Customer Support

Customer_Service_HeaderDetail from Autolysis (2011 – Oil on Canvas) by Bex

On an ordinary day, I would have ended a chat session like the one you are about to read as soon as I realized I could not be helped. As you read, you will understand why I was compelled to stay with it until the end.

Every word of the following customer support chat transcript is real. I have changed the names to avoid embarrassing any individual or company, although in my opinion this company’s leadership should be flogged in the public square. Other than redacting personal information, I have changed nothing else. The lesson speaks for itself.

WELCOME TO LIVE CHAT!

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You are now chatting with Beth.

Beth: Thank you for choosing Dumko Systems. How may I assist you today?

Steven: Hi. I have a new customer and am being told I need your ConnectMe VPN client. My customer thinks this should be a free download from your web site, but your site is telling me I need a support contract but is not telling me where to go to get one.

Beth: Hi, Steven. I’ll be happy to help you. May I know if you are a Dumko certified Partner reseller?

Steven: No. I am a consultant.

Beth: Will you be part of the purchasing and decision making process for this project?

Steven: No. I am a consultant. I am working remotely to help my customer to optimize some custom database code.

Beth: Okay. Have you contacted us before about this?

Steven: No. I’ve had other customers that required a Dumko client, but they always supplied it internally.

Beth: What equipment/solution do you currently have in place?

Steven: I am not sure I understand the question. I use a VPN client to access the networks at the companies I consult for. There is no equipment or solution involved.

Beth: How many users do you need to have in the network?

Steven: I have no idea how many users my customer has on their network. I just need one instance of ConnectMe so that I can log on remotely.

Beth: Alright. Let me check on that then I’ll be providing you with a link for product information. Just click on it. While I check, may I know how many people does your company employ worldwide?

Steven: One. Me.

Beth: Here is the link for you. [link redacted]. The Dumko ConnectMe Mobility Client enables enterprises to enhance employee productivity by securing their employees’ smartphones and tablets. The Dumko ConnectMe Mobility Client Platforms provides reliable and easy-to-deploy encrypted network connectivity from smartphones and tablets by delivering persistent corporate access for employees on the go.

Beth: This will be an initial recommendation from a presales point of view based on your requirements. Our Dumko Partner will still have to assess what you are trying to accomplish. Final recommendation will be from our Dumko partner.

Steven: All I need is the client. Who is the Dumko Partner and how do I contact that partner today?

Beth: When do you need to be up-and-running?

Steven: About an hour ago.

Beth: We can actually have a Certified Dumko Partner provide you an in depth discussion to help you further evaluate your options on this. A Dumko Partner will be able to discuss to you the product’s features and specifications. He will explain to you how it would work.

Beth: Please tell me about all the people who will have a say in considering Dumko.

Steven: This should be a simple download from somewhere.

Beth: Do you have a service contract or IntelliNet? You will need that to download it.

Steven: No, not yet. That was my original question. Where do I get the service contract and what does it cost?

Beth: You can get it from our Dumko Partner. Just to set your expectation, pricing varies depending on the reseller that you’re going to deal with. What I can provide you is just an estimated price.

Steven: Who is the Dumko Partner and how do I contact them?

Beth: We can also provide you with the contacts of our Dumko Partners so you can call them at your most convenient time. Let me locate the nearest partner that we have in your area. Should there be any product or pricing inquiry, you would know the right contacts especially when you are ready to purchase.

Beth: I believe you will be part of the purchasing and decision making process for the project, right?

Steven: Uh…yes. There is only one of me.

Beth: Excellent. I’m sure a budget will be allocated once the exact amount is defined, right?

Steven: Yes

Beth: Great. May I have your company name, address and your job title?

Steven: [redacted]

Beth: Thank you. May I have your full name, email address, phone number and extension if any?

Steven: [redacted]

Beth: Thank you, Steven. Dumko IntelliNet Service provides the following device-level support:

  • Direct access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to specialized engineers in the Dumko Technical Assistance Center
  • Extensive self-help support through Dumko’s online knowledge base, communities, resources, and tools
  • Smart, proactive diagnostics and immediate alerts for devices enabled with the Intelligent Dial Home feature
  • Operating system (OS) software updates, including both minor and major releases within your licensed feature set
  • Hardware replacement options, including 2-hour, 4-hour, and next-business-day (NBD) advance replacement as well as return for repair (RFR)
  • Optional onsite service that provides a field engineer who can install replacement parts at your location

Steven: I will certainly never need any of that. I just need the client executable. It’s about one MB in size. Maybe I should just call my customer and have them see if they can get one off their network.

