Some thoughts on IT, management, customers and vendors…

  • Integrity is key to every interaction.
  • Remain true to yourself. If you can’t be yourself where you work, either change the employer, or change employers.
  • Keep in mind that you and your colleagues are both working to improve one and the same organization. Their success is your success, and vice versa. Support them as such.
  • Be open to constructive criticism. Be willing to change your approach.
  • Provide constructive criticism. Being thoughtful, respectful and candid should be valued where you work.
  • Focus on what the customer’s problem is, not what the solutions are that you would like to implement.
  • See a problem from the customer’s perspective. Ask yourself how you would feel/react, if it were you who had the problem, and give the answer that you would like to hear.
  • Don’t lose sight of the fact that in virtually all organizations, IT is not the primary process, which means it’s not about your role and IT, it’s about what’s good for the organization’s primary process.
  • Do your best to speak the customer’s language. Impress them by how well you can translate technical issues into straightforward concepts, rather than trying to impress them with jargon.
  • If you have a message to convey, focus not on how you want to tell it but on how the other will hear it.
  • Oftentimes the best solution for the business is not the best technically. If a customer needs to get from A to B, don’t insist they drive a Ferrari just because it’s the best technical solution and your favourite car, when a Golf might be exactly what the customer needs from his/her ‘business’ perspective.
  • Do your best to make the system/process fit the people, not the other way around.
  • One particular operating system, one particular vendor, etc., is not the right solution for every situation. Linux, Windows, Firefox, Chrome, Open Source or Proprietary. Do not be an IT fundamentalist – see the benefits of other solutions, and don’t be blind to the limitations of the ones you prefer.
  • Look for novel ways to solve a customer’s problem – the solution can often be completely non-technical, such as a change to a business process.
  • If there is a problem, acknowledge it rather than trying to explain why it’s not really a problem, and get to work on fixing it.
  • Identify problems you see, but at the same time be prepared to provide solutions.
  • Share your knowledge. One of the most useless and destructive types of employees in an IT organization is the one who knows how everything works but doesn’t share that knowledge in order to protect his/her status.
  • Show people respect. Judge them on their integrity and the quality of their work, not on superficial things.
  • Do not tolerate intimidation in any form, regardless of how ‘important’ the person doing the intimidation may seem to your team. You and your team’s personal physical and mental safety is more important than one person’s role in your team. Do not compromise on this point or your entire team and your integrity will suffer by example.
  • Keep your appointments and agreements, and acknowledge/apologise when you are late. Obviously you cannot help arriving late on occasion, but consistently arriving late for meetings is nothing less than saying that you believe your time is more valuable than theirs.
  • If you say you will get back to someone by a certain time, do it. Even if you have nothing to update, contact the person to communicate that. Customers are generally extremely flexible and forgiving if you show them the simple respect of keeping them informed and giving them options.
  • If you are responsible for something which goes wrong, apologise unreservedly and don’t blaim the failure on others even if someone else caused it. How would it help you if you had a problem and salesmanager blaimed one of his staff for the error? Blaiming others makes you look bad and reduces customer confidence that your organization can prevent a recurrence. Taking responsibility earns respect.
  • Nobody can be right all of the time, and if you try to convince people mistakes lie elsewhere and you are perfect, you will not be taken seriously. Accept when you make mistakes, and own those mistakes. You will learn, and people will gain confidence in you.
  • Give recognition to people for their work, and tell their boss about it too.
  • Give credit to the people in your team who came up with an idea or did the work. Believe me, it will not harm your credibility at all if you point out to others that it was your team that came up with an idea and did all the work.
  • Short of indoctrination, it’s extremely difficult to motivate people directly to consistently perform better. Motivation provided by pep-talks, workshops or a raise, is fleeting, and people who say they would become motivated by such things are not the ones you need in your team because you’ll be constantly bartering in order to get work done. People are either motivated by nature, or they are not. Motivated people will do their utmost to make the best of any situation, and will consistently go beyond what is asked for them without asking for reward in advance. That said, motivated people who consistently run up against obstacles will eventually leave your organisation. So what you can do is remove those obstacles, so motivated people can excel. Obstacles include: lack of recognition, conflicts of values, continual ‘punishment’ for mistakes, bullying by colleagues.
  • If someone who is fairly paid in relation to their colleagues threatens to leave for more pay, suggest they do so.
  • If you have a problem with someone, do your best to discuss and resolve it directly with them first.
  • Do not attempt to defend yourself against hearsay or gossip about you. Expose it and confront it head-on, and, if asked, explain your perspective, but don’t lend credence to it by defending yourself against lies.
  • Do not spread gossip; dare to point out its destructive nature to those who do.
  • Keep people’s confidences. If people trust you with personal information, or if you discuss confidential personnel matters, maintain that trust at all costs, even if the other person breaks that trust and makes you out for the bad-guy. This is a tough one, but you will maintain your integrity and self-respect, and gain the respect of colleagues. Integrity is not about what other people think about you, it’s about being true and reliable. If you have integrity, then people who mistrust you without knowing all the facts, are themselves untrustworthy.
  • Use email primarily as a reporting/documenting mechanism, for short messages, and for confirming/documenting/summarising agreements that have been made in person. By virtue of spam and volume, it has become virtually useless as an effective communication mechanism.
  • Never use email to handle emotional issues, and don’t use it for conversations. Go speak to the person directly.
  • Many employees receive tens of emails a day, and some legitimate email can get spam-filtered. Don’t assume your email will get read, nor that no reply is the same as agreement. If you need something confirmed, pick up the phone, or walk down the hall. If you didn’t get a reply to your email, it means neither rejection nor acceptance.
  • Be prepared to work yourself out of a job. In other words, be prepared to serve your organization so well that you might provide improvements which make you or even your department unnecessary. If you have that attitude, you are almost guaranteed always to be invaluable to your organisation.
  • Do not accept ‘gifts’ from vendors. Do not let vendors take you out to dinner or buy the team a round of drinks. If it’s something you want, pay for it and/or expense it.
  • Do not accept gifts from customers.

