A Few Minutes with AppleCare


A survey request I didn’t mind receiving

This was originally published on my other blog, but I think it works here, too. I know from comments I’ve received on previous posts that some of you are not fans of Apple. I’m not so much a fan of Apple, as I am a developer who has to work with Apple as we create iPhone/iPad Apps for our employees.

I’m not trying to convince you to buy an iPhone, an iPad or a Mac. I don’t care what you use to do your job, pay your bills, process your photos or write your blog. If you’re happy, I’m happy. I use my iPhone for nearly everything one can do with a phone these days. I use my iPad in support of business, especially while traveling. I write my blog, process my pictures and do the bulk of my job on Windows laptops. My wife pays the bills.

Regardless of what technology, platform (if my boss is reading this, his eyes just rolled) or operating system you’re using, occasionally, you need help. Sometimes, you have to deal with a large vendor’s myriad-level-deep-voice-mail-to-nowhere. Sometimes, your request is routed “off-shore.” Sometimes, you’re relegated to a web-based process, be it a chat or an email exchange. Quite often, you’re left on your own to google your way out of a deep hole.

When I began my call with Apple’s Developer Support Group, I wasn’t optimistic. Mine wasn’t a technical issue, it was an account governance issue, and our two development accounts with Apple are governed (on their end) by over 2,000 pages of terms. I can’t share the details of my issue (try to hide that smile), but I want to share six things that AppleCare did well. So well that I would recommend that any organization, technical or otherwise, steal these ideas. Seriously, steal them! This is one case where you want to be like Apple.


The questions speak to the things Apple is trying to achieve.

1) Four simple options – There was no guesswork involved in the simple voice mail prescreening message. Choices 1-3 were binary. They wanted to know if I was involved with three very specific things. I wasn’t, so I pressed 4 as instructed.

2) Hold Music Options – This is one thing that could make all tech-support / customer service so much better. I had the option to: hold with pop/rock, hold with classical music, hold with jazz or hold in silence. Please, steal this idea, even if you only add “hold in silence” as an option.

3) Fast & Accurate – I was expecting my ‘4 – other’ key press to lead me to a long wait. Instead, in under 3 minutes, a cheerful human being picked-up. Matt asked me several questions. He repeated back the important information, use phonetic “N as in Nancy” spelling to verify details like my email address, and he summarized my problem and stated his understanding of my objective. Oh my word, this guy actually wanted to make sure that he knew what I wanted as an outcome!

Unfortunately, after all the gathering, spell-checking and objective understanding, Matt couldn’t actually help me. But, he said that he knew the group who should be able to help me. Now you know as well as I do, that this is where customer service sinks into a frustrating, seemingly endless, often circular journey of despair. My experience was different:

4) Information gathered and provided – Matt asked for a callback number, in case his attempts to transfer me failed. He also gave me the direct number of the group that he was transferring me to. He put me on hold (previous options, still in effect) for what initially seemed like a long time. Then Matt came back on the line and introduced me to Ashley.

5) Amazing – Number five is now known as “The Amazing Number 5!” I’m talking five golden rings amazing. When Ashley picked up she said: “Matt briefed me on your issue.” What? What tech support school did you guys go to? I was expecting Ashley to start at the beginning, run me through all the questions and then punt me to some no-nothing-schlep who would repeat the process. I didn’t have to repeat anything. She began with a summary of my problem and my expectations, as she understood them. She was correct.

Ashley couldn’t help me achieve the objective I wanted, because Apple doesn’t permit the type of account management I wanted to establish. She did, however, offer an acceptable alternative. She carefully explained the alternative and I agreed that, while different than what I had hoped for, it would work just as well.

6) Insure success – Before hanging up, she asked me if I knew all the steps I had to complete and if I knew how to complete them. She listened while I explained my next steps, she confirmed that my understanding was correct, and she offered to stay on the line while I completed those tasks.

Except for maybe giving Ashley a sweet southern accent, I can’t imagine anything that could have improved my experience. Again, I’m not shilling for Apple, but I do think there are some lessons to be learned from this experience.

Face to Face

clip_image002About 5 years ago we launched a project to give our customers access to certain key documents via an Internet-facing SharePoint site. We worked with a small group of beta users as we developed the site(s) and I gave a short presentation at our Policyholder Meeting later that year. The following year I conducted a training class at our Policyholder Meeting. For the past three years I have offered to meet, one-on-one with our customers to walk them through their specific site. These have been great meetings, but suffice it to say, they are different than giving a presentation, or conducting a class.

