The CoachAccountable Blog

What's new with the CA platform, tutorials on using it, and customer spotlights.

Form-Based Worksheet Image Prompts

Form-Based Worksheets (and indeed now Sessions!) allow you to create a form for your clients to fill out, comprised of text boxes, radio buttons and so forth.  But sometimes in a Worksheet assignment it would be nice if your clients could provide an image or two as an answer to a question.

This is now possible with CoachAccountable Form-Based Worksheets, thanks to the newly added support for Image Prompts that are available when creating a form.  Let’s take a look at how this works.

Like when adding a form input of any other variety, an Image Prompt is added by clicking the “Add form item” button on the WYSIWYG toolbar:

That little guy, forth in from the right.

That little guy, forth in from the right.

Pick the new “Image prompt” option in the drop down menu and you’ll find a similar (but slightly different) set of options:

Just pick this type of input and you're off. Note you can allow your clients to provide more than 1 image as their answer to a given question.

Just pick this type of input and you’re off. Note you can allow your clients to provide more than 1 image as their answer to a given question through the “Max images” setting.

In the Worksheet, an Image prompt is rendered as a clickable button with whatever caption you set:

All other things being equal, it was probably a bad meal if you feel vengeful afterwards.

Wait, vengeful?

When working on a Worksheet with an Image prompt item, clicking the button brings up the gallery browser, allowing your client to upload an image as needed and then ultimately choose an image for their answer:

Whew, fancy breakfast!

Whew, fancy breakfast!

As your clients fill out the Worksheet their images are popped right in:

I wonder if he really ate that? Totally looks like stock photography to me.

I wonder if he really ate that? Totally looks like stock photography to me.

What’s really nice about this is how well it plays with filling out a Worksheet on a smartphone with CA Mobile: when uploading a new image to the gallery (for subsequent choosing for the Worksheet) most devices give you the option to snap a photo right then and there, and upload THAT with just a few taps.  As such, completing a photo journal-like Worksheet is really quick and easy.

Image Prompts in Form-Based Worksheets add a new dimension to the kinds of assignments you can setup for your clients, letting pictorial input join the usual keyboard and click-based input.  If that would make a fitting aspect to the assignments you give as part of your coaching, go give them a try!  It’s as simple as creating a Worksheet Template that includes one or more Image Prompts.

Form-Based Session Notes

Form-Based Worksheets are a lovely thing: they let you create worksheets for your clients to fill out that have text areas to type in, check boxes to check off, drop down menus to make selections in and so on.  This is all a variation on the theme of regular Worksheets, which work like free form documents that can be edited freely as if working on a Word doc (the kind of setup wherein you type a question and hit Enter a few times to make space for your clients to type in their answer).

Session Notes by contrast have always been just the free form variety, allowing coach to define a template as a convenient starting point but then type freely in and around that template when filling out notes for a session with a specific client.

But it turns out that sometimes it’s nice to have Session Notes be similarly structured, providing a concrete set of points to cover, questions to ask (and answers to record), and whatever other form elements to check off/fill out.  This is especially so in a team setting, wherein a coach might be expected to more rigorously follow a standardized formula of how to conduct a session and capture the essential notes & information from it.

To that end CoachAccountable now offers Form-Based Session Notes.  Setting up a Form-based Session Template works just like setting up a Form-Based Worksheet.  In the template builder WYSYIWYG editor you’ll now see the “Insert form item” button:

I've remixed the classic pre-loaded Session Template and added a few extra rating items.

I’ve remixed the classic pre-loaded Session Template and added a few extra rating items.

When you’ve got a Form-Based Session defined (i.e. a Session Template which contains one or more form items) filling it out for one of your clients works just like filling out a Form-Based Worksheet, including any validation rules that have been set for the template:

The validation rules make a nice way to ensure you (or your team coaches) do complete work in filling out the notes for a session.

The validation rules make a nice way to ensure you (or your team coaches) do complete work in filling out the notes for a session.

Everything else about Form-Based Sessions works like their Worksheet counterparts: when you email the session notes to your clients they’ll rendered all pretty with your specific answers highlighted in blue, and you can use Fom-Based Session answers to pipe into Metrics in the exact same way as Worksheet answers do.

All in all this is a nice, seamless alternative to taking free-form Session Notes, which for some organizations (and even some personal styles) will be a real win.  If you like how Form-Based Worksheets work to allow your clients to fill things out in a structured way, give these a try for your Session Notes.

CoachAccountable Director of Customer Support and Hand Holding

This past Saturday at about 11:15am I posted a listing for CoachAccountable’s first hire on weworkremotely.com.  Within 48 hours it garnered well over 100 applications, the overwhelming majority of which were incredibly thoughtful and demonstrated serious expertise and ability.

To provide a little behind-the-scenes glimpse into what I’m out to create in the CoachAccountable team, here is exactly what I posted:


About CoachAccountable
CoachAccountable is a platform for coaches to structure and support coaching work done with their clients (think business coaching, fitness programs, life coaching and so on).

It’s going well, and after 4 years my days of doing this as a one-man shop are numbered as business continues to grow.  I’m looking for an independent, sharp and personable individual to join me CA’s first hire and gradually take over the customer support side of things.  Think startup-like freedom but with the stability of an established company.

There are 3 pillars to the position:

I. Fielding Customer Support Issues

Currently relatively low volume, I can usually knock it out in a morning an evening session of 30-45 minutes each. Answering questions, directing attention to how to do this or that, and often pointing out a given article or tutorial video which would answer the specific question but also teach other related goodies. Loads of opportunity to be more awesome by pointing out related things they might be looking for, and thereby educating users further on how to best use the system.

II. Developing the Inline Support Knowledge Base

We’re building an inline help system, a collection of interconnected articles based on various sections and features within the system. Much of the material already exists scattered about in the blog, manuals, etc. It is to be recompiled with updated screen shots, and 2 or 3 versions written for each topic: one as an internal reference for support staff, one for coaches, and one for clients (for client-facing features). There is also much to be written from scratch to flesh out the content to completely represent all the system does (as a one-man shop I indeed haven’t kept things fully up to date!).

III. Customer Hand holding and Concierge Service

SO often folks benefit massively from just being shown around the system, helping them get acquainted with whichever features would serve a giving coaching style or program. CA is wickedly powerful but it takes something for folks to find and realize the benefit of that power, and so often folks left to their own devices just won’t bother, either under utilizing the system or just walking away from it. CoachAccountable is very much in the business of teaching coaches to be better coaches, and someone reaching out proactively to offer that sort of guidance holds great potential to grow the business. It’s the sort of support that bleeds into being a sales role.

Succeeding in this looks like…

Being a clear writer and a patient, personable teacher are key to this.  Being technically sharp and able to quickly learn a software system is nice, but if you’re not a whiz at this sort of thing already it’s fine because you’ll learn and get fluent with how the system works through experience soon enough.

I’m looking for someone who is keen to grow and evolve with this role over the long haul, someone who really learns the system and excels at teaching coaches how to be better and get great value out of the platform will become more and more valuable over time.  Because it’s an early stage company there is a LOT of room to innovate and make yourself massively valuable, while enjoying a wide variety of (hopefully!) intellectually stimulating and satisfying work.  I know what I need today, and together we can co-create your role as we continue to build the team and infrastructure to make a fabulous machine of customer support and on boarding.  Doing webinars and making screen casts for example are two directions in which you might branch out within this role.

Structure of the job

Structurally, the role will begin with an emphasis on you learning the system and easing in to fielding support emails as you learn (i.e. Pillar I above).  Once you get the hang of that you’ll add in Pillar II and begin flexing your copy writing chops to write informative and illustrating articles on how the system works.  Finally once your fluency with the system is comprehensive enough you’ll be able to move on to Pillar III outreach and hand-holding to compliment your other duties.

Hourly contract basis to start, $30/hour.  If you’re awesome and twist my arm I’m willing to consider starting higher.  Again, I view this role as having great potential to grow the business and so the right person, one who’s able to excel from the start and grow over time, is worth a lot.  I imagine the role to commence part time and grow into a full 40 hours a week within a month or two as you get up to speed and are ready to take on more responsibility.  When we’re both clear this is a great fit and love working with each other we can make your position a full time salaried one.

Speaking of loving working together, it is my intention that whomever takes this position LOVES their role, and I’ll do whatever is in my power to make that happen.  I’ll be relating to you as a competent, responsible adult and give you as much freedom as possible (within the needs of the role) to do your thing independently, where and whenever works best for you.  I want this work to be interesting and life giving to you, varied and purposeful from the interactions you have.  For this to work you have to have at least a baseline love for doing customer support, for being a guide over the phone, and for doing writing that teaches.

Application Instructions
In any application here is what I’d like to see:
  • A brief introduction of yourself and your experience with customer support and/or teaching in general
  • Your thoughts on how you would ideally like to spend your time among the 3 pillars of the position and why
  • Answers to these two common support questions, so that I can get a sense for your writing style:
    1. I couldn’t find CoachAccountable in the app store, is there one?
    2. How can I have the system send out a worksheet for my clients to fill out before our sessions together?

To apply: Keen to hop on board as employee number 2 in a successful and growing venture? Great. To be considered for the role, send me an email to john@coachaccountable.com. In it please include the items listed in the instructions above. Finally please include your own candid assessment of how likely you are to love this role and why. Having whomever takes this role be blissing their brains out as often as possible is one of my top priorities. :)

 


Whew!

All told I received a 141 responses to this posting.  I was delighted, honored and humbled by the enthusiasm showed by so many to join the CoachAccountable team, and was saddened by how many fabulous people I simply had to pass on.

I have made my choice and am so excited to have this candidate aboard.  We’re getting up to speed on working together now, and I can’t wait for you to meet him.  Stay tuned!

