The importance of business rule #1

I work in IT.
I am getting sick, watching our field grow a reputation slightly better than shifty used car salesmen. This is spreading like wildfire because people are forgetting business rule number one: Listen.

Here is a recent great example.
I got a call last night from my mom, who is about 700 miles away.
She was frustrated, exasperated and nearly ready to cry.
She was absolutely ready to throw her Roku box out the window.

My parents  are NOT technologically savvy.  Since my Dad’s vision is worse, he can not see wires and connectors to help.
My mom is usually a little scared she is going to break something and less than confident when it comes to technology. If you have done any tech support, you know the type. If you have not done tech support, you probably have a Dad or an Aunt or a Cousin like this.  Just like not everyone is comfortable playing softball, not everyone is comfortable with technology.

We got my parents a Roku two years ago because we loved it so much, and they have loved it too.
My dad is sight impaired, and they love that they can connect Flick.r and then my dad can see photos on the TV where they are large.  They do Netflix streaming ( at least for now) and a few other things on it.

So, what caused her to want to pitch the Roku they have loved? Tech Support who wanted to sell them things instead of solving a problem. And not just Roku Tech Support, Linksys and Verizon got in the game as well.

They wanted to show a friend some pictures from a recent trip. When they went to open Flic.kr, they got an error message that the network settings were not correct and it could not connect.

They called Roku support. Roku support ( who they could barely understand speaking), had them read them the error message and said- it must be your router call them.   They called the Linksys customer service people and Linksys customer support (who talked mostly jargon and tech terms, rather than simple english)  told them that they probably needed to reset a code in their Verizon DSL Router, when they got a storm it can cause problems. They tried to rest the code, but did not have access in the Verizon hardware. So, they called Verizon DSL, Verizon DSL told them it would cost 29.95 to have that code reset. At this point, my mother thought every time they got a storm, they were going to have to pay 29.95 to get a code rest to make their Roku work. The Verizon people assured her she could pay 59.99 and get 6 months of support instead.
Luckily, she looked at my dad and said ” we can buy a whole new Roku for only 79.99, I don’t know what to do- let’s eat dinner”. Then called me , very upset.

I LISTENED. Actually, when she got to “my Roku gets an error message trying to connect to the network”, I knew what to ask next- but I let her vent the whole painful story to get it out.
Then I asked ” Have you tried to reconnect the Roku in the Roku settings?”
She stopped in her tracks. They had had this working seamlessly for 2 years and had completely forgotten that there were any settings there.
I booted up my Roku quickly, so I could look while I talked, walked her through the menu selections to get there ( about 3 clicks) and the built in wizard took over, found their router and connected.  Less than 3 minutes and her Roku was fixed, no expense.

I have no problem with the fact that people need to make money.
But this is the second instance in less than a week that we have crossed paths with tech support that was more anxious to collect cash for things other than a needed fix, instead of listening to the customer and fixing the problem and creating a happy customer who would come back for more sales in the long term.

Granted,  my parent’s Roku is out of warranty. But if Roku had asked them “have you tried reconnecting from the settings menu ?” instead of pawning them off on Linksys, it would have short circuited 90 minutes of frustration. I would have been OK if when she said ” How do I do that?” they said, we are sorry you are out of warranty, that support costs. Then she would have called me and asked and we would have had it fixed.

If Linksys had said ” we do not support Roku, but let’s check your router” and taken her through standard troubleshooting ( the fact that the other two computers attached to the Linksys router still talked to the Verizon DSL and got on the internet fine should have indicated that there was no communication problem between the Linksys and Verizon), then politely sent her away, rather than sending her into DSL reconfigurations would have been fine.

Verizon had in their records that they had a tech at her house a couple of weeks ago, who adjusted their network. If they had said- we had a tech there recently disrupting your network, you might have to reconnect devices to make them work correctly. They do not have to be able to tell her how to do that, it is not their responsibility.  But immediately telling her the DSL could have issues in a storm and trying scare tactics to get subscription support pisses me off.

