Tag: Maps

Customer Service: Communicate More Effectively With Your International Customers

Purchased ImageAbout the Author  Chris Dowling has worked in a direct, customer facing environment for over 13 years now, with four of those years with SmartDraw Software. A zealous customer service advocate who understands how a happy customer base can grow any business, and have won numerous awards for the level of service I provide to the customer. When not at work, I enjoy my time in San Diego at the beach, the local watering hole as well as on my PlayStation 4.

The Useful Clichés

We have all heard about, and more than likely experienced, the horror that is poor customer service; from inattentive customer service representatives who force you to repeat yourself, to representatives who are just plain rude or obnoxious. I have worked in a customer facing environment for years, and have seen poor service in all forms, and the dwindling customer base that comes as a result.  What follows is knowledge I have acquired over the years on how to offer the service your customers deserve. I’ll try to spare you some of the information that can be had via a quick Google search, as most of us know that being polite, attentive, courteous and respectful are all a must.

The Useful Information

However, knowing who you are talking to is also huge plus. What may be polite and courteous to one customer, may be offensive or off-putting to another customer. Knowing something about your typical customer base can reap huge benefits when it comes to making happy customers.

For example, if you work in a concierge environment for a golf resort, knowing a thing or two about the game of golf and current golf events, can go a long way when building rapport with your customers. Likewise, if you work for an enterprise level software company, knowing the industry jargon and how software interacts with hardware will convey competence to the customers.  It will also make them more comfortable throughout the interaction.

This is especially important if you commonly find yourself engaging with international customers.  What is considered appropriate customer service can differ greatly around the world. Understanding what is considered appropriate for each culture you are communicating with shows that your company cares about its target market and is working to build a superb customer facing organization.

How Can SmartDraw Help?

Using SmartDraw’s maps can be a great way to keep track of your customer locations as well as important info for each customer. For multi-national companies, this can go a long way to help your customer service representatives better understand the people they communicate with every day, and how to best approach each unique customer interaction. SmartDraw’s maps can also be used for customer account management, for accounts both small and large. You open a map of the world in SmartDraw, or particular regions of the world, and add notes such as various locations showing customer contact information and their role in their organization.  In addition, it would be beneficial to document anything that might be useful in building rapport, such as customer’s birthday or employment anniversary.



SmartDraw Tip: In the Left Panel, select Maps.  In the Template Preview, select Europe.  Navigate to the appropriate country then right-click.  In the menu, select Add Note.  A new window will open and you can then begin typing in any needed information for the customer. When done, you will then see a yellow note. Anytime you hover over the yellow note, the relevant customer information will appear in a separate window.

Furthermore, SmartDraw’s Mind Maps are also a great way to track relevant information by customer location. As seen below, the mind map is a great way to categorize information by topic. Here we can connect important pieces of each culture to the location the customer is in, giving your representatives the information to properly conduct business throughout the world.


6 Tips to Planning a Stress-Free Vacation

A vacation should be relaxing.  It’s a time to escape the stress of everyday life and recharge.  As relaxing as the idea of going out of town can be, a few unplanned incidences can turn any trip into an overwhelming situation for all involved. In this week’s post I’ll share with you a few vacation planning tips that we used to plan our honeymoon.  Follow these tips to keep your vacation not only memorable, but most importantly, stress-free.



Travel has always been a passion of mine.  When I met my husband, I was on my second passport.  I ran out of pages in my original passport from having traveled to 26 countries on 4 continents.  Our honeymoon would be the first stamp in my husband’s passport.  Together we created a short list: Greece, Italy, Spain, and Australia.  Since this would be his first trip out of the country, we decided that he would get to pick our destination.


At one point in my career, I traveled 80% – both domestic and international.  Whether I was traveling for business or pleasure, I would share my adventures with my three nieces since they were quite young.   In their eyes, my office was anywhere in the world.  I originally created this map of our itinerary for them, yet it proved to be beneficial not only during the planning process but during our trip.

Planning Benefits:

  • Gain perspective on the size of the country
  • Aid in the estimation of travel time between cities
  • A fun and convenient way to share our itinerary with friends and family
  • Determining the mode of transportation given the amount of time and distance

honeymoon map

SmartDraw Tip: Navigate to the Maps category, select the appropriate option.  The images used to note various activities were all found in the Symbol Library. 