Unit-Based Courses for Self-Paced Programs

Courses are great.  They allow you to create a coaching program as a progression of items that are to delivered over a days, weeks or month, where the items include videos, readings, worksheets, action items, and more.  They are super flexible, allowing you to set in motion a slow drip of materials to as many clients as you like with just a few clicks, precisely according to the schedule you define–you can have the system send an intro message on Day 1 at 8am, an audio lesson on Day 2 at 9am and a review worksheet 20 minutes later, and so on.

You can even make it so that completing one item triggers the release of the next, such as completing Day 9’s Worksheet triggers a “well done” message, or watching Day 2’s audio lesson triggers the assignment of a follow up Action.   You can make a rich, interactive experience for your program participants as they go through the timeline of your course.

But what if your Course is better suited as a time-independent delivery?  You might have a bunch of material wherein completing one section naturally invites flowing into the next.  There might be no reason to not let someone who’s cruising through the materials and assignments simply move through more quickly.  Similarly, when someone takes a two week vacation it might well be much better to not let assignments and messages pile up while they are away.

You can of course pause, rewind, and fast forward someone along your course’s timeline, but even so some programs simply lend themselves better to being completely time independent.

Introducing Unit-Based Courses

CoachAccountable now makes it possible to offer another kind of course to your clients, and that is the Unit-based Course.  A Unit-based Course has no ties to timing.  Instead of being spread out over a collection of days, you build a Unit-based Course by dragging items onto units.

Progression through a Unit-based Course is entirely up to the pacing of your participants: completing all items and assignments from one unit triggers advancing to the next.  This allows your clients to go through your programs at their own pace, with CoachAccountable doing the work of setting up and dispatching items for you in response to their progress.

Let’s take a look at how this works.  First you’ll note that when creating a course and setting up the duration, you have an option to have that duration be in either days or units:

Just a matter of picking the right type of duration.

Just a matter of picking the right type of duration.

Building a Unit-based Course is very similar to building a Day-based Course.  To learn some of the finer points consider this example:

Folks upon starting go to Unit to immediately. Can you see why?

Folks upon starting are advanced to Unit 2 immediately. Can you see why?

Here we see that

  • Unit 1 has only a single Message item,
  • Unit 2 has a File (a document to be read),
  • and Unit 3 has a Worksheet and an Action.

To work out how this Course will progress for a participant, we need to introduce the concept of a “Completable Item”.  It’s a slightly odd concept (and my spellchecker rejects that word, but whatever), but Courses make an important distinction about whether or not a given Course Item can be completed.

  • Actions:  Totally completable: clients mark an Action complete.
  • Worksheets:  Yep, same deal as Actions.
  • Files:  Yes, for the purposes of a Course a File is considered “complete” once a participant has either downloaded the file, or closed out the pop-up viewer for that File after accessing it within CA.
  • Messages:  Nope, a Message is just emailed off (or displayed in-system when appropriate)–the system doesn’t record any concept of a Message being “completed”.
  • Metrics: Nope.  Though a Metric can be marked complete at the end of whatever duration of weeks or months that a Metric is setup to track, for the sake of a Course a Metric is dispatched and there’s nothing a client need do with it in order to move on.
  • Whiteboards:  Nope, they just exist, there is no notion of “completing” a Whiteboard.

So that’s the idea of a “Completable” item: Actions, Worksheets, and Files are Completable, Messages, Metrics and Whiteboards are not.  The idea is key to how Unit-based Courses generally progress:

A Unit is complete when there are no more Completable items within the Unit remaining to complete.

So let’s look at how this plays out in our example Course shown above.  Unit 1 has only a Message in it, so that Message will be dispatched, and then because there are no completable items within that Unit, the Unit is then considered complete and the participant advances immediately to Unit 2.

Being in Unit 2 means they immediately are given the “Coaching with Software Course” File.  Because a File is a completable item, a client will not yet advance to Unit 3 UNTIL they access that file.

Once the file is accessed that means Unit 2 is complete, and so they jump to Unit 3.  Unit 3 has two items in it, a Worksheet and an Action.  You might bet tempted to think that the Worksheet will go out first, and then the Action will be assigned once the Worksheet is complete, but don’t be fooled!  That sort of sequential behavior is for items in separate Units.

Items that are in the same Unit are all immediately dispatched when a participant reaches the Unit, and thus the order in which items appear within a Unit is irrelevant.

What about empty Units?  Those are fine to have as placeholders as you are developing your course, just know that when participants go through your course that the rule “A Unit is complete when there are no more Completable items within the Unit to complete.” applies to empty Units too, meaning they are already immediately complete when a participant gets to them, and, unlike empty Days in a time-based course, are essentially skipped over.

