Written by Elisabeth Vanderveldt, SBSC PAL for Eastern Canada

Big box stores and their squads, telecoms offering to connect small business globally, hardware vendors hovering overhead to keep your network safe and operational. Wait a minute, isn’t that my job? And to add insult to injury, the “R” word is threatening to rear its ugly head in the financial horizon. Translation? IT spending will get cut.

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In the Financial Post on October 28 the headline read “How to Beat Big Box Stores: …focus on providing personal service works”. Let me tell you why that’s going to be true in our services sector now more than ever with a story about a client and his home modem, and why you’ve got to love the fact that the big guys still don’t get it. Frankly, I hope they never do (without coming to me of course).

I have been working with this gentleman’s firm for over 14 years. He’s a bit older and technology is not something he has time to fully appreciate (think technophobe). He has one simple rule, it just has to work and he relies on things that hum 24/7. No problem there. But one day, at home, he had modem problems after an innocent relocation of furniture. Let’s be clear about one important aspect in today’s fast moving if not frightening economy, many executives, business owners, and their outsources work as much from home as they do on the road and office - those needs are just as critical as their corporate office ones. So after being out of service all weekend (unthinkable isn’t it) he skulked into my office Monday morning and meekly told me his sad tale.

“Did you call the telco people?”. “Yes. And they told me it was my computer and they won’t help me.” Okay I can deal with that, but somehow the steely answers he was getting were sending up red flags. For my own curiosity I inquired as to the conversation, and lo and behold to my utter shock (sarcasm) at 10PM his wife was talking to an offshore tech support person. Can you say “scripted tech”? (more sarcasm). There was my second red flag. I didn’t hesitate to send one of my techs over to take a look and, as I suspected, the problem was the modem supplied by the telco. Since we could not intervene (for privacy reasons) at that point, on their next call I advised them to request a Canadian help desk rep. In the interim another call had taken place during which the Ontario rep told her to call back and ask for an Ottawa/Quebec rep because some tech notes were in French and she couldn’t read them!

Segway: That reminds me of the joke about the lady in California (my client’s branch office researcher working from home) and her modem that disrupted her service every 2 days. After $75 and the big box experience, I got the call and asked her if she had been asked to try rebooting the darn thing. Of course not - that was all it took. Under 2 minutes, problem solved. No travelling fees, no hotel, no per km charge, etc. You have to wonder what kind of “technical scripting” and training these big box guys provide. Made me look good. I can live with that.

Back to the story: So now the telco asks my client why they have such an old modem. Are you kidding me? Who is supplying this stuff. They are! In the end they got a new modem and of course it wasn’t all plug and play, so we went over and configured it and everyone is happy.

Why is David the winner? Well can you imagine without David, the client was at the mercy of Goliath who had not only refused to offer an on-site service, but gave them the wrong answers to begin with. And worse the offshore and more local rep couldn’t read some tech notes from a previous call because they were written in French. Where does the agony end? With David of course.

Lesson learned: Goliath may coast through this economic crisis but he will not come out unscathed. David will have a rough ride, since those that focus solely on IT will likely see spending pull back. However as things improve and the money flows, who do you think most businesses are going to trust with their most critical operations? David. Because what matters deep down and sticks in a client’s mind is service. Even if that means going out of our way, even just once.

Remember, bad press travels fast and good work may spread slower. But the path you take is paved with clients, ones whose trust you have in some measure already gained!

Elisabeth Vanderveldt

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