Difficult people… or worse.

A few days ago, someone walked up to Michael Arrington and spat on him. For those who missed this news, here is an excerpt and link from Michael’s own blog:

Yesterday as I was leaving the DLD Conference in Munich, Germany someone walked up to me and quite deliberately spat in my face. Before I even understood what was happening, he veered off into the crowd, just another dark head in a dark suit. People around me stared, then looked away and continued their conversation.

[From Some Things Need To Change]

This isn’t about Michael Arrington. Or Techcrunch.

There are many people who have inexplicably aggressive or even violent responses to what most of us would consider everyday frustrations. So what can you do? In the heat of the moment, it may be hard to choose your response because you be too shocked, confused or furious to think straight.

I’ve found myself distressed and frustrated after these encounters, even ruminating over the response I should have made, or the visceral reaction my ego would have enjoyed. But sometimes I manage to handle something really well. This doesn’t happen because I’m brilliant or cool, but because I’ve spent years working in support and service professionally.

In the support and service business, the customer who flies off the handle shouldn’t shock you, and certainly shouldn’t make you react angrily. You’re dealing with people, so it’s just part of the job – but too many companies don’t give their teams the training and support they need to handle tough customer situations.

The typical class on handling difficult customers is a couple of hours of role playing where people give rote responses to faked aggressive behavior. This can be great for giving your team basic ideas about what’s acceptable, but it’s not going to be enough to build the poise and professional manner that I see in the best teams. To do that you need ongoing refinement and support. You need some way of making it interesting. Most importantly, you need to reinforce in your team these key ideas:

  1. Stay calm. It’s not about you. This person’s behavior is completely out of proportion to the situation. There is something else going on, which you have no control over. Stay calm.
  2. If they are abusive, ask them to stop, so that you can both focus on fixing the problem.
  3. Whatever it is that you did do to contribute to the problem, fix it. Make sure they understand that you are working to make it right.
  4. Get someone else involved. This may mean getting your supervisor on the call, or even handing the customer off to the boss, or it may be just a debrief with a senior teammate after you get off the line with the customer.
  5. Follow up with the customer. This is something every company needs to do better. make sure the customer knows that it matters that they were angry and that you want to be sure you have done everything you can to make them ok with the outcome. We’re all human, and this is a human process.

This is the same stuff you would teach in one of those role playing classes. But the key is to continue to build a more sophisticated response to difficult behavior into everyone in your team. You need to keep the momentum; keep your team talking about difficult situations and how they have handled it. This process has these aims:

  1. Keep the learning positive
  2. Reinforce the basics (the ideas listed above)
  3. Ensure the team fixes anything that’s broken and is contributing to these conflicts

Whether you do this sharing as part of regular team meetings, or posting a “Story of the Week” on an in-house blog (comments enabled!) the secret is to make this an ongoing learning experience that is fun and positive. You want this to be part of your team culture.

Arrington is taking a break, which is for him probably a good idea, so he can relax and get his head straight after such a personal attack. I wish him well.

Focus and Priorities vs. Turf

When dealing with complex issues that spread across functional lines, a senior executive focusing on the issue can being important focus and coordination to the effort.

But too often, people are paying more attention to the politics of Turf instead of the value of that cross-organization emphasis.

I started thinking about this after reading a piece by Jonathan Martin of Politico. He may be right about Obama’s strategy. He believes he’s bringing power in closer to him and taking authority away from Cabinet positions. For example:

“Czar” Carol Browner will head up Obama’s fight on global warming, where once his energy and environmental chiefs might have stepped in.

[From West Wing on steroids in Obama W.H. – Jonathan Martin – Politico.com]

But the spread of authority on some issues, such as global warming, is exactly the problem that needs to be fixed. These problems need focus and it helps to have someone focusing on the issue and actively figuring out how to bring together the disparate objectives throughout the administration.

The same applies to any organization. This approach can be great for everyone involved. But infighting and turf battles do happen.

What’s the key? How does it all come together? What is it that really makes the difference?

Scobleizer — Tech geek blogger » Blog Archive Seagate learns important PR lesson: keep the customers happy! «

Robert Scoble posted details of this week’s blow-up over failing drives and censored forum posts:

Seagate (maker of hard drives and storage devices) has been getting slammed on forums and blogs the past couple of days. Partly because they had a bad batch of hard drives and didn’t properly recognize or fix the problem quickly. Partly because they removed a few anti-Seagate threads from its forums.

[From Scobleizer — Tech geek blogger » Blog Archive Seagate learns important PR lesson: keep the customers happy! «]

This one is going in my file for great examples. It’s surprising how often you’ve got to walk companies through this logic.

Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Service and the Fifty Percent Rule

This week, Ross Mayfield makes an interesting point about the level of service experience at the Apple Store. It’s a brilliant post and poses some great follow-on questions, but the thing I liked most was this point about support knowledge:

But I think Apple gets something more than the value of customer experience. According to the Consortium of Service Innovation, there is an iceberg effect for product knowledge. 90% of conversations about supporting products never touch the company. Only 10% touch the call center. And 1% of this service and product quality knowledge are assimilated.

