The CoachAccountable Blog

Master CoachAccountable and become the best dang coach you can be. Also, news.

CoachAccountable’s First Decade

Birthday cake with numeral 10 candles

I sprung for the fancy 10 candle that has TWO wicks. Pullin’ out all the stops.

Well now, that’s a milestone that many businesses do not meet.

And what a delight to have done so!  Goodness, how time can fly.  I still quite vividly remember taking a deep breath and clicking the button to officially “launch” CoachAccountable from my kitchen table in Cusco, Peru so long ago, wondering if the 2.0 go around would take.

Oh, how it has.

Today I am as honored and humbled as ever that my creation serves the work of thousands of coaches, and contributes to the experience and results of tens-of-thousands of their clients.

A couple of notable things happened in CA’s tenth year:

Overall the lion’s share of coding I did on CA this year was further refinements that make it that much more elegant, intuitive, user friendly, powerful, and perfect.

What’s strange (but perhaps this is just a great sign) is that after such a long time of listening for what would be useful from our community and evolving CA accordingly, there really weren’t many big new features that stood out as worth adding these past 12 months.

Make no mistake, there are still worthwhile advances to be made.  It’s just that with the maturity and completeness that CA has attained over the years, “new features” is now more a matter of chasing a long tail of increasingly disjointed requests, rather than filling in the obviously beneficial-yet-missing pieces that a comprehensive coaching platform should have.  Gone, it seems, are the days of me having a burning desire to build and release X amid a steady stream of requests for it.  Those X’s are already done, launched, and well polished.

But opportunities for still further polish aplenty.

The new, more modern design was well received.

Further refinement to Appointments that further narrow the gap between CA and commodity appointment schedulers, including email invites to events (for folks who haven’t or can’t sync their calendars), more detailed rules for allowing scheduling, and unlimited splits in ones availability.  With these, CA is now truly poised to be the way to wow your free intro call prospects into paying customers in ways conventional schedulers simply can’t.

This year Jaclyn started the official CoachAccountable user’s group, which has taken off as a hub for coaches to ask questions and share ideas and experiences.  Set up as a CA Group itself, it brought with it some great dog fooding of CA’s own Groups feature1, leading to numerous enhancements like the Group Activity Digest, quick access to group member profiles, and comment replies.

Speaking of Jaclyn, she’s gone off on indefinite maternity leave.  I love that she chose family over work,  but I miss her all the same.  And speaking of team departures, Morgan, my number 2 of four years, went off to start Accountable Hero, a high level consultancy of helping coaching firms setup and better their practices with CA.  I delight in recommending her to folks, knowing they’ll be in very good hands.

Amid those change ups, I found myself in the unexpected position of having no team, and took the opportunity to give myself a break from being a manager of people and instead return to, metaphorically speaking, being an artist rather than art teacher.

My being in no rush to hire again may appear a curious decision2.  For now I’m genuinely pleased to be, paradoxical as it may sound, able to do more of the heads down creative work than I was before.

And on that note I’ll say what I always say in these annual missives: CA continues to be for me a thrilling labor of love and I continue to work on making it even better.  Can’t wait to show you what I’ve got in store for the coming year. :)

Here’s to the first decade; it’s been (and remains) an honor to serve you!

Notes:
  1. “Dog fooding” is term of art in the software business: use your own product to see and empathize with what it’s really like, as opposed to just making it for others to use with no sense for how gross it might actually be.
  2. I promise the business is fine.  If you have concerns, I can assure you my accountant does not share them. ;)

So good, robots don’t believe what humans say about it

Ah, the reviews game, amiright?  That nigh on essential part of a business’s presence online.

This is a tale of our begrudging participation therein.

The reviews we already have around the internet make it clear: CA is well loved by its customers (I won’t link to any in particular here because I don’t wish to feed the machine, but you can find ’em easily enough).

We’ve never hustled much for reviews.  We once sent out an email to a bunch of our customers at the behest of one of the reviews sites (“We’ll give ’em a $10 gift card for filling one out!” they offered… eh, okay, I guess), but beyond that they’ve just organically trickled in over the years with no real prompting on our part.

Then, for better or worse, as a marketing experiment we signed on with TrustPilot.  Became a paying customer and everything with a year long contract for… whatever value doing so is supposed to provide.

We dipped our toes into working with them, but during the first 2 months only ever got around to inviting 3 folks to leave us a review (you could say the endeavor was not managed with vigor).  Anyway, one of those invitees did, and they left us a lovely 5 star missive.  Which is pretty good!

The rub is that, by some curious math, a single 5-star gives you a 3.7 average.

Here’s what it looked like then when you searched “coachaccountable reviews” with Duck Duck Go:

coachaccountablereviewseronddg.png

See that second hit?  That’s the one I’m talking about.

Ouch.

I didn’t want to bother with this any further.  Trustpilot told me “there is no way to hide your page as Trustpilot is a public facing platform”, which is odd, because I’m pretty sure we didn’t have that page out there before becoming their customer.

So there we were, ostensibly committed.

So I asked the CoachAccountable users group for a favor.