Completion Points

Unit-based Courses allow a Course designer to make exception to the rule “the unit is done when there are no completable items left to complete”, and that is to designate a single Completable Item within a Unit to be the “Complete Point”.  The Course builder for Unit-based Courses has a slightly different set of things to drag on to the schedule:

The +Complete Point is new! Also note how there's a way to add Units to the "timeline" rather than Days.

The +Complete Point is new! Also note how there’s a way to add Units to the “timeline” rather than Days.

The +Complete Point can be dragged on to any Completable Item to make that item the complete point for a given Unit.  When an item is marked as the complete point for a unit, completing that item will trigger progressing to the next Unit no matter what else is complete or not within the unit.

There can be at most 1 complete point per unit, and when no complete points have been defined the default rule applies (a participant moves on when EVERYTHING is completed within the unit).

Here’s an example of what this looks like.  The +Complete Point can be dragged on to any Completable Item:

Marking "Set up your Appointment Types" complete has this course move on, even if the participant hasn't completed the bonus Action item.

Marking “Set up your Appointment Types” complete has this course move on, even if the participant hasn’t completed the bonus Action item.

This allows you to design your Courses with branching side tasks that are optional and don’t necessarily hold up progress in the course, giving you a lot of flexibility and control in designing your learning experiences.

Wrapping Up

That’s about all there is to know about setting up Unit-based Courses and how they work.  Like Day-based Courses, you as coach have the ability to pause, fast forward and rewind a given participation through the sequence of items in your Course.

Unit-based Courses also work great as Starter Kit Courses, getting your clients going on the system with a nice interactive sequence.

If you have a conventional, Day-based Course that you’d like to try as a Unit-based course, there’s no way to change one into the other, but by cloning the course you can create a new course with the exact same items but of the other variety.

That Unit-based Courses exist is in many ways due to the persistent asking and making the case for them by Michael Leahy of BraveHearts.  I had been really dragging my feet on writing these up (the sensible precursor to releasing this new feature) so I asked Michael to do a guest post for me about them, figuring he was uniquely positioned to champion why Unit-based Courses are cool and how they can be used.

Michael was a sport and happily obliged.  Take it away, Michael!


Michael LeahyTHE CASE FOR UNITS-BASED COURSES

I’ve been a satisfied Coach Accountable customer for about three years now, and one of the features I use a lot in my coaching practice is courses. I’ve always loved the rich functionality that John built into courses, especially the ability to drip feed my course content to my clients.

But I soon discovered that, at least for my application, this drip feeding feature had its limitations. While it’s great to use courses this way if you want to drip feed your course content according to a pre-determined, time-based schedule, I found that this approach conflicted with philosophy of self-paced learning. In practice, my clients were receiving their course content and related email notifications based on a pre-determined schedule that I set for them.

Since there was no way for users to speed up or slow down the pace of course content that I was sending them, and no way for me to know ahead of time at what pace each user would be going through the material, we came to an impasse. And I started noticing that several of my clients were getting frustrated or feeling overwhelmed, especially those slower learners. Which was unnecessary angst really, since I didn’t care how long it took them to progress through my learning material.

When I mentioned this to John, we started to discuss the feasibility of offering an alternative, units-based approach to drip feeding course content. In essence, freeing the course creator and user from being tied down to progressing through a course based entirely on a time-based schedule. Eventually, John responded with an option to select either time or units as the basis for course progression and asked me to be his beta-tester.

USING UNITS-BASED COURSES

I’ve been using units-based courses now for a couple of months and I couldn’t be happier. John’s implementation works flawlessly, and I now have about a dozen very satisfied clients who are progressing through their coursework at their own pace, just as advertised. In addition, I’ve found that once I set up my course and enroll my clients in it, from that point forward it’s a hands-free operation that requires no additional time for me to manage. And just like with time-based courses, I can make a quick assessment of exactly how far along the course each of my clients has progressed.
So if you haven’t used courses before, and you’re looking for a way to easily add value to your coaching practice, I highly recommend you try out CA courses and start offering your clients a simple, drip-fed course. It works great for everything from on-boarding new clients to sending out regularly scheduled announcements to groups of users, to automating and drip-feeding your coaching and training materials.


Michael also created a 10 minute screen cast where he shows off using Unit-based Courses and talks through how and why he uses them in his work.  If you’d like to go a little deeper in your understanding of this new feature as well as get a glimpse into how another CA user leverages the platform, give it a watch!

Thanks, Michael!

Delightful Collaboration VII – Course Whiteboards

Sometimes a would-be user of CoachAccountable just knows what they’re looking for.

This past Wednesday I got an email from Jason of Merchant Capital Partners, a company which offers loans and training programs to help entrepreneurs build sustainably profitable businesses.  He and his colleague Robert that got right to the point:

Hello,

We are evaluating your platform for use with our customers… would it be possible to hop on a call and talk through some of our questions and what a possible partnership would look like?  We’re looking to make a decision quickly so the sooner the better.

Please reply with some times that you are available.

