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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Delighting Your Users: Providing Responsive Customer Service

This is from an article I wrote that was published in the Nov/Dec 2007 issue of HDI Support World. I hope you enjoy it. (You can download a PDF of it here.)

Users tell us that it’s important for us to be responsive. How do you get your users to say you’re responsive to their needs?

This is about your willingness to respond to customer needs by answering their phone or e-mail requests quickly, and your willingness to do what it takes to respond effectively to a service request. Responsiveness is adopting a can-do attitude, and a willingness to go the extra mile for the customer. Recent research studies support the theory that soft skills (such as listening, empathy, courtesy, and creating rapport) are more important than technical skills in the career advancement of any employee. This is especially true in the support industry, where most managers have realized that they must hire people who have a good attitude or approachto serving customers plus an aptitude for technical knowledge, and that the rest can be taught.A positive attitude is the first step in building good soft skills.

You have control over your attitude. Just like you can choose what clothes to wear in the morning, you can also choose what attitude to assume every day. You can choose to see the glass as half-full, or half-empty. Your approach, or attitude, toward life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your attitude is “Everyone has something to offer me!” then you will interpret everything that happens to you as an interesting journey. On the other hand, if you approach your job and your life in a less than positive way, every bump in the road will seem like a huge obstacle. How do you answer your phone? Do you answer it promptly? Can the caller understand you or do you rush through your greeting? Are you pleasant and does your tone of voice convey a positive start to the call? How do you answer e-mails? Do you reply promptly? Do you convey in your e-mail responses that you really want to help your user? Do you understand the meaning of all the words you use? For those of you who provide support in a second language, make sure you’re using the user’slanguage correctly. Ask someone who speaks it natively to review your e-mail responses and give you feedback.

Look in the mirror. Often, the solution to our problems lies within ourselves. Several months ago, I faced some of the usual challenges of life on the road. Things usually go very well for me and on those rare occasions when things “hiccup,” they’re usually minor. This particular week, however, I dealt with a major problem that had the potential to cause a major disruption in my business. Now, as I look back on what happened, I’m beginning to see the entire situation with new clarity. I made several mistakes.

The first mistake was in making assumptions about what a vendor would do. I could have spent more time at their Web site and learned more about their policies and procedures. Instead, I spent a brief time skimming over their services and made assumptions about how to order a particular service and whether it was the right service for me.

The second mistake I made was in not contacting this vendor earlier to discuss how best to use their services (and whether they were even the right vendor for this job).

The third mistake I made was in trying to deal with this vendor while I was hurrying to catch a train. In otherwords, I was in a state of stress which undoubtedly came through in my voice (even though I don’t think I was rude, demanding, or abusive). As I dealt with this vendor in trying to resolve several problems, I received brusk (almost rude) customer service. I don’t believe there is ever a reason to treat any customer in a manner that is anything other than cheerful, pleasant, respectful, and empathetic, but I wonder if there were subtle messages that I was sending that caused me to receive less than exemplary customer service.

As I look back at my experiences with other people, I also need to look in the mirror. Am I doing everything I can to have a positive effect on everyone I meet? Have I gone out of my way to touch people in a positive way? When the world doesn’t go my way, do I take a moment to stop and regroup or do I complain to everyone around me so they can feel bad, too? I know I can’t control other people, but I certainly can control how I appear when they look in my direction.

So, what are the lessons I learned and how do they relate to you as a tech support pro?

Lesson one

Start early. When you have plenty of time, you’re more relaxed and things just seem to go better. Arrive at your desk early. Give yourself fifteen or twenty minutes before your shift starts to gather your thoughts and organize your workspace. Then later, when the day starts to get frantic, you’ll find you’re more in control of things.

Lesson two

Do enough research. As a tech support person, do you subscribe to news feeds and blogs about the products you support? Do you spend time each day reading articles and books related to the products you support? Have you set up a virtual lab using VMWare, VirtualPC, or Xen so you can experiment and test your solutions before you offer them to your users? Knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have, the more you’ll be empowered to delight your users with relevant, accurate solutions.

Lesson three

Focus on the task at hand instead of multi-tasking (Millennials really can multi-task, but GenXers, Boomers, and Veterans really can’t). This means, when your user calls needing help, you focus exclusively on them and nothing else. (And, for you Gen Y’ers, Iknow you really can multi-task, but don’t let your users know you’re doing it while you’re talking to them!)

Lesson four

When the world is crashing around you, before you do anything else, look in the mirror. Maybe you can’t control the rest of the world, but you are in complete control over how you view the world and what’s happening in it. As a support professional, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do I put myself in the user’s shoes?
  2. Do I take ownership of a problem and see it through to completion?
  3. Am I willing to help both users and co-workers?
  4. Do I consciously assume a positive outlook with my users and co-workers?
  5. Am I respectful and courteous to the user?
  6. Do I treat everyone with respect and courtesy?
  7. Do I speak and conduct myself confidently with users?