I told them 3.7 isn’t consistent with the vibe we generally get.  So it would mean a lot to us for them to take a little time to leave a review about what their experience has been like with CoachAccountable on our Trustpilot page.

And they did!  Within 48 hours we had 36 reviews, overwhelmingly glowing and, as one observed, “they read like love letters”.

So there we had it, problem solved: the notion that CA was a “3.7 star platform” was no longer hanging out on the internet.

Then a funny thing happened a few days later…

An excerpt from the community thread about reviews being flagged

Uh oh.

Here was a bunch of people, all of them quite real and genuine customers (there are receipts, yo’), moved to share their experiences based on a simple request.  And then this supposed arbiter of truth and authenticity within the reviews game emailed about half of them, subject line “[reviewerName], your review has been removed”, citing “our software has flagged your review for having unusual features”.

Sigh.

Then they didn’t make it easy for my customers to prove the legitimacy of their reviews:

Difficulty in proving legitimacy

Evidence that was sufficient for some was insufficient for others. So much for objectivity.

I had my mounting dissatisfaction with TrustPilot amid the circumstances I described above, but making my customers jump through hoops so that their earnest missives remain published was so deeply distasteful to me on many levels.

My deep appreciation went out to those that replied back, supplying evidence of the legitimacy of their review in order to get it reinstated.  And to those who thumbed their nose at the robot-initiated insinuation otherwise? They have my emphatic understanding and support.

So what of it?  Let’s look now to the cheeky silver lining.

If the algorithmic flagging of so many of the community’s generous reviews drives me nuts (and it does), there’s one thing about it that I take serious heart from, and that is this:

The community’s assessment of CoachAccountable is hardly to be believed.

I take great pride in the fact that how they described the platform and their experiences with it (and with us) were SO outside the bell curve that they triggered sophisticated machine learning models to scream “Gah, that can’t be right! Flag it! Shut it down!”

A marketing tagline comes to mind:

CoachAccountable: so good, robots don’t believe what humans say about it.

I’m not saying I’m gonna change the homepage to weave that one in, but I figure it is, at very least, a tale worth telling.

And if TrustPilot doesn’t want those reviews, well then I’m taking ’em back.

Delightful Collaboration XIII: Client Links from Happenings Reports

This is a flavor of feature request that I absolutely love.

Meet Sho! He’s an outspoken fan and has been for years. CA is better for it.

During an exclusive hangout between me and the kindly folks who heeded the call amid our online review problem (more on that later), Shorombo Mooij gave me a little window into his workflow.  It was approximately to the tune of:

…So I love the Happenings Report, being able to go through each day and seeing what my clients have been up to.  I do that, and it’s great to be able to click the little comment icon to comment on specific items, but sometimes what I really want to do is just go on into their client page, so I can easily get caught up and do a bunch of things.

The request here was simple.  Can you make it so that I can click right from the Happenings Report to get in to a client page in-app?  A fair ask!  Because otherwise it was cumbersome to bounce between that summary across all clients and carefully clicking to visit them each in turn within the app.

Well yes, yes I can!

I modified the output of Happenings Reports (as sent to coaches) to make client avatars clickable, a direct link to that client.

It took all of 4 minutes to do, and I LOVE that that little bit of insight, that tiny little feature of being able to quickly jump from a Happenings Report in one’s email to full-on client access in-app, turns a powerful ritual (namely, being interested in and offering feedback on the progress of clients between sessions) into an elegant and convenient one.

Why am I so fond of this type of feature request?

Because it amounts to bridging the gap between how someone uses CA, and how CA can be tuned JUST SO to make that usage slick and enjoyable.  When we get it right of one person, there’s easily a dozen or more who will be delighted, and more still that may come to enjoy more of the power that CA offers BECAUSE a given workflow works well.

Am I hungry for more of this perspective?  Absolutely.

Getting acquainted with people’s habits around using CA to do better work with their coaches is always a treat; and when that exchange of ideas reveals ways in which CA can be tweaked to better serve?  Well, I just might do such tweaking in very short order, like in this instance.

I suspect a forum to discuss this sort of thing might well be called for.

On this matter, my thanks to Sho for sharing!

CoachAccountable and Single Sign On

As we continue to refine and button up elements of CoachAccountable in service of our enterprise customers, we’re now getting inquiries about our SSO capabilities.  Namely: does CoachAccountable support Single Sign On?

The answer is no, not today.

SSO is understandably desirable among IT teams because it allows them to efficiently and powerfully manage the ins and outs of security provisioning for all of their company employees across a multitude of services.  The convenience for employees to simply sign in once and get access to whatever company accounts they need in order to do their job is undeniable.

Here’s why we don’t support it, including what we have in place to close the gap.

 

On Administrative Convenience

Access in CoachAccountable is highly nuanced with fine-grain user access controls, and that’s even before factoring in coach-client pairing, the mechanism by which to grant a given coach access only to those clients they are working with (or ought to have read-only access).  An SSO scheme of user provisioning isn’t going to give you that sort of control over a landscape that fluctuates as client engagements begin and end.  (Ostensibly perhaps it could using SAML, but that would amount to a lot of work just to reinvent in-app functionality.)

And if members of your team come and go at such a scale in your organization that you require automation around that sort of provisioning, permissions granting, and pairing?  Good news: the openly documented CoachAccountable API allows you to do so for whichever parts you need.

 

On User Convenience

“We want our coaches to be able to seamlessly jump from our systems to CoachAccountable.”

Indeed, no one wants to futz with another login when you’re trying to get your work done.  To support this, what we recommend is for companies to put a link to the CoachAccountable app itself right within their company intranet/app/website/whatever, a big shiny button that says “Jump to CoachAccountable”.

Such a link, coupled with CA’s ability to “Keep me logged in” on a given device that has been legitimately authenticated on, makes the transition seamless.

If someone happens to not be logged in, they’ll be bounced to the login screen, and a login helper is there if they forgot their password (no one needs to nag you or your IT team for a reset).

This idea also works beautifully for home screen app shortcuts that your users can easily install on their devices.  It’s just a shortcut: nothing to find, install, download, upgrade, or trust from any app store.  It’s also branded as your company, with your own name and app icon, and not as CoachAccountable.

All of this balances security with convenience pretty much on par with SSO.  Perhaps “keep me logged in” seems fraught for your tastes, but if you can’t trust your employees to keep their devices secured, you’ve already lost the security game and SSO won’t save you.

 

What about for coaching clients?

We were once told by a prospective enterprise customer that SSO was required, not necessarily so much for their own company, but for the client companies they work for, that THEY demand it for THEIR users.

The problem with that is it conflates the notion of who owns the account.  If Company A uses an Identity Provider (IdP) to manage authentication for their employees, they can do so for access into accounts that Company A owns: Company A’s SalesForce account, Company A’s email domain, Company A’s enterprise license of Office 365.

But when you coach clients in CoachAccountable, they are a guest in your account.  It’s your account: you add them when they’re working with you, and delete or deactivate them when they’re not.   You can’t let some other company’s IdP provision their own people into your CoachAccountable account, nor would you want to.  That’s like letting a customer have the key to your apartment with the understanding that they can let in whomever they like, and, worse yet, it’s not your place to kick them out if you want to kick them out.  If you go with a platform that promises SSO, because they promise SSO, you’ll discover this quickly.

Aren’t you conflating authentication with authorization?

If that’s a meaningful distinction for you in the context of wanting SSO, that means you probably only care about the authentication side of the issue.  And if that’s the case, if your concern is to ensure a great client experience by taking login headaches off the table, know that we’re already your ally in that aim.

Making space in one’s life to be coached is already hard enough, and if THEY get distracted from participating fully because of login issues, we already know that as a platform we’ve failed you.

So we’ve engineered CoachAccountable to thoroughly remove all the friction to their participation as mediated by CA.  Alerts and notifications keep things moving, and replying to emails and texts allows them to participate without even needing to log in.  When they need to log in, like for example to do a Worksheet, they get a magic link that jumps them right on in.

In practice, the need for your clients to manually log themselves in is rare if ever.  We can give your clients a great user experience without SSO.

 

Trustworthy Security and Current Events

Identity Providers that make SSO possible have a tremendous amount of power and responsibility as the arbiters of authentication across so many companies, users, and accounts.  So they themselves have to be trustworthy and properly secured.  If not, every bit of access that they control is compromised.

Given that is their entire reason for being, we’d like to think they’ve got their security game on lockdown, and that a breach of the very infrastructure of trust would not occur.

Last month such a breach of Okta, the self-professed “World’s #1 Identity Platform” as provider of IdP and SSO solutions, was revealed.  The breach began over two months prior to that revelation, and they tried (and failed) to keep it swept under the rug.

So no, using SSO is NOT assuredly net-positive for your company’s security posture, and hints of that awareness coming into the zeitgeist can now be seen.  Stripe, for example, is a payments platform that we know and love to process our payments, and it has this alert on its page about its own (still in beta, invite-only) support for SSO:

Talk about reading the room.

A visit to the most recent snapshot of this page from January suggests this warning was a recent addition. It was probably added in within days of the Okta breach revelation.

The Hacker News discussion about the breach contains a pertinent observation:

And this is why I would ultimately never trust a centralized company with our authentication infrastructure: because something like Okta is an infinitely more attractive target than we are. Their offering is sweet, and I’m always tempted to just give in, but this confirms me in my decision.

Do I feel that SSO is forever unfit for CoachAccountable in light of this?  No.

But for now, I’m content to forego the added complexity for a very narrow sort of win.  Instead, I prefer to channel those efforts into enhancements that actually make coaching better, even if that decision comes at the expense of failing to make select IT staffers happy.

In light of the Okta hack, I feel good of making a decision that ultimately amounts to what’s best for the security of our users, for there simply are no junior engineers at CoachAccountable to make the sort of rookie mistakes that lead to the sort of high-profile hacks that large companies routinely suffer.

Ultimately, a coaching platform is here to add value to the work coaches do and to the experience of those on the receiving end.  SSO is, apropos of anything, a fine thing to have on your list of checkboxes when vetting the fitness of various solutions under consideration.

But, in practice, it might not be that essential for your coaching platform.

