Feedback and the Great Client

Feedback-wise…

  • A great client is one who asks tough questions incessantly, almost always in a polite manner.
  • A good client is one who asks tough questions regularly, sometimes politely.
  • A bad customer is one who asks poor questions, regardless of how they ask them.

Tough questions are your friend. Theyâ??re like competitors because they make you better. Or at least, they should.

As for those that aren’t yet great? Your job is to help them achieve it.

Adobe misses the outsourcing boat

2 of 3 Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat performs storm exercises in wild surf at Morro Bay
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Would you find it odd if McDonald’s outsourced their burger cooking to Joe’s Diner or Burger King? What about Global Burger Associates?

If they did so, would they know if the quality of their food dropped?

What’s my point? My point is that you don’t farm out core competencies.

While I hadn’t noticed it because I haven’t asked them for customer service help in years, Adobe recently posted an open letter to their customers about the quality of their customer service in recent times.

The letter discusses the fact that they have a new global services vendor and how they are quickly working to get this vendor up to speed.

Sad, really.

Not that outsourcing thing, though that is unfortunate – regardless of who is doing the work.

What’s sad is that this work isn’t viewed as important enough to handle it themselves, ie: with Adobe employees.

I’ve heard all the arguments. IMO, they’re all wrong.

As wrong as liver-flavored ice cream

Farming out your customer service and support to some other company is just plain stupid. Not only that, it ignores the asset that customer service and support are.

You just don’t farm out an asset like customer service to another company.

What data are they missing by outsourcing support/service duties to another company?

It’s possible that they have access to the database, but is it integrated with their own customer/order database?

Can their developers access this remote system when they need to find out what is causing their customers’ pain?

Can their developers meet face to face with the support staff when dealing with an issue of substantial magnitude?

I don’t know. Maybe. My guess is “sorta” rather than “No”.

But those answers would be “Yes” if they felt it was important enough to do it themselves.

Assets, not liabilities

If you have 5,000 customer service employees who can provide great care for your customers and your competition has 5,000 outsourced customer service contractors who can provide great care for their customers – who has the assets?

Who can leverage the skills they have in-house? Who is building a base of employees with in-depth product and customer knowledge? Aren’t those the people you want to promote in order to strengthen your company?

Not the outsourced one.

Customer service and support are not an expense to be outsourced to the low bidder, nor to that “premium global services” vendor down the street or across the globe.

They’re an asset to care for, leverage and tend to with the utmost respect, just like your customers.

No, it isn’t easy. If it was easy…anyone could do it.

Message received: “DONT CONTACT US”

As you might be aware, I’m the Scoutmaster of a local Boy Scout troop here in Columbia Falls.

I’ve been involved as a Scouting volunteer in numerous forms for about 20 years, at levels as low as you can get, and as high as a VP on our Council Executive Committee.

As a result, I have a pretty fair knowledge of the organization, and I know where to find info when I need it.

Earlier this week, I decided to call the National office of the Boy Scouts of America in Irving to ask a few questions.

Normally, Scouting officials expect folks to ask these questions of the local council office (ours is in Great Falls), but the questions I had were of the nature that the local council office couldn’t possibly answer them.

I should note that the local Council President, the Scout Executive (paid position, similar to Executive Director) and most of the Executive Committee are friends. I know when they won’t know the answer to a question I have – and this is one of em. Enough background, now the story.

So, I moseyed over to Scouting.org (the BSA’s national website) and got one message loud and clear.

Is anyone home?

The message being sent by scouting.org: DONâ??T CONTACT US.

The main page of scouting.org has no phone numbers on it. No postal address. No physical address. No map to the National Scouting Museum or to National HQ (both in Irving).

There’s no “Contact us” link or contact page. There is a link to find a local council office (ie: Ask them, not us).

Even in the area where it gives direction for someone applying for a job (I am not) all they offer is a PO Box for the 4 regional offices. No fax, no phone, no physical address.

So I broke down and did a search. The results?

  • Search the website for “Irving”…. you’ll find no hits.
  • Search the website for “National office” or “national headquarters”… you’ll find no hits.
  • Search the website for “scouting museum”… you’ll find no hits.

If you dig around and end up on scoutingfriends.org, youll eventually find an email form and a PO Box for Irving. But still, no phone number.

If you wanted to contact the national office for something of national consequence – such as giving them a bazillion dollars, becoming a major sponsor of the National Jamboree, calling the Scouting museum to make a donation, or simply to ask a question that a council office absolutely CANNOT answer (in my case, I guarantee it), you are out of luck unless your message is suitable for US Mail.

The girl’s got it

By contrast, girlscouts.org has a contact us link at the bottom of the main page, which takes you to a page with a mailing address, physical address, a phone number, a local council office finder tool and email contact form.

There is always a silver lining when stuff like this happens. In this case, the silver lining is that I have a new question for my Communications merit badge students: “Look at scouting.org and tell me if you can see anything wrong with it, Communications MB -wise.”

It’s easy to forget the simple things. Your customers want to talk to you. A “Contact us” link is one of those simple, essential, first impression things.

Why does the phone ring?

Dave Winer and to a lesser extent today, Seth Godin, have a lesson in listening for you today. 

Dave is right on target with the programmers – but I think it can extend well past the IT department into every part of a business. 

Check out Dave’s “It’s the users, dummy“. 

Listening is easy to do. Its inexpensive (mostly) and the ROI is astounding.

Don’t make it hard for people to give you money

Emergencies of all forms seem to come at the worst possible times.

How your business manages day to day transactions quite often makes the emergency worse for your clients.

