to make it as easy and pleasant for the folks.
to make it as easy and pleasant for the folks.
like sun rises in the east and now a practicing freelance consultant finding fluff-free solutions to business issues for his clients.
I met him after a lapse of ten years. Piqued by certain astute observations he made in our brief initial meetings I decided I must talk to him at length on how it has been with him professionally. He kindly acceded to my request and came over to spend a couple of hours. In those two hours he freely shared the high and lows of those ten years that had passed.
He was doing well in his job managing his customer accounts, reporting directly to one of the founder-directors of the organization, a well regarded medium sized IT organization engaged in providing IT consultancy and services. Things were going swimmingly.
At a certain point, the organization decided it must reinvent itself and pitch for more aggressive growth – convulsions organizations bring upon themselves every few years. He thought and rightly so unless the course is clearly charted with definite ideas about how it would all happen, growth would remain only as numbers in a spreadsheet and a few catchy slogans going with it. Not a guy to quietly sit thru these sessions, he expressed his reservations on more than one occasion. It was not long before he was dubbed as a guy not right for the management’s vision of the organization, refusing to be energized by the bosses’ exhortations and not rising to the cause and credo. Fissures developed – disagreements widening, arguments turning increasingly unpleasant, unrealistic targets thrust …
If you’ve spent time in the Indian corporate world, here was a situation, not uncommon, unfolding in which one could still flow along the tide and thrive, let alone survive. Reasons that could not be faulted were/are always aplenty to explain away the non-performance .
Instead of lying low, our protagonist responded in way that left him with no option but to quit! A job he was good at to the point of earning a six figure yearly performance bonuses thrice in a short span. Just when things were cascading down in an avalanche after the 9/11 . Hiring was scarce. Had not lined up any firm job offers though he had some local contacts in the industry. No idea of the market demand for his competencies. But he decided he had enough. So what if his visa status was uncertain. Had bought a new house with stiff monthly payments. Wife and children. Even his ex-bosses were worried for his survival. While some guys unsolicitedly helpfully advised him on how to get best prices for his furniture.
We would not be far off the mark calling the move ‘reckless’, ‘impulsive’ and even ‘asinine’.
Was he always like this?
Probing a little on his younger days revealed:
His village is on the banks of river Godavari, surrounded by lush green crop fields and orchards growing guava and mangoes. A banyan tree spread over half an acre, the hub for the young to hear stories, for the old to exchange gossip and discuss village affairs, for vendors to hawk eats and for passers-by to rest. Also the classes he attended with a bunch of other boys. It was left to his ‘school’ headmaster to tweak his grandma-bestowed name and record his date of birth!
At 14, he didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. Sat out for long hours at the village temple eagerly waiting for offerings the devotees sometimes gave away. At times a mango or a guava from the orchards when the watchman wasn’t looking his way. Witnessing how an ‘engineer’ – probably a civic official – riding in a jeep commanded respect from all in the village, he resolved to continue his education and not earn a living doing this and that as most kids do. So what if he didn’t have food for a day or two? Amazing, isn’t it? How an impressionable young mind registers what is seen as common place!
At 15, his family could not afford to spend Rs 18/ towards the fees to appear for the school final exams (10th class). He knocked the doors of a gentleman who was no more than a nodding acquaintance and asked for and obtained a loan with a promise to return whenever he could! One of the very few from his village to be educated this far.
He went on to complete his Bachelor in Engineering from REC (Bhopal) (It’s another story how fortuitous was his admission into the course) followed by post-graduation (MTech) from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.
For paucity of time, I could not get him to dive deeper into these life-defining experiences from his youth. While I pulled up my sagging jaws seeing him in a new light, he added it was no different for most youth of his age growing up in the rurals of 60’s and 70’s.
Early in his employment career it was his inclination to stay within the system and fight for his cause. At some point he found wisdom in: “Zen: There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.” No confrontational face-off’s. This switch paid off handsomely in his new avatar as Director (Consulting Practices) whence his performance was consistent, highly rated and rewarded.