Beth: One moment please while I find that information for you. Here are the contact details for the Dumko Partner that you can get in touch with. [redacted]

Beth: I know this will work out perfectly for you. Thank you again. Please call our Dumko business partner. I assure you that Dumko can provide the best solution for you.

Beth: Aside from this, are you looking at getting other Dumko equipment for other networking projects you might have within the next 12 months that you may want to add or discuss today?

Steven: No. Thank you. No.

Beth: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Steven: Thank you so much for your help.

Beth: Before we end this chat, I would like to inform you that you may receive a brief survey about our interaction through email. Your response will be valuable for us to continue improving the service we provide. We would like to extend our appreciation in advance for taking the survey.

Beth: Thank you for chatting with us. Please click the “Close” button (top right) to tell us about your experience.

 

THANK YOU FOR USING LIVE CHAT!

Okay class, it is time for a Pop Quiz. Don’t worry it’s short. There are only two questions.

Did Steven take the survey? Did Steven call the Dumko Partner?

Powered by Ego

Sun_HeadingWhen I was growing up, I was taught that ego was bad. I was taught that egotism demonstrated anti-social and heartless behaviors that were to be eschewed. I was taught that most of the evil in the world was due to the work of ego, and that nothing much that was good could come of it. The ego was to be repressed and egoism in any form to be shunned. Fully unlearning those false lessons took me many years.

I bring this up now because Dan Rockwell reminded me just how important the ego is in accomplishing anything worthwhile. I have sung the praises before of Leadership Freak, Dan’s management blog. In his post The Two Qualities That Make Leaders Great(April 8, 2014), he postulates that humility and drive are the two qualities of great leaders, and that there is a balancing act between them. (Reading his post is very much worth your while.) As I read it, it occurred to me that a strong reciprocal relationship exists between these two qualities and I posted the following thought:

 

There is almost a checks and balances built into this paradigm. It suggests two questions to me, a way of turning the mirror back on myself. “Am I driving for improvement arrogantly?” “Is there still enough me in the equation to fuel that drive for improvement?”

 

Dan’s response was illuminating. “The dance between ego/humility is real. We need a powerful sense of self in order not to get lost in serving.” It took me one more step on my journey down the road of self, allowing me to articulate after all these years the nature of this misconception about ego. People confuse ego with arrogance.

I found it instructive to double check the meaning of the word. Ego is both a Latin and Greek word meaning I, and is often used in English to refer to self or personal identity. In psychology, it takes on a more specialized meaning as the part of our psyche that provides the organized, realistic element of our framework. In neither case is the meaning of ego negative. In fact, in the psychological sense, it is our ego that helps to manage the rambunctious id.

Nonetheless, the campaign against ego persists. A little bit of poking around online revealed a plethora of anti-ego propaganda. I have seen contemporary culture take misunderstandings and create entire movements based on them, but the vilification of ego goes well beyond that and it has been going on for a long time. Perhaps this is the opportunity to begin turning that viewpoint around, because the ego – the knowledge of self – is critical for both individual and organizational success.

As I look at the world, the people who are most effective – those who truly deliver value and leave the world a better place – have a very strong sense of self. One of my favorite examples is Mother Teresa. There was a person with a strong knowledge of personal identity. She was not at all self-less, for she could not have lived her extraordinary life if she had been. On the contrary, her strength derived from her remarkable grounding in self, driven by values (in this case her faith) and the work she was ordained to do (purpose). Mother Teresa was self-giving. And this aligns so well with Dan’s words. “We need a powerful sense of self in order not to get lost in serving.”

I have noted the same thing throughout my professional life. Colleagues and team members who consistently deliver value are the ones who are driven by values and the need for improvement. They have purpose in everything they do. There is tremendous ego required for creativity in all walks of life. Without ego we cannot see beyond our most immediate needs to what something could be if we went there.

This is not to say that there are not people who can perform at some level of value delivery without ego, but they are rarely able to do so in any form of collaborative situation. This is where arrogance enters the equation. Arrogance is the disguise for a fragile ego. It is a veneer that seeks to protect that fragility from the risk of criticism or failure. Arrogance works well, perhaps, for someone functioning alone, but it is deadly in any team or organization. It is deadly because it closes our ears to the needs and ideas of others.