The following day we spent nearly 2 hours on the phone and connected via screen share, them showing the ins-and-outs of the program they’re aiming to deliver at scale, and me taking it in and in turn advising how to best deliver it via CA.

Metrics, yes.  Action Projects, yes.  Courses to deliver it all in automated fashion in a scalable way, most definitely yes!

They knew what they were looking for and CA was pretty well up to the task, and in some ways even better than imagined (yep–participants CAN report their Metrics and mark Actions done by just replying to the text reminders sent to their cell phones, no logging in required so no excuses for not doing it–nice!).

And then we came to adding another tab to the client page.

Robert laid it out plainly: “We just need to add another section there, where we can put links into the portal for the program.”

This refers to the tabs by which client pages are organized.  You can see them here; Up Next, Stream, Metrics, and so on:

Ugh, this isn't going to go well...

Ugh, it’s gettin’ crowded…

The Groups and Billing tab don’t always apply, and indeed it’s possible to turn off any of the tabs.  But in general, there’s just not space with the horizontally arranged tabs to add any more without things getting cramped.

But moreover, I just couldn’t see it being a good idea to do a quick-and-dirty job of “Okay, now everyone can create exactly one bonus tab and put whatever content they want on it”.  It’s doable and truly not much work to add, but if that exists, it’ll quickly reveal itself to be an incomplete feature, just as soon as the (most reasonable!) requests to extend the concept come along.  Requests like:

  • Can I add more than one?
  • Can I switch up the sort order?
  • Can I have it show for some clients but not others?
  • Can I vary what shows in that tab on a client-by-client basis?

When the answer to all of these questions is “yes”, allowing coaches to add new tabs (spacing issues notwithstanding) starts to sound like a pretty sweet and broadly useful feature!  I reckon I will add it when the time is right.

But as much as I love to please on a sales call, it’s a certain kind of severely irresponsible to promise big new feature build outs on the fly in response to “it would be nice if” requests.

Then it hit me: when you want to be able to have content there for your clients that is readily accessible at any time, that’s the stuff of using a Whiteboard.

“Tell you what,” I said, “for all those reasons I can’t see adding a new customizable tab to the client page, BUT if Whiteboards would do the trick for you I can stand by making the setup of THOSE for all of your clients an easy matter–without requiring you to do a lot of copy-and-paste setup for each new client you setup.”

Worst case scenario, I can wave my magic wand over the situation and do a bulk clone of a Whiteboard on in to whichever clients they need (wouldn’t be the first time!).  And if that becomes too cumbersome for my taste, I’ll think of something more clever.  Again, I wasn’t going to promise a feature until I’d had some time to give it careful consideration, but that plan I could stand by.

That would do, Robert told me, and indeed it might be better than the simple extra tab as this way the Whiteboard content that a given client got could be customized based on which program they were in.

This weekend I gave that careful consideration, and now, thanks to Robert & Jason’s power user needs, everyone can now add Whiteboards as part of their CoachAccountable courses.

Let’s take a look!

Hey, new button on the right that I can drag on to the left!

Hey look–there’s a new button on the right that I can drag on to the left!

It’s about as simple as that.  The new +Whiteboard allows you to add a Whiteboard item anywhere on the Course timeline, just as you would any other item type.

There are three visibility settings: you can make it visible to your client (“Share with client”), visible to only you, or (Team Edition only) visible only to members of the team (i.e. hidden from your client but visible to other coaches).

Based on visibility, you can further dictate who is able to make edits to the Whiteboard: your client, other coaches (again, applies only to Team Edition), or just the you.

It’s a spiffy little addition to Courses.  Whichever way Robert & Jason end up going, I thank them for their contribution to CA!  Here’s to the squeaky wheels.

Hanging with Tambre Leighn

I first made the acquaintance of Tambre Leighn about a year ago.  She had a trial account and was poking around, and asked some of the big questions.  Language translations?  Content licensing?  Independent branding for sub-accounts?

It was clear that she had big intentions.  A month later I was on a conference call with Tambre and a few of her colleagues, featuring more hard hitting questions concerning security, infrastructure, reseller arrangements, and oh by the way how well could your system handle 10- or 20-thousand users all doing the same program1?

I let her know afterwards it was a pleasure to be on that call, being hit by the big questions is the stuff of having my creation be under serious consideration for the sake of serious plans.  To this she replied:

When you lose the love of your life, the only thing left to do, if you’re me, is to play the biggest game ever inspired by his legacy. 14 million plus survivors, many struggling with the collateral damage of cancer, are out there in need. Yes, big is fun and awesome…more to come ;)

And that was my first real taste of the passion and flair driving the Well Beyond This program.

Well Beyond This logoWell Beyond This is a cancer survivor’s program, helping people thrive with, through, and beyond the disease.  I personally have been thus far fortunate enough to not have been afflicted by cancer, but even from this sideline position I find the intention and focus of the program to be uplifting, making it one of those “Oh I’m so glad that exists in the world” sort of things.

