It’s 3 AM – Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanIt doesn’t matter what type of company you run, your operation amasses a great deal of valuable data. You have a treasure trove of customer information, including phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, billing histories, demographic profiles, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers. You purchased some of this data, while you garnered the rest over time, using meticulous recording keeping.

Even the smallest of businesses possess an extraordinary amount of priceless information, while larger organizations store millions or billions of data points — all nicely organized, painstakingly verified, carefully stored, and dutifully backed up.

You have all that information, but what are you doing with it? No, I’m not talking about harnessing metadata to produce a competitive advantage or turning raw information into a core distinctive (think of how Google astutely exploits the vast minutia of data they have accumulated). I’m sure you know you must do these things and are diligently working on them. What I am referring to is protecting your immense information stash from the nefarious reach of notorious hackers, cyberspace’s criminal elite — hard to catch and harder still to prosecute.

With the theft of personal information steadily increasing — due to an insatiable demand and relatively low risk — there is a greater likelihood your business could soon be a victim. So I will implore you to protect one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

First, you need someone with the knowledge and experience to be in charge of securing your computers, network, intranet, and Internet access points.

Then, give them the resources needed to do the job. I’m not suggesting you provide an unlimited budget or give them a blank check, but when they say it will cost X dollars to do the job, don’t provide half that amount and expect full results. If you cut the funds, some items will remain insecure or be only partially secure. That would be akin to locking the doors of your office, but leaving the windows open — or installing a building security system, but never connecting it to the monitoring station. Don’t handcuff the crime stoppers.

Next, know that many security breaches are inside jobs. Yes, I realize you carefully screen new hires and trust your employees to not steal from you. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t hold your staff in high esteem. However, the reality is that many cases of data theft involve an insider, be it complicit or innocently duped.

To address the people side of the equation, you need your human resources department involved, along with IT and your security officer. Together they can put safeguards in place to restrict access, limit the scope of information available, and provide an electronic log of activity. Additionally provide training on what information staff can give out and under what conditions.

Your data — and your company’s future — is on the line. Make sure it’s a secure one.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanThe idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas: First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic – or more – on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked – which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”) – though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

Food: Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there – and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things – but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster – providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel: Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking: The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust: The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue: Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to – complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center – a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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The Only Constant is Change

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear – fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees – all of them – get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

 

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter DeHaan
Author Peter DeHaan

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

Providing Quality Service

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Growing up, I remember a radio commercial with the tag line, “Service sold it.” Even as a young kid I was able to grasp the concept that providing quality service was a great way to close more sales and gain new business.

Over the years, I have heard this mantra repeated, again and again, either verbatim or conceptually, by various local, national, and international companies. Yet I now give this platitude only passing consideration. This phrase has a hollow ring; it seems a disingenuous assurance, holding an empty promise. What was once good business turned into good ad copy and now gets lost in the clutter of promotions that we no longer believe.

In fact, the louder a business trumpets this claim, the less credence I give it and the more I assume their quality is lousy and their ad campaign’s only goal is to convince us of the contrary. To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, “He who can, does. He who cannot, talks about it.” It seems that no one provides quality service any more.

Recently, I placed a series of calls to my computer vendor. They offer a quality package at a good price, provide fast shipment, and facilitate ordering. Yet the quality of their service is rotten. Two prior interactions with their customer service staff resulted in one failure and one partial success. My latest episode, requiring a dozen or so phone calls over the span of weeks, ultimately resulted in a satisfactory outcome.

But it required great patience and persistence, long hold times, being transferred to the wrong departments and back again, and talking with English speaking reps who could not effectively communicate in a language I comprehended. One humorous example was a representative who said, “Excuse please the silence while I hold you.” To accomplish my objective, I had to escalate my call, invoke their “100% Satisfaction Guarantee,” and insist that they accept the return of my entire order – not just the computer in question. As you might suspect, I deem it a waste of money to buy their extended customer support plan.