 

Whiteboards in Happenings Reports

Over the weekend we got an email to support that reads as follows:

Hello!

I’m not receiving notifications when my clients create whiteboards. It looks like I have my settings correct but is someone able to please give me a hand and let me know if I’m missing something?

Thank you!

She’s right!  Everything was turned on in her Notification Preferences, but indeed, among those settings there are no switches to opt to receive notifications about new Whiteboards as added by your clients.

On the surface this might seem like a glaring omission, but it turns out this is intentional.

Unlike Actions and Worksheets, which have a clear “This is now done” (that makes an unambiguously fitting occasion to send a notification about), Whiteboards are generally always in a sort of “work in progress” state, admitting numerous drafts over the days and weeks (or even in a single writing session!).

So, by their nature, they’re never really “done” in a way that makes it clear “Okay, this would be a great time to notify coach!”.

They do have a clear starting point, of course.  Actions offer a “Notify me whenever my client creates a new action” setting, and by that logic we could make one for a Whiteboard.  But a freshly created Whiteboard is a blank slate, and so is not terribly interesting to notify about.

But this support request got me thinking: there WAS, it turns out, a good way to keep coaches in the loop of client Whiteboard activity: Happenings Reports.

Adding Support for Whiteboards in Happenings Reports

Since releasing them originally in 2014, Happenings Reports have never included support for Whiteboards as a type of “new happenings” to report on.  Here, 8 years later, that suddenly seems right for a change. :)

So now, as of this morning you, can check the box to include Whiteboards as part of your Happenings Reports into the usual set.

Here’s an example of a creating a Whiteboard that’s perfect for getting a routine summary of all recent Whiteboard activity among your clients:

UI of configuring a Happenings Report for Whiteboard notifications

The “Skip sending when there are no new happenings.” is key!

Note the following key parts of this setup:

  • Report on: Choosing to include all of your active clients allows you to get notified when any one of them is active in their Whiteboards.  You can, of course, narrow this down as needed.
  • Include: Naturally, Whiteboards must be checked.  This is great for a focused report that’s only to do with Whiteboard activity.  You can, of course, broaden this as desired.
  • Schedule: Note how this is set to every day, meaning you’ll always get notice of new Whiteboard activity within 24 hours of it happening.
  • Options:  Note how we choose to “Skip sending when there are no new happenings”.  This is key to prevent getting a daily email that might be empty (and thus a mere distraction) for likely-common days when none of your clients have been active in their Whiteboards.

Once created, congratulations!  You’ve just set up your own de facto notifications for new client activity in Whiteboards.

Here’s what Whiteboard activity looks like in a Happenings Report:

Whiteboards in a Happenings Report

This is a nice missive! Ripe for commenting on from the comfort of your own email.

Like completed Worksheets and Journal Entries, the complete content of the Whiteboard is included for easy review (no need to log in and find it first).

And just like other items in a Happenings Report, the comment icons allow you to comment right on whatever your client has written, all from the comfort of your own email client.


And there you have it!  By adding Whiteboards to your already-existing Happenings Reports (or creating a new one similar to the sample shown above), you can now be kept appraised of any work your clients do in their Whiteboards.  Thanks to easy commenting, this allows you to further be a supportive presence in their work with you.

Enjoy!

On How We Handle Bugs

This is kind of a quirky topic, I admit.

But in the story of how we make the sausage here at CoachAccountable, this a fun aspect that I’m proud to share about.  It’s one that very few of our customers will ever experience firsthand (more on that shortly); PLUS holy moly do we keep hearing about how other companies (including our so-called competitors, ahem) DO NOT operate in this way.

So, bugs in software.  CoachAccountable is software.  Conventional wisdom is starting to hold that all software has ’em, and they’re just a part of life.  The very tracking and cataloging of “known issues” is a class of software unto itself, with vendors vying to create the best tooling for teams to manage their backlog of bugs to be fixed.

We don’t use any such tools, because we don’t track bugs in CoachAccountable.

It’s not that we’re derelict in our responsibility to do so, there’s just nothing to track.

That’s not to say that CoachAccountable doesn’t have any bugs.  There are a few.  I fix about one a week.  With tens of thousands of users, you’re not likely to be the one who finds one this week.  You might be, but it’s not likely.

But it does come up!  Here’s what happens when we get a bug report:

  1. We look into it.  A genuine bug is ALWAYS news to us.  There’s no “Oh yeah, we know; here’s the workaround until we ship a fix in Q4”.  So we check.
  2. If it’s just a matter of confusion, we’ll let ’em know and clarify to get the person back to good.  (Even then, there’s a decent chance we’ll make some small change to the UI or in-app copy to clear that up for everyone.)
  3. If it’s a genuine bug (or could well be), I get tagged on it immediately.

Here’s what DOESN’T happen when we get a bug report:

  1. We don’t assume PEBCAK1.
  2. We don’t advise they clear their cookies, restart Windows, or whatever.
  3. We don’t punt and dodge with gatekeeper-like scripts, hoping the issue goes away and they never get around to escalating beyond “tier 1”.

Once I’m tagged in, it becomes my immediate priority to fix.

“Doesn’t that make for a terrible drain on your time and attention when you’re trying to run the company, John?”

