Dan Sweet

No, I DON’T want to “open a ticket!”

This phrase often runs through my head and almost just as often includes an expletive that I try hard to suppress.  Of course, IT systems don’t make it possible to NOT open a ticket so I just suck it up and open them like a good little employee.  Enterprise IT blows, opening tickets rarely gets you what you need, and the whole process is generally infuriating.

2 recent experiences from work:
1 – A standard accounting report that I regularly supply to a retail partner had an error in it.  (Still unresolved 12 days later)
2 – LCD panel on my laptop went out combined with multiple blue screens of death.  (Partially resolved 7 days later)

These experiences involved opening multiple tickets, filling out more than one form, sending multiple emails, and working with multiple support people.  I am still not satisfied with the resolution of either of these problems.

The ticket opened to investigate the accounting error in the report was “resolved” within 4 days with an email informing me that the clearly incorrect report is actually correct along with a classic “buck pass” name drop of someone else who might know more.   Now, one other coworker and I have received multiple emails from the individual who “resolved” our problem asking us to please “close the ticket” since the issue has been resolved.  Where is the “are you freaking kidding me!?!” response voting button in Outlook?  There is no straightforward feedback mechanism.  Someone with no understanding of my business thinks they have solved my problem and I am still stuck with no answers for my retail partner.  They can’t close their books and I am left looking like an idiot.  With the help of my coworker, we are now multiple buck passes down the line with multiple cryptic responses prominently featuring random internal numbers generated by various internal systems I’ve never heard of.  Sweet!

I do have a new LCD screen in my laptop (different resolution from original panel).  No resolution on my blue screen of death errors however.  I was offered the classic “I guess we could re-image it again” line.  The annoying part of the harware experience was that I got significantly faster and better service from Dell as a student when I bought a laptop from the Dell Small Business division.  Taking a machine to the on-site kiosk in my work building is an exercise in silliness.  First you need to go online and open a ticket before they will talk to you.  Then once you have opened a ticket online they have a terminal where they want you to enter your info, your ticket number and a description of your problem.  Once those two steps are complete and they are willing to actually converse with you, then they want you to fill out a paper form with all of the same info again.  Awesome!  The loaner for my Core2Duo with 2GBs of RAM was a Celeron with 1GB of RAM that takes 20+ minutes to boot and open Outlook.  On a return trip to the kiosk I talked them into installing an extra gig of RAM to make the loaner usable.  They explained that this wasn’t normally ok/against policy/whatever but did “hook me up” in the end.  Dell wouldn’t have been able to give me a loaner same day, but would have had a tech onsite with the right parts the next business day.  Based on three experiences with Dell service, my problem could be captured in one phone call or IM session and the tech would treat me like a human.  I much prefer being treated like a human over the enterprise IT “rat in a maze” nonsense.

This is a huge business opportunity.  Salesforce.com sucks in many ways (that is another post) and still has built a business with a $15B market cap.  Their equity seems to be “we aren’t in-house IT” and people eat it up just because we have all had such lousy enterprise IT experiences.

We need Stack Overflow or a competitor in the same space to create an enterprise IT support platform and attack this in-house support problem.  Tickets that are opened need to be worked on by people that understand the business need.  If I am working with retailer accounting data I want to talk to someone who understands customers and retail.  I’m sure the R&D engineer wants to talk to someone who gets labs and experiment design.  Let the support people choose what problems they work on.  Use a keyword-based algorithm to tag incoming tickets and route them to the relevant boards/holding areas for pickup.  Make solving more difficult issues worth more.  Get transparent end user measures of satisfaction and compensate support people on the end-user satisfaction levels they deliver.  Gamify the system by increasing the value of a ticket the longer it goes unassigned.  Enterprise IT has the potential to be a real help, but instead we settle for cost savings, roadblocks, and more “tickets.”  Someone will fix this and build a billion dollar business.  Who is it going to be?

The Pirate’s Dilemma – how pirates reinvented capitalism

Elliott Garlock, a colleague at P&G, tweeted a link to this talk by Matt Mason yesterday. The talk is fascinating and The Pirate’s Dilemma looks like an awesome book.  I embedded the Google Video of the talk below.  You can also see the talk in its original context here.

