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


Daniel Pink on intrinsