Monday, July 30, 2012

Two customer service stories that make me cringe a little

I usually let the experts like Shep Hyken, Vala Afshar, Mike Lylte or some of the other amazing folks on the #cxo tweet chat talk about customer service and customer experience, but in the last 24 hours two examples came up that I thought I'd share.

First let's start with a data provider/Telco sales story. We recently signed a two year contract for our new facility in Salem NH. We are in the process of the fiber buildout and things are progressing nicely. Our sales team is great and we are making great headway. 

Whoops but a few weeks in, our account executive changes. I'll admit this feels a little like the old "bait and switch" game and leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I asked for my usual contract clauses, including "If the account team changes, I can leave with no penalties in 90 days". I didn't get that one though.

That's not the story though, but helps to set the stage. So our new AE is scheduled to come in and meet with us today. Yesterday he cancelled saying an internal meeting came up. Really? An internal meeting trumps a customer meeting? Now maybe it's a really important internal meeting but that sort of implies that I'm not a very important customer.

At Enterasys I can honestly say "There is nothing more important than our customer". We live by this. I've been late for meetings with the CEO because I was talking to a customer. In fact "customer meetings" is about the only excuse that is accepted for missing some of our meetings. 

I get that things come up, but if customer service is important, I mean really important, it seems like customers would come first. I guess that's why we have a net promotor score of 81.

My second story is in the same sort of group. Not really bad, but still leaves me feeling less than important. We are switching antivirus vendors. Our current one dropped the ball on some pretty big problems, though in their defense after a few months they did agree to do anything they could to help. Unfortunately it was a day after we told them we were leaving, so I take that somewhat with a grain of salt. 

Anyway we are on a short timeframe and had largely decided to go with ESET. If you want to know why we chose them, hit me up. We have some relationships with another vendor and as a favor agreed to give them a shot, even though we need to decide in 4 days. 

We setup a call with the local account team and as we are talking through our environment it turns out to be a little bigger than they thought. Apparently they have a different team that handles accounts over 1500 nodes, and we were over that. So the account executive says "Oh I'll need to get someone else to cover this, I only handle accounts up to 1499 nodes". 

Uhm OK, so we need to decide in four days and you want to bring in a new team and lose a day? To be fair they have been very supportive and are really working to convince us they are the right choice. They haven't dropped the ball but again it just feels wrong that they are that strict about who gets what account that they wanted to change midstream. I mean what would have happened if we started with 1490 nodes and then hired 10 new people? Would I really have to start a new relationship with a different team because I hired one too many?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Social Media IronMan

My sister just completed her first ironman. If you aren't familiar with an ironman, it consists of three incredibly physical events, a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.

I thought it would be good to do a Social Media Ironman competition which involves 2 blog posts, 112 tweets and 26 comments on other blog posts (or Facebook, youtube, G+ posts etc). I had to round down since a .4 blog post or .2 comments aren't really useful.

Using hootsuite, or buffer for the 112 tweets is illegal, as is writing the posts ahead of time. The idea is for this level of content to be created in one day, not created over a week and sent out in one day.

What do you think? Anyone interested?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

IT Outsourcing - the trend is reversing.

I just saw this great article on Information Week.

In it Jim Ditmore talks about why companies are starting to realize outsourcing isn't a silver bullet and shares some times he reversed an outsourcing deal. I really like this article. I think he does a great job of hitting the nail on the head. I'm paraphrasing a bit with the next line

Outsource only what you don''t have scale, cost advantages, competence or capacity and what is not part of what makes you special

I've actually been involved in two outsourcing due diligence discussions and analysis almost 8-10 years ago. One as the project lead. Both times we didn't do it. The first time was all of IT. Application development was going to go to one company and Operations to another. While the companies were "partnered on the engagement" I can't imagine there wouldn't have been finger pointing. We, at the last minute, passed on it.

The second engagement was for IT Operations only. Supposedly the vendor could save us 20-30% of our costs and at the time we were a public company and very concerned about the "revenue per headcount" metric. 

Apparently somewhere, someone external to the company decided that even though our costs were in line and we were profitable, we had too many people. Personally I always think focusing on a single metric at the cost of profit seems silly, I wasn't involved enough in that discussion to understand the entire decision. I firmly believe "If we all have the same information, the answer is obvious". I didn't have all the information. 

Anyway, we looked at the entire scope of the project, our costs, growth projections and after six months at our final presentation, determine that the costs were going to go up 20%. I still remember the vendor saying to me "Rich, we think the problem is you don't understand your true costs", to which I replied "No I think your problem is I do understand my true costs and they are about 20% less than yours".

As it turns out Jim says exactly that. In a mediocre company, outsourcing is likely to save you 30% or more. If you are well run it should be about the same, and if you are world class you are probably 20-40% less. I guess we fall into world class, cool.

Now I do think outsourcing can work, but the contract needs to be very clear, with measurable metrics and review of those metrics. Also the vendor needs to be very closely aligned with your business goals. 

Let me say that again. BUSINESS GOALS. This doesn't mean an SLA around uptime. That's not a business goal. I mean more like "We will pay you our current costs -X% and a bonus if we meet our revenue, EBITDA and profit goals". Then they have some interest in really making sure your company does well. 

If you haven't read his article, take the few minutes and read it. He has some great examples. It's definitely worth the time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

NEVMUG Disaster Recovery session

I'm sitting in a presentation from Mike Laverick  and listening to him talk about Site Recovery Manager. He brought up a great point about building this all from scratch. He does a much better job... He has a cool british accent. I can't compete with that.

"Imagine you have an employee, "Mike" Mike built all of our automated DR scripts. Since you are the new hire that replaced Mike, can you look at this 6000 line script and see why it didn't work last night? And twelve hours later you are scratching your head going "Why is this variable added to itself and then added to 5?" No one wants that.

Even worse is when Mike is still there and very vocal about how smart he is and everyone in the business loves him and thinks he is really smart. You look at the code and realize his 6000 line script isn't very good and you could rewrite it in 500 lines of code. Then you realize Mike is an ass...."

Funny but stories we have probably all lived...

NEVMUG Summer Slam

I'm super excited to be at the NEVMUG summer slam today in Freeport Maine. It's a great place to be in the summer, and it's not 100 degrees like last year. Plus the dinner after the event is great. Some people have accused me of coming to this every year just for the free lobster. I cannot tell a lie, i like lobster and that doesn't hurt but that's not the only reason to come to this event.

It's the biggest IT event in this area. Generally 1200-1400 people come to this event to learn more about virtualization. The great thing though is it really is a user driven event. Though many of the speakers are from vmware, most of the presentations seem to start with "Hey this is me speaking as me, not representing VMware" I think that makes a big difference. Clearly they all believe in vmware or they wouldn't be there but it's good that they get to share their personal views as well.

Its also a great event to meet friends and reconnect, and to network with new people. For example I've got to see Royce Stegman from Brocade who I haven't seen since the last event. My friends from Actifio who have been coming since they started as a company 3 years ago, and I got to meet @nikwik613 in person. We've been following each other on twitter for a while and it was great to put a name to a face or twitter handle I guess. Of course Tim Antonowicz @timantz from Mosaic is here. Matt Stoller who I worked with 10 years ago is presenting and I'll make sure to catch up with him today too. Veeam and I have presented at other conferences and it is always great to see them. Broadleaf, Focus Technology and Dell are regulars as well.

Somewhere around here is the #nerdherd. They are the most social group at these vmug events. We've talked on twitter for a long time but actually never met. Meeting  in person with these guys is on my list as well.

It's a little weird to not be speaking this year. The last 3 years I've either been on a user panel, breakout session or part of the keynote. The good thing is I have more time to tweet and blog and share what I've learned. So far the big takeway is how much I miss these events and wish we had them more often.