Thursday, November 23, 2006

Add Eggs and Milk.

More than 20 years ago I worked for an Atari-certified repair shop fixing Atari 400 & 800 computers and peripherals as well as 2600 and 5200 game stations. The owner made it clear to me that under no circumstances would we do any while-you-wait repairs no matter how urgent, no matter how much anyone pleaded. While he explained it, I didn't grok.

I finally understood when I violated this policy. It almost cost me my job. It also turned out to be a very valuable lesson.

The problem was a harried and desperate woman with a broken space bar. Her kid had bought the Defender game cartridge and since the space bar was used for the last-chance smart bomb, it would be hit rather harshly in the heat of battle. This was rather a common problem and we made a metric buttload of money fixing keyboards instead of replacing them, something no one else in the country seemed to be able to do. She needed it back to finish writing some papers that night.

I bought the sob story and she watched as I quickly and easily fixed the machine. She was upset about my apparent "rough treatment" of her $800 computer (about $2,000 in today's cash) and called the owner a few hours later to complain. Shit rolls downhill.

The biggest problem came not from the work done. I fixed that keyboard and had her out the door inside 10 minutes. Rather, the problem came from her perception of service and value.

I've carried this lesson with me since. When I had my own company I charged much more than the going rate, excessive even in light of my simple and absolute guarantee. Customers winced when they first heard what I cost but never, ever complained when the work was done. Instead they'd simply spread the word and send me even more business.

Sometimes you have to fix things immediately. When a blade farm is down and a 20,000-seat call center is sitting around playing Solitaire, things need to move quickly and they do. Resolve it fast and the customers are happy. But for everything else, well...

I realised a couple years ago that customers, despite how often they write WE NEED SOLUTION NOW!!1!11shiftone, are actually dissatisfied when they send in a problem and within two hours receive a complete solution. Maybe they're angry they didn't see it themselves, or maybe they think it's something we should have warned them about.

You know those instant cake and batter mixes which require an egg and milk? Totally unnecessary. Those ingredients could easily be added to the mix so all you'd have to do is add is water. In the beginning companies like Betty Crocker did just that. But they found that sales went up drastically when they required the addition of a fresh egg and/or milk. Market research showed them that by having to add such ingredients, the people using these instant mixes somehow felt like they were actually "cooking". Their customers got a lot more warm fuzzies and feel better having to do more -- and totally unnecessary -- work.

When a ticket comes in with a question that just makes me want to bash my head into my desk again, I often don't send the answer despite knowing it after reading only the first two lines of the complaint. Instead I make them add an egg and some milk. My first response is to make them do some busywork. It's psychological. They feel like the error is more complex than it really is and that they're involved in the process of resolving it.

That doesn't mean every request for additional information is busywork. Sometimes it can narrow down the scope, but my boilerplate includes all possible resolutions. I just delete as necessary.

My charge has already seen this in action. He's learning quickly. $SomeBank insisted on an urgent and speedy answer to a stupid question. $OurOlderBigApp isn't supported on Windows 2003 but that's what they installed it on and were surprised that it didn't work. Paul told 'em so from the start. They're not happy with this answer. Paul now knows to first ask them for logs and maybe wait for a day before sending the exact same response about Win2K3 not being supported along with any old error line from the log that somehow confirms this.

Paul doesn't know our full error code system but he already agrees that we need a Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit.

x-posted to HuSi, sans poll.


Blogger Casey pulled out a crayon and scribbled:

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03 April, 2007 18:46  

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In compliance with $MegaCorp's general policies as well as my desire to
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and would also like to see the implementation of Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit.