A Business Technology Place

The Ackerman Security Wireless Communicator Upgrade Letter

Last week I started a two-post blog about examples of marketing communication letters to customers. I chose two examples that show when a marketing group is out-of-synch with the operations group of an organization. The letters are good case studies about syncing instructions, or the call-to-action, to a customer to provide a better customer experience. Last week was the Takata Airbag recall. This week is about a letter I received from Ackerman Security Systems.

Quick background.

I use Ackerman Security for my home security and monitoring system. I’ve been a customer for over six years and thankfully I’ve never had to use them in a real emergency. Several years ago, when we removed our home phone land-line, I switched to their wireless monitoring service.

Fast forward a few years. One night our security panel made a noise we had never heard. It wasn’t an alarm signal, but it wasn’t normal. When I called for service, they told me my wireless unit had malfunctioned and needed to be replaced. When the technician came on-site he told me I also needed to upgrade from the 2G to the 4G receiver to be compatible with the new carrier systems. The upgrade was installed.

The Letter.

This month I received a letter from Ackerman telling me I must upgrade to the 4G digital cellular communicator because my existing model would soon no longer function on the carrier’s network. It’s a two-page form letter telling me I must buy the upgraded equipment to continue service.

Click for full size

Click for full size

Click for full size

Click for full size

But I had already changed my device two years ago.

Just to be sure, I took the cover off the central communicator unit to look for the model number. I found it labeled Honeywell GSMX4G. I searched online and found a few other complaints about this letter from Ackerman Customers. When I tried to call them to verify I listened to music for 20 minutes before hanging-up. I sent their customer service group an email letting them know I already had a 4G cellular communicator and to please update their records. No one acknowledged my email or contacted me after this.

So what’s the lesson here? I am giving the company the benefit of the doubt this is not an intentional practice and they are not charging customers to upgrade to equipment they already have. I assume the real issue is they don’t have accurate records of the device installed at each customer location. If true, then my suggestion is to word the letter slightly differently with the understanding you “may need to upgrade your cellular communicator.” The letter could include some simple instructions about how to find the equipment type. As-is, this process leads to confusion and mistrust.

Onward and Upward!

 

The view from here. Amazing things I see in IT.

15753367794_7a21f5af6a_zWhen I chose to pursue a career in information technology it wasn’t because I knew what the view would look like from the inside. I was, and still am, enamored with creating and building things. I’ve learned over time that the connection I feel with a new solution is just a piece of the IT view from the inside. The ability to create and build things turns into experiences and stories of connecting people with systems and solutions. That means the view is filled with challenges, successes, and failures. But the complete view includes the user and the solution. In other words the view is bigger than me. The view is bigger than the creation. The view is a complete environment in which me, the creation, and user are all participants.

Here are a few of my favorites views from inside IT:

  1. IT professionals making systems made by different manufacturers talk to each other in a meaningful way.

I stress “meaningful way” because during a translation activity it’s usually fairly simple to map data fields between two systems. The more difficult part is getting the two disparate systems to interpret the same data equally. That involves business logic and rules which are set by the two users.

Years ago I participated in building the first bank site extension that allowed a checking account holder to connect through online banking to a site that allowed them order checks.  The check ordering site was completely different than online banking. Behind the scenes we built a bridge of information about the account holder and their checking account plan. This governed what check catalog they viewed, how much the checks cost, and imprint that was placed on the checks. When it all worked it was like view with different landscapes meeting together to form a new transition in the scenery.

  1. IT professionals mapping a manual workflow to an electronic workflow so that it runs faster and more reliably.

In recent weeks some of my team members automated the ability to send coupon redemption data electronically to NCH. This ability removes days of manual processing of redemption data and coupon codes. Another example was creating the ability send a purchase order to vendor, receive their acknowledgement and shipping notification, and then send the corresponding billing electronically to the customer. Before this happened each step was done by hand via email, match-up process, and mailing.

What’s the view look like when things like this happen? I see savings in labor dollars and a reduction in time to complete a task. That means competitive services in the marketplace and meaningful solutions to customers. It’s like a body of water that’s blue and a reflection of the creation around it.

  1. IT professionals developing a technology based solution but learning more about the underlying business process than when they started.

To me, it’s magical when an IT programmer converses with a finance manager about the rules of a lock box transfer to the bank, accounts receivable balances, and cash flow. It’s amazing when an IT database administrator discusses sales entered, shipped sales, and billed sales with a Sales manager to help determine the right filters and views to show on reports. The point is that being in IT is more than programming 1s and 0s on a screen. It’s about understanding the subject matter of the business. That means learning and connecting with business owners to deliver solutions they will use. .

I still love what I do. I love the views it gives me of work and life. What about you? What do you see in your view?

 

Onward and upward!

 

Photo Credit. https://flic.kr/p/q158py – By Douglas Scortegagna via Creative Commons.

 

The greenest grass.

Finding valuable takeaways through everyday work experiences is something I started thinking about a few years ago. I attribute this behavior to my writing hobby. Since I try to blog on a regular cadence, I examine events during the work week as potential subject matter for writing.

How would you answer this?

Do you think about opportunities for strengthening individual relationships or for improving business workflows through the course of everyday experiences and interactions with others?

Admittedly this isn’t easy and not really natural. During a typical day I’m very task focused. How do I solve the problem in front of me? How do I complete a service request? How do I follow a process? How do I get as much done as possible? How can I complete more tasks?

I find that it’s easier to think about deeper meanings and opportunities after the day is over or when I carve out time for reflection. I don’t do it nearly enough. But the value in the exercise is that it helps me enjoy my job more and appreciate the efforts of my coworkers.

This week I saw a quote, “you may think the grass is greener on the other side. But if you take the time to water your own grass it would be just as green.” Maybe that’s not always true. But the intent of the words is clear and it agrees with the mindset of looking for opportunity and positive meanings in our current situations.

To help put some practical examples to my ideas this week I thought of a few common tasks in Information Technology that could have much deeper meaning or opportunity:

Common experience: Fixing a printer that won’t print.

Immediate need: Enable a co-worker to print invoices so that the company can pay suppliers.

Opportunity: A chance to discuss with the co-worker alternatives to printing by using an electronic method.

——

Common experience: Rerunning a report that didn’t generate.

Immediate need: Showing daily order totals for a product category.

Opportunity: A chance to deliver the reporting data real-time or improve the scheduled process flow that generates reports to make it more reliable.

——

Common experience: Setup computer and email for new employee.

Immediate need: Putting a fresh image on a computer so that it can be placed in service.

Opportunity: A chance to be one of the first smiling faces the new employee sees when you deliver the equipment and show them where things are located.

——

Common experience: A web form is susceptible to a hacker attack and reported on a penetration scan.

Immediate need: Fix the problem so the scanner passes the test.

Opportunity: A chance to see how hackers are breaking and entering. Play the role of cyber-cop by resolving the issue but learn from the experience and program to tougher standards with the next software release.

What’s great about this is that searching for the deeper meaning and opportunity in our everyday experiences can happen with any job at any level. It’s like watering the grass on your side of the fence. Do that and you might just find that the grass is greener in your current yard.

Onward and upward!

Rewarding switching over loyalty

A fast marketing engine.

It took about 8 weeks for the marketing department at Charter Communications to catch-up with my decision to cut the cable TV cord. Considering the size of Charter, I’m impressed with the turn around time to add me to the prospective customer list mailings. New subscriptions are up for Charter and the company is doing well in spite of serious market pressures from alternative forms of media content and broadband services. But wait, what just happened here?

Rewarding switching and quitting over loyalty.

The offer that marketers make to prospective customers for reduced rate services during the first 12 months of service continues to add friction for customer loyalty. Consider the madness. I received an offer in the mailer equivalent to the pricing I had with Charter before I cancelled my service. When Charter notified me that my special pricing was over and that my rates were increasing I called to cancel service. During that call, no one tried to retain my business. 20+ years of cable service loyalty gone in a flash.

 

Cable and cellular providers are judged by Wall Street on the metric of number of new subscribers. So we are left with a system where the guy who has paid for cable service for 20+ years is paying a higher rate than the guy who just switched from somewhere else. We have a system where a customer can quit and then wait 8 weeks to be offered a better rate of service than he had when he was an existing customer.

Who is the winner?

The winner is the guy who quits the game altogether or jumps from one provider to another. But this isn’t how companies known for customer service do business is it? This isn’t what they teach in MBA class. This type of behaviour isn’t even really logical either. What customer likes to be treated like this?

“Profit in business comes from repeat customers; customers that boast about your product and service, and that bring friends with them.” ~ W. Edwards Deming

There has to be a better system. What say you?

Onward and upward!

I.T. is better when…

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m thankful for another year of work and learning. During my reflection this year for what I’m thankful for, I thought about what makes life in IT better. What are those things that help IT perform to their best ability? What are those things that help an IT group provide great service?Make IT Better

So here’s a list you can gobble-up. It’s stuffed with good fillings. If you’re not in IT then give it to your IT guy/gal. Hopefully it won’t give them indigestion.

IT is better when:

  • employees focus on service and solutions over process and policy – This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have policies and procedures. But as a matter of focus, IT is better when the goal of the employee is to provide service and solutions. For more discourse on this topic read What do you want to be known for?
  • employees move beyond thinking about salary as their primary motivator. I’ve heard my fair share of salary whining in a 25 year technology career. When that happens the employee loses focus on getting better, continuous learning, and service delivery. But more than that they lose focus on being happy at work.  It’s a distraction for them and those they involve. As a general statement, IT employees are well compensated. Salary isn’t a right-of position. IT employees are as responsible for delivering results as any other department.
  • the business units treat IT as a partner for solution development. So often I see business units skip IT to work with  an outside provider directly. It’s a complicated topic and yes IT is often too stacked-up with work to deliver services in the needed timeline. But this behavior often results from an attitude that IT can’t provide. If IT isn’t viewed as a legitimate business partner then they don’t even get a seat at the table to deliver solutions and services.
  • IT treats the business as a customer instead of an “user”. The term “user” is pretty impersonal. I’ve heard IT service delivery personnel talk about internal customers as if they are a nuisance or disruption to their day. Not cool. Those are customers and IT is better when they are they are treated like a customer. IT is definitely better when they focus on customer service. (Hint: this helps to create the atmosphere that solves the bullet above this one)
  • finance treats IT as a source for competitive advantage instead of a cost center. The cost center mentality is a race to zero. That’s not a winnable game for anyone. When finance sees and pushes IT to offer competitive advantages then IT gets better.  How do we return ROI on our technology investment? How do we charge-back some of cost to build services for customers?