Customer Service

When I started in IT, I took helpdesk calls for a small software company. I was convinced it would help me to write better software.
I still think I understand users better because of that.
I learned that when a customer takes the time to call you, he is not only telling you his problem but he might also give you a solution.

I once had a Dutch speaking customer that toughed I was French speaking and he had a hard time speaking French to me.
I was originally Dutch speaking and I had worked very hard to become better in French, so my ego liked it that he could not hear it was my second language. I kept talking French to him, and I proudly told it during lunch with my colleague’s.
I don’t remember what my boss said, but he made it clear that I should not do this again, I should help the customer instead of making fun of them/ using them for my own ego. Although he did bring it very subtle, it‘s a message I never forgot.

Fast forward to yesterday.

I was invited to do my talk about self-organizing teams at Agilis 2009 in Iceland. Tickets, hotel booked.

My flight was leaving in Brussels at 16:00 (4 PM) going to Heathrow, where another flight leaving at 21:00 would bring me to Reykjavik.

By coincidence (does that exist?), I have accepted a position of agile coach, helping a large corporation in the UK. During the week I am in Staines, which is about 10 miles from Heathrow.

So today I need to go from Staines to Brussels, take a plane to Heathrow and fly to Reykjavik from there. I would need to leave Staines at about 8:30, to take a plane at 21:00 from 10 miles where I am.

Mmm, I know some things about removing impediments and waste.
What if I skip my first flight. And go on the second one.

So a few weeks ago I contacted my airline by their website. No answer for 1 week. I guess something went wrong as I never got a message they received my message. (Ok that could be my mistake, so I won’t hold it against them. Still if a website makes it hard to ask a question, that is a sign/smell to me)
After about 1 week I tried again, now I got a receive message. And an answer that I needed to contact my booking agent.

Mmm, they told me I had to contact the airline. I replied that. (And checked back with my travel agent)

To cut a long story short, after about 6 or 7 e-mails (and a lot of time) they finally gave me a number where I could contact them directly. (I could not find it on the website.)
When I called the number it was even better, it was one of those electronic helpdesk systems that supposed to help you find the correct persons quickly.
Only I never seem to know what to press. Is this just me?

Now it had options to:

– information before buying a ticket
– buy a ticket
– check-in

Of course my situation is special. So no options is made for that. Aren’t most call’s special? If it would have been a “normal” case, the information would be in the FAQ.  Ok not many people read these. Also in software, people call quicker then reading the manual.
Having an option, to talk to an operator press x would already be a good step (now this option was hidden behind at least three or four other selections)

First time I tried when I selected an option ==> Busy statement and my call was interrupted.
Second time, I got disconnected when I had explained my situation to a male person. (Not sure if it was my phone, the system or the operator)

The third time I finally got a person that took my situation seriously.
She let me wait a little and then explained that my flight was actually not serviced by their airline, but by another one, so she would not be be able to help me.

(If all these people answering mails had looked my flight up, I would not have wasted time with their airline (wasting both their and my time).

So calling to the new airline. This one only had a Belgium number (I was in Staines when I made the calls) (Which was funny for an international airline.)

For Dutch or English press 1, for French press 2.


I explain my situation in Dutch. Sorry sir could you speak English? Euh I pressed 1. Yes I only speak English. OK no problem I speak English, but another sign off bad communication. (It’s fine not to have that option, but when you have the option, be sure you support it.)

After about 5 minutes:
It is not possible to refund your ticket.

I’m not asking for a refund. I’m asking to skip a flight.
No there will be a problem with your luggage, you can’t check that in in London. mmm strange. Ok I don’t need much luggage. I’ll take everything on the plane.

No it is not possible.
Your only option is to cancel the whole flight (including return flight). And buy two separate one way tickets. (One leaving in London)

– London-Reykjavik
– Reykjavik-Brussels

Not sure about the cost price, probably about 2 to 3 times the original ticket. (which I would loose on top of that.) Mmm I don’t think the conference will pay that.

So much for customer service. Airlines are dictated by their software which says if you miss one part of the flight everything else is cancelled.

What are my other options:

– I could stay home on Monday and not help my client, but then they would suffer even more from this situation
– I could cancel my trip to the conference. Now that clients suffers from the lack of customer service from one of my suppliers.

