Monday, November 1, 2010

Stop with the "Core" in your name already..

It's been almost a year since my last entry. Boy time flies when you're building a telephone company!

Lately, I've been noticing some trends in the industry, that are really starting to bother me a bit.

1) Stop blowing money on a corporate image change and focus on better delivery of core services at lower prices and better margins.

No more "Core" in your name. It sounded cool when I was watching Beavis and Butthead.

Heh heh. He said "Core".

2) Stop with the managing of expectation, and take some pride in rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done.

Pay special attention to MTTR (Mean Time To Resolution), that is the most important factor.

When software functionality that's both obvious and critical gets ignored for 3 years, or routine support issues get dragged out for weeks because the person who's capable of dealing with it is "busy" or an outside vendor, people are understandably upset.

Pretty much the only valid response for a support organization is one of a triage surgeon - what can I do to stop the bleeding and ensure this type of injury never happens again?

Oh yeah, everyone's in the support organization. Sales, product, customer service, support, even the janitor.

It's just as true for the emergency room as it is for MSP's, ISP's, Telecom, in house IT organizations, and just about anybody in a support role in any industry.

3) There is nothing worse than someone non-technical who can't do anything useful for the problem to spout off about it incessantly, only to backpedal later and act sheepish. If you're out of your depth, or can't bring anything useful to the conversation, less is more - bow out gracefully.

4) Escalate. If someone's asking for escalation, they pretty much mean it. Any support request more than 2 days old is perceived by the customer as a "bad" support incident. Conversely, almost any response in less than 2 hours is considered "good", even if it's just a request for clarification from Tier 1.

5) Clarification. The engineer needs to be absolutely certain that the issue as they know is the issue. Don't trust any source but the customer. There's nothing worse than blowing an hour trying to troubleshoot an unclear issue. Conversely, reward complete information with the speediest possible service. When there's an opportunity for dialog leading to resolution, get on the phone faster with less information and get it straight from the horses mouth. This is where those hacker-style social engineering skills really pay off. NLP for dummies is also a strongly recommended read, to help you develop a rapport as quickly as possible with the customer.

6) Callback sooner rather than later. In my Tier 3 support role, I will often get up early and make the first few calls over coffee. Nothing says "Your issue is important to us." like a phone call. There is nothing that makes someone happier than having their issue picked up by someone who can actually do something about it.

7) Process is important in a support organization, but when it gets in the way of support to the degree that issues sit around for a week or two, there's a problem with the process. If your organization is in between 5-200 people, you probably have some process getting in the way of productivity. Make every effort to analyze and reduce all process overhead to as little as possible. Better living through automation and not replicating derived information.

8) When modeling your support processes, take cues from the big guys, but don't change your hold music to match them, and don't institute the process, if you don't have the man-hours to fulfill it. This one is the most often overlooked. When you're a 6-person shop, everyone should have instant messaging and pretty easy multi-line phone access. When you're a 50 and larger headcount, communication becomes more important than anything else. I strongly recommend using Google docs and a wiki internally for keeping information that everyone involved can edit and maintain. The key with this is maintenance, if you find something wrong in the documentation, you fix it and move on.

9) Accountability and Transparency.

What happened to "The buck stops here!"? What about "The customer is always right.", or commitments to timeline that actually mean something? There's quite a few businesses out there these days that are floundering because of a corporate attitude, not a lack in talent or resources. Transparency means, whatever the problem is, we empirically prove it out and address it so it can't happen again to everyone's satisfaction..

Companies I want to highlight who do an incredible job of transparency and accountability:


10) High level review.

Management at every level needs to be in touch with the customer experience. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. Escalation needs to be able to go all the way up the food chain to the top if necessary. Even in a 500-person organization, the attitude of being willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen needs to be re-enforced everywhere.

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