When we develop solutions on SharePoint internally, we have our coworkers to bounce ideas off of to help us perfect the design and to test the solutions with us. When we develop for our customers, we have to get it right without a lot of input, without the collaboration features of Lync and sometimes, without the benefit of their having an understanding of SharePoint. An interesting twist this year was the fact that every member of the original beta group is now retired.

I met with about 10 different people. Some were new to their role, taking the place of those retirees and some were relative old-timers. As I walked them through the features of the Policyholder Portal (yeah, I know…portal… well, it’s what we called it 5 years ago, so) they were generally impressed. My goal was to come away from these meetings with three things: happy customers, food for thought and happy customers. I put that in twice because I want them to be happy and my boss wants them to be happy. I also tried to pay attention to their general reaction, particularly the people who were seeing our site and perhaps SharePoint for the first time. I’ll save the specific enhancements I agreed to have my team make for later posts, but let me share the general observations.

Content – We have generally focused our development effort on improving the quality of the content available to our customers. This seems to have been the right play. They were impressed by the fact that they can directly access information that they used to have to ask for. Not that we were ever unresponsive in handling those requests, but the difference between the time it takes to send and receive a response to an email and immediate access is huge. Also, new people don’t always know what to ask for. If you don’t know what content is available, asking for it will consume several email cycles – browsing a site lets you figure it out on your own and that seems to be a very important benefit. In addition, two of our customers expressed an interest in working toward the goal of getting content out of email altogether.

Food for thought – add some guidance to the site to help people know what content is available and how to get to it.

Security – “How are you protecting my information?” That’s a question I was asked several times, and that’s a question that I am asking vendors in my supply chain. After months and months of watching leaks, breaches and spying being rolled out on the news, people are concerned about who has access to information about them. I explained what we do to protect their content, and I explained what we plan to do to improve that next year. They were happy to hear that this has always been a concern of ours and they were happier to hear that we aren’t resting on a five-year-old solution. When I explained that our plan for next year involves moving to SharePoint 365, they were less happy. Regardless of how secure a cloud-based solution is, it involves incorporating more people in that supply chain, and these days, nobody is happy with that thought.

Food for thought – Make sure the SharePoint 365 host we choose understands that security and confidentiality are important critical.

Process – One of the things people seemed to appreciate most was our effort to automate the transfer of content from our internal business process to the Internet-facing site. Automated processes insure that current content will be available in a timely manner. It’s not that our customers don’t trust our staff to do that job, but they like the idea that the process is on rails, so to speak.

Food for thought – Make sure that we can extend that process into SharePoint 365.

I wish I could have beamed a few people from Microsoft into these meetings. I wish I could put them face-to-face with my customers so they could see how important it is for SharePoint to grow in terms of those fundamental capabilities that caused us to buy it in 2006. Marching forward into “new ways of working” is important, but not if it comes at the expense of content, security, and process capabilities or improvements in those critical areas.

In Case You Missed Last Week

Last week, I wrote about customer service and why we (SharePoint/ECM/IT practitioners) should make it a priority. This week, I want to add a few thoughts to that argument from the customer point of view. I would suggest that if you don’t feel like reading this, then skip to the end, because after I turn this back to SharePoint, I have an announcement to make about something new on this blog.

In an earlier post on my personal blog, I ranted about how some things would end in 2012. I wasn’t trying to predict the future and I wasn’t reading the Mayan Calendar; I was simply announcing that I had reached a point where I could no longer tolerate certain behavior by services, marketers and vendors. Last week, something big changed at work, and I was both sad and proud to have made the decision to make the change. Without naming names, we dropped a vendor with whom we had once enjoyed a great relationship. Over the years, the vendor had moved from treating us like a good customer, to merely a customer to a revenue source and finally to a payable item; it was time to stop the bleeding.

I will point out that I wasn’t exactly suffering in silence with this vendor; I had complained numerous times, I had threatened to end this relationship and I had called every member of the account team that was handling our account. When I ignored the renewal invoice, I received an email chastising me for forgetting to pay for maintenance. I responded to that email by telling the maintenance service manager that I wasn’t sure we were going to renew the contract. I added a few of my reasons, let’s say enough to send the message that someone should call me. Instead of a phone call, I received another terse email and this time my boss was copied. Several days after the maintenance contract expired, I received an email from the Sales Manager asking if I wanted to talk about the changes they were making that he hoped would eliminate my problems – nope, too little, too late, color me gone.