The need for identity or knowledge of self applies just as much to organizations as it does to individuals. In fact, organizational identity is a key success factor for groups of any type.

  • Non-profit Organizations: As trustees of public money, how can we make appropriate decisions? Who are our constituents? Why we are uniquely able to deliver?
  • Multinational Corporation: Who are we? Who are our customers? What differentiates us in the marketplace?
  • Civic organization: Who are we? Whom do we serve? What are their needs? Do our values or purpose overlap with or conflict with other entities?

This is more than just getting organized. When an organization has a clear and aligned awareness of identity – a distinct organizational ego – then all of the participants (be they employees, volunteers, or board members) know how to act or react. There is certainty that their shared values and purpose inform and shape their decisions and actions. There is a consistency of expectation and behavior. There is an underlying harmony in the overall effort. But organizations are in constant flux, and it requires effort to achieve and maintain this alignment.

Bear in mind that organizations, like individuals, are not immune to arrogance. Over the years, I have encountered a number of businesses and groups that have evolved a shared arrogance in place of ego. That arrogance made each one of them impervious to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Stubbornly refusing to change just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s the way we do it here” is a behavior that is not driven by values and purpose, especially when those new ideas are consistent with the organizational identity.

The other half of Dan’s point, though – “the dance between ego/humility is real” – is the crux of the matter and takes us back to my two questions. At the same time that there must be plenty of me in the drive to improve, I must also be checking my humility tank constantly for traces of arrogance. That and other pollutants will easily retard my ability to listen to others, accept new ideas, and understand the needs and dreams of my colleagues.

As I mentioned above, my journey of self has been pretty much life long. My understanding of institutional ego is relatively recent and still evolving. Nevertheless, it is clear that effective people, teams, and organizations are powered by ego. They have the confidence to be creative, try new things, experiment with new perspectives, and drive improvement. They have strength and clarity that derive from understanding core values and purpose, and being able to make choices that are consistent with that identity.   It is as beneficial for a Fortune 500 company as it is for a saint.

As for me, I find that I need to check in with my core values and purpose regularly. Even though they do not change much, they are still maturing slowly. So go ahead. Try it yourself. Put a little polish on your ego. Just do so with humility and then be ready to serve.

How do you maintain a clear knowledge of self on your teams? What techniques do you use to mitigate arrogance in the workplace?

 

Fugue

Fugue_HeaderNot too long ago, I was listening to an album of piano Preludes written by the late Nineteenth Century composer Alexander Scriabin (1872 – 1915). I adore his piano music – which is very idiomatic to the instrument – and I include several of the pieces in my own repertoire. I found myself marveling anew at his mastery of counterpoint, a skill shared with several of his compatriots among the Late Russian Romantic composers. As I floated in that musical Jacuzzi, I began to muse on not only the importance of core skills in one’s professional life but also upon the discipline of counterpoint as an analogy for multi-dimensional awareness.

Counterpoint is a core discipline in music, particularly in classical music. Counterpoint is the relationship between musical lines in a composition that are generally independent rhythmically and melodically, but interdependent harmonically. Counterpoint may have reached its height during the era of the high Baroque at the hands of such practitioners as Johann Sebastian Bach. There is a great deal of…well…math involved in counterpoint, especially in forms such as the fugue. Even today it is considered a fundamental skill for all classically trained musicians, not just composers. It is said that Beethoven could not write a fugue to save his life. “Nonsense,” say I. And the art of the fugue (and counterpoint) has persisted into the Twenty-first Century. So, why should we care in the Business Intelligence and decision support world?

I return to my original Jacuzzi-induced revelation; counterpoint is an analogy for multi-dimensional awareness. Imagine my delight when I first contemplated this connection and opened up my freshman counterpoint book (Counterpoint 2nd Edition, by Kent Wheeler Kennan, ©1972 by Prentice-Hall, Inc.). Turning to the author’s Preface, this is what I found: “The chief objective of counterpoint study…is to awaken or sharpen in the student a feeling for the contrapuntal element that is present to some degree in virtually all music; to make him sensitive to the forces of opposition and agreement, tension and relaxation, direction, climax, and the like, that operate whenever two or more voices are sounded simultaneously.”