Some thoughts on Customer Loyalty…

  • Customer loyalty is directly related to customer trust and respect.
  • It costs more money and effort to win new customers than it does to keep existing customers.
  • Corollary: It’s more cost effective to give your existing customers a reason to stay, than it is to lose them and have to win new customers.
  • Handcuffs are not a good way to achieve customer loyalty.
  • Corollary: Allow your customer to leave at any reasonable time. A customer who stays because he can’t get out of a contract is bad for everyone.
  • Always give the greatest benefits to your best customers.
  • Corollary A: Don’t give big discounts to newcomers to your product/service and forget your existing customers. Otherwise you are just encouraging your customers to switch, because they want the introductory benefits someone else is offering.
  • Corollary B: Don’t give benefits to customers who buy very little while giving no benefits to those who buy a lot. An example is the Express Checkout in supermarkets, where the customers buying the most have to wait the longest to be served.
  • Always think from the perspective of your customer. Don’t just ask, “What do I want?”, ask first, “What would I want if I were my customer?”. The key to a successful engagement is aligning what you want with what the customer wants.
  • If a customer is enquiring about a small discrepency in a bill or refund, then “Why are you worrying about it? It’s only a few euros/days/…” is not a good excuse to give to your customer. If it doesn’t matter, give the benefit to the customer; if you can’t do that, then clearly it does matter, and you’re damaging customer trust.
  • “You’re the first person who’s ever complained about this” is a completely irrelevant comment to make to your customer. If it’s a legitimate complaint then you should be happy the customer brought it to your attention. This comment is a great way to ensure your customer doesn’t come back though.
  • Give customers your full attention – e.g. no phone calls or messages while you’re talking to them – and remember to actually look at them and say “thank you” when they’ve just purchased a product/service from you.
  • It is not the customer’s job to watch who was first in line, it is your job, and if you serve the pushy people first you will lose truly good customers. (Pushy people are never loyal customers.)
  • Give customers a time estimation, and get back to customers when you say you will. If you can’t get them the information in time, or if service delivery will be late, give them ample notice. Customers are much more frustrated by lack of information than they are of late service delivery.
  • Don’t charge customers to call your helpline to report a problem. You created the problem, don’t make the customer pay to fix it. Furthermore, if there is a problem, you want to know about it in order to remedy it.
  • Corollary A: If it’s costing you a lot to maintain a helpline, then your biggest savings will be made if you fix your service and make it simpler.
  • Corollary B: If your company makes money when your product or service is faulty, or for the longer the customer waits on the line, then you are providing your staff with seriously wrong economic stimuli.
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