This is not madness. This is … THE INTERNET!

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The Portuguese government sometimes comes up with some harebrained ideas. The latest is a project to tax devices where I might wish to make a copy of copyrighted work that I have already paid for.

In simple terms I am paying for it twice, or three times. Once directly to the content producer and then once more for every hard disk, computer or smart phone I buy. They promise that the extra tax is going back to the author, somehow.  There is a great FAQ on this subject written by Jonasnuts. You should check it out.

Keeping up the good work, she wrote a post called “Instruction manual to stop the private copy law #pl118

This is where the madness starts

As if it had not already started, I know …

The idea is to reach out to deputies in government to persuade them to fight the implementation of this tax. So far so good. How can we reach out?

The Parliament’s website has a form you can fill out. Yes, a form. No, you can’t even send yourself a copy of the email you are sending. It’s not like when you go to www.parliament.uk and get to see the email, website and even phone number of public officials. Hell, some of them even share their twitter handle.

After a few outbursts of indignation and tweets to go along, it was time to ask “Do you think they have heard about this thing called the Internet ?”.

I bet this is going to get me into trouble

Scratch that. I HOPE this gets me into trouble.

I set up a simple google spreadsheet that in less than a few hours collected most of the twitter handles of deputies. So far, what we found out is that in 231 people, only 27 are on twitter. I am not even going to mention Facebook. By design, Facebook does not allow for the transparency I advocate for the public sector.

If you want to take a look or contribute with information, please feel free. The link to the spreadsheet is below.

https://docs.google.com/a/brunoamaral.com/spreadsheets/d/1-JarcrMyqf77ZdW1ldEUfz_kziFCKkAemjsdK6Nhey0/edit#gid=0

Does the madness stop here?

Hell no. There are 27 people you and me can reach out to on twitter to let them know what we think about being taxed twice for buying copyrighted material. Lets do that. We can even invite them for a cup of coffee and a chat. They are human beings like you and me, this sort of direct dialogue should not be started by filling out a black-hole form in the parliament’s website.

A Customer Support primer

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First, a disclaimer. What follows is not research, academic or otherwise. It is a quick list and ideas I picked up from my work with Fujitsu Services, the things I did for Fullsix and what I have picked up now and then on the web and conversations with people who do customer support or manage customer support teams.

Second, beliefs. I believe that over thinking and over engineering is a common pitfall for companies. Small companies with only a few ocassional support requests don’t need to apply all the ideas below. They simply need to focus on what matters most, understanding what is going on with the person on the other side and sharing with the team what is going on.

This being said, let’s move forward.

Internal Knowledge Base

Every company needs a central location to store its documents, and where people can search to find the information they need. This is also where anyone doing customer support can double check information and if possible query for the status of an order for example.

For more on this subject, I suggest you take a look at Knowman or if you can, check out Social Now.

Self Service tools and User Communities

This is more for the user’s side of things. The goal here is to let the user find what he needs and keep him from clicking that “send email” button. Digital Ocean is a great example on this.

They provide Virtual Private Servers, and it is not easy to configure those. So they publish several tutorials for the most common problems and configurations. When the tutorials are not enough, the user can also publish a post on the Digital Ocean Community. This is where users help each other get things done.

These user communities are where we can find real community managers, not on Facebook pages.

Want to step up a bit? Start writing a blog. A good example here is the Sublime Text blog. The blog features news about the new version of the software, with a walkthrough of the new features when it’s relevant.

To make it even better, then have a newsletter called “Sublime Text Tips” with tutorials and other useful information to make the best of this text editor. And if you take a look at their archives you will notice they manage it more like a blog than a newsletter.

Monitor and Respond

This one here is pretty straightforward. Even when you have a good user community people will complain on your facebook page or through twitter. So you are going to need a way to be alerted on new comments or mentions to your brand / service.

One thing to keep in mind, the person who answers customer support doesn’t have to be your community manager. In fact, I have seen some brands link their Customer Support team with their facebook page using things like Desk.com to help make the community manager’s life easier and of course, answer their users in a more effective and efficient way.

Tracking

How long do you take to answer a question and what can you do to make the process faster?

Back in Fujitsu I learned about the Lean Six Sigma methodology. The heart of it was quite simple, measure the process and its main indicators to find ways to improve, cutting down on wait time.

To do this you can categorize the questions asked, where people ask them (facebook, twitter, email) and what is done to give them a reply. This is going to help write “canned responses” improve the internal knowledge base or can even be added to the blog or newsletter to avoid further repetitive enquiries.

Of course, if there is only one person handling customer service, you will hardly need an elaborate set up.

Header photo by Stavos.

Stuck between management and operations

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I remember a conversation that went something on the lines of “You can’t do management and operational tasks at the same time.” Of course, I disagreed.

My argument was armed with the conviction that with hard work and perseverance you can push yourself to do both. All it takes is discipline, a good schedule, knowing how to keep yourself productive.

I was wrong. Well not 100% wrong, but wrong enough that I had to sit down and write this post.

When you are doing operational tasks you need to focus on details. If possible you should avoid multitasking. Things like reviewing copy, writing,  preparing a brief. These require a level of attention that doesn’t go well with multitasking.

Management is different. It requires a bird’s eye view of operational tasks, knowledge on the method each person uses and of course the business strategy.

There are two obstacles here. One is the loss of perspective when your daily, weekly or monthly plan is filled with tasks at an operational level. The other is that we forget to box-in time to focus only in top level tasks.

Most people I know, like me, pulled their weight from the operational level up. We know what needs to be done and how to do it with little or no supervision. This however has the reverse effect, we find it hard to break free from operational tasks.

Getting Involved

The solution is pretty straightforward, we do what we can to save time for top level analysis of what we are doing and how it contributes to business goals.

Next up, make sure everyone gets to participate. You never know what talent you are missing by not having everyone in the loop about what is going on.

There are a number of ways to do it. You can have daily or weekly meetings to give everyone an overview of what is going on. The important thing here is sharing information with everyone.

This however is not my field. Ana Silva blogs at “The art of life and work” and shares a great deal of knowledge and tips to make organisations more human and efficient.

Header Photo by Troy McCullough

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