“Holy epiphany, Batman!” In that first half paragraph of his book, Professor Kennan not only captured the essence of my point, but also managed to take it to the next level. He wrote those words in 1959 and certainly intended them only within the context of musical study. Nonetheless, I did not even have to squint to recognize just about every business meeting I have ever attended, or every project I have been engaged in during my career. The “forces of opposition and agreement, tension and relaxation, direction, and climax” describe perfectly the human interactions in these extra-musical situations. Further, we rarely act or make decisions alone (two or more voices sounded simultaneously). In fact, the situations in which we are but a single voice are scarce. Our lives are not monody. That would be…well, medieval.

Our musical analogy persists. As human beings, we are all the richer for the multiplicity of voices, the diversity of viewpoint. The inspiration for a new product (or poem) coming from a single individual mind is a beautiful thing, not unlike a single unaccompanied voice raised in song. But most often, new ideas, directions, or enterprises are incubated within groups of human beings with each individual contributing a unique set of beliefs, viewpoints, anxieties, and needs. The result can be a symphony or cacophony. This is where counterpoint comes into play. This is why the sensitivity to these forces of opposition and agreement and so forth become a core skill in working with groups of people.

Let us examine the most basic dynamics of a business meeting. This could be a regular staff meeting, a group visioning session, or a simple meeting between two business people. The one element essential to all of these meetings is an agenda. The agenda brings structure to the engagement, and sets expectations as to role and outcome. Musicians do the same thing. The classical musician may play from a score or at least have learned the music from a score. But even jazz or rock musicians jamming together have basic chord progressions to structure their collaboration. A meeting without an agenda is a prescription for noise.

While the agenda provides structure, this should not be mistaken for rigidity. It is there only as a guide. Just as one member of a jazz trio may depart from the progression to perform a spontaneous riff (knowing that he will return to the structure of the progression when he is finished), so the meeting may be allowed to digress for an appropriate reason, only to return to the agreed upon structure once the tangent resolves.

The agenda is indispensable, to be certain, but it is not enough to ensure success. Meetings work best when there is a leader who is sensitive to the dynamics in the room and can guide the voices appropriately. This means making certain that everyone gets heard, not just the louder voices. This means establishing rules for maintaining personal respect, which also means leading by example. This means being able to anticipate where a voice is headed and being prepared to manage the resulting dissonance. Over time, the participants in the meetings may also become sensitive to these forces.

Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a shared visioning project for a client. The CEO knew that dissonance existed between several of his departments, and he could not move forward effectively until this was changed. He also recognized that he did not understand the nature of the discord. The visioning process brought together representatives of all the stakeholder departments and culminated in a full day retreat. The CEO himself participated, along with a member of the Board.

We began with some trust and team building exercises in the morning, and then articulated a shared identity based on values and purpose. The bulk of the day centered on identifying and incubating opportunities for improvement. These were the big rocs with which the organization needed to wrestle. (It is essential, by the way, to interject a fair amount of whimsy into such proceedings.) As the afternoon wore on, I had everyone working in small, rapidly changing teams. This was forcing each participant to work outside of his or her comfort silo and to adjust on the fly to new interpersonal variables (forces of opposition and agreement, tension and relaxation, direction, climax). Barriers were coming down all over the place and the entire group had modulated to a new key in the manner of their interactions. Even so, something still was wrong.

The CEO broke away from his team and came over to me with his eyes wide open as if a light bulb had just come on. “Steve,” he said, “there is a lot bubbling under the surface here.” I nodded. I had been aware of it all along, having been working with his teams for months, but the boss needed to hear it for himself. In spite of the new key in which everyone in the room was working, the original drone remained – still in the old key – and the dissonance was palpable.

I do not have an end to that story yet. In fact, it has only just begun. The level of communication and collaboration has already improved and the initiatives that the participants forged during the retreat will bring greater value to come. The CEO now has the means to address the underlying discord although that process will require time as well. It all comes down to that awareness, that sensitivity to the interpersonal forces that exist between all human beings like so many voices in a symphony. Counterpoint.

We rarely listen to music as so many discrete musical lines. Rather, we listen to it as a whole, and so should it be in our interactions with our fellow human beings. We understand and recognize the forces underneath while reveling in the unified palate of sound. It is the unity of all the voices coming together that produces harmony be it music or ideas. It is the Jacuzzi out of which that one voice rises with a new theme that finds its way into these words.

Do you always prepare agendas for your meetings? How do you guide the voices of opposition and agreement on your teams?