The second transformation took place years later after many successes and failures in his career. He tested his position and course with: ‘If my interests are not served what am I doing here?’ Disillusioned with the entire corporate sector, not merely with his current employer, he decided to strike out on his own. Two books a) George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and b) Spencer Johnson’s ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’ read by a contemplative mind triggered the changes. Henceforth he wasn’t going to be play Boxer in his life – a strong, but naive and ignorant horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, described as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal laborer, but led first to the slaughter house. Outside the cocoon of a safe and steady job he would shed his ‘weight’ and chase the moving ‘cheese’ – homing in on changes and chinks in the evolving business scene and the resulting challenges for IT with a menu-card of high-valued consulting services he was best placed to offer, rather than peddle his traditional skills.
Well, suffice to say in the years that followed, he has had no occasion till date to regret his decision. The glow in his face and the ready mirth I was seeing said it all.
Some of his interesting anecdotes/wisdom I culled as he reminisced about from his ‘Boxer’ days (in no particular order):
There was this customer, a legal firm raising the roof over the problems it was facing with his organization entrusted with a business and time critical application that wouldn’t get off the ground. Deadlines whooshed by. The MD of the firm was all set finally to pull the plug on the assignment and make his organization pay many times over. There was utter chaos back in his office. No one had an idea on what could possibly be done to douse the fire. Our protagonist was all set to be transferred out of the country to far-east on promotion. And this was not his direct account either. The ‘Boxer’ he was, he volunteered to help though it meant putting off his moving out – something he was eagerly looking forward to. The MD gave him a set of damning reports from his IT users for him to read and gave an appointment for next morning, not relenting even a little on his threat.
Our Boxer perused the reports. He could see their pain was genuine and they were quite fair and logical about the whole matter. Next morning he was ushered into a full house waiting for the inevitable to play out. He was given twenty minutes to say his piece.
In what followed, he carefully steered clear of scope creep, delayed approvals, unreasonable demands, etc. etc. Nor was he defensive about whatever failings of his organization. He fashioned his entire talk on how important it was for of the customer in his own best interests to persist with him as the vendor at this late stage. It immediately struck a chord with the audience. While they expected him to trade blames, he was talking about their way ahead. They heard him out for all of the twenty minutes and more; at the end of it the MD agreed to give him and his organization more time to get the project back on track. Mission accomplished: the immediate objective of stalling the threat and buying time for figuring out a solution was achieved. Business from this salvaged account grew sizably in the following months and years swelling the bonuses of, yes, Boxer’s successors.
An Egyptian customer in Persian Gulf, very well-connected politically, not signing off on final acceptance of software deliverables, threatening at times to arrange for the closing down of his entire operations in the geography, said to him: ‘The one reason I always heard you is you always throw a fish, albeit small, to catch a (big) fish.’ Small concessions made for a favorable conclusion in negotiating with a difficult customer.
His son doing college in USA once asked his roommates of different nationalities in their teens if they were worried about all this talk of outsourcing and jobs disappearing. Their response: ‘You only have to fear if all of what you know could be captured (on paper) or communicated. You’re then not an expert yet.’
It was a retail chain wanting to revamp its field-data capturing devices, networks and processes. One of the Big Five was appointed as the consultant. About 10 vendors were listed and jointly addressed in the initial rounds. It was immediately clear to him he was not in the running. How did he know? In his proposal, he had raised some points very pertinent to the problem on hand, he thought. And these issues were never brought up by the Consultant in the joint discussions. How does one climb up the Consultant’s evaluation ladder? An arduous task with uncertain results. He was not one to be stopped by the Consultant. Sneaking into the CIO’s office, he grabbed his attention by throwing at him ‘Are you going to be doing more of the same or blaze a new trail?’ It was not a gimmick or a diversionary tactic. He had lured the CIO with a well-researched pitch on Windows CE that was just making it to beta sites. He genuinely thought it was the right solution for the prospect. It worked – the rules of the game had changed! The CIO promised him a berth in the shortlist of three. Eventually it turned into a large infrastructure and system integration contract for his organization.