WBT recognizes that patients of conventional medicine are left largely on their own when it comes to dealing with depression, stress, fatigue and so forth, and fills in the gaps by giving participants the tools to strengthen relationships, cultivate motivation and coping mechanisms, and empowering a happier and more balanced life.

Last month Tambre was in town, coming to Denver for CancerCon.  Given the past months of strategy conference calls, developer collaboration, and the successful launch of the pilot program, I was honored that she could fit me into her busy visit.

Over a hot bowl of noodles (Tambre gets adventuresome points for trying pho for the first time) I got better acquainted with the history and background of the project.  Tambre lost her husband to cancer some years ago, and despite her and her husband having the luxuries of being rather fit, financially stable, and surrounded by a loving and supportive community, found the ordeal incredibly difficult and taxing.  It made her think wow, what if you’re not so blessed by circumstance going into it?  How do you deal with that?

It gave her the drive to create something to help support others, both patients and their loved ones, in powerfully dealing with the disease.  Armed with the training and methodology of IPEC Coaching, she created the Well Beyond This program as a means to help the millions of others out there.

If I was honored to get to meet her for lunch on this visit, that quite pales compared to the honor I feel getting to play a part in bringing this program to life by virtue of CA being its delivery platform.

We lingered over our lunch and good conversation for a lovely two hours, finding no shortage of things to talk about in the intersection of our works.  I even learned she’s a seasoned dancer and invited her out to my usual Friday night out of swing dancing at the Denver Turnverein.  (She was keen but didn’t make it out–had a private party invite come up for the night.  I totally get it–private parties are the best during an out of town conference, amiright?)

Thanks Tambre for making time to hang out–I’m inspired by what you, Ed and the rest of the gang are up to, and again, am super honored to play a part in it!

A lovely shot of us on the 16th Street mall--no selfie stick required.

A lovely shot of us on the 16th Street mall–no selfie stick required.

  1. Incidentally, pretty well–I can throw more hardware at the situation generally much faster than such numbers can be rallied.  Would have to make a few interface changes, though.

On Shitty Customer Service

Yes, the title of this post is crude and vulgar.

But we all know it when we experience it.  It can be maddening enough that any gentler term would be whitewashing of how it leaves us.

The other day I got an email invoice for my annual service with a company that, to protect the guilty, shall not be called out specifically.  It was for about twice the amount I paid for the previous years of which I’ve been a customer, and invoice contained these friendly words:

Thank you for your purchase! Please contact billing@____.com with questions or concerns.

Hey, I have a question or concern!  I mean the new price isn’t a big deal ($30 became $60), but such an unannounced price hike seems worth asking about.  So I wrote:

Hello!

I notice my price for one year of _____  this year ($60) is up substantially from what it was last year ($35), and that is up from what I originally signed up for in 2013 (and paid again in 2014), $29.99.

I don’t recall getting any notification about any impending price increase, what gives?

Thanks,
John

Within seconds I got back the following message:

Thank you for contacting ___ Customer Support,

This email notification was in regards to services in your account at http://___.com. If you require an invoice from your renewal, you can generate one in your account. To do so:

1. Log into your account at ___.com
2. Under the Billing header, click on “Payment History”
3. Click the “View Details” link next to the purchase
4. Click the “Printable Invoice” link on the next page

If you would like to cancel your services, you may do so through your account at http://___.com. To cancel your ____ service:
1. Log into your account at ___.com, using…

To cancel ____ …
1. Log into your account at ___.com…

As long as the service is cancelled within 30 days of the purchase, your services will be refunded automatically. Please allow a minimum of 48 hours for your refund to be sent to your payment issuer. Once it reaches the payment issuer, it is at their discretion as to how long it will take for the funds to post back onto your account.

Thank you,

___ Customer Support

Sigh.  Okay, clearly answered by a robot.  But at least the from email address seemed to indicate a real person, some dude name Kevin.  So I wrote back:

Hi,

As best I can tell that reply addresses absolutely none of what I just asked.  Can you tell me when the pricing was approximately doubled and why the first time I’m learning about it is when I get an invoice for my next year?

It’s not a big deal and I’m mostly happy to stay on as a customer, it just feels like quite an abrupt price increase with no warning.

That was sent 4 days ago.  No reply.

In a sense, I get it: I’m just a $60/year customer (at least that’s higher than I was before!) and my gripe (actually not so much a gripe as a question) is a matter of $25, $30.01 tops.  This issue might not warrant a thoughtful response, let alone from a human.  And in fact a less charitable reading of the response might suggest I DID get an answer to my question: a lot of words that boil down to “If you don’t like it and want to cancel, here’s how”.  (The “and go fuck yourself” subtext exists, admittedly, only in my imagination.)

But whichever way I slice it, what a sour taste this leaves me as a customer–such unresponsive service to a genuine inquiry.