International travel is becoming increasingly common, as technology opens the door to a more connected world.  This presents travelers with both advantages and disadvantages. While all the information needed to travel safely can easily be accessed from a smartphone, a forgotten charger or intermittent internet access can spell disaster.  Below is the first of a two-page comprehensive itinerary of our vacation.

Items to Include:

  • Time conversion table enables recipients of the itinerary to be mindful of the local time
  • Details of accommodations such as name of hotel property, address, and main phone number
  • Planned methods of travel to and from airports
  • Estimated travel times between airports and hotels
  • Airport codes, flight carriers, and flight numbers
  • Check-in and check-out dates

Travel Abroad Tip:

During my travels to South Africa, Zambia, Thailand, and Cambodia, I along with my travel partners enrolled in Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  The Department of State urges U.S. citizens living overseas or planning to travel abroad to enroll. You’ll receive important safety and security announcements.  Enrolling will also make it easier for the embassy or consulate to contact you in the event of an emergency.  Below is the type of information requested for enrollment.

Honeymoon Detailed Itinerary_pg1

SmartDraw Tip:  Navigate to the Popular Category.  In the Preview Screen, select the Manual Diagram template.  In the Ribbon, select the Table Tab.  Click the Table control.  The Table will appear in the Work Area.  


My love for travel is based on my thirst to explore and try new things.  With our wedding in May and our honeymoon in the November, we were able to do some online research on Australia.  I remember my college days of backpacking trips through Europe using travel guidebooks and cyber cafes that charged by the minute.  Today, our smartphones enable us to check-in to flights, make video calls, and receive restaurant recommendations based on our location.

Travel Guide Sites:

Favorite Travel Apps:


Sharing expectations with your travel partner(s) is key to planning a stress-free vacation.  My husband and I agreed that when we landed in Australia, we didn’t want to do anything but enjoy our honeymoon.  Here are two versions of our honeymoon plans tailored to each of our individual needs.

Our Vacation At-a-Glance Diagram includes:

  1. Dates and Cities
  2. Departure/Arrival Times and Airport Codes (yellow highlight)
  3. Open or Unplanned Times (grey highlight)

our honeymoon overview1.10.5

SmartDraw Tip: Navigate to the Popular Category, select the Mind Map Template.  To add a Table to an existing Mind Map, navigate to the Ribbon.  Select the Table Tab.  Click the Table Control.  Click and drag the Table to the Mind Map in the Work Area.  The Table will snap onto the existing Mind Map.  

Our Vacation Activities Diagram includes:

  1. Dates and Cities
  2. Departure/Arrival Times and Airport Codes (yellow highlight)
  3. Open or Unplanned Times (grey highlight)
  4. Tour & Activity Confirmation Codes and Vendors
  5. Hotel Transfers for Each Tour & Activity
  6. Meal Information
our honeymoon activity overview.10.29
 SmartDraw Tip: This diagram originated from the previous Mind Map.  In order to add further details additional columns were added to each of the Tables.


I felt that I could trust the time and energy put into planning our vacation.  When we went to the office of our phone carrier, I opted out of getting an international phone and data plan.  In other words, I decided to remain “unplugged.”  Not one moment was spent taking photos to post on Facebook or to tweet the events of the day.  It was just the two of us on our honeymoon . . . living in the moment.  It was wonderful.


How to Plan Your Next Hiking Adventure

https://pixabay.com/en/compass-hand-desktop-background-1753659/My experience summiting Mt. Whitney was incredible. I felt inspired, excited, vulnerable, and accomplished. The journey was long and grueling, but well worth it. I encourage anyone who is considering a physical challenge such as this to jump in with both feet- you won’t regret it!


Here are a few things that I learned and would recommend to anyone planning a hiking adventure:

How_To_Mind Map2SmartDraw Tip: Select different Quick Styles to apply to your visual after a Theme is chosen. First, select the desired Theme for your visual. Next, select the shapes that you would like to change. Finally, choose your desired style from the Quick Styles dropdown menu found in the Home tab .

1. Make a Plan

Create a detailed plan to help keep you and your group on track throughout the entire hiking experience! The more information included, the better.

Hiking Adventure Plan_Mind MapSmartDraw Tip: Make all shapes in your visual the same width, height, or both to create a consistent look. Simply select the shapes from the Work Area then choose your desired sizing from the Make Same dropdown menu in the Design tab. 

2. Train

Of course, a main and vital part of your plan will be to include a training schedule.

Screenshot of Training Hike Map2SmartDraw Tip: Use the Data Map Template to import and plot your data points, then replace the plot point with a fun symbol such as the mountains seen above. 

3. Get the Gear

Since your plan already includes the dates of your hike, you will be able to research the weather conditions typical to that time of year. This will help you immensely as you are preparing to get the hiking equipment needed for your hike. Take it from me- I waited until the week prior to my hike to visit outdoor stores in San Diego with the purpose of getting traction for my feet and potentially a pick axe for the snow. Store representatives looked at me like I was crazy for asking “do you have any pick axes?” I must have forgotten that I live in a climate of 70 degrees and sun year-round.

The form below is an example of something you could put together prior to your hike, complete with an “inventory” of your gear needs, as well as the estimated price of each item.

Gear Needs Inventory_Form2SmartDraw Tip: Add or remove columns from the form templates by clicking into a cell and selecting an Insert option (Insert Left, Right, Above, or Below) or Delete option (Remove Row, Column, or Contents of either) from the Table tab.

Use the Gear Needs Checklist for your next hike!

4. Take it All In

I am very goal-oriented. Typically, I am a “go hard or go home” type of person. This was the approach that I took when summiting Mt. Whitney, and as I reflect on it, with many of my life events. I forget that the end result is not the only important thing, but rather, the journey is just as important. My regret for this trip is not stopping more, to really look at the beauty of the nature surrounding me- not taking enough pictures. I have quite possibly the worst memory that I know of, so I really should have taken more pictures. My advice- pace yourself, stop often, and reflect on the beauty around you and on the people you are with. Check out the picture below and the training photos from a previous post entitled Hiking Mt. Whitney: Training Hikes and To Do’s.

5. Do it Again

Yes, you guessed it- I will be doing Mt. Whitney again. I recommend this to anyone who has already done Mt. Whitney! You Only Live Once (YOLO), right?

What summer challenges do you and your family have in store? Any advice for fellow hikers, or adventurous people in general? We would love to hear from you!

5 Tips to Conquer Chaos & Maximize Your Convention Experience: SDCC 2015


People participate in conventions for a variety of reasons.  Some attend to be inspired while others join to learn, network, promote their business, or simply have fun and play.  Despite one’s goals for attending a conference, the experience can be overwhelming.  The huge convention centers, the pushy sales people — it’s easy to find yourself mindlessly roaming the expo floor for days, leaving the convention exhausted, with sore feet and a bag of tchotchkes as your only takeaways.  But conventions can be a rewarding experience if you plan ahead and make thoughtful choices.

That was the case when my husband and I attended our first San Diego Comic-Con International (SDCC) last year. From Betty White and William Shatner having a lively debate about zoos and ‘Blackfish’, to Buzz Aldrin‘s talk about his experience walking on the Moon, to attending panels of casts and writers from some of our favorite TV shows like Fox’s BONES, ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and CBS’s Big Bang Theory to meeting the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell . . . our SDCC 2014 conference experience was amazing and truly one to remember.SDCC Schedule 2page_1

In this week’s post, I’ll share 5 tips to conquer the chaos of conventions so you can maximize your next convention experience.  To demonstrate, I’ll share with you our plans for participating in this year’s San Diego Comic-Con International’s off-site events.  An easy way to remember the 5 tips is C.O.M.I.C.:

  1. Create Your List
  2. Organize & Prioritize
  3. Manage Expectations
  4. Identify What You’ll Need
  5. Consolidate & Communicate


Researching the convention agenda in advance is the first step in taking charge of your convention experience.  Take a look at the key note speakers, find out who will be conducting the workshops and breakout sessions, and what organizations will be represented in the exhibition halls. Creating a quick list will make the planning process a whole lot easier.

SDCC listSmartDraw Tip: To create a mind map, navigate to the Popular Category.  Select the Mind Map template.