Sometimes this distribution is purposeful. Support is viewed as a cost center. Time to resolution (which we’ve decreased by as much as 30%) often trumps customer satisfaction or capturing knowledge. Worst practices are often employed to incent contact center reps to avoid contact.

The problem is far worse with multi-vendor support. Multi-vendor issues take 3-4 times longer to resolve. So almost all vendors explicitly do not support these issues at all. There is some promise in Vendor Relationship Management, or communities that address systemic needs through the demand side supplying itself, but only the beginning of promise.

[From Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Service and the Fifty Percent Rule]

How is your performance? Do you even measure knowledge creation rates? Do you know how many of your support center cases are already solved in the knowledge base, but customers aren’t finding it?

Perhaps more importantly, have you moved past “call avoidance” to embrace Customer Engagement the way Apple has in the Apple Store?

FriendFeed, value, and … on Gillmor Gang

The May 30th Gillmor Gang is all about FriendFeed and it’s one of the best I’ve heard.

http://gillmorgang.techcrunch.com/2008/05/31/gillmor-gang-053008/

Why FriendFeed Matters

Bret Taylor of FriendFeed makes the point that different people use different tools, and that’s one of the reasons he created FriendFeed. He says: “The union of all of your friend’s one or two services is a really diverse set of information and a really diverse array of services.”

For me, this is the key point. I shouldn’t have to use the same tool as my friends in order to see their photos, videos, favorite music or movies, recommended news articles or podcasts. The key is in how usable my view into all this information can be.

Following the conversation

Today we can search, but when the conversation is flying, I really want to see “who else is talking about this”. Within that view, I may want to be able to limit it to what my friends are saying, or maybe what their friends are saying, or just see the whole conversation.

This is not a trivial problem. The conversation isn’t a single thread; it doesn’t start from a single place. So bringing it all together in a coherent way is not easy. I shouldn’t have to be an expert at crafting a search string in order to find and follow the conversation. That search complexity should be hidden – It needs to be a usable, intuitive interface that lets me focus on the content, on the conversation.

Segmentation of content

I’m not very interested in Robert Scoble’s twitter feed or his shows on Qik, but I’m very interested in his events list on Upcoming, shared items from Google Reader and his detailed posts on technology. Can FriendFeed be the place where I follow just the parts of Scoble’s prodigious output that interests me? Can this kind of fussy control be provided without making the user experience so dense that it drives away users?

Take a Listen

The Gillmor Gang today covered all these questions and more. It was a fascinating hour, and the FriendFeed team handled it all thoughtfully and with great insight.

Hugh McLeod says “Being a nucleus is the money shot” for FriendFeed, and I think he’s right. The FriendFeed team seems poised to really make it work.

Why the Open will win

Why the Open will win

If only my friends who have accounts in the same service can see my photos or favorite music or restaurants, then I will put less energy into participating in that service. But with a mesh of services connected by common syndication formats and open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), my friends and I can share and converse amongst ourselves or with the connected world, independent of which tools we use.

For all the services using this open model, this network of tools brings audience. People who share photos, recommend an interesting article, or podcast, or coming event will pull more people into the conversation – a conversation tied to the open mesh of tools.

Any company that sticks to a silo strategy will fail. Instead of the silo communities locking in their users, they will be locked out of the conversation.

Obama on Veterans.

Barack Obama spoke a few weeks ago in West Virginia, and this is an excerpt of the speech where he addresses Veteran issues:

Personally, I lost an uncle to suicide largely stemming from his tour in Vietnam. I also watched the effects of PTSD on another uncle, of the WWII generation, grow worse as he slipped into dementia in the years before he passed in his 80’s. I feel very strongly that our service men and women are heroes, whether or not I agree with the policies of our civilian leadership who put them in the fight.

Obama’s speech in this podcast is worth listening to. For that matter, subscribe to the podcast series and listen to what he says on a variety of issues.

http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/podcast

Pescadero Garden tour, Saturday, May 19th

My friend Monique was instrumental in organizing this year’s tour. Details are on the HMB Review webite, at:

http://www.hmbreview.com/articles/2007/05/16/community/community_news/story4.txt

Come on down! let me know if you’ll be joining us!

Douse the controversy, or transform it?

Everyone has been making much of the Obama speech on race and racism in america. David S. Broder of the Washington Post has written well on the subject and why it will continue to be a controversy. But he suggests that Obama’s immediate objective was to “douse the controversy” surrounding his relationship with Reverend Wright.

I don’t believe that this was Obama’s objective. Most politicians seek to push away from controversy, but Obama seems to want to use it rather than to simple make the controversy go away.

This is one of the things I find impressive about Obama. I hope he continues to push us all to confront these difficult issues of race and class, so we can make America the place we all believe it can be.

Original Washington Post article

“Them” is very much ‘Us”

Shel Israel wrote a powerful post a couple days ago. I just saw it. It’s in the general theme of social networks, but really it’s about bigotry. A Must-Read:

http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2008/02/its-them.html

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