Friday, March 30, 2007

Wanting to Try Twitter: Give Me a Reason

Back in January, I said I would try new social networking technologies. I am convinced that to truly understand the benefits you have to do them for awhile. The two technologies I have not tried yet are Twitter and Second Life.

Second Life
Eventually, I will give Second Life a whirl. Why haven't I tried Second Life? It seems peculiar to "play a video game" for work. Also, I have never been good at "becoming someone else" or pretending to have characteristics that aren't part of me. And the last reason is that I get motion sickness. A few times of turning green while playing Tony Hawk with the kids years ago convinced me that video games were not for me. Video games and spinning tea cups have a very similar effect.

I can see some benefits of Second Life for some learners. I eventually will make the jump to Second Life because I have to say that I tried it. I will also have to be able to convey the benefits of Second Life better than I can right now. The best way to understand its benefits is to do it.

Someone needs to tell me one reasonably good benefit of using Twitter. Even before trying and adopting other tools such as blogging, news readers, and social tagging, I saw some benefits of using them. I just can't imagine that telling the world (or even a small community) what I am doing at the moment gives anybody any great benefit--unless they are looking for more boredom.

I think Twitter might make it tempting for me to state my emotions of the moment rather than the tasks at the moment. Blurting out my emotions might be entertaining to some, but would eventually become very problematic for me.

I could type into Twitter as I leave the dentist office "I would rather birth those babies again without drugs than to come back and sit in that chair."

Somebody Help
I am willing to try Twitter, just give me one reason to jump into trial mode. You don't even have to convince me that Twitter is the right tool for me, I just need one reason to try it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

To Multitask or To Not Multitask

John Dorner contrasted two articles: IT multitasking productivity and the problems of multitasking. His post made me also wonder about the conflicting results from these two different research approaches.

If we believe that multitasking diminishes our ability to stay on thinking-kinds of tasks, what are we going to do about it? Multitasking is the way teenagers (and younger), college students and some adults go about their day-to-day lives. My attempts to convince my teenager to do his schoolwork differently has resulted in zero change. Are these multitasking youngsters and college students less intelligent than we were when we were young? Certainly not, in fact, I believe my kids are much smarter than I ever was.

They are exposed to so many more environments, cultures, technologies, and ideas. This exposure helps them to be receptive, tolerant, and question differing viewpoints, ideas, and concepts.

Definitely, they are learning differently than we learned. So the question again is what do we do about working and educating in multitasking environments? In the education arena, we should rethink how we teach these kids. Terry Sale gives a good example of how we should change the way we teach language arts.

The IT multitasking productivity research provided evidence that multitasking is productive in the long run, not in the short-term. The researchers also found that diversity of social networks is important.

While our kids are multitasking, they are also expanding their social contacts and exposure multi-fold. Kids are communicating with multiple friends (friends of friends) at any given time. Our kids are constantly communicating, communicating, and communicating.

They may never see some of these friends face-to-face. As my son plays virtual games with kids from across the world, he socializes with and learns from them. The other night I asked him why he did not come downstairs when I wanted him to. His reply was “I was on my way down, but my friend from Australia got online (Xbox 360) and we just started talking (for about 15 minutes).” They weren’t playing a virtual game; they were just talking (through their headsets--real, live voices). Talking with a friend who lives where it is daytime when it is nighttime at our house was an acceptable excuse. What opportunities! What exposure! What fun!

The Aral and Van Alstyne research tells us that diversity of information from diverse social networks produces more revenues, more completed projects, etc. See Sinal Aral’s comment and the research article abstract.

What does the research suggest? Multitask by seeking diverse information from diverse sources while using a variety of communications methods.

So what about the other research that says multitasking can be bad? My approach is to take periodic breaks from multitasking. When I have those tasks that need concentrated attention—like reviewing a research journal article—I leave the office and find a place that has no Internet access (yes, a few restaurants in this small Southern university town do not have free wireless access).

I am also glad to report that the two older kids are able to remove themselves for a short time (albeit, much shorter time period than I would like) to concentrate on their more serious school subjects during crunch times.

I will continue to seek diverse information and communications while multitasking. Periodically, I will interrupt the multitasking for concentrated thought—I know no other way to do my job.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What is Customer Service?

After some of my colleagues and friends read my last post, they thought that I was taking revenge on the service centers that did not give good service. Although that did cross my mind, punishing the service centers that were not customer-focused was not my intention.

My intent was to describe the activities and attitudes that demonstrate good customer service. At the Franklin Pontiac Service Center, good customer relations permeated through every action and interaction that the employees had with the customers. The other two service centers could really learn from the way Franklin Pontiac treats its customers.

What I also failed to do in my post was to indicate that quality customer service hinges on quality products (and services); exemplary customer service is more than interacting and relating to the customers. If Franklin Pontiac was nice, but did not portray competence, and was not able to the job (or fix the problem), then my only comment would have been: "They are nice." Being friendly will take a product and an organization only so far.

Being dedicated to providing customer service also requires the organization to excel in its services and products. The organization has to have substance--quality customer service and quality products. An organization cannot sustain good customer service without providing quality products.