Once you’ve noted the sessions in the mind map, you can simply click and drag the shapes according to priority, day, time, etc.  You may also choose to add additional information such as meeting room, times, etc.

In an effort to stay up-to-date on the Comic-Con off-site events, I decided to capture my initial online research in an information hub (below).  An information hub is a diagram, in this case a mind map, that contains hyperlinks to different resources such as documents and websites.

SDCC infohubClick to download the SDCC 2015 Information Hub pdf with live links. 

SmartDraw Tip: To add a hyperlink, navigate to the appropriate shape or text.  Right-click and select Add Hyperlink.  Copy and paste the URL address into the field.  Click OK.


Convention centers and hotel meeting spaces vary drastically in size.  As a result, travel time between sessions may play a significant role in the selection of which sessions you will be able to attend.  You may need to reconsider and determine what is going to be realistic.  It’s best to find out in advance so that you can manage expectations and plan accordingly.

Generate a Data Map

Unlike most conferences, Comic-Con’s off-site events are decentralized.  There is no governing organization managing all of the events and schedules.  Since the off-site events span over an 8-block radius of downtown San Diego, I decided that the best approach would be to create a map.

Although I use SmartDraw every day, there are templates that I have yet to discover.  To be honest, I’ve never used the Data Map template until now.  Its so easy to use.  SmartDraw took the data from the spreadsheet and automatically placed visual indicators for each of the off-site event locations.  Once the markers were in place, I was able to compare venue locations against their respective schedules.

SDCC Data MapSmartDraw Tip: In the Left Pane, navigate to the Maps Category.  In the Popular Map Templates preview screen, select Data Map. 

Add Markers

Using the symbols found in the Library, I began to place markers on the map like chess pieces.  Within minutes, I managed to create our itinerary.

SDCC 2015 OffSiteEventMap

Click to download pdf of the SDCC 2015 Off-Site Event Locations Map.

SmartDraw Tip: To utilize a symbol from the Symbol Library, simply click and drag it into the Work Area.  
SDCC 2015 Restaurant Discounts

To save without a Comic-Con Badge, click to download Discount Coupons and the Map of Restaurants (diagram above).

SmartDraw Tip: To make the text legible, you may choose to fill the text box.  Click the text, navigate to the Ribbon. Click Home. In the Fill menu, select the appropriate color and transparency.

A special thanks goes to the San Diego Convention Center for making the discount coupons available.


Whether you’re attending a one day or week long convention, planning is the key to a successful convention experience.  That includes planning what you will have with you throughout the day.

SDCC 2015 Day Pack Checklist1

Click to download pdf of the SDCC Day Pack Checklist.

SmartDraw Tip: To achieve the diagram above, begin with the mind map template. To add a table, navigate to the Ribbon.  In the Table Tab, enter the appropriate values in the Rows and Columns fields.  Click the Table control. Click and drag the table to the appropriate shape.


Conventions are attended by like minded individuals, those who are in the same field of study, or who work in a similar industry.  As a result, conventions are an opportunity for reconnecting and networking.

By consolidating your convention schedule into a single diagram, such as a matrix, it can easily be shared with colleagues.  And with SmartDraw’s quick access controls you’ll be able to share any of your diagrams with just one-click!  It’s that simple.

SDCC matrix2

Click to download the SDCC 2015 Off-Site Schedule Matrix pdf with live links.

SmartDraw Tip: The matrix above was created from an existing sample diagram.  In the Left Panel select Forms. Navigate to the Quality Management Forms, select the Requirement Feature Matrix.  Modify as needed.  

15 Things You Absolutely Have to Know Before Buying a House

https://pixabay.com/en/architecture-family-house-front-yard-1836070/The US housing market is officially in full recovery. How do I know this? Well, just take a look at a few headlines:

2014 Housing Outlook: Home Prices Head Higher” – Kiplinger

I Wasn’t Going to Buy This House Until I Saw the Realtor’s Headshot on the Sign” – The Onion

Housing Recovery Seems Still on Track” – New York Times

Looks like it’s time to go house hunting. Even Forbes is touting the housing recovery. Check out its list of best cities for investing in housing in this infographic.

