeks until this is in the can. In the interim, prayers and well wishes are welcomed.
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Busy week ahead. I hope to meet with the representative of a group of Angel investors this week. I have been working since the completion of the Guatemalan project on an idea for a new company focused on wireless technology. The response to my initial executive summary has been encouraging, but there is still much work to be done.
The truth is that after five years, I have grown tired of the original charter of Grupo Utopia. To be sure we have acomplished some incredible things on the small investment we started the company with. GU has become synonymous with high technology leadership. We have forged relationships with some of the biggest technology companies in the world, including Intel, Oracle, IBM, Motorola, Palm and HP, and we have created a buzz about wireless technology and high technology in general. We have also created a strong brand...
So why start a new company?
There are many reasons, but the primary one is to seek a level of investment that will allow me to develop some exciting new concepts. With the ownership structure of GU, it would be hard to raise sufficient funds to do so, without long and drawn out negotiations with existing investors. I plan to refocus GU on Call Center Consulting, while structuring the new company to be 100% focussed on wireless and associated technologies.
This week, I have two interviews appearing in the local business press. This picture is from one of the Interviews.I am frequently consulted about trends in Outsourcing or wireless technology.
Both subjects are hot right now, as Costa Rica struggles with more competition from other countries in the region, as an outsourcing destination, and as ICE (The National Phone Company), is finaly working to make their three year old GPRS wirless network a "real service."
RACSA, ICE's official Internet subsidiary has also put together plans for the launch of a Metropolitan Area network of wirless hotspots, more than likely 802.11B or G.
So wireless is about to take off in a big way in Costa Rica, and we want to be there to take advantage of the trend. Five years ago, Grupo Utopia installed the first, "Public," wireless network in Costa Rica, at the Palma Real Hotel, and then we stood by and watched the market explode with public access points at almost every major hotel here. We made ZIP off of our Pioneering efforts. We will NOT miss this opportunity!
I have never been a believer in LUCK. I believe in Destiny. The two interviews appearing this week were not planned, they just happened, as I got a call from a reporter friend who was in the process of writing them. The timing is perfect...
"Your career remains the main focus of your life for the weeks ahead as you look for ways to stabilize what you have already started. But it's not time to rest on your past actions. Once again, you need to initiate a plan that will rally others to follow your lead. Keep things simple and pay attention to the basics."
Sometimes it is amazing how close to the truth these things can appear to be.
I recently made a decision not to go to Guatemala as Chief Operating Officer of the new Call Center I am helping to build there. Negotiations were not going as I hoped and the truth is that as a new organization with no client, they simply could not afford me.
As destiny would have it, another opportunity came along and an old friend who is putting together a group of Angel Investors here in Costa Rica, has asked me to put together a business plan to found a new startup. I am also in contact with some of my new contacts in Guatemala about expanding Grupo Utopia's consulting business into Guatemala.
I expect to be in Guatemala sometime in the next week and hope to meet with some people there to explore these opportunities. So I did not need the above horoscope to remind me to keep my focus in the right place. It simply confirms what I already knew.
I had a coffee tonight with Alberto Arzu, pictured first from left in the picture below. He was visiting Costa Rica with a couple of Associates on Business, including the lovely Marines, also pictured below.
Alberto is the son of the ex President of Guatemala, and one of the Principals in Grupo Tetra, one of Central America's biggest construction firms. I am hoping that we end up placing the new Contact Center in Tetra's tower in Guatemala City. The view is spectacular, and Alberto and his team are some of the most professional people I have met there.
I leave for Guatemala next week to begin work on our latest Grupo Utopia Project. I have been super busy the last couple of days in meetings and conference calls. I am looking for a Web Designer with experience in developing a professional web site for the client. Must have experience developing sites with exciting graphic content,like flash, etc. If interested in subcontracting, send me an email to dsanderson (at) grupo-utopia.com, with links to some samples of your work. In the meantime, make sure to check out CA+, the Regional Blog with all the business and investment news from Central America.
Saturdays meetings with our new client went well, and we will be working this week to execute a contract for the project and get started on what promises to be a very busy month of planning previous to our first trip to Guatemala. Blogging will be sporadic for the next few days.
I want to thank all the people who prayed and sent possitive vibes my way on the Guatemala Project. I recieved news yesterday confirming that we have won the bid. This will be one of the most interesting projects Grupo Utopia has undertaken to date, and our first in Guatemala. In fact it will be my first trip to that country. I am looking forward to the project, and to getting to know the Guatemalan people, and maybe even doing some Touristy stuff like checking out Mayan ruins.
Grupo Utopia is in a competitive bid situation for a MAJOR project in Guatemala. The project is the kind I am well known for implementing, and will not only be a major client for us, but a major feather in our cap. I believe strongly in the power of prayer, especially when it comes from many people with no direct interest in the results. On Thursday and Friday of last week, the potential client started reference checking on us. I know because several references called to inform me that the call had went well.
If you are so inclined, please pray for our success in this matter. If you are not a believer, just wish us luck and send some good Karma this way. I would appreciate it.
In other news, I have convinced the owner of the second largest newspaper in Costa Rica to start a blog on Business in Central America, a very appropriate time with the passage of CAFTA. Grupo Utopia and I will be consulting for him to help launch the blog, it will be online in a week or so. I hope you will add the blog to your blog roll and help him get some momentum!
Another Grupo Utopia Spectacular!
We are planning a major Mobility Event in September of this year with HP.
The event will focus on mobile solutions based on HP iPaqs, Tablet PC's, Notebooks and other mobile Technology. We are also planning on including vendors with business oriented Wifi and GPRS Cellular connectivity solutions.
Event Theme: "Mobility Everywhere!"
The mobility everywhere event is being organized to promote mobile applications and technology across a broad spectrum of industries and Professions.
Purpose of Event
To provide Companies and end users with practical solutions and applications based on mobile technology and applications. The focus is on handheld, tablet and Laptop Computing Technology by HP, and software applications focused on specific vertical markets.
It should be another exciting event!
If you are a solutions vendor or integrator and are interested in promoting your product in front of decision makers from one of the most technologically savy countries in Latin America, or if you are a business person in Costa Rica and interested in how you can use wireless and mobile technology to advance your business strategy, you can contact us here, for more info.
Grupo Utopia International, the High Technology Consulting firm I founded five years ago, is expanding operations. We will now be working with one of the most dynamic law firms and other professionals in Costa Rica to offer a wide variety of services to those interested in relocating to, or doing business in Costa Rica.
1. Business Consulting, including establishing a business in Costa Rica, or developing outsourcing relationships.
2. A full range of legal services, including citizenship, residency or creating a business in Costa Rica.
3. Assistance with Bookkeeping, Banking, Customs and taxes.
4. Tourism Recommendations and Assistance.
5. Translation Services.
6. Private and Secure Transportation.
We are leveraging over 40 years of experience in the local market to help you with any and all needs related to traveling to or doing business in Costa Rica.
Looks like I will be here in Monteverde a few more days. We have successfully mounted two wireless networks, and completed the software design for the hotel. What is left is to install the system on the server, install the POS system and then test everything, and train the staff.
For those guest bloggers who have not contributed anything in this period, I would appreciate if if you dropped a couple of cross post on me. I dont want the blog to be innactive because of my absence.