Doing all of the customer service these last three and half years for CoachAccountable has made me particularly sensitive to seeing it done sloppily by other companies.  Certainly this is unfair, as I’m comparing the passion of a founder to whatever legions of support teams the big companies have to cobble together, but I still just don’t get how you can allow a really poor job to be done of it.

I’m just one dude and I handle hundreds of customers and thousands of users.  In the last 48 hours I have:

  • Spent 45 minutes helping one user tweak the layout and functionality of some of her Worksheet Templates.
  • Issued a refund of 5 months of invoices on an account that was canceled which I noticed had simply been quite dormant (this was unrequested, I explained that I sleep better at night knowing that folks are getting their money’s worth out of the system).
  • Built and launched a new feature within hours of the request (per-appointment type availability rules).
  • Chatted for 30 minutes with a power user of what they want to do next with the system and where things are headed.

And in the middle of writing this blog post I spent time consulting on how best to deliver a group program at scale with rolling admission, including how the software development to employ the CoachAccountable API should be handled.

What I’m trying to say is if you’re like me you’ve had your share of shitty customer service moments, where it’s just painful to do business with a company and/or you’re left to feel insignificant and unsupported.  And amid that kind of experience, putting your trust into a system & company like CoachAccountable, wherein key parts of your business hinge upon that system up and well supported, can be daunting.

To put your mind at ease I want you to know how thoroughly turned off I am by shitty customer service, and the flip side of THAT coin is that I LOVE giving SUPERB customer service.  Those bullet points above?  That’s my kind of fun, that’s what gives purpose and meaning to the many hours of heads down work spent creating CA.  That’s how I roll, and just as stated in the Terms of Awesome, that’s what my customers get to expect of me.  There will eventually be others doing the support for CoachAccountable, and you better believe they’ll be on this same page when it comes to offering that support.

It’s hard to walk away from every company that gives shitty customer service.  I’m proud to promise that you’ll never have that problem here.

Appointments: Post Worksheets and Type-Specific Availability

CoachAccountable Appointments have undergone a few more improvements lately.  Let’s take a look!

Post-session Worksheets

The first is that, in addition to setting a pre-session Worksheet to accompany a given appointment, you can now set a post-session Worksheet as well.  Like the pre- counterpart, a post-session Worksheet will be automatically sent to your clients at the time of your choosing relative to an appointment.

Post-session Worksheets are the perfect opportunity for your clients to reflect on whatever key takeaways they just got from their recent session with you, further cementing in whatever insights they got from the coaching and making it more likely that they’ll integrate into work in the coming days and weeks.  By setting that as a standard practice via CoachAccountable, you’re providing your clients with another useful touch point of support, helping them get more out of the experience.

To set one up you first create a suitable Worksheet Template (done under My CA >> My Templates).  Make it tailored as specifically as possible to your style of coaching, but even generic questions that prompt your clients to reflect on the session work well.

This one is a nice example, feel free to copy anything about it you like:

Just a few questions to get 'em thinking.

Just a few questions to get ’em thinking.

(This is an example of a Form Based Worksheet.  Form Based worksheets are nice for this, check out this tutorial video if you’ve never used them.)

Once your Worksheet Template is ready, you can associate it with one of your Appointment Types.  Do this under My CA >> My System >> Appointment Scheduling, go to the Appointment Types section and click on the one you want to have a post-assignment:

We could have a pre-worksheet with this type of appointments, too!

We could have a pre-worksheet with this type of appointments, too!

From there it works just as you would expect it: any appointments you (or your clients) schedule of this type will have the post-session worksheet sent out to your client as scheduled, putting them one click away from filling it out.  Like all worksheets, once completed your client’s answers will be emailed right to you, giving you even more insight into how to further guide and support your client, either immediately (by replying to the email) or during your next session.  Nice!

Specific Availability per Appointment Type

The second improvement to CoachAccountable appointment scheduling is that you can now customize your weekly availability for a given Appointment Type, overriding your typical weekly availability.

Again, under My CA >> My System >> Appointment Scheduling you’re able to setup your typical weekly availability:

Huh, looks like I only get a lunch break on Wednesdays.

Huh, looks like I only get a lunch break on Wednesdays.

This provides the basis by which CoachAccountable offers time slots to choose when they are scheduling with you (subtracting out of course any exceptions, like other already scheduled appointments or that dental appointment you’ve got coming up in your calendar).

Now you’ve got the option to override this availability for any given Appointment Type.  When setting one up you’ve got a new option within the Visibility section:

We groove on Friday. Friday is when we groove.

We groove on Friday. Friday is when we groove.

As you can see in this example, for the “Friday Groove Call” type of appointment we’ve elected to make this available for clients to schedule only on Fridays.

There are a couple of scenarios in which this more fine-grained control to your availability comes in handy.

You might for example do certain appointments face to face, and you’re only at a given location on certain days.  So you might offer the “In person – Downtown” appointment type only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the “In person – Riverside” appointment type only on Mondays, all while having your phone-based appointment types available any day during the week.

