Moments are precious

photo by Pedro Figueiredo (@pfigas)
This was initially written for the SHiFT blog. 
Afraid that it would get lost in the web, I am republishing it today.

He sat down on the concrete facing the sun, somewhat cloudy and cut in half by the sea, placing the phone by his side. No more work. This is their time.

She walked out of the house holding a cup of tea and wearing sandals because after all the alarm clock showed the weather would be nice during the morning.

They both work a lot and have full schedules, but this is their time. This is the time when they sit and talk to each other, share their concerns and what makes them happy. This is the time when they shut down the world around them and truly connect.

In a world where work is demanding and where bells and whistles go ding every now and then, they realize the importance of logging off once in a while and enjoying the simple things life has to offer. The sunset and the sunrise, a nice meal and an amazing view, an artist playing on the street. Sure, they do snap a photo every other moment, but only because they feel the need to share it with one another or with a closer friend.

— What are you going to do today?

They talk about work and conference calls with people from the other side of the globe. She talks about how she loved the flowers he had sent the other day. Lilies.

— It’s funny how you always figure out a way to break my routine in the most beautiful way.
— You know it is important to me. And like I always said, when something is important you find a way.

He doesn’t know that she bought a new gadget for him, a picture frame that connects to the web and shows pictures that she sends him.

When they spend more than a few days without “their time” he always goes back to a digital photo album in his phone, pictures he took around the time they met, pictures of her and doodles he kept. There’s a post it note safely stored in a notebook, and he keeps the picture at hand for some unknown reason.

They met when they were working together on an event. Well, not really together. They stood in the same room once and everything else were long exchanges of emails, online conversations, documents worked on online. They found themselves commenting on the same blogs, sharing the same love for music, having the same tenacity for life. It’s strange, but personal values and emotions do travel in a world of Zeros and Ones.

— The other day I found an old document, something you sent me.
— What ?
— A silly story that you wrote to make me feel better, remember?

We are building a digital world that connects more and more with our daily lives. Even digital artifacts like an old document can now hold an immense personal value. And when we can replace our house keys with a mobile phone or a biometric device, we are in fact connecting that house, that home, to our own physical characteristics. Every day we find ways to connect information to more and more aspects of work, citizenship, and relationships.

— I got a message the other day from city hall. My proposal to build a playground in the neighborhood was accepted.
— That’s great!
— There’s even a 3D draft. You have to take a look and tell me what you think.

Technology is also getting easier to use everyday and it is amazing the sort of things that right-brain and left-brain people come up with. We build new instruments, share music across the globe, play it live from 8 different locations and think it is normal. It is not. It is amazing! It is marvelous and it is something with the potential to revolutionize the world in a couple of heartbeats without us ever realizing it.

— The sky looks amazing today. See?

They are standing on opposite sides of the planet, looking at the horizon. When he sees the sunset, she sees the sunrise. He misses her everyday and once in a while finds some crazy idea to make her smile. He sent her flowers the other day, after a few phone calls and a wire transfer, card and everything. The florist was kind enough to print out the message he sent from his tablet as if he had written it himself. This isn’t enough, they still talk every chance they get.

Whenever I think about technology it is never because of the latest gadget and the latest feature, it is always about how it can let me connect to others. The goal of technology should be to improve our quality of life, physical and psychological, as an individual and as a group. It should also allow us to work and collaborate better and with greater ease. I feel the best technology tends to be the one that bridges both the analytical and the creative side, our left and right brain.

They say goodbye and close the call. This was their time and it is precious to them, and it is more than a video call, it was a shared moment, and moments can be invaluable.


Special thank you to Pedro Figueiredo for the use of the photo.

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.

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