Human "Check Engine" Lights

Its likely happened to everyone who owns a car. Driving along, bumping some Michael Bolton, and BOOM, the check engine light comes on. 

Given there are 22 gazillion parts to a car (its true, not at all inflated) this could mean ANYTHING. 

This happens to me and my car. A lot.

When you own a mid 00's sporty German vehicle that may have had some aftermarket tweaks to the computer and engine, you are destined to get to know the light well. So much so that you buy a small device that connects to your car's OBD-II computer, and that wirelessly connects to your iPhone via bluetooth. From this app, it will tell you EXACTLY what is wrong using a series of codes and brief descriptions (System fuel too lean, or Misfire in cylinder 3, or GTFO OF YOUR CAR ITS ON GODDAMN FIRE.) 

How helpful would this be if we had this for humans? The practicality is mind-blowing. Im a very happily married man to a gorgeous wife that made two beautiful youngsters with me. These youngsters, (and sometimes my wife) arent specifically clear about what is bothering them. If only they had a "check engine light". 

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Im fine."

" R5609. This code here says that youre pissed i forgot to take the garbage out."



"What's going on Buddy? Why are you upset?"


"Oh, a P70801 code.  That code means youre upset because i gave you the cookie you asked me for.

If only it was that easy. But it isn't. We need to become intuitive by learning people individually, and looking at cues that determine there might be an issue on the rise. It takes some practice, even in your best attempts, and you might hit some false positives. 

"What's wrong?"

"Huh? Me? Nothing."

"Oh, you looked....pensive."

"Well, now that you mention it, I was kind of craving ice cream."

"Ooooh! Me too!"

OR, you're best interests and attempts could open a can of gasoline-laden earthworms on PCP.

"What's wrong?"

"Huh? Me? Nothing."

"Oh, you looked.....pensive."

"Well, now that you mention it, I hate that thing you did 14 years ago. Let's talk about that now."


Obviously, humans, while mechanically less complex than cars, are emotionally sophisticated creatures that require a long term mastery of interaction to understand. This is why we get to know people. We all have that friend that can "real-talk" us. Tell us we smell, tell us like it is, tell us we are being a dick. 

This is like this in business. In customer service, you don't get a check engine light. The call you get, the tone in their voice, that's your check engine light. It's up to you to troubleshoot and diagnose. YOURE the OBDII connector. You eventually get to know your customers, and each one has a different algorithm for their issues. Some customers "break" over very little things. Other customers barely react when the world is coming to an end.  At the end of the day, it's being able to read the nuances and repair them.

Human check engine lights just need compassion, understanding and solution. In the end, customer support is 10% fixing the technical issue, and 90% fixing the human.

Wearing the "Busy Badge"

They are out there. You work with them. The people that arrive to a meeting 4 minutes late, exasperated, rolling their eyes, heavily sighing, and lastly exhaling "Ugh, this day. SO BUSY." Then they whip open their laptop and start to "multi-task" during the meeting.

What's the problem here? Actually...what are the PROBLEMS here?

It's pretty easy to figure out who this person is at your workplace. No? Make lunch plans with them. If they say YES, chances are you'll get an IM or a text being like "OMG, I'm so sorry, can we please PLEASE reschedule?"

Once in awhile, sure. But pretty much, predictably? You know that person. They, my friend, are wearing the Badge of Busy.

Somewhere in their head, its engrained that it's GOOD and ENCOURAGED to be slammed with work. To be over-loaded and stressed. Sometimes like you and me? 

NO. All the time. 

And they try to compensate for lost time by multi-tasking, which usually results in half-assing two things when they should be whole-assing one. 

Look, we all have moments when we are "busy", but i feel like it's sometimes important to take a step back and MANAGE your time. I am by no means a pro, but having a toddler, a 6 month old and an active wife, I've learned how to do balance. While my system isnt perfect, it might be a good platform to start.

1. Scheduling - Over the weekend, take one hour and look at your up-coming week. Are your meetings back-to-back with no break? Fuck that. You *think* that is your week. You forget about walk-ups, pull-asides and fires that you need to put out. What? Now you're double booked? Hmm....Lets look at this schedule. On your calendar, everyday, at your first hour, BLOCK IT OUT. That's you time. Im not talking about the time you wake up and mess around on your work email at 623am. Im talking about IN OFFICE. Block it. Then? BLOCK A PROPER LUNCH. You will SUCK as an employee if you don't relax. Eat with co-workers, walk around, call your Mom. I don't give a shit. Just don't work.  Afternoon coffee- Take 15 minutes and just leave. Close the laptop, walk away and go for a stroll.