Another example is if you’re coaching multiple programs, and, for the sake of keeping more in the flow of the material you are coaching, offer appointments for Program A only on Mondays and Wednesdays and appointments for Program B only Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And that about covers it!  These improvements allow you to give your clients a more supported experience of being coached by you, and keep your schedule better organized.  Enjoy!

Using CA with Non-English Speaking Clients

CoachAccountable is available only in English.  As there’s still so much to do to make this a great coaching platform within just the cozy confines of my native tongue, this will probably be the case for a good long while!

But even so, now and then I get emails which ask a good question:

Hi John,

Is there a way I can customize the CA client’s site language to another language…

My target market cannot speak or read English language :(

Talking about the “client’s site” reveals a subtle nuance: the coach side of the system is vastly more complex with much more [English] text to navigate when compared to what clients see when logged in.  Any coach who uses CA will generally need to know English in order to do so, but what about focusing on just the client side of the system?

For now there’s no such ability to switch out the full language of the client experience, so indeed if your clients don’t speak English they might find it difficult.  BUT, for what it’s worth, coaches have made it work for their non-English speaking clients by customizing the email templates and having the actual content that they enter (worksheets, session notes, and so on) be in the preferred language.  Because the lion’s share of the words your client will ever read through CoachAccountable will be the ones you wrote, not knowing English needn’t be as severe a limitation for clients as it is on the coach side of things.  A little bit of vocab coupled with your content can be quite manageable, once they find their way around the basics.

During your free trial the system makes it super easy to set things up and then see them from the client side of things, so that you can explore whether or not you are able to make it workable.

If you’d like to give it a try, be sure to go to My CA >> My System >> System Communications to find the place where you can customize the full text of all emails the system sends on your behalf.

All of these emails that CA will send to your clients on your behalf can be rewritten in the language of choice.

All of these templates can be rewritten in the language of choice.

One other idea that might help is to setup a Whiteboard for your clients explaining a little bit of the key vocab (like what each of the tabs like Stream, Actions, and Metrics mean).  If you’re not familiary, here’s a guide to how Whiteboards work.

CoachAccountable currently isn’t designed for non-English speakers, but  with a little bit of setup and customization you still can leverage all the tools it provides for your non-English speaking clients.

Two Way Syncing with your Calendar

A major piece of CoachAccountable is scheduling and managing client appointments.  A lot of coaches ask “how do I sync my CoachAccountable appointments with my regular calendar, and how does that work?”

(By “regular calendar” I am referring to whichever online calendar system you already use regularly–Google Calendar, Apple iCal, and Microsoft Outlook are by far the most prevalent.)

Syncing is key for two reasons.  One, because you want your CA Appointments to appear right along side all of your other stuff, allowing you to see your complete schedule.  (Moreover you want this without having to manually enter your CA appointments into your regular calendar, because who has time for double data entry?)  Two, because when scheduling your appointments within CA you want to know when you’re actually free, to avoid double bookings.

These two reasons together form a two-way street: how to get your CoachAccountable appointment data into your regular calendar (so that it shows up there), and how to get your regular calendar data into CoachAccountable (so that CA can prevent double booking).

CA provides the way to do each of these two directions of syncing, and it’s important to understand what each direction does as they are quite distinct.

CA to your regular calendar: To have your appointments which were made in CA show up within your regular calendar, CA offers a data feed URL of those appointments.  By adding this URL to your regular calendar system (“Add by URL” or “Subscribe”, the wording to do this varies from system to system) you allow your regular calendar to pull that data in so that it shows alongside the rest of your schedule, allowing you to thus see the whole picture.

This data feed URL can be found within My CA >> My System >> Appointment Scheduling, towards the bottom:

You CoachAccountable Appointments data feed URL

This URL is all you need to add your CA appointments to any calendar.

Your regular calendar to CA: To inform CA of when exactly you are busy, so that CA doesn’t offer those time slots to your clients when they’re trying to book (and similarly gives you as coach a warning if you attempt to book something when you’re already busy), CA allows you to enter up to 3 calendar feeds.  This is the same mechanism but in reverse: instead of CA giving you a data feed URL to be added to your calendar, you need to find the data feed URL offered by your calendar and paste it in to CA.  Again, how or where to get this data feed URL varies from system to system, but most calendar systems which are web-based in nature offer this.

Here’s what the interface to do this within CA looks like, again found within My CA >> My System >> Appointment Scheduling:

Just paste in the magic URL from your calendar and CA will pull in the data.

Just paste in the magic URL from your calendar and CA will pull in the data.

Together setting up these two steps make the full, two way sync.  The intended work flow is that you use whatever calendar you usually would the way you usually do (which is nice: no new calendaring system to learn, just a one-time setup step and then it’s business as usual), and then CA appointments effortlessly pipe in there to give you the full picture (while getting the benefit of all that CA does for facilitating coaching appointments: reminders, client-initiated scheduling, worksheets, hours tracking, piping into the calendars of your clients, etc.).