Sunday, April 15, 2007

Work vs. Effort

This article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette was referred to me by David L Holzer, a good friend and insurance advisor with an interesting view of the world:

Work Zone: A bottomless well of vacation time

The gist of the article is that Netflix has no vacation or sick leave policy, and how this kind of "non-conventional" policy is taking hold here and there. Their policy is, if you got your work done and you want to knock off for a few days, do it.

From my point of view, here are the money quotes:

"The worst thing is for a manager to come in and tell me: 'Let's give Susie a huge raise because she's always in the office.' What do I care? I want managers to come to me and say: 'Let's give a really big raise to Sally because she's getting a lot done' -- not because she's chained to her desk." - Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings

"We're a grown-up company, with over 12,000 employees, and you have to have some semblance of process and procedure." - unidentified Yahoo spokeswoman

Notice the difference? Reed Hastings @ Netflix is more interested in getting WORK done. Yahoo is more interested in the processes and procedures. If you have the processes to get the work done than what difference does it make if you have 12 or 12,000 employees? The point is still to get the work done! A "grown-up company" - What in the world is that?

Here lies the crux of the problem with a lot of managers. They confuse work with effort. Work is the result of effort. We pay people for work or results. If we as managers give someone assignments that they can complete with 1,960 hours of effort then why should they have to hang around the office for the other 120 hours (3 work weeks) in that year?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Customer is Always Right? Part II

The Customer is Always Right.

In my last post, I talked about how this little statement is often made and then ignored by companies. In fact, it is ignored or twisted so often, it becomes meaningless.

Let me introduce a piece of heresy here. It is a statement that I picked up along the way, unfortunately losing the source somewhere in the fog of time. Wherever I picked it up from, it was the first thing I drilled into customer service reps that came into my departments:

The Customer is NOT always right. However, it is your job to make sure they feel they are.

My reps knew that there were certain policies that we could not get around. However, that didn't mean we couldn't work with a client to see if we could come up with something that made the customer feel good, and at the same time didn't violate whatever policy the customer had run afoul of.

Sometimes it was something as simple as staying on the phone and letting them vent. More often it wasn't a policy issue at all. It was making sure the customer didn't feel stupid when they realized if they had just read the manual, they wouldn't have run into the problem in the first place. At one software company, we actually had a code to record such incidents: RTFM (Read The Freaking Manual).

Now before you rage at me that using the code insulted the customer, understand two things:
1. That we often reported back to development that there was a high incident of those codes for a particular feature, and we would work with them to try and rework that section of the system so that it was easier to use. (this process will perhaps be covered in another post)
2. The reduction in stress among the Customer Service Reps was marked. The goal of the team became thinking of ways to work with the customer to get a Win-Win, instead of stressing that management would capriciously decide that the reps answer insulted the customer or insulted the company.

The perfect answer of course is to have no policies that would contradict what a customer may ever call about, or software/hardware that works flawlessly everytime, for everyone, no matter what is done with it. I won't be holding my breath for either of those to happen anytime soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The customer is always right? Part 1

The customer is always right.

This is considered a truism in the Customer Service world. However, the fact of the matter is very few companies actually believe the customer is always right; they throw it out there to show "they care". In point of fact, I would say most of the companies I have dealt with in my life don't believe the customer is ever right. How many times have you heard: "I understand what you are saying sir, but I can't help you." That is a very nice way of saying "you're right, but too bad."

So what they are really saying is "The customer is always right, but that doesn't mean that we have to help them." While I would hardly expect any company to use that as their motto, if you are going to create policies that make a mockery out of the statement, then why use it?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Do they teach them anything?

This one was unreal. I was waiting in line at a Panera Bread recently. The young lady behind the counter seemed to be some kind of manager/assistant manager (they seem to wear different shirts from the rest of the employees), working studiously on some paperwork. There were probably four of us waiting for several minutes before she glanced up and said "Oh, I'm not open."

Wow. Two things here. One: did she have to be behind a cash register doing paper work? Maybe she needed the cash register tape, I'm not sure. Two: if she had to be there, how much effort would it have required to write up a little paper sign that said "closed" and tape it on the front of the register?

One of the few gripes I have about Panera (the other is that they do not have enough power outlets for laptops) is that you never know what register is open or closed. People seem to staff the registers randomly, and walk away to go do other tasks at odd times.

That random flow may seem to be efficient to management (and I am a big multi-tasker), but it can breed an attitude that it is OK to ignore customers while you work on another assigned job. Worse, when someone in management ignores customers for several minutes before informing them they are in the wrong line, what do you think that tells the rest of the staff?

Do they teach these people anything about customer service?

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Forget me not

Every once in a while I am reminded how many people I have let slip out of my life. Not only some wonderful personal relationships, but what could have been key connections or resources. You may be the most brilliant coder, manager, or whatever that ever graced the Earth, but there will be times you find yourself wishing for some help or friendly advice.

Why do we set up computer networks? To allow machines to communicate. With multiple machines we can share a workload (one does web-serving, another is the database system, etc.) Why would humans be any different? And unlike machines that become obsolete, people don't. Everyone has information you can use or can be a helping hand.

Check out Michelle Donovan's blog to get some insights into networking (people not computers). Her focus is on developing business through relationships. You may not be selling, but the tips and clues on how to develop strong relationships will be beneficial to you no matter what.