Bear with me, this story – and the lesson that goes with it – requires a bit of background discussion.

Last week was crazy for me. On Friday night, I drove my son to Plains for a swim meet. The next day, we had a baby shower to attend before taking off for a week of Scout camp early on Sunday morning.

The camp is located a few miles from Harvard Idaho, which isn’t what anyone would call a metropolis, and that’s a good thing. See, the more remote a Scout camp is, the better. If the internet doesnt work and cell phones get no signal, it makes for a better week of camp for everyone. And that’s one more reason why Inland Northwest Council’s Camp Grizzly shines.

However, this post isn’t about camp, it’s about an experience I had with Hy-Tek, Ltd., a (if not the) leading swim meet management software vendor, while I was at camp.

When I arrived in Plains for the swim meet, the guy in charge of the touchpad timing system for that team asked me to take a look at the system for them. Each of the teams in our league use a setup owned by the league, and each town has someone who gets to set it up and run it that weekend.

Out of 23 towns, there are 2 geeky people like me who are involved. Me and a guy about 400 miles east of here. Everyone else in the other 21 towns drew the short straw.

Here’s what happened: Recently, Hy-Tek required that we upgrade the meet management software due to a licensing conflict (another story for another time).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that transaction, which might possibly have avoided this. Turns out that the sales-prevention-department at Hy-Tek didn’t do their research when selling $7000+ worth of meet software to the 23 teams (who buy as a group).

They neglected to look at prior purchases by the same organization and observe that the league purchased a version of the meet software that supported the scoring console that drives the digital scoreboard and collects athlete swim times from the touchpads at the end of the lane.

Bottom line, that means that when I got to Plains, they couldn’t get the meet software to talk to the timing console, the touchpads or the scoreboard. So I dig around a little and find that the licenses sold to each team did not include the ability to use the scoring console – something that should have been part of the sales script / checklist or whatever when any of this software is sold.

At 11pm on Friday night, this isn’t going to get fixed.

I call Hy-Tek on Saturday morning and get voice mail for someone’s cell phone.

Not long after leaving my message, a friendly guy named Bob calls back (Hy-Tek’s support Bob is universally appreciated from what I hear) and tells me that he cant fix it and I have to deal with sales because he isn’t allow to use the software that creates the license file that resolves the problem, much less take our money.

So we use manual timers for this meet, which isn’t the end of the world.

I tell my MotoQ to remind me on Monday morning (when I will be at camp, where there is no cell service) to call the swim league big cheese, explain the situation and then call Hy-Tek sales and get this resolved.

So Monday comes and I manage to drive 30 minutes to find about half a bar of cell service and reach the swim guy, who isn’t home and thus doesnt have the info for the sales call in front of him. We decide to talk on Tuesday so he can get the info from his home and then I can call Hy-Tek.

My call on Tuesday goes off as planned (after another 30 minute drive to get cell service) and shortly after gathering the necessary info, I reach someone in Hy-Tek sales.

I explain the situation and almost get the impression that I am interrupting someone’s day. But we move on, because I have to get this done and return to camp (thankfully, I have 2 other adults in camp to help the boys in my absence).

After explaining the situation to the salesperson, I am told that I should go online to order the upgrade. Isn’t that what a toll-free sales number is for?

Sales 101 – When a customer tries to hand you money for something they clearly want or need, do not tell them to go somewhere else.

I explain that I am in the middle of rural Idaho, have no internet access (not even with my phone, which is rapidly burning battery talk time due to the analog connection) and cannot do so. She tells me they are not setup to take phone orders.

Say what?

Anyhow, she says that she can take my order by entering it for me on their website (credit card merchants everywhere are cringing by now) as I read it over the phone. As I have no choice, we do that and the order is placed.

When delivery is discussed, I ask for email delivery of the license file (which is small enough to email) due to the urgency of getting this fix to the team hosting the meet next weekend, particularly given my limited ability to call/no ability to email this week.

I am told company policy forbids it because teams change computer people and coaches too often and they would have to re-email the software. Even downloading it from a secured area on the site is too much trouble, apparently.

Is it 1988 or 2008? Hmm.

IE: they wont allow email delivery of license files because they dont like issuing license files too often and more likely, because there is no process for doing so – since there are never emergencies in the swimming business, I suppose.

I begin to wonder to myself if they dont like taking money, but I know better than that:) I should note that I’ve been the swim team’s geek for 8 years and will be for at least 3 more. That is of no concern to the salesperson, because her hands are tied by company policy.

Clearly, there is no process in place to email this small file in an emergency.

If there isn’t a process, so be it, but blaming this on the *standard behavior of clients* is dumb.

Thankfully, the CD goes out as promised, gets picked up by the right person and installs without incident, all without me being around:) This is a good thing, since I arrived at the meet at 130am between days 1 and 2 of the meet.

So why this long, wordy bluster?

Simply to ask you to re-examine a few things:

  • Take a look at how you are setup to accelerate the delivery of your product in the event of a client emergency. Is your sales and support staff trained and enabled to make things work for the client, or simply hamstrung by policy and process issues, and thus forced to make your clients sit around and wait?
  • As you know, I’ll be the first to suggest automating what can be, but make sure that your processes allow for emergencies.
  • Take a look at how your sales and support team communicate company policies (smart ones and dumb ones) to your clients. It isn’t their fault your policies and processes are what they are, but they have to communicate and implement them, presumably without torquing your clients.
  • Check your sales process and make sure that your salespeople are not sending clients somewhere else to complete a sale. Obviously, creating work for clients when they are handing you money is not wise.