It upsets me both because they jerked around my mom, but also because it makes IT look bad. Pretty soon, being in IT will be a little like being a lawyer. That is a horrible shame. We have the opportunity to make things that make people’s lives fun, interesting, and even amazing.  Let’s not lose this to make a few 29.95 fees that don’t fix anything.

Keeping IT Cooking through a recession

I sometimes get to catch a TV show called “Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares” (Between you and me, I like the BBC version better- but you can actually watch it on Hulu via the first link). It is a show where famous chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsey spends a week with a failing restaurant and attempts to turn it around. In a week, what he can usually do is is rework it and point the owner and the staff in the right direction. It occurs to me that the types of activities we, as corporate IT folks, should be taking during this “economic downtime” are very similar to what Chef Ramsey goes through with a restaurant. The process is really fairly formulaic, it is only the personalities involved that make the shows different from week to week. If you are a corporate IT type and your business is slowing down, here is the basic flow:

1. Inventory. Understand what you have.
For IT this can not mean spending lots of money. It may mean lots of man hours. Time spent on phones with end users, technical staff etc. Then tracking it down in detail. It is tedious, it can be boring. You can not do anything else without this information.

2. Clean ( usually while inventorying). Throw out the green fuzzy leftovers in the back of the kitchen. Make sure the old grease is cleaned up and the plumbing is working well.

You may have done some of this as part of cost cutting already, but I am sure there is more to be done. Keep the following key principles in mind: simplify the software stack, lower the variety of applications that fulfill the same task and look at which technologies are potentially nearing their expiration dates and may need to be replaced in the future. You will not be able to spend money to do simplification; but you can do all the research and be prepared with detailed business cases and implementation plans when the money is released. Look at the entire queue of identified projects and rationally prioritize your actions for when the budget is a little more flush. You may even surprise yourself and find some cases where you can see immediate cost savings.

3. Understand the neighborhood and potential clients. Understand the competition. What unsatisfied tastes/needs could this establishment fulfill?

What are the technologies that will give your company the best business edge over your competitors? How do your competitors work? What is the growing infrastructure in the IT and/or ( fill in your domain here) world at large? Where are the biggest business gaps that IT can assist the business with? Do the full technology evaluation, write the business case, use this information to help build the new menu. Understand what ingredients are needed, what the best suppliers are, etc.. Read, talk to other IT folks at other companies, hold internal discussion groups and seminars to get everyone up to speed and well educated on today’s possible technologies. Have a few key sandboxes where you can build without costs, using your own man power to try things out.

4. Rework the menu, always remembering to keep it simple. Narrow the number of choices. Use ingredients that allow you to make a quality product while keeping the menu price low and still make a profit.

This is not just coming up with the same dishes on a pretty new piece of paper. Sometimes you have to work with the suppliers to teach them better ways to do things. Help them find ways to lower their costs, so they can get things to you cheaper. Sometimes you have to find brand new suppliers. Test all the menu items. A good chef Always tastes and eats his own food. If we do not test and use the technology, we will never really be experts or understand the potentials. It is your experience with technologies combines with our deep understanding of the business that makes us an invaluable addition.

5. Work on staff communications and clarify duties. Make sure everyone knows their job and can do it well.
Clean up your processes. This does not mean make them more complicated. This does not drawing pretty pictures.. It means practicing. OK, you don’t have real paying customers? Run yourselves as customers and practice how to handle the orders, how to serve and how to talk to each other and the business clearly.

6. Relaunch with a fanfare and some important guests. Be sure not to blow the relaunch.
Have a great new recipe/offering to dazzle folks. This means having fully prepared business cases/implementation plans and have the business partially sold on it before the dollars start flowing. Execute well.

7. Work hard, but do it with passion and feeling
That is just something that never changes. It is insufficient to just beat yourself to a pulp to get tasks done- you still will not win at the end of the day. You have to have a passion for what you do and add in your personality and flair to make it really a winner.