Good customer service also means continuous improvement where employees are "looking for ways to improve quality and value". Joel Spolsky describes "Seven steps to remarkable customer service". His first step of solving customer problems includes a two-pronged approach: 1) solve the immediate problem and 2) fix the problem so it is not a problem for the next customer. This requires all employees think beyond their own specific job duties. Employees should think how their actions affect customers and others within the organization.

Of course, businesses that produce quality products, but are not customer-focused, can survive for awhile. After awhile, though, I lose confidence in their ability to produce quality products, and I simply lose interest in doing business with them. Businesses that indeed know that "The customer is our reason for being here" are the ones that will get my repeat business.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Does your organization really serve its clients? A tale of four service centers

On Thursday, March 15, after two hours into the trip to Nashville, the service engine light of our new Pontiac Torrent came on. We had more than three hours left of trip, and we knew that we needed to get this checked before heading home three days later.

My daughter read the manual while I drove. We checked the items listed in the manual and the service engine light continued to tell us something could possibly be wrong.

My daughter called the roadside service number, but she did not know how to navigate the menu system since we were not stranded. We called our Pontiac service center at home and they gave us a toll free number. That number stayed busy.

Then my daughter called a couple of my co-workers who looked up the dealerships north of Birmingham. Bill Smith Pontiac in Cullman made the most logic choice for us to stop. Thanks Greg and Rusty! I know why I love working with you guys!

Service Center #1; Bill Smith Pontiac, Cullman
The man at the service desk said they did not have anyone who could work on the Pontiac until tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. I explained we were on the way to Nashville and needed it done today. He said he couldn’t; if the water temperature was running okay, then we would be fine to run the car a few more days.

My interpretation: “We don’t plan and manage our shop to service Pontiacs daily. No need, because our customers can wait. And, I really don’t want to do it, anyway.”
Service Center #2: Beaman Pontiac, Nashville
Friday morning, I called Beaman Pontiac which is located about one mile from our downtown hotel. I explained the situation to a man who told me he could not fix the car until Monday. I explained again the situation and that it would be unwise to drive for another five hours home. He would not budge.

My response was that because I have a Pontiac that has only 5,000 miles on it and I can’t get it service “I wonder what kind of company Pontiac really is”. His reply was consistent: “We cannot service it today. Monday is the soonest we can get to it.”

He did suggest that I try Franklin Pontiac which is located 10 miles away. I asked for that phone number. His replied condescendingly, “I don’t know the number, but you can call 411 and ask for Franklin Pontiac.”

My interpretation: “We are on our own schedule. We will not budge from our control system. You can wait until we are ready to serve you. Better yet, you can use your time, your own expense, and your own resources to find service somewhere else. I really don’t want to deviate from my specific job. And, I really don’t care what you think of Pontiac. I really don’t care that you just bought a new car from Pontiac.”

Service Center #3: Franklin Pontiac at Dickson
By accident, I called Franklin Pontiac at Dickson instead of Franklin Pontiac at Franklin. I explained to Casey my situation and that this was my third call for service. The others have refused to service my vehicle in a timely way although it is clearly under warranty and that I am away from home. I was getting frustrated. He said his shop was 40 miles from my location. He said Franklin Pontiac and Earl Dunn Pontiac would be closer. I asked him if he could give me the number to Franklin Pontiac. He said he did not know it, but would look it up for me. He gave me the number to both Franklin and Earl Dunn Pontiac service centers. He said that he would be glad "work me in" if I could not get service closer.
My interpretation: “You are an important customer. I will help you. I don’t mind helping you and giving you information that would be useful. Although we are booked, I will provide you service if that is what would help you.”

My faith in Pontiac is beginning to get turned around. So, Pontiac may actually care.

Service Center #4: Franklin Pontiac
I explained to a man with Franklin Pontiac, my situation and that I am frustrated with the lack of service. The man listened and said that they would be glad to service the car—a refreshing change from the first two service centers! He patiently gave me directions twice to his service center. He was friendly, gave no indication of impatience that I was bothering him. He politely answered all of questions. Whew! Finally a good attitude and a viable solution!

I arrived at Franklin Pontiac with ease (well, after I got out of downtown traffic). The directions were perfectly described. I first spoke with Reed, the parts manager. With a friendly smile, he listened and gave me directions to the service area in the garage—“they’ll be able to fix your car.” In the garage, I described the problem to another kind gentleman. After I described that we had driven more than 3 hours with the service light on, with an empathic response, he said, “I bet you were on pins and needles.” My thought was “Wow! Someone who actually listens and understands”

He also indicated that since lunch, they had an influx of cars coming in for repair so that it may take awhile, but they would definitely fix the car. He asked me if I needed a ride. I said “No, I will stay here—I have nowhere else to go.” He smiled understandingly, knowing that I was somewhat misplaced. He said he would get the car ready as soon as possible.

This man and Reed helped me develop confidence in Franklin Pontiac by listening, assessing the dilemma, communicating the situation, and developing a plan.