This is a bit a bawdy: When he shared with a friendly Malaysian customer his woes dealing with a CIO who dumped on his vendor everything he couldn’t get done with his own staff far beyond the scope of supply, the Malaysian wasn’t surprised. He facetiously likened it to what a man does to a girl in cathouse what he cannot to his wife.
Well, I’m sure he had a lot more to tell. But it was time to wind up.
My parting question for him: What is he? How does he see himself?
Amazingly, he was ready for it – he summed up what he was not, very succinctly with a bit of humor from ‘The Simpsons’:
“Why do u get up in the morning?’
‘To read the newspapers.’
Wishing for a professional biographer to get it all out of him one day. While we wait, if it isn’t a weighty imposition on time, a slide-deck from him would be of immense help to wannabe AM’s. I appreciate it cannot be on ‘How to earn six-figure bonuses?’ 🙂
PS: His contact details available on request.
Posted in Customer Service, Organization, tagged Air-conditioner, Application Release Planning, Best Practices, Customer, Customer Engagement, Customer Experience, customer perceptions, Customer Service, Panasonic, Service, Service Provider, Warranty, White-goods on May 13, 2015| 14 Comments »
If you stay with me for a minute or two, you’ll know this is not the usual rant of an irate customer. Rather it’s an outside-in perspective of an interaction with your organization from some one who has been in the service industry for 30+ years. I’ve also taken the liberty of including some possible actionables (in italics).
Residing in Mumbai, I am an owner of Panasonic split A/C unit for a little less than a year now, recommended by the dealer. Happy to say it has been a trouble-free experience.
During this time I’ve had three interactions with the your company personnel (or those from your authorized service-center): during a no-fuss installation, the first service call within a month of installation (My friend, this call could have been avoided if they had shown me during installation when and how to clean the filters) and the third – the subject of this post – was a no-charge in-warranty preventive maintenance call offered by you.
As instructed, I called up the 800 help-line and registered a ticket. This was again hassle-free: a) every time, I was able to reach with the first try itself – may be you had equipped it with enough lines or there weren’t too many complaints flowing in:-) and b) unlike most interactive voice response systems that drive one crazy with a zillion buttons to be punched I was able to reach the person immediately after language selection. A great start to a user experience – all credit to you for a smooth process.
The youngster at the other end right away recognized the caller and was courteous in registering my request. I was told a technician would get in touch with me in 24 hours.
2-3 days passed, there was no call. I called up the help-line again to inquire. He – this was another guy, but mercifully there was no loss of continuity – assured me he was sending reminders to the service-center.
A few more days passed before I made another call. I was informed a fresh ticket was being generated now. The earlier one showed its status as closed for lack of complete information! I did not pursue with my line of sure-to-be-infructuous inquiry on what information was lacking and if so why did they not call me up to find out,
The next few days saw one more iteration of my calling up and being assured of reminders being sent. This time I expressed my wish to escalate the matter to someone senior in your organization – these friendly reminders were obviously not jogging memories in the field. The youngster was obviously not equipped to handle a request for escalation – my friend, please note. He repeated himself on those reminders and the 24-hour-call-back. When I pushed him, the poor fellow tried to be helpful by giving me the contact numbers of the local service-center for me to check directly.
So over the next few days my calls went to the local service-center. In the first call a senior lady at the other end sounded like being upset over my intrusion into the comfort of her daily routine. I dreaded at the prospect of running into her in every one of my subsequent calls. My friend, could you please ensure these customer-facing people are basically service minded (We all know not every one is) and trained for the job? Luckily for me it was not to be.
And every time I was assured by the call-dispatcher I spoke to: the technician in the field has been informed and he would contact me. Apparently checking at the end of the day whether the technician had attended to the request or it was still pending for the following day was not part of the dispatcher’s job. She would know the job wasn’t done yet only when I followed up with her next day. My friend, do they have systems in place to assist them in dispatching calls and track pending ones?