Top 20 US Housing Markets 2014

Here are a couple more headlines:

Higher Interest Rates Will Slow Housing Market Growth in 2014” – Washington Post

Hold on there… What was that?

The Housing Market is Still a Drag on the Economy—But Why?” Los Angeles Times

Hey, wait a minute. I thought I was buying a house. What happened to the housing recovery?

Not to worry. Here are 15 things you absolutely, positively have to know if you’re buying a house—whether it’s in 2014 or years from now, housing recovery or not.

  1. Don’t pay attention to the national news media.This doesn’t just go for buying a house; this is a generally good idea.
  2. Don’t pay attention to Realtor® ads. “Now is the time to buy” is their pitch. This isn’t financial advice, this is marketing. Understand their motivation. They have to sell houses to make a living. Don’t get me wrong—I would never buy or sell a house without a Realtor®. They are very good at this. Use them to sell your house (or to help you buy… after you read this post in its entirety). But do not use them for financial advice.
  3. Don’t pay attention to people who say “a home is an investment.” If you’re buying a house to live in, then it’s not an investment. It’s a home. Buy it because you love it and want to live there and, above all, can afford it. If it goes up in value and you end up with a ton of equity… Yahtzee!
  4. Consider the costs of owning versus renting. In some cities (like here in San Diego), you can rent a house for half or less what it would cost you to own it. Or, conversely, you can probably rent something larger or in a ritzier neighborhood than you can afford to buy.
  5. Consider ALL of the costs of owning versus renting. The landlord isn’t going to fix that leaky roof or broken vanity or mow the grass or trim the trees for you any longer. Make sure you factor in costs of maintenance, repairs and replacement (and some of the things you’ll have to replace are expensive – like roofs and furnaces and windows, oh my!).
  6. Consider the benefits of owning versus renting. There are some really good things about owning. No landlord to deal with. No more rental rate increases. Want to paint the walls or do a kitchen remodel and replace the dishwasher that sounds like a 747 taking off? Want to yell at the kids to get off your lawn? Go ahead… it’s your lawn.
  7. Does the price seem too good to be true? That bargain-basement price may look enticing, but tread carefully. Chances are it’s priced low for a reason… or for many reasons. Do your homework before buying. Only TV house flippers buy cheap broken-down houses sight unseen, compound problems with a boatload of bad decisions, and then make a whopping profit at the end of the show. See No. 11 below.
  8. You’ve heard the expression, “location, location, location?” Best real estate expression ever. Pay attention to it, because it’s true. Good neighborhoods tend to stay good or get better. Bad neighborhoods get worse. Don’t buy in a declining neighborhood, no matter how good the price looks.
  9. Never, ever, ever, buy the biggest or most expensive house in the neighborhood. Unless you’re a gazillionaire like Bill Gates. Then do whatever the hell you want.
  10. Don’t buy just for the “tax advantages.” There are also a lot of costs of owning that aren’t tax-deductible and that you won’t face if you rent.
  11. Let’s talk about house flipping! Those house-flipping shows can be entertaining, but they aren’t telling you all the facts. Trust me—there is absolutely no way people who are that stupid are making money on every deal. It’s really, really hard to make money flipping houses but it’s really, really easy to get burned.
  12. What to do if you don’t have a six-month cash reserve. Here’s what to do if you can’t afford to keep at least six months worth of house payments in a cash reserve: Ready? Here goes: Don’t buy a house!
  13. Famous last words: “If anything goes wrong, at least I have insurance.” Don’t assume all problems will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance policy. Insurance companies put a lot of exclusions in policies. Check these out and understand your coverage… and your risks.
  14. Let’s talk about that nice lady driving you around to look at houses. Did you know that “your” real estate agent may not be working for you? It’s wise to use a real estate agent, but make sure to sign a buyer’s agency agreement (giving you the option to cancel at any time). If you don’t, the Realtor® is most likely working as a subagent of the listing agent, meaning she is working for the seller. It’s not her fault. It’s how agency law works.
  15. Don’t get in over your head. Life is too short to work multiple jobs and get all stressed out over a house you can’t afford to own. If you aren’t sure whether you can afford it, put it off and rent. But don’t overspend on rent, either. In the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin… “Don’t worry, be happy.”