No.  It would if it were common, or if the fixes took a substantial amount of time.  But happily it is neither: the discovery of a bug is rare, and they seldom take over an hour to fully iron out (the median resolution time is probably 5-10 minutes).

Here’s what happens next:

  1. We’ll acknowledge the issue, something to the tune of “You’re right, that’s a bug!”  No mincing words, no excuses.
  2. The issue is actually fixed.  Not noted for a resolution at a later date, fixed NOW.  “Reload the page now and you’ll find things working as they should.” is an instruction we delight in typing.
  3. More often than not, we’ll issue a small credit to their account.  $10, $20, maybe even $50 if it was a genuine nuisance. “Thanks for letting us know!  I’ve put a $X credit on your account as a small token of thanks, for both the heads up and for your bearing with.”  is another sentiment we love to type out to folks when wrapping up these issues.

I just love #3: when people clue us into a bug, it really is a gift that we appreciate.  It’s the chance to make CA slightly better and more perfect for all.  Platitudes are nice, but this for me is a delightfully real expression of owning my mistakes.

“Wow, issuing credits whenever someone discovers something wrong.  Gee John, does that cost you a lot of money?”

Not at all.  It would if, say, 100 users all found the same issue before I could fix it, but… that doesn’t happen.  Any bug found these days is pretty niche, and very seldom is even close to being a showstopper.

Here’s an example that came up just this weekend:

I’m trying to enter the Hex Code for my highlight color and I can’t enter the information because this phone image is blocking the location where I enter it. I am trying to enter #204699. Thank you.

This was to do with the orientation sequence that occurs immediately after the initial sign up for a new account, specifically the part that lets coaches set their branding.  The part of the color picker pop up that lets you type in a hex code directly was being occluded by the smartphone image to the right.  Whoops!

In the style sheet, I changed the z-index of that pop up from a 1 to a 3 and all was well again.

My reply:

Ah, I see what you mean!  I just changed that phone image and remixed a few things about the design on that screen just yesterday, and indeed I added that flaw in the process of doing so.

I’ve put in the fix and if you reload that page, assuming you’re still logged in and able to access that initial onboarding flow, you’ll find it’s now working as it should.  AND once you’re logged in, you’ll find you can set those branding colors in app as well, under Settings >> System >> Branding.

Thanks for the heads up!  I’ve put a $10 credit on your account as a token of my appreciation. :)

It made me smile to get back:

Woah!  I was NOT expecting such a fast response.

And that was that.

“Is that typical of the sort of bugs that do get found these days?”

I’ll let you be the judge.  Let’s look back at every bug that’s been reported so far in 2022:

1/5 – “Generate a different default avatar” link didn’t work for a coach modifying the user settings for a Personnel (2 minute fix, $10 credit).

1/6 – Button to reopen a past Company Engagement didn’t work (2 minute fix, $10 credit).

1/21 – If you were in a time zone sufficiently ahead of the server timezone, and set an invoice to send out to your client tomorrow at a time that was sufficiently early to make an effective sending time that came before midnight in the server’s timezone, the invoice would send immediately rather than at that time tomorrow (20 minute fix, $30 credit).

1/24 – Someone else’s rogue implementation of the iCal calendar data interchange feed was providing “Opaque” rather than the spec standard of “OPAQUE” to indicate an event time as busy instead of free, and thus CA was interpreting those event times as free instead of busy, leading to scheduling times erroneously showing as available (60 minute fix, $50 credit).

1/31 – The app exploration map, which registers what you have and haven’t already tried in the course of exploring CA’s functionality, was not properly registering the completion of a client agreement that included a signature by the freebie client (5 minute fix, $20 credit).

2/7 – ICS files were not being attached to the “Your appointment request has been accepted” notification emails to clients for those coaches that take client schedulings as requests that need to be approved (10 minute fix, $30 credit).

That’s it!  $150 later we have a CoachAccountable that is slightly better and more perfect for all.  AND we’re proud to have made a point of honoring and thanking everyone who brought even the least consequential of flaws to our attention.

Bottom line: if you find and report a bug in CA, you’re being a blessing, not a nuisance.  It is our joy to make you feel that way AND to get the issue sorted for good.

Note:
  1. “Problem Exists Between Chair And Keyboard.”  Sometimes an issue IS just plain user error, but assuming as much is dismissive, rude, and unhelpful.

Group Activity Digests

One of the most powerful things about CoachAccountable Groups is they allow you to foster a real sense of community among your group members.  Among other ways, this happens via messages and comments posted by members of the group.

If you’ve got an active community wherein the conversation is lively among participants, it’s great to keep the conversation going by way of notifications: group members can opt to get emailed anytime there’s a new message posted.  This allows them not only to stay aware like in a group chat, but also the convenience of replying right from their email to comment back (and have that comment, in turn, go out to other group members).

But sometimes, sometimes, the group is too big and the conversation gets a little too lively.  You don’t want to overwhelm anyone’s email inbox, yet members outright unsubscribing from those notifications poses its own problems to participation.

Happily, there’s now a middle road that nicely accommodates this situation: Group Activity Digests.