Coming back to my story, by now, I was in a fit enough to climb a tree. Before going to town with my story, I decided to give it one last resort try. I went to the dealer who sold me your product. To him, I painted your service-center in the blackest of inks suspecting sinister designs in those missed deadlines. He called them up and gave them a piece of his mind. A comic relief: in the same call the lady at the other end wanted to know my address from me. Why would she need it? She already had it as part of the registered ticket. Some address verification process in play? Well, it turned out quite unexpectedly: she did not have it with her presently to give the technician as her system was down!
The dealer’s call did what I couldn’t over the last week or two. Two lads turned up within a couple of hours taking address and directions from me after finding the dispatcher’s information to be incorrect.
I asked them if the management has changed hands at the service-center – why was my third interaction so difficult for me when it was not so on earlier occasions? I was told there was a severe shortage of field staff, this being summer vacation, hence the delays in attending to customers. In fact this duo was pulled from a different geography to attend my request. I promptly thanked them and the dispatcher in my mind for the initiative and explained: My request was for preventive maintenance – it was not a breakdown call requiring urgent attention. I was willing to wait for their service. If I were given a date and time even five days later, it would have been okay. My nervousness and the overreaction perhaps emanated from the steady stream of promises made and not kept. Was I being forgotten or worse, ignored for a reason unknown to me? My friend, please train the staff to ascertain the urgency for service and negotiate acceptable response times thereby relieving the pressure on the field resources. And most importantly to make good promises made and follow up until the request is closed. You’ll find many customers quite reasonable with their demands if the cards are put on the table.
Once they finished their job, I waited for them to write out a service/call report for me to sign off. Their response made me realize how much out-of-step I was with the times: ‘Service Report? What Service Report? We go back and close the ticket, that’s it.’ Brilliant!. An utterly wasteful step cut out! We all know no one at the service-centers or even with the manufacturers ever reads these reports.
Well, I’m sure many similar stories go around all the time especially concerning white-goods. What I hear is: Most equipment manufacturers outsource field support to third-party service-centers. And there is not enough money on the table for these guys to be motivated to operate efficiently and render good quality services. The manufacturers know it and are hesitant to push these guys hard lest they lose them altogether (significant turnover of these third-parties is very common). Rarely their systems, processes and people are tested, for example, with dummy customers. My friend, I don’t know how it is with you. It may be worth your while to take a hard look and make the business viable for these service -centers.
To draw the curtains down on this story, all concerned know the A/C unit is close to end of warranty. No one is lining up at my door for the annual service contract. Not much in it for any of them, my friend?
Thank you for hearing me out patiently Panasonic. And pardon me if you consider it impudent of me to make those suggestions.
Yes, I forgot to mention: I sent a ‘Thank You’ message to the dispatcher after the technicians’ visit.
Credits: image from openclipart.com (mark.starikov)
Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who could be (made) responsible for the same. If it is not ‘an unfortunate combination of factors’ someone not part of the discussion (example: the customer) is usually a preferred candidate.
Credits: arcamax.com, openclipart (neocreo_Round_Table_Discussion, discussion bitterjug)
Posted in Customer Service, Engineering, Organization, Quality, tagged Customer, Customer Service, Engineering, IT Infrastructure, Problem Solving, Project, Quality, Service, Service Provider, Tickets on December 21, 2013| 6 Comments »
Customer Service and rightly so has been and continues to be the mantra for organizations. ‘Customer’ for most implies an individual (or an entity) buying products or services and paying for them. What about those ‘pests’ who demand a lot of attention, but never ‘pay’ for what they get? I mean the poor internal customers.
At many places, it is not strongly perceived serving internal customers is a prerequisite for efficiency in their jobs and hence profitable for the organization.
Let me cut the chase and get to an incident shining light on an important aspect of serving internal customers.
This was a periodic review of operations of an organization’s Information Infrastructure Department (IID) providing computing equipment and services to its internal users of an organization. IID had ready data to show its performance with regard to service tickets was well in excess of the promise held out in the SLA’s for internal customers. As it usually happens the internal customers on the other hand did not appear to be a particularly delighted lot. There were no satisfaction surveys in place to get a user perspective on services rendered.