Next I attempted to resolve an ongoing problem with my caller ID. The feature that sold me on the product was the promise that, working in conjunction with call waiting, it would display the number of a second caller while I continued talking to the first. Unfortunately, it never worked. I called repair and reported the problem. The rep gave me the time and date of the repair. It was not. I reported it again. No change.

I pulled out the multi-page manual and found a small-print footnote, which said that the feature I desired needed to be installed separately. Thinking I was on to something, I called and ordered it. Again, the promised due date came and went. I called again, only to learn the desired feature was not available in my area. Four “service” people decided to take the easy way out, pushing me through their system or hoping I would give up, rather than simply check to see if the feature was available.

On to cable TV. With the escalating costs of cable, it eventually became less costly to switch to satellite. Now I get hundreds of channels and still don’t have anything to watch! The installation and support of the satellite system was excellent (more on that later), but the simple act of canceling my cable service took months. With each passing month a new bill would arrive, announcing an escalating monthly balance. I would call the cable company; they would assure me our service was indeed cancelled and they had no idea why we kept being billed. This went on for over six months. I seriously doubt any company can be that incompetent, so my cynical nature speculates they were intentionally doing this to pad their receivables.

Years ago when I installed DSL, the big challenge came in disconnecting my now unneeded dialup line. Because of a previous service debacle, my Internet line had become the billed number and my listed number became secondary. The representative, fortunately a knowledgeable one, apologized that the only solution was to cancel the entire bill and then reinstall my main line. This would only be a billing function and my phone service would not be interrupted.

However, there would be side effects. First, I would need to call their DSL division to make sure my DSL wasn’t cancelled and to update my billing arrangement. Apparently, this was common, because the DSL representative immediately understood the problem and knew just what to do. Then I would need to call my long distance carrier to make sure that when my service was “reinstalled” I would be put on my same rate plan and not their higher default plan. I had to make a third call for my white page listing. Surprisingly, each call had its desired effect. But imagine the turmoil that would have ensued had the first representative not fully informed me of all the ramifications and exactly what I needed to do. Exceptional customer service, however, would never have put me in the position to make those calls in the first place and even good customer service would have done so for me. Quality service didn’t sell it, being the only game in town did.

We all know someone who left one company because of poor quality and then subsequently left the new company for the same reason. Eventually, they try – and then reject – all available alternatives. They then have to return to a previously unsatisfactory company. Their new goal is simply to pick the least bad provider.

Does anyone provide quality service anymore? Fortunately, yes. In previous columns, I mentioned my mechanic and optometrist, both stellar success stories. In concert with this, it is noteworthy to mention that the authorized agent for my satellite television is a local company. Is being local then, the key for my satisfaction? Not entirely. My local credit union, bank, and doctor have all caused me repeated consternation. Besides, there are also good service examples that are not local.

To publish my magazines – Connections Magazine and AnswerStat – the sales, graphic design, and editing are all handled by extremely competent individuals who are not local, yet provide an exceptional level of service. The common thread here is that they are all small organizations. So then, is company size the key? No, there are many other small organizations that have demonstrated the ability to disappoint.

Although being local and being small are two elements that allow the potential to provide quality service, they are not requirements. The real key is the personal touch. With each unfavorable example I gave, I dealt with a department, not an individual – not really. The representative had no accountability to me and no stake in the outcome. With subsequent calls, I would talk to a different person. To them I was not a customer; I had no real value. I was just another phone call – a problem – one to get rid of in the shortest time, so they could go on to the next call, and eventually punch out for the day.

However, with each positive example I cited, it was a specific person who made the difference. This was someone who genuinely cared and had a real interest in the outcome, someone who was willing to make me his or her priority and do what was required.

Every company claims they offer quality service, but is this a reality or a fantasy? Is a one-on-one personal relationship provided to clients? Can you honestly say, believe, and prove that your company provides quality service? If not, what changes do you need to make?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.