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!


When being unpopular is part of your job description

A colleague told me a story this week about their involvement in a software development project. If you make software for a living you know there is always a desire to produce working software faster. Her story was a tale about requirements, servers, browsers, bugs, and other types of gremlins we find while making software. There was angst from the team, including me, to go faster to complete the working version. But she was entrenched with her position to get the software completely correct. Then she said something unexpected and paused for effect:

“It may make me unpopular. But that’s why I’m here; to make life easier for the customer.”


The statement stuck with me into the evening.

Is customer advocacy a distinct position and role on the team or does everyone share responsibility for thinking this way?

What is the distinction between quality focus and customer focus?

My team has been bitten multiple times in the past by rushing to produce “must have” and ”mission critical” software releases only to have the customer not use the software.  In each case there was a customer advocate. But in each case the customer didn’t connect with the software to produce the intended results. The software worked as requested but the business model for the trading of goods and services didn’t work.

Those projects left a bad taste in my mouth. But don’t blame the customer. Blame our ability to connect the potential customer with a solution they would use.

It’s the job of the solution designers to create a bridge between the customer’s desire and the customer’s use because the customer cannot. It’s the job of the testers to cross the bridge the solution Bridgedesigner creates because the designer should not. It’s the job of the customer advocate to cross the bridge like the customer would move across it. Maybe that’s skipping, running, or even sliding. That may make the customer advocate unpopular because the designers and testers tend to think about crossing with the design of the bridge in mind whereas the customer thinks about what’s on the other side.

Then I realized that the customer advocate may have to play an unpopular position to the customer as well. Sometimes the customer doesn’t know exactly what they want or how to describe it. Sometimes the customer has unrealistic expectations about delivery. The customer advocate may find themselves saying something like “We can’t do that….but what we can do is this…..” There’s a risk in throwing out a statement like that. The customer may walk away completely. But I believe in most cases it creates a deeper conversation. One in which the customer becomes more engaged. It’s a conversation that goes closer to defining the bridge between the customer’s desire and the customer’s use of a product or service.

So if you know a customer advocate on your team that is unpopular at times then they’re probably doing something right. Show them some love this week.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: Quapan – Creative Commons

Push-ups to Push-downs.

Push-ups are for treats!pushup

One of my most memorable childhood treats was orange sherbet push-ups. I can still envision those pops with the plastic push sticks and the plastic bottom. Of course the plastic bottom was good for licking at the end! A paper covering with colored circles surrounded the orange sherbet that made for the tasty sweet treat.  Today, I’ve replaced Push-up pops with the push-up exercise, but I never lost my taste for orange sherbert.

Push-downs are for opportunity and growth.

At work, I prefer push-downs. I prefer to push decision making down to employees that are valued not only for their knowledge and skills but for their customer service and relationship skills as well. These are the employees closest to producing tangible output and closest to direct customer interactions. I use the word ‘prefer’ because I know there are pros and cons of decentralized versus centralized decision making. Decentralization doesn’t work best for all things (i.e. culture, philosophy, values). But a decentralized approach allows employees the opportunity to own the customer experience. That means opportunity for employee growth and a closer relationship to the company’s customers.

So push-up for strength and conditioning. But push-down for opportunity and growth.

Onward and upward!

What does the business require of me?

The question every IT professional should ask.

I think through this question quite a bit. It has significance in the equation of work satisfaction and success. It is fundamental in how every IT professional should approach their career.

What do my customers require of the Information Technology group?

Typically, we try to answer this question in terms of running the business and growing the business. I have lived the tug-of-war between providing stable systems that run the business and new systems that grow the business. It means being risk averse and cutting costs but yet taking risks and investing in new technologies. Can IT provide both and do both of them really well?

The irresistible force is growing the top line revenue of the company or finding new sources of revenue in an ever changing world.  But the immovable object is the need to keep existing systems running and to satisfy an ever growing list of compliance requirements. These two forces will compete for technology dollars and mindshare. .

But maybe I’m thinking about the answer in the wrong terms.

One of my guiding principles is that I want IT to be known for products and solutions over processes. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in processes. But I believe that customers don’t care about the ActJustlyprocesses we use unless they receive the products and solutions that solve their needs. The discussion about processes and procedures is much easier when the customer sees that IT is acting as a true partner and bringing solutions to the table.

In the Old Testament book of Micah there is a well known verse that says:

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

In context, this verse teaches that relationship comes before sacrifices. But it could easily be applied to the question “what does the business require of IT”? To act first in the interest of the customer not in the interest of IT (act justly). To act with kindness in those relationships with customers and business associates outside of IT (love mercy). To value partnership over arrogance and be more interested in a solution with compromise than ‘being right’(walk humbly).

When these pieces are in place then the conversation of what the business requires of IT changes. The relationship is described with terms like partnership, joint, and mutual. The approach to problem solving becomes enjoyable for both parties. I believe Micah’s teaching transcends time and places. The business requires IT to be in relationship with them first. Then work to solve for running the business and growing the business.

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!