2. Multi-tasking - We all do it. But when you do it at the expense of the OTHER project, you fail them both. I actually do not believe in multi-tasking as a verb. I just call it work. Multi-tasking is a justification for piling on more shit that will make your actual role diluted by extraneous shit. "No, I'm multi-tasking." No, you're doing two things at the same time that deserve independent amounts of attention. STOP.

3. Know your limits - Ask for help. For Christ's sake, ask for help. If you cant delegate, arbitrate. "Hey, you like whiskey? So there is a nice bottle of Weller 10 yr rye in it if you help me bang this shit out." There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. As a matter of fact, I have LEARNED MORE from having people work with me on projects, then trying to tackle what was clearly over my head.

4. Talk to your manager - If all else fails, go to your manager/supes. "Hey, Im kind of buried. I want to finish X, Y, Z, but A, B, C is less important, yet in my way. Can you give some guidance as to what is important to you?" Your manager will likely look at your workload and be like, "DAMN GINA"., and help you figure out a sensible solution.

5. Lunch/happy hour/brunch/dinner plans - DO NOT BREAK THESE OVER TEXT. That is a classic dick move. Text is a cop-out. Call them. If you cannot sincerely be there, then your VOICE should show this.

Again. All of this is personal experience. The Badge of Busy isn't something anyone should be proud of, but something bad that they occasionally have to wear. And that's fine. Just be cool.  And me? Oh i am "busy" too, but when I am, i try and make up for it. If i absolutely have to cancel on you, its two drinks. 

If you'd like to discuss, let's go to the Twitters (@Mick) or do so here!

Managing Customer Operations 202

Managing Customer Operations 202

If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know the 101 of Customer Operations Management 101, which is rule 1: Dont be a fucking asshole. Cool. So let’s move on. Let’s assume you have a team established.

Well, so here’s the thing. Beyond rule 1, It’s not that hard as a Manager. You’ve establised your team, youve established your tools, your operational rules, your culture is pretty much set now….but hey SENIOR management wants SCALABILITY, and GROWTH. SO what now?

You find leaders. You find the go-getters that have gumption. You look at your team, and you look at the ones that the people gravitate to.

“But hey? My people have so many different skillsets? What now?”

This is AMAZING for you. This sets the precedence for “skills-based routing”, which means you can build teams of people dedicated to specific functions of your product. Benefits? They get a career path they are honed in on, and you have an inspired worker that now has a specific purpose and ownership in their daily life. 

You also look at efficiency. You’ll have your specialists at this point, but this is when you’ll want to bolster your front line. While most people in the industry will look to find techy people, the secret to good support is finding experienced support people, to be the “human” element to this. Their voice and reasoning alone will statistically close more than half of your tickets. Just by being that reassuring voice. 

Of course, anything that cannot be handled by your front line, should go to your afore-mentioned specialists. It might take a little longer, but the issue has been vetted out, and has been escalated to the proper queue.

At this point, as a manager, you’re fairly involved. You’re aware, but you’re hands-off. You are communicating at a very high level. You know the product-level issues at hand and are comparing them to the rest of the local world you are in.

Then, shit hits the fan. Your software fucks up, something breaks hard. This is when you look to the afore-mentioned people to handle. What are they doing? They should be messaging what happened, what you did to fix, and how it will NEVER happen again. All of this is obviously disseminated to the entire support team, sales and success teams. 

Now, your stuff is fairly handled. Your specialized people are working on the escalated stuff, and your front-line is killing the smaller stuff.

You should be prepared to always handle escalations from customers at this point. Yes, some think that the goal is to make the customer happy, but i agree to a point. 

And who handles those escalations? The people that you put into place to handle specific needs. They are so happy to help, because it is totally their wheelhouse, comfort-zone and passion. You are now allowing your people to blossom. This statistically makes for faster resolutions, and what the industry qualifies as "happy" customers.

I think ultimately, happy customers are a good goal, but what is "happy"? Happy is great for a first date or a sip of a new whiskey. I think differently. I feel we should think about the satisfaction and fulfillment of our customers. 

To me, that is the HUGE smile.

Let's build teams that can satisfy and fulfill our customers' needs.