The project was executed ‘offshore’ for a downtown client. It required the team to log onto client’s system and application to do the job. And the problem was the remote access was not working consistently. The frequent dropping of the VPN connection was hampering team’s productivity and annoying the customer.
The team promptly logged the problem into the Service Tickets System. The IID too promptly attended to these tickets – they tested out, found the link okay and closed the tickets. Their conclusion being ‘no problem with our links, you please check with your customer.’ The naïve project manager took it up only to be pushed back by the customer claiming all was well at his end.
This has been happening for some time. The routine reviews were time-limited and summary based and did not uncover the problem since the tickets were all closed. Finally the project manager could take no more. In sheer exasperation, he brought it up for help.
In the review IID maintained its stand there was no problem at this end.
It took quite an effort to impress on IID the problem needs to be resolved end-to-end for the project manager to execute his project smoothly and there were no other stops on the way.
In such cases it is usually best for IID guy at this end to talk to his counterpart in the customer’s organization and jointly fix the problem. He cannot leave the matter to the poor project manager to resolve.
In this incident however, the problem was resolved finally without involving the customer – it was traced to excessive use of bandwidth during certain times of the day causing the drop outs.
Closing the ticket is not the same as solving the problem.
Credits: openclipart (gsagri04 and rewarriner).
This cute story of unintended consequences of technology comes from Les Mckeown, a good read for those managers who think all the wisdom lies under one hat. And, also how customers could be engaged advantageously.
In the early 1990s, my business partner and I owned a chain of Pizza Hut restaurants in Ireland.
Reckoning ourselves to be great innovators, we spent around $50,000 (to us, an enormous sum at the time) on state-of-the-art “ordering units.” These were, essentially, wireless hand-helds that enabled our waitstaff to take orders at the table and send them instantaneously back to the kitchen, where tickets would be printed out telling our cooks what pizzas to make.
These gizmos, bleeding edge as they were at the time, worked flawlessly. Too flawlessly, in fact.
The orders got to the kitchen so fast that if a customer changed the order even seconds after it had been transmitted, the originally ordered pizza would already be under construction back in the kitchen. Even though changed orders represented a small percentage of total income, our losses due to food waste went through the roof.
The kitchen staff was dumping unwanted thin-crust pepperonis to make, say, stuffed-crust ham and mushroom–and in a business run by margin control, this was a cost we simply couldn’t afford.
Trial, Error, and the Unexpected Solution
For weeks, we (the management) tried everything we could to stanch this mistake. First, we had the kitchen staff wait five minutes before starting a new order, but it just caused chaos, as cooks squinted at tickets to see the timestamp and then did the mental arithmetic for when to start making them. So then, we tried telling the customers to be “sure” about their orders. That worked for about five minutes. Then, we asked the waitstaff to delay sending in the order, but that didn’t work, because the technology wouldn’t process multiple orders at one time.
Eventually, in frustration, we called the staff together at our flagship restaurant to tell them we were going to junk the technology and go back to the old way of taking orders–handwritten slips that made their way back to the kitchen at a more sedate pace and which allowed for more flexibility with customer changes. Adopting the technology was a mistake.
But just as the meeting was coming to an end, one of our waitstaff piped up from the back of the room.
“Have them hit send,” she said.
“Give the hand-held to the customer, and let them hit Send after they’ve placed their order,” she explained.
Brilliant! And that’s what we did.
We turned the order-submission process into a little bit of restaurant theater, complete with explanations that their order would “begin baking the moment they hit the button!” The customers loved it, and they got the subliminal message–once you hit Send, there’s no going back.
And although it didn’t eradicate 100% of the order-change issue, our food-waste cost dropped to a manageable level.
And I learned two things that I have stayed true to ever since:
1. When you have a problem, don’t expect the so-called smart guys in the C suite to fix it.
Talk immediately with the employees who most have to deal with the problem every day.
2. If you can make it fun, customers will put up with a lot.
Think of the extremely long wait lines at Disney rides.
Les McKeown is the author of the best-seller, Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization On the Growth Track – and Keeping It There and is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading advisor on accelerated organizational growth. His latest book is The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success.
Credit: openclipart.com (warszawianka)