Everyone I encountered in Franklin Pontiac smiled and made me feel at home. I requested directions to ATM. And later, I requested a notepad and pen. Reed accommodated each request with a smile, never once indicating that I was bothering him or that he did not have time to fill requests.

As I was taking a picture of a framed poster: “Customer’ Creed”, I was asked by three different women in the payment office if they could help me. I explained I was impressed by their service and the Customer Creed is the exact way they ran their office. It was the first time since yesterday I really felt like a service center cared and was well-managed. They were surprised other Pontiac service centers were not responsive.

The Customer Creed was:
  • The customer is our reason for being here.
  • It takes months to find a customer and seconds to lose one.
  • Always be courteous and polite during each customer contact.
  • Always do more than is expected when you handle a customer's problem.
  • Never promise more than we can deliver.
  • Continually look for ways to improve quality and add value to products our customers purchase.

Another noticeable item was a bulletin board that was filled with thank you notes from customers. The man from garage came in to talk with the customers a few times. He explained the problems and solutions with competence and thoroughness, His tone and eye contact conveyed respect and care. To one customer who had to wait several hours for his extensive repair, he said, “Can I get you anything?” Wow! This gesture meant “I understand how frustrating it might be to wait so I will help ease the frustration.”

Every employee (including the payment clerks and mechanics) who walked through the lobby smiled and spoke short greetings to the customers.

Within an hour of my arrival, an energetic young lady from the garage extended her hand with a friendly and firm handsake and a vibrant “Miss Anne, your car is ready.” She explained the service engine light had indicated that there was a problem with the oxygen level in the emissions systems. There is a bulletin on it so we knew what to do to fix it. You are ready to go.”
This confident young lady communicated her competence by letting me know the nature of the problem and that Pontiac communicated to the service centers what to do with these kinds of problems.

My interpretation of Franklin Pontiac was: “We care about our customers. Our customers are important to us. We work for our customers. We are happy to serve our customers! That’s our job and we love doing it!”

I bet that the employees at Franklin Pontiac are happy to go to work everyday, too.

What a difference an attitude makes when dealing with customers. Both the Franklin Pontiac (at Dickson and at Franklin) service centers had a "can-do" and "customers are important" attitude. They seemed to understand ways to solve their customers' problems?

Both the Bill Smith and Beaman Pontiac service centers had a "no-can do" attitude. The customers can wait until the service center is ready to serve them

The Franklin Pontiac was immersed in friendliness, service, and competence. The other two service centers were not concerned with serving the customers.

Which service center reflects your organization? Franklin Pontiac exemplifies an organization that is more about serving the customer than staying with its specific controls of rules. Is it possible to run an organization efficiently and still keep the customer first? The attitude dictates our ability to do so.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Trust in the Online Community

Larry asks "Who can you believe?" Faculty and university administrators ask this question all the time: "How can we trust the information if we don't know who created it?"

Credentials and structure are very important to many peer-reviewed, published professors. Thus, the concept that valuable, reliable, creative content can be created by the masses in a flat, chaotic, networked world is foreign to many university folks (certainly, not all faculty, but most).

In the massive flat world, where you do not "know" the person, do you trust the information more if you see PhD after his/her name? In most cases, it does not matter what letters, if any, follow the name. Furthermore, you may not know.

Larry and I, like other Extension faculty, represent organizations that pride themselves in providing research-based, non-biased information. Because Cooperative Extension is part of land-grant institutions, a plethora of people with doctorates, and other advanced degrees, surrounds us. Thus, our organizations naturally think you should trust us--because we are experts.

When people reach one of our sites, do they respond "Ahhh, this is Cooperative Extension--they are research-based education providers--so I can trust them"? Our organizations hope so; though, this is not reality. The reader will determine whether the content is trustworthy and valuable by other means.

When reading Internet content, people make judgments on whether to trust the information and how valuable the content is to them. Trust and perception of value are embedded in the thought-process of the individual seeking information.

The question is not "Who can be trusted?" Rather, the questions are "What can be trusted?" and "What is valuable?". Learning to trust online content is like learning to trust individuals. Trusting individuals and determining value usually have little to do with the college degrees. While the degree is where the connection is made (if you are sick, you go to a M.D.), trusting the individual (or online information) is built around many other factors.

Because society has changed the way it communicates and learns, university faculty have tremendous opportunities to expand their knowledge, share their knowledge, and become trusted and valued by others. To understand these opportunities is to engage, collaborate, discuss, learn, and be understood. The best way to understand trusting content (and individuals) online is to do it--live it--"be the ball" (i.e, edit public wikis, install a news reader, create a blog, join an online virtual world (i.e, Second Life), tag your bookmarks--let others see what you are reading and see what others are reading, engage your students online--let the public see how you engage them).

In order to do 2.0 you have to live 2.0 (be the ball). It's not something you can just hear about and then immediately grok.

For faculty contributions to be trusted by others (outside of the university systems), the contributions must become evident and seen by others (outside of the university systems). To trust online content and for one's contributions to be trusted, participate in these wide-open communities. Trust goes both ways.

Anne Mims Adrian, PhD