Do You Know TED? A History & Criticisms of this new Public IDEA Conference

TED ConferenceImagine the opportunity to hear the late mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, explain its application in fields ranging from “how galaxies cluster, how wheat prices change over time, or how mammalian brains fold as they grow.” Or MacArthur Fellow and University of Southern California law professor Elyn Saks detail her life dealing with schizophrenia on a daily basis, often imagining that she has killed “hundreds of thousands of people.”

Perhaps you would prefer watching jazz musician Herbie Hancock improvise a new version of “Watermelon Man,” or see 64-year-old long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad explain her successful fifth attempt to swim from Florida to Cuba, 110 miles through shark- and jellyfish-infested water.
Mandelbrot, Saks, Hancock, and Nyad are a small representation of the 1,416 speakers and subjects presented at annual Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Conferences since 1984. And they are available for free to anyone in the world who has an Internet connection and a desire for knowledge.

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How to Improve Customer Service at Your Operation

Happy customer service operatorYou may not be able to precisely define good customer service, but you know it when you see it. Does it begin before the sale with the image and message your company presents? Is it the process by which you handle customer complaints? Or is it the total customer experience from the time of initial contact until your product or service is delivered, payment is made, and the purchaser is satisfied? Whatever your definition, customer service is an essential – and possibly the most significant – element of business survival and success.

The essence of customer service is anticipating and meeting your customer’s needs quickly, fairly and completely. In the digital world, customer service means that the marketing, sales, and delivery of specific products and services are perfectly aligned with the needs and desires of each specific customer who purchases the product or service. Every interaction between company and customer is designed to avoid disappointment and enhance satisfaction.

Prerequisites to Great Customer Service

There is no single, perfect model of great customer service, no specific methodology you can implement, nor a recipe to follow that will guarantee that your company always delivers total customer satisfaction. The best companies understand that fulfilling each customer’s needs is a constant struggle that never ends. But their reward for persistently improving the customer’s experience is escalating revenues and profits.

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This article first appeared the Website Magazine site on December 18, 2013.

5 Shrewd Ways to Adjust Your Portfolio As You Near Retirement

adjust portfolioLife was good at the end of 2007 for Bill and Mary. Bill, at age 60, had enjoyed a successful career with Walgreens, one of the largest retail companies in America. His career, begun 28 years previously, enabled Mary to be a stay-at-home mom, paid for their two kids’ college education, and enabled the couple to build a $1 million position in a Fidelity New Millenium Fund through constant investments over the years. During the last decade, Bill had been the beneficiary of annual stock options which he faithfully exercised, maintaining the common stock with the faith that the company would continue to grow in value. By 2007, the stock was worth more than $300,000. The couple was looking forward to Bill’s early retirement in 2010 and a year of traveling, making up all of the trips they had foregone during the early years of savings and paying for college. Then disaster struck.

With the Great Recession, the S&P 500 fell more than 800 points, a 55% decrease. While the New Millennium Fund did better than the general market average, losing only 48% of its value, the value of Bill and Mary’s portfolio dropped to slightly more than $500,000. The Walgreens stock also suffered, falling from $48 per share in September to $23 in 2009, and the options that Bill had yet to exercise were underwater. Their plans for an early retirement were no longer possible.

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this post first appeared on the FiveCentNickel website on December 27, 2013.

Closing the Books – 4 Final Tasks Before Death

man at cemetaryLife’s race is almost over. It’s time to take your victory lap and start preparing for whatever comes next. Completing the following four tasks can help you meet any last obligations to your loved ones, ensure your final days are spent as you want, and reconcile your dreams with the realities of your life. Whatever you have done, or left undone, is past and now is the time to finally realize the wisdom of John Viscount Morley who said, “The great business of life is to be, to do, to do without, and to depart.”

1. Estate Planning
After a life accumulating assets, you want to make sure that they go to the people you love and trust when you pass. If your estate is valued at $5.25 million or less (indexed for inflation), your heirs are likely not subject to federal or state taxes. However, some states may impose a tax even if there is no federal liability (additional complications arise if the surviving spouse is a non-citizen). Executors of estates larger than that threshold must file Form 706 within nine months of the decedent’s death or receive an extension from the IRS.

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This article appeared on the Forbes website January 14, 2014.