Matt offers a refreshing perspective on piracy and the role of pirates by asking one simple question.  Do the pirates add value?  Put more explicitly, what is it that consumers are getting from the pirates that mainstream companies aren’t providing?  The businesses that can look beyond their default reactionary “us vs. them” mental model and stay focused on consumer needs will be able to adapt and thrive.

See the whole video above for more tips from Matt on dealing with pirates.

Social Media Tutorial – the why and how of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog readers, and personal branding

This presentation is a good basic tutorial on social media. It covers the why and how of Facebook, Twitter, blog readers, and personal branding. I designed it for incoming Notre Dame MBA students but it has proven itself valuable for everyone from my parents, to executives, to my peers who don’t quite get why everyone is suddenly talking about Twitter. Basically anyone looking to understand what social media is all about.

Please share it with your friends, family, coworkers, etc.

Could Amazon “go good”?

Thanks to Tweetdeck and  a Twitter search for “P&G” (my future employer) I came across an interesting post by Ryan Jones over at       m-cause.

The post is titled, “Could Amazon.com be doing more of this?”  In the post Ryan relates the tale of his recent online book purchase and enumerates the reasons that he decided to give Better World Books his business instead of Amazon.

  • BWB gives 10% of their profits from used book sales to literacy partners.
  • Free shipping.
  • All new BWB book purchases are shipped carbon-neutral.
  • BWB is a certified B corporation.  (great explanation by Ryan linked)
  • They are a triple bottom-line company. (people, planet, profit)

Ryan ends his posts asking if Amazon might start applying some of BWB’s ideas in their business.

My short answer is “no”.  I think Better World Books is awesome and I’d love to see Amazon as committed to doing good as BWB is, but I don’t think we should hold our breath waiting for it to happen.

As a finance guy, my first thought is the shareholder.  Amazon has them, while BWB is private.  While Amazon shareholders might care about the environment or global literacy as individuals, collectively, they only care about earning a return on their investment.  Therefore, Amazon shouldn’t increase its costs by shipping carbon neutral unless they think that carbon neutral shipping is valued by enough of their consumers that they can offset the costs by increasing prices. Unfortunately, we aren’t at a point yet where the general consumer cares enough about things like carbon-neutral shipping for companies to make a compelling business case for it.

Even though I am a finance guy, I still hate it when people use “the shareholder” as a copout.  The first few weeks of business school it seemed like I ran into this mythical “shareholder” everwhere I went and it drove me nuts.  Accounting had shareholders, Finance had shareholders, Marketing had shareholders, and even Ethics class had shareholders.  I had always been under the impression that the CEO and the board ran the show and what they said goes.  But no, apparently even the CEO and the board must answer to the shareholder.  At least some of them do.  Carl Icahn has a whole blog about how tons of them apparently don’t answer to shareholders.  Check it out here. I subscribed to the blog for a couple of months and it makes for some good reading but after a while you get the idea and all of Icahn’s rants start to sound the same.  The point is that company leadership is more than willing to disregard the shareholder when it benefits them personally.  So why can’t we just disregard the shareholder whenever we want to “do good”?  The problem is that “doing good” is very subjective and one person’s “good” may be another person’s waste of money.

Costco and Starbucks are two companies I can think of off of the top of my head where the company leadership has decided to pay their employees above-market wages and/or benefits.  They get routinely questioned by Wall St analysts as to why they aren’t being better stewards of shareholders’ money by running a leaner business.  Their defense is that this is how they have always run their business and if you had looked you would have known that before you invested.  As long as these companies have delivered financial results, the market has accepted these divergences from the norm.  As Starbucks has stumbled more recently, the pressure is back on to cut costs in these areas.

One could argue that Amazon is dominant enough in their market that they could get away with tacking some sort of social mission on to their existing business model and get away with it if they wanted to.  However, most companies prefer to keep the peace with their shareholders so I don’t expect this will happen.  For now, the best action you can take to support the kind of business practices that Better World Books embodies is to vote with your dollars and buy from BWB whenever possible.  If the word spreads and enough others do the same, pretty soon Amazon will be forced to have some MBA create a model to prove out the economics of things like carbon neutral shipping in terms of impact on customer loyalty and market share.  The market works, it just works slowly.  If you want it to work faster then start the next visionary company and help it along.