Sunday, May 09, 2010

How I am improvising on the support process of my company.

There are hundreds of customers who use my product. Sometime the problems they have are not issues with the software code, but with the design of a certain feature or question about a certain concept.

In situations like that my support colleagues reach out to me or the customers, who know me, reach out to me directly. Rather than handle this via email, I have always relied on a web site or a collection of collaboration tools.

Recently I started using a new tool called Streamwork, from my employer SAP, to manage such interactions with customers.

1. I make my customers feel special.
A quick reply email is important. Now, I can create a special space for this customer and invite all people involved for an asynchronous conversation, with just one email. The moment I do this something interesting happens. It is almost as if I have invited them over to visit me, in a place I created just for them. The tone of the message changes from irritation to conversational. We start talking in a human voice (and not a formal and sometimes phony 'support' voice) about the actual challenge in front of us.

2. I give colleagues in my company a choice and an opportunity to meet a customer
Unlike an email, where a timely reply is expected, an invitation gives the recipient an option not to join. In most cases colleagues around the world love a conversation with a customer. Many of them, who never talk to a customer, see this as an opportunity to interact with a customer. Since this conversation is asynchronous and not always a directed email, colleagues have the choice to contribute, when they can and  what they can. This produces amazing results. You discover brilliant colleagues who are normally quiet in a meeting or email chain.


3. The participants of this activity understand other participants better.
Normally when you invite a few people to join an asynchronous conversation via email, the recipients of the email have little idea who the other recipients are. I had to take the time to introduce everyone, explain everyone's background and expertise, explain the context in which I am sending the email and  watch what I am saying very carefully to ensure that I do not step on any toes. Now Streamwork takes care of that for me.

Participants in an activity can explore the profile of the other participants and understand what they are doing now. If they are interested, they get a peek into who the other people are and what other activities they are involved in. They can do all this without leaving the context of the activity. It is almost like a quick introduction of a group of people to each other in a coffee corner where interested parties can carry on a conversation or tune out and enjoy their coffee.

4. I expand my network.
Even though I own the activity, In many cases, I do not know whom can provide inputs. So I leave it open and the participants of my activity invite the appropriate people, who they think can contribute. This way I get educated about the experts in the company. All this happens without multiple emails going around.

5. You can ignore idiots who hog meeting time or hit the "Reply All" button
Unfortunately, many meetings have one or two idiots who ramble on with no purpose or no respect for other people's time. You can avoid such idiots here. They can still ramble on, if they join. But no one will listen to them and their stupidity will be preserved for ever, for others to see.

6. You can do it to for free
If you like what I do, you can try Streamwork out too. It is free for up to 5 activities.

You don't have to be an account executive, sales person, functional manager, or someone with an IT budget to do this. Go ahead. Improvise on your company's business process, engage your colleagues and start a conversation with your customer. I promise you. It will be one of the most fulfilling parts of your job.
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