Looking for a New Challenge

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In early January I made a decision not to renew my contract with Ankabut the United Arab Emirates Advance Network for Research and Education where I have work since October 2010. My resignation will not take effect until October 2014. I wanted to give Ankabut time to find a replacement and I have a few important projects to complete.

Some people I know when they learned that I’m leaving asked the question; “What Happened? Did they not renew your contract, or are you unhappy with the organization, the money, the title or the boss?” The answer to all these questions is NO.

Ankabut is alive and well and they didn’t let me go. Is it money or title? Naturally I would like more money or a better title but it wasn’t a game changer. I am not unhappy with the organization or my boss and I must say he is good for Ankabut and we like each other. He is approachable, respects my opinion and has a good sense of humor. Do we disagree at times, of course but he will listen. In the end the CEO has to make the call and especially in this region.

I honestly believe I have done what I can for the organization and reached the goals I set when I started. I could continue doing the same thing for Ankabut but I need a new challenge. What that challenge is has not been decided but I can safely say retirement is not in my plans for another 5-7 years, if ever.

So what’s next? That is indeed the question that I am still pondering. My wife and I do like the UAE and have developed a number of very good relationships with the expat and Emirati communities over the years mostly in the field of education. There is always a possibility I may be offered a position in the region by an organization with education ties that would offer more responsibility and new challenges. It’s also possible I may start or co-found a company, which focuses on a variety of educational services for the region. I have always had an entrepreneurial side to me. I co-founded The Connected Learning Network, an e-learning services company in the US back in 1999.  E-learning may an element of the company but would have a number of other services to support the education community.  I see a great deal of potential in support or outsourcing educational services. If I go that direction I will want to have a partner(s) who have similar interests.  The third option is to go back to the US and find a position, which would meet the responsibility and challenge needs. Unfortunately I don’t see that job existing near our home in Brown County Indiana. Perhaps Louisville our adopted home, Florida, Hawaii (why not), DC region or my alma mater Urbana University. We will see what the options are and make a decision then.

In the meantime these upcoming months will be busy. There are projects I need to complete which are important to Ankabut and its members.  I’ll keep you posted on where I go from here as well as writing about education in the region.

Why is Customer Feedback so Difficult to Accept

My wife and I are back in the states until July 27th getting a chance to see old friends and spending a few days at our home on the Lake in Brown County Indiana. We are also traveling quite a bit and are in Chicago for Fusion 2010 the e-learning conference hosted by Desire2Learn.  They are the last significant proprietary Learning Management System competitor to Blackboard now that Angel has been purchased.  They have an excellent product and are working hard to add new innovations which educators are requesting. It has been a long and difficult battle for CEO John Baker and his team. They compete with the market giant Blackboard, for customers as well as the courtroom over patents, To Desire2Learn’s credit, they are prospering, and gaining market share by providing an excellent product, and listening to customers, something Blackboard can’t seem to grasp.

Feedback from customers and prospects is always a challenge. No matter the business, be it a department store, restaurant, a  mom and pop operation, education facility, government or a multi-national corporation you are taught feedback from customers is essential. However why do so many only pay lip service to listening and responding?

 In my opinion for many CEO’s it’s about ego. You have people giving their opinions on your business who know nothing about what it takes to start and successfully grow something. Why should the CEO really pay attention to what they say and do something about their comments?  We all know the answer… if you don’t, someone else will eventually get our customers and put us out of business.

 I think getting feedback, listening to comments, both good and bad and then acting upon the data is extraordinary difficult.  You need to have very thick skin and be willing to adapt. You as the person in charge need be smart and tough enough to work feedback into your overall planning process. It is why customer research, employee feedback, and keeping up to speed on industry trends is so important. 

One thing I have learned while living these past 18 months in the Middle East is customer service makes a difference in business growth no matter where you live. In the UAE, customer service and companies gathering consumer feedback and using it to improve their overall operations is far behind what I see in the USA. Perhaps it’s because they are dealing with a very transit population. Many people are living in this part of the world for a short time, meaning 1-3 years. Expectations for superior customer service and business seriously listening to you are low. Maybe its language barriers, or maybe being a stranger in a foreign land makes you more willing to accept lessor standards. Some believe I know even say it’s God’s will for things to happen in a certain way.  I can tell you all nationalities rich or poor know the difference between good service and bad service and if they find the product they want from someone else that is similar in price and quality and get better customer service, they will stick with that business and tell their friends. It’s one of those tie breaker items and if you give better service than your competitor the odds of your business succeeding improves.

Going full circle, if Desire2Learn stays on the path of listening to current and potential customers they will continue to gain new clients from the big guy. I just hope they will stay in the marketplace and not sell out to Blackboard like so many others. We need competition and excellence in customer service in all sectors to improve products and encourage innovation.

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