Since I had been a customer of this company for over a decade, and since the sales manager did reach out to me, I felt he was entitled to an explanation. I didn’t really want to talk to him, but I wrote a lengthy (surprise) email detailing the history of our growing frustration. This is where I’m going to end the description of this saga and turn it back to SharePoint – your users aren’t going to be as considerate as I was. When your users get upset with you, your department, your solutions or your lack of attention to them, they are just as likely to move on without warning as they are to approach you for a discussion. I know of businesses around here that have fully licensed and provisioned SharePoint shops that are now also running a different ECM solution. I think just about every SharePoint professional knows of users that have gone off-grid and built their own SharePoint solutions, in fact some of you make a living supporting these rogue installations. From a customer point of view, customer service isn’t a luxury, it’s a requirement.

I feel better after having severed a relationship with an inattentive vendor, but I feel better still knowing that most of the vendors that we have chosen to work with are flat-out great organizations. If you’ve read this blog for very long, you know that I have called some of these people out on occasion for special recognition. Today, I am launching my “Who we like and why we like them” page. It’s not the most beautiful bit of HTML, but if you have been reading for a while, you remember that “make it work, then make it pretty…” mantra of mine. I wanted to say this and I didn’t want to wait until I could make it pretty. Please take a look at the page, and if you need the services that these people, companies and organizations offer, consider using them.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker

Marc, Chris and RogerA few days ago, the AIIM New England chapter held its final event of the program year. The event title suggested three disparate topics: “Cloud, Mobile content management and BYOD”, but we quickly were made to understand that these topics are deeply intertwined. In addition, it became apparent that the panel we assembled for this discussion understood the ways in which the challenges these topics present are not new, not different and that this is not the last time we will see them.

Our panel included Roger Bottum – VP of Marketing, SpringCM; Christopher J Luise – Executive VP, ADNET Technologies and Marc D. Anderson – Co-Founder and President of Sympraxis Consulting. Regular readers of this blog know that Marc trades under the Twitter handle of @sympmarc and Chris’ business thoughts can be found under @ITwithValue although I prefer the bacon-laced tweets from @cluise. Roger’s insight can be tapped at @springCM, a recent add to my daily twitter feed. We chose this group with the thought that a vendor, an integrator and a consultant would be able to give three different views on the subject. I’m not sure if it was the combination, or the fact that these guys were not actual competitors (like some of our previous panels) or perhaps that we just got lucky and picked three brilliant speakers, but this was an awesome panel.

I scrawled notes and quotes across 10 pages while trying to juggle a comment and question feed from a streaming audience that was almost the size of the group gathered in the room. I can’t recap everything, but just the opening thoughts were enough to tell me this panel wasn’t going to stay on the rails:

Roger: “Mobile is not an option, it’s here. The cloud isn’t a question of ‘if’; it’s a question of ‘when’ and ‘how’”.

Chris: “Connecting to the enterprise has always been possible, it’s just been clunky. Now, scale has come to the market and most companies have been caught on their back foot.”

Marc: “This technology has always been around, just not everywhere – now it is” Marc also added my favorite quote of the event “By the way, the ‘D’ in BYOD stands for device, not disaster.”

These and a few other common threads dominated the technical current running through this meeting. The notion that we have been dealing with the problems of integrating new devices, securing new devices and adapting to new technologies forever, was prevalent throughout the discussion. The thing that made this discussion so fascinating was the absolute pragmatism that was evident in their collective point of view. When a question was asked about controlling a cloud-based solution or controlling a cadre of mobile devices, the answer was fast and sharp – “to assume that you have control today is a false assumption!” It’s not some brave new world that we are entering into; it’s the next phase of an evolutionary process that involves a broader audience.

One of the most spirited portions of the discussion came after a question from a member of our streaming audience, asking about the fact that people are now carrying a laptop, an iPad and a smartphone instead of a single device. The attendee wondered how corporate IT was going to make this a better experience. Ironically, I was sitting there with those three devices, and the question kicked off a series of responses that ranged from the suggestion that my laptop was inadequate to the fact that today’s solutions have to driven by a combination of Capability, Form Factor and User Experience. That seemed to be enough to light the fuse on the philosophical side of this meeting, which was a powerfully refreshing discussion. Again, I can offer a few quotes:

Roger: “If someone doesn’t think it (your solution) works better than the old solution, it’s not going to be supported.”