As manager of a group, under Settings >> Participation for a given group you’ll now find the ability to enable Group Activity Digests for your group.

The checkbox control to enable Group Activity Digests

Group managers can also set a template for the digest emails: a suitable subject and a preamble message that will precede whatever summary content will be sent.

Subject and preamble message controls for Activity Digest emails

Here you can see what we’ve got for our own community group.

Beyond mere enabling, you can set a “Suggested Activity Digest”, which serves as the default schedule for members to receive digests:

Controls to set a suggested schedule for activity digests

Weekly on Fridays at 10am, sounds reasonable! Like elsewhere, these times will be relative to the recipient’s time zone, i.e. in this example, everyone will get it at 10am in THEIR time zone.

When a suggested schedule is set in this manner, group members can individually opt out OR customize the schedule further to their own tastes.  When one is set, group members can still opt for some alternate schedule they set for themselves.

Group members can themselves see and set their group membership preferences by clicking the “Membership Preferences…” button found at the bottom of the left column menu of the Group Page.  Coaches can themselves see and update the membership preferences of client members (from the Membership >> Client Members tab, clicking the gear icon reveals the option to do so).

Here’s what it looks like for coach to set the preferences of one of their client group members:

Controls for a client's membership preferences

If one of your clients can’t be bothered to set this for themselves, no worries: you’ve got the power.

And that’s all there is to setting it up!  Once set in motion, group members who have opted for it (either by being set to follow the group suggestion, when applicable, or by their own schedule) will receive digest emails of group activity at the appointed times.

Group digest emails will consist of comments and messages posted to the group since the last time the recipient got a digest.  Note that they WON’T contain other activity like Worksheets or Actions, because those generally go out to group members with their own timely notifications.

Here’s an example of what one looks like:

A sample of a Grou Activity Digest email

Same one-click access to view and respond as individual item notifications!

Faded comments are ones that AREN’T new since the date range covered by the digest, they’re just there for context.  (At most only 2 or 3 earlier comments are included; for longer threads the number of earlier comments is indicated by that grey button, which is clickable to visit the whole thread in-app.)

Just like notification emails of individual comments and messages, the digest emails make it very easy to either to view an item in-app, or post a comment on a given thread right from the comfort of your own email inbox.

And that about covers it!  If you’ve got a lively group and folks are feeling overwhelm in their inbox, setting a routine digest of group activity offers the perfect balance to keep members informed and engaged.

Enjoy!

Custom Email Message Templates

CoachAccountable offers various ways to message your clients with ease.

Courses allow you to automate a sequence of messages.

Future scheduled messages can also be helpful.

And now, for those messages that you tend to send to clients often, you can create and save Custom Message Templates.

Creating Custom Message Templates

Go to Settings >> System >> Message Templates >> Custom Message Templates to get started. Click +Message Template.

addcustommessagetemplate.png

You’ll see the familiar WYSIWYG toolbar, where you can add links, formatting, etc.

Using Custom Message Templates

When composing an email to a client or Group, you’ll see the “template” option in the upper right of the composing window.

groupmessagecustomtemplate.png

Note: you will not see this option if you have no Custom Message Templates, so create your templates first.

 

Click template… and the resulting pop-up allows you to choose from your existing templates or create a new one.

choosetemplate.png

Clicking Load queues up the chosen template for any further customization before sending.

Install Pre-Made Custom Templates

In typical CoachAccountable fashion, we’ve created a couple for you to use and/or edit as you see fit; they’re called “Checking In”, and “Our Next Steps”.

Click here to install those in your account.

2-Factor Authentication via SMS

Last week we got an earnest inquiry Andrew Hinkelman of Priority 1 Group that was very simple:

Do you offer multifactor authentication (MFA) for client credentials/login? If so, I assume one factor could be a code sent via text message?

When Morgan replied the truth of the matter, no we do not, we got back:

Is multifactor authentication on your roadmap? If so, roughly when?

Well, at the time it really wasn’t.  Morgan let him know the full scoop, and got back the following:

I’m an executive coach working with leaders in tech. I’m also a recent CTO and managed a team responsible for information security. So… I think not having an additional authentication factor is a deal-breaker for me. I simply cannot direct my corporate clients to use a SaaS service that is not hitting baseline security measures and expect them to use the platform for sharing/storing our 1:1 coaching work.
I really loved everything else I saw about coach accountable so I’m bummed to have to restart my search…

“Not hitting baseline security measures?!?”  Well now, that’s really throwing down the gauntlet, isn’t it? :)

And far be it for me to make Andrew have to restart his search!

In truth, adding 2-factor authentication isn’t terribly hard, ESPECIALLY if we skip over authenticator apps and just start with SMS-based.  CoachAccountable is already set up to transact via SMS in countries that represent over 90% of our users.

I’ve had MFA come up as a request a few times over the last several years (expressed interest has been really quite rare, actually).  I didn’t jump on cooking up SMS-based 2FA on account of cutting edge security researcher reports that SMS was technically not a fully secure channel, owning to the possibility of various SIM card attacks and other niche weaknesses.

But really that was an instance of me letting perfect be the enemy of good.