Mmm, I could explain it, it would make a good excuse, but I prefer to take the responsibility myself.

Let’s go to London and go back on Tuesday, I might even be at a morning meeting on Tuesday.

So now I have to book another ticket to go from London-Brussels.
And this is where things become interesting.

I book a train with the Eurostar to go back to Brussels. Unfortunately I make a mistake and I buy a non-refundable ticket to return Monday instead of Tuesday. I notice this while I want to check in to go to Brussels last Friday.  (About 30 minutes after I bought the ticket.)

Now I’m sure I made the mistake (I still hear myself saying Monday at xxx hour.)
So I go back to the desk. I explain my situation, the lady is very friendly she advises me to talk to the same persons that has sold me the ticket.

When I got to that person I explain that I bought it for the wrong day. I’m expect to be told I need to buy a new ticket. (I was a non-refundable ticket after all)

Nope: Oh sure sir, he tears my ticket apart, so when did you wanted to leave?

Tuesday? At the same time? Do you want to sit again at a table near the window?
5 minutes later I’m out of there with my new ticket. And my old return ticket (Brussel-Londen) is still valid.

Thank you Eurostar. That is what I call customer service.
And they do this all the way. I’m typing this on that train from London to Brussels. My computer is hooked up to the electricity net. No I don’t have to be in First class to have this. Eurostar recognizes that electricity is a basic need on a long trip. Just as they offer that in London in the waiting room. (In most airports I almost have to fight to use an electricity plug.) [Edited in Heathrow, lot’s of electricity here also]

Could they improve? yes. And I’m sure they will over the next years (I have some idea’s)

But they are far ahead of the airline in the first part of my story.

I  am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at blog at my training company .net or follow me on Twitter


The slides of my talk at AgileEE: Tips for creating a self-organizing team

I have moved this post to my new blog:


Upcoming agile conferences 2009

While I’m missing  Agile Open Holland today, time to reflect on the Conferences I do go to.

I will be talking at Agile Eastern Europe about leadership (18-20 Sep 2009 Kiev)

The same talk I will be giving on the Agile Tour in Geneve (12 october 2009)

Agile Tour Toronto
I get a lot of mails from their wiki. The perfection games are well on their way. Deadline is today.

Agile Tour China (24 October 2009 Chengdû)
I have proposed my Leadership game, I’m not sure what are the visa regulations to go to China, so I will probably not go there.

Agile Tour Bordeaux (29 October 2009)
After the successful playing of the leadership game at Agile 2009, my leadership game got accepted here.

Devopsdays ’09 30 & 31 October, Ghent, Belgium
the conference that tries to get the best of both dev and ops world.
two days of fun and interesting talks.
I haven’t decided yet if I go to this one. The organizer Pascal Debois is a very passionate guy, that I like very much. The idea of putting developers and system administrators together I love. Its not really an agile conference, but it definitely will be a great event. If I be here or not will depend of the project I will be doing at that moment.

Improvisation for Agile Coaches (21 November 2009 London To be confirmed)
As this is so close to the XP Days in Benelux, I’m not sure I’ll make it to this.

XP Days Benelux (23-24November 2009 Mechelen)
The program has not been announced yet. Even if none of my 3 sessions are accepted I will be here.

XP Days London (7-8 December 2009- London)
Nothing announced here. I will also go there even when no sessions get accepted.

Oh and somewhere in between there might be an Agile Coaches Camp tour be organized. Not sure if that idea still lives after Agile 2009.

This are just the agile conferences I’m going to. Check out this Agile Conference google calendar for more:

If you want to add a conference to this calendar, ask me.

I  am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at blog at my training company  .net or follow me on Twitter

Daniel Pink on intrinsic & extrinsic motivation

I moved this post to my new blog:


Our Team Compensation Workshop @ XP Day London.

After doing my presentation with Jef at Devoxx earlier this week, I was really looking forward to go at XPDay London.

Especially as Vera and I planned to do a session on

Team Motivation
Individual Compensating Systems.

I’m working with both Jef & Vera at the Belgium Post.

Vera and I came up with this idea when we talked about a consultancy gig we did earlier this year.(There is  a long time between proposing a session and delivering it) In this gig we had a team that was hard to motivate. Without knowing what was their compensating structure, I mentioned to Vera that could be a limiting factor.