If you answered yes to at least five, you are on the right track to creating a positive position from which to serve your users for the best results. If you answered yes to fewer than five, your attitude might be keeping you from doing your best to create the proper environment for success in your job.

Your users’ perception of your responsiveness starts with their perception of you. Your attitude, your demeanor, your tone-of-voice, and the words you choose all play a part in how you are perceived. You have it within your power to create users who perceive you to be responsive to their needs; to care about them as people first and co-workers second.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

IT Project Management: 3 Keys to Success

I hope your holidays were good and that your new year is off to a good start.

One of the ways we can ensure a good start to the year is by effectively managing our projects. As IT professionals, our work is all about projects. From managing software upgrades to deploying new hardware, our lives are often one project after another. I asked Paul Senness, one of our project management trainers, to identify the three keys to successful project management. Here is his response:

  1. Clearly identify the project's goal. There's a better than 50% chance that, without proper definition, the project will fail. To revive an old quote, "You can't get there if you don't know where you're going." This is the critical phase where you get everyone on board: the team, the project sponsor, and your boss.
  2. Have a well thought-out plan, anticipating every contingency. Airline pilots are trained to anticipate every possible fault and problem. The idea is, through training, to make them so familiar with every contingency that even emergencies seem routine. Give a great amount of thought to what could go wrong in your project so that murphies are merely annoyances and not disasters.
  3. Have the discipline to execute around the project's plan. During the execution phase of any project, there will be opportunities to veer off track. Sometimes, such side ventures may actually help accomplish the project's goal(s) and should be taken. Other times they can distract you from meeting the project's goals. A great project manager knows the difference. You must never lose sight of the goal(s), but you must also be flexible enough to make changes and adjustments as needed or when opportunities present themselves.

As you might expect, I would add a fourth key to successful project management and that's to attend our upcoming two-day project management seminar: How to Herd Cats: Secrets of Successful IT Project Management. It's coming up in just under two weeks in Seattle on January 22 and 23. Class size is small, the instruction is as good as it gets, and your "take away" is a new set of skills and tools to help you really take control of your projects.
Registration is open now at http://www.soundtraining.net/onlinestore/categories/category62.html or give us a call at 206.988.5858. Enroll three or more and save 12%.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Second Life, SalesForce.com, and our small business

It seems like this blog is a bunch of miscellaneous ramblings about everything from info systems to customer service. That's the nice thing (or bad thing, depending on your perspective) about blogging and Web 2...there's no editor making decisions about what you can and cannot publish. At any rate, I've been thinking a lot about soundtraining.net and our business model lately. Business has been very good and all indications are that it will continue to be good, but I wonder if the somewhat traditional model we use for both promoting our training services and delivering same is the best model for us to use. We've been exploring Second Life (my SL name is Don Baroque and Janet's is Tenaj Baroque), we're about to invest heavily in a CRM application (we're considering everything from Microsoft's CRM solution to SalesForce.com to open source solutions such as SugarCRM and vtiger CRM) with the idea of further engaging our customers in the relationship with soundtraining.net. We'll soon be adding live reviews to each course page on our website. My point is not to ramble on and on about all the cool things we're doing, but instead to say we're actively pursuing new ways of running our business and interacting with our customers. As a small business competing with some very large businesses (and even some not-for-profit organizations), one of our challenges is how to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in positive ways that are meaningful to our customers. Do Web 2 things like blogs and customer reviews really make a difference for this type of business? Is Second Life an important way for us to invest our time and money in terms of growing our business? I don't have many answers to questions like these, but we're certainly trying to figure it out. I'll share my thoughts as we go through the process. I'd also love to hear your thoughts.

IIS 6.0, ISO files, and MIME types

I'm using a classroom Web server more and more to deliver things to students during seminars. I chose IIS 6.0 for no particular reason other than I was teaching a Windows class at the time. (As you may know, I have no particular loyalty to any operating system...they are, after all, just operating systems.) Anyway, I recently wanted to serve .iso files to students (CD-ROM images) for a particular class. I copied them into the server root, but when I tried to use either a browser or wget to retrieve them, I kept getting 404 errors. Turns out that IIS 6.0 will not serve unknown file types. It was a simple matter to fix it. In the Internet Services Manager console in W2K3, right-click on the server name and choose properties. Click the MIME types button, enter .iso for the file type and "application/octet-stream" for the MIME-type. Restart the server and you're rockin'. Hope this helps you. Oh, and here's the KB article at MS: http://support.microsoft.com/Default.aspx?id=326965