The fact remains that even humble SMS-based second-factor authentication is a practical step up: in a world where defense-in-depth matters (and indeed it does, for we don’t ALL live in a spy movie being targeted by nation state actors), even mostly secure measures make a meaningful difference!

So I’m happy to report CoachAccountable now supports 2-Factor Authentication over SMS, i.e. for all our users in the US, Canada, UK and Australia1.  Let’s see how it works!

Enabling 2-Factor Authentication

Anyone with a CoachAccountable account able to receive SMS messages from CA can easily and quickly enable 2-Factor Authentication.  A quick visit to the My Account >> User Profile is all it takes:

User Profile form showing the "Enable 2-Factor Authentication" check box

This checkbox will appear when (1) you’ve got a cell number entered and (2) you’ve chosen one of the countries that CA supports SMS in.

If you’ve got a cell number entered, and are in one of the SMS-enabled countries, that “Enable 2-Factor Authentication (via SMS)” checkbox will appear.  Check it, click Save, and it is done!

Using 2-Factor Authentication

When 2FA is enabled, upon successfully logging in you’ll be greeted with pretty much exactly what you’d expect:

2FA Security Code Prompt

Meanwhile your phone will have received a text from CoachAccountable, containing the security code called for in-app.  Type it in correctly and you’ll be on your way.

Even with 2FA enabled, you’ll still have the usual “Keep me logged in” checkbox when logging in.  If you check that, you’ll only need to enter your security code once on that device (until you manually log yourself out again, of course).

2FA and Magic Links

CoachAccountable will still send magic links in emails to you (and your clients) that have the effect of automatically logging you in.  This auto-login behavior sidesteps the need for an SMS authentication entirely: access to your email effectively becomes the second factor of authenticating yourself.

Accordingly, using the Login Helper/password reset system will allow you to get around any problems you may have in receiving that SMS code to your mobile number on file, allowing you to change things as needed.

Summing Up and Looking Ahead

For over 90% of our users, Multi-Factor Authentication is now a thing in CoachAccountable.  It is completely optional, but easy to activate for anyone who would like that added peace of mind brought by the extra security.

Eventually I’m sure I’ll add authenticator app support, so that all users will have the option to secure their accounts by MFA.  But for now I’m happy to release a win for most.

Finally, my express thanks to Andrew, whose thoughtful comments brought about this enhancement much sooner than later.  Here’s to the journey of continuous progress!

Note:
  1. Or, more precisely, users who have a US, Canadian, UK, or Australian phone number capable of receiving SMS messages.

Calendar Sync via Email Invites

CoachAccountable calendar sync now has a big leg up for those clients who just can’t be bothered to actually set any of it up.

For a long time now, it’s been the case that both coaches and their clients can sync their calendar of choice (be it Google, Outlook, or Apple) with CoachAccountable.  This enables CA to automatically add whatever appointments get scheduled to the calendar of choice and, in the case of coaches, read their availability for the sake of avoiding double booking.

This is great for both parties, and, on account of the whole double-booking-avoidance thing, is especially a win for coaches.

But sometimes clients can’t be bothered.  For some it’s an extra step that they just don’t (or won’t) get around to.  For others it might be concerns over security, sometimes based on corporate IT policy or the like, that make full-on calendar sync a non-starter.

As an alternative to full-on calendar sync, CA has long supported the ability to subscribe to ICS calendar feeds.  But that too puts the impetus on clients to actually set it up.

Enter calendar invites via email

As a solution to the hurdle of clients needing to actually do something for your coaching appointments to appear in their calendar, CA now provides for a robust (yet totally passive) approach.  Clients can now receive calendar invites by email for all appointments you schedule with them, meaning those appointments will be automatically added to their calendar as those email notifications are received.

Likewise, calendar invites can also describe (and affect) changes to previously scheduled appointments, namely rescheduling and canceling.

Calendar Sync Options for Clients

The addition of email invite-based calendar sync means your clients now have three options to choose from.  Your clients will find these when logged in under My Account >> Calendar Sync:

By default, this is about what they’ll see: email notifications turned on, and 2 other approaches they can opt for as well.

Let’s consider closely the new settings clients have about the email notifications they receive:

Include calendar invites in appointment notification emails allows clients to opt into getting those calendar invite attachment files at all, receipt of which generally has the effect of automatically adding appointments to a related calendar.

In addition to notifications about newly scheduled appointments, these invites will be attached to notifications of rescheduling and canceling, meaning those calendar entries will be updated (and removed) as needed, too.

Email me a confirmation about appointments I schedule allows clients to opt into getting emails about things that they themselves just did.  If not for the calendar-syncing aspect, these emails are largely redundant: client schedules an appointment, they can see from the app UI that they did so, and then an email announces essentially “hey, you did the thing you just did”.

BUT this becomes really handy when that email contains an attachment that automatically adds the newly-scheduled appointment to their calendar.  In that case, it serves as far more than a recap of what just happened.

These confirmations of client activity extend also to rescheduling and canceling: each action will trigger a corresponding email confirmation, and if including calendar invites are opted for (that first check box), then the attached invites will also have the effect of updating (and removing) appointments from their calendar.