Marc: “IT is not spending enough time asking users what they want and what they need to do their job. IT is more concerned about writing a BYOD policy than they are about getting people the data they need.

Chris added some thoughts that seem to indicate that the key vendors in this space are fueling the fire toward a trend that supports their own objectives.

Apple wants to sell devices, Microsoft wants to sell applications that are going to work on all (wink) devices and Oracle (yes, he said Oracle) wants you to believe that only the data really matters.

The event ended with a major challenge to companies and particularly those of us in IT:

Give your users the tools they need to meet the increasing demands you are placing on them.

I don’t know who offered the suggestion that problem facing practitioners is to find a way to meet technical, cultural, and procedural challenges in an integrated manner – and to meet those challenges quickly. Of course, the panel members quickly added that meeting those challenges isn’t really a new task.

Scanner Rant

I want to start this post by saying that most of the vendors we deal with provide quality products and services and are pretty good about maintaining a mutually beneficial relationship between us and them. That said, there are some things that are bothering me right now. I am going to pick on one subject, Desktop Scanners, and I am going to describe some of the things that drive me nuts. Later in this series, I’ll discuss how I think both vendors and customers could help avoid these problems (yes, I am going to throw stones at myself). For a variety of reasons, I am not going to mention specific vendors, venues or products.

My scanner battle began a few years ago with the purchase of about a dozen desktop scanners. We selected a brand that had a good mix of features, performance and software, and people generally loved having these units on their desk. In almost every case though, these scanners developed a serious double-feeding problem in a relatively short time frame. We contacted the vendor’s tech support, we contacted the company we bought these from, and neither was able to fix the problem. Parts were purchased, instructions were followed, double feeding continues to this day. Now, we are getting ready to replace these scanners.

I had an opportunity recently to meet with representatives of this vendor. Before looking at their current product line, I mentioned the problems we are having. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that our case was unique. The sales rep, claiming to be familiar with the tech-support logs, told me there is “no indication of widespread multiple feed issues” with the scanner model we own. He questioned whether or not I had followed the instructions properly, whether I had purchased OEM or after market replacement parts and whether or not I had properly pursued each service claim. He dismissed my affirmative responses and said “well, it’s probably time that you replace these scanners anyway” as several new models have been released since we purchased our scanners.

What happened next was simply bizarre. He directed me to a product demonstration area and proceeded to show me the current replacement for the scanner we own. He explained the new features in this model, including a feeder mechanism that has been redesigned to prevent double-feeding. Of course, I asked: “why would you bother to redesign the feed mechanism if double-feeding wasn’t a problem?” The answer, “we are constantly upgrading our scanners.” – You don’t say…

The next problem, involved purchasing a desktop scanner from a different manufacturer. We scoured the product descriptions and selected what appeared to be a great replacement. It listed all the same features, including an ability to scan directly to SharePoint. We bought one, only to find that many of the features were available only after the purchase of the professional version of the scanner software (at a cost almost equal to that of the scanner). Also, scanning to SharePoint failed on all but the smallest documents due to an ‘http put error’ even though we have previously changed that setting in SharePoint and we can upload the documents manually. Without hesitation, we returned this scanner. We have also had problems with workgroup scanners that were advertised as being able to scan to SharePoint. We found, during setup, that they needed much more robust permission levels than a human user would need to put documents into a SharePoint library.

Obviously, we made some mistakes in evaluating and purchasing these products. As mentioned above, I’ll talk about our “lessons learned” in a follow-up post. For now, I want to end with a short list of features that every desktop scanner should have:

  1. Automatic removal of blank pages when scanning in duplex mode.
  2. The ability to easily create a searchable PDF.
  3. The ability to send PDFs created in step #2 to any location on SharePoint where the user has permission to contribute.
  4. The ability to scan up to the rated capacity of the sheet-feeder without jamming.
  5. The ability to detect variations in paper size and “just deal with it”.

Note: All of these features should be available when scanning in Black & White, Grayscale, and Color modes. And just so you know, my definitions of “automatic” and “easy” do not include programming a workflow or creating a complex processing job.