Friday, January 29, 2010

The Killing Fields

I understand that during the Second World War there was a slogan "Loose Lips Sink Ships" which was designed to encourage everyone to be careful about disclosing information that may be of assistance to the enemy. I know that in the 1970's there was a sales training film entitled "Who Killed The Sale" which looked at things such as general chatter by employees of an organisation being overheard by potential customers to the end that an incipient sale was lost.

I thought about this the other day when I had to phone Microsoft about an issue (yes, the same Microsoft of which I spoke in an earlier blog!).

The issue was simple. An older laptop in the house had decided it wouldn't work and the system diagnostics made it clear that radical surgery was the only remedy - a reformat and reinstall of the operating system (Windows XP). Not a major issue, I thought, and one that even a person of my limited technical expertise could do.

All went well until the machine asked for the Product Key - that 25 digit arrangement that determines whether or not Santa will scratch you from his next Christmas list because you've been naughty and used non-genuine material. No problems. I was using the original disc supplied by the manufacturer (Dell) and they had attached the product key details to the base of the computer. I carefully copied the figures and then input it. Back came the message "The Product ID you entered is not valid".

After several such attempts I then took out several other copies of XP (all carefully stored in their original packages) for other computers in the house and tried their codes. Same message.

At this point decided I was obviously doing something wrong so I emailed Microsoft explaining the situation and asking for suggestions. Back came a response from their Michael Chong asking me to repeat the information I had already given and he suggested that I phone their service line. So I phoned.


The woman with whom I spoke (and who, I am sure, was the same woman who previously had told me I was using illegal material because "Microsoft never made an XP Office") now told me that the problem was not Microsoft's - it was Dell's and that she couldn't help me and, in addition, that I was using a non-genuine disc! Microsoft and I will, I am sure, have further discussions about this and Dell may want to have a chat with them, too!

I then phoned a local Computer Repair person. He asked 3 questions, made 1 suggestion, and the problem was resolved. I was doing something wrong. It was a simple error. In less than 5 minutes things were working and there was no charge. All done over the phone.

In thinking about this, the examples of "Loose Lips Sink Ships" and "Who Killed the Sale" came to mind. This "service" person at Microsoft has harmed her employer. She has created in me the belief that Microsoft don't give a S**##@ about their customers and she has implied that a reputable hardware manufacturer has acted improperly.

As have said before, this is a leadership issue.

There is something in the culture at Microsoft that either models the approach taken by this service person or the training that she has been given is focused on the wrong thing. There may even be a situation of cognitive dissonance in which she is told that "service" is important but other metrics by which she is assessed indicate that that she must get rid of me in X seconds so that she can deal with another person's issues. Under that scenario she is unable to listen to my issue in any other way than with the intent of moving me on as fast as possible - "packaged answers" are the only response.

It set me thinking.

What cultural issues in your organisation damage your reputation? Are there support area issues that adversely impact on how you are perceived by your customers / clients? What are you doing to check about this? What are you going to do in order to correct it?

More information about Doug Long and how I may be able to help you at


  1. Interesting times you are having. An item you mentioned is that it could be the case of metrics she is judged affects the level of service. This is something that I see often (particularly professional service firm) where the leaders say all the right words about customer service. Then however what they measure and reward is efficiency rather than adding value to the customer. Their actions are different to their words.

  2. I have a series of dermatology clinis down in Vietnam. And the customer service (brief C/V) staff is essential to my business.

    She is a specialised nurse worked as a receptionist. Her duties are to look through the patient record, make a follow-up call after the treatments to ask if the clients are OK.

    My strategy is:
    - Adjusting her performance based on client's feedback
    - Ask her to advise the clients for next treatment. If the client returns, she will have a certain comission (normally 5%)

  3. Thanks for that. I agree with your diagnosis, Steve - its the old adage, you gtet what you measure. I think that's the message from you, too, Keronii.