Note that these email notifications for calendar sync are enabled by default for all new clients.

What about your clients that have been around prior to this addition?  If they’ve setup for themselves a direct sync, these will be turned off (so it’s business usual for them).  For those who haven’t synced their calendar, this email notification-based sync has been enabled.

You as coach can see and set the Email Notification settings for your clients.  Find these in the Client Manager, under Settings >> Appointments:

The note about your client’s direct sync status is a handy hint.

From here you can see whether or not your client has already setup their calendar for a direct sync.  If they haven’t, it’s probably a good idea to have both of those check boxes checked.

When Notifications are Sent

If receiving calendar invites via email is the main mechanism for your client to keep their calendar in sync, it’s suddenly very important that they get an email notification for every appointment that gets scheduled (plus any and all rescheduling or canceling thereof).

Again, when client opts for the “Email me a confirmation about appointments I schedule” option, they’ll get suitable emails whenever they do the scheduling, rescheduling or canceling.  But what about when you as coach do those things?

When you schedule, you also has the option to send a notification to your client, like so:

The default, do send a notification and do so by email, is usually the right choice.

With notification emails now serving as a common way to get your appointments into your clients’ calendars, you’ll generally want to send the notification, and do so via email.  You retain the ability to deviate from that, just be aware that doing so can undermine that calendar syncing behavior.

The same applies for when you as coach reschedule or cancel an appointment with your client: you’ll have the option to notify your client of the change up via email, and for the same reasons doing so is highly recommended.

Appointments for Offerings

The same “auto add to calendar by email”-behavior applies now to any appointments scheduled by way of signing up for an Offering.

As always, with Offerings you can opt to have a Confirmation Email sent when someone successfully signs up for it:

Offering Confirmation Email

Generally a fine idea.

If you opt for this email to be sent, AND the Offering entails scheduling an Appointment, that email will automatically have a suitable calendar invite attached (thus automatically adding it to your new client’s calendar).

And if you DON’T have a Confirmation email set?  In this case, CA goes a little off script and sends a standard Appointment Notification email (with the calendar invite) instead.  The verbiage for this email is taken from your Appointment Notification email template, so it’ll still be on brand.

Also note that with the addition of email invites for Offerings, including the [appointmentAddToCalendarButtons] magic tag in the Confirmation Email is now far less important.

Many scheduling apps still have such buttons in emails that also have the calendar invite attachment, no doubt a sort of “make sure it gets in their calendar at all costs”-sort of shotgun approach.  So you too can include or exclude those add to calendar buttons consistent with your taste, sensibilities around clutter, and how much you do or don’t trust your clients to show up like responsible adults (in some contexts I appreciate full well that this can’t always be taken for granted!).

Email Invites for Group Appointments

Just like with one-on-one appointments, when you as coach schedule (or reschedule, or cancel) your Group Appointments, the notification emails that you can (and probably should!) opt to send will similarly comes with suitable calendar invite attachments, allowing all client members (who are included in that Group Appointment) to have that appointment automatically added to their calendars.

One caveat to this: the system will NOT email newly added group members that happen to be auto-added to future Group Appointments.  That could be a surprising gotcha, and generally speaking CA avoids sending emails to clients on your behalf without some form of your express intent to do so.

Email Invites for Appointment Series

As always, you as coach can schedule a series of Appointments with your clients or groups:

When you do so, the notification email body (that your clients will read) will contain details only about the first one.  BUT the email invite attachment will include information about the whole series, meaning each appointment in the series will get added to your client’s calendar.

Getting Caught Up or Re-syncing

Perhaps your client wants all their future appointments with you added to their calendar now.  At anytime they can visit their My Account >> Calendar Sync page, and if they have future appointments they’ll see an “Email me an invite…” button like this:

Just a click and CA will send it all.

Clicking that will cause CA to email them an attachment with a calendar invite file containing data for all of their future appointments, allowing them to quickly get those appointments into their calendar by this calendar invite mechanism.

You too, as coach, can have this email sent to your client.  For a client that has one or more future appointments, you’ll find the button to do so among their calendar sync settings (again, you’ll find this in the Client Manager, under Settings >> Appointments).

One gotcha to this: it can be fun to try deleting an appointment from your calendar and then sending this email to enjoy seeing it magically re-appear.  The problem with that is many email calendar systems will keep note of the fact that you specifically removed an appointment already, prompting it to NOT re-add it when it arrives again via email.  So delete appointments added in this fashion at your own risk: the calendar invite approach may not be able to restore it!

In Summary

The addition of these calendar invites via email is kinda a basic feature: it doesn’t make possible anything that wasn’t already, BUT from the “remove all the friction from your clients experience” angle it’s a wonderful boon to how things get done, especially at the get go.

Yes, the direct sync is more elegant and robust, allowing your client to skip the clutter of extra emails that might be largely redundant.  But this way your clients can have those appointments with you appearing in their calendar from day 1, with no effort on their part required.  And for those who want the elegance of direct sync later, they can do that as a separate step whenever they feel so inclined.

Overall it is my hope that the addition of these invites will make things run more smoothly at that most critical juncture: when you’re just getting started with a new client.  Enjoy!