When I said that, Vera got a flashback about an agile coaching job she did years ago. In that company the individual compensating scheme, blocked all team work.
From that moment on we did not talk about the current client but figured out how we could turn Vera’s experience into a workshop about this problem.

I really enjoy to work with Vera. She has great idea’s and has no problem challenging my idea’s. Actually we don’t always agree with the direction to go to. For me that is one of the good things about a paircoaching a session: the spectators get to hear both idea’s.

During the publicity for the session I told a story that has the intention to think about how rewards work:

There once was an old man. The kids in his neighborhood enjoyed insulting him on a daily basis. One day he got a crazy idea. He called the kids and he offered them 1 euro if they would come back and insult him again the next day. Surely the next day the kids where back. Viciously they screamed ugly things at him again. The old man kept his promise and paid all of them 1 euro. He invited them to do the same thing again the next day, but now he would only pay them 50 cent a person. The next day the kids came back and did their job. The man paid them as he said he would. He also told them he now had a problem, as he wanted them to come back, but he could only pay them 10 euro cents. The kids where insulted and refused to come back and insult him.

This story shows how it easy it sometimes is to turn intrinsic motivation into extrinsic motivation.

The kids found 10 cents too little for something they did before for free.
This old man did this on purpose, but in corporations (Or families) we don’t always realize that we kill intrensic motivation by offering reward.

The story of Joppe losing intrest in swimming is a nice example of it.

For the preparation of this workhop I read the book “Punished by rewards”. (Actually the story comes from the book)

When I say Vera’s and my opinion differ, this book is a nice example.
The author has the idea’ that behaviorism does not work. The whole book is build on bashing Skinner and co. That style is something we both don’t like. For me that does not limit me to take some idea’s out the book. For Vera it’s not only the style of the book she does not like. Over the last weeks we had quite some discussions about this book.
As I value discussions to learn more about other people, myself and  my idea’s, I find this very interesting.

On top of that the open space “the Shrink’s coach” from Ben & Joseph also triggered some interesting idea’s. Steve Freeman dropped the idea that code and fix attitude of cowboy programmer’s reminded him a lot of the way gamblers reacted when they are at the one armed bandit. I immediately could see the link between this behavior and the unpredictable rewarding scheme I wrote about last year.

I personally believe that this rewarding scheme is the best way to reward people. (another thing where Vera and I disagree)

I am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at yves at my agile training company .net

Praise public and long, blame private and quick!

Some time ago, I was working as a project coach. Everything was fine, I was working with a great team, iterations were delivered on time.

Their was a small problem in the company. One person did not deliver on time. The person was nice, but he constantly under delivered.

I proposed to the CEO to put the guy in my team (under my surveillance?). Oh yeah, what was I thinking? That I would fix it up? That’s rather a big ego.

To make a long story short, what happened was that I was spending all my time, more and more micro managing the guy. And less of my time to the team doing the good work. Parents can already tell you the rest of the story. When you put all your attention to the one misbehaving child, the others start misbehaving too. That is more or less what happened. I can not say the others where misbehaving,  but I can say we did not deliver that iteration.

So I switched my interaction with that person. I told him the deadlines and gave everything he needed to know and when I found he was wrong I send it short by email without emotional message around it (that is what I tried, I might not have done the emotionally part completely good.).

The team I praised in public and I made sure I spend more time with them as with the persons not delivering.

It did not save the position of this person in the company. He will probably blame me for that, oh well that’s life. What is important that my team picked up again.

I am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at yves at my agile training company .net

War for talent: CheaperTalentHypothesis

I completely agree with Martin Fowler on this one. Better programmers out perform worse once. (And that is why they are cheaper in the end.)

It’s a very nice example of More is less.

Maybe one slightly change to his article: in an truely agile team, when the better programmers pair with the lesser ones, they will bring the lesser ones up to speed. So you might do ok with a few lesser programmers in your team. I said a few, that means less then 50%. More like 10 to 30%. (Otherwise the quality of the team is too low.) When these lesser programmers are brought up to the same speed you can hire other lesser ones. It is my guess you won’t need them anymore.

I would chooses 10 smart people over 100 dumb, every time. I know the smart team will outperform the other team big time.

See also my 7 tips about compensating your agile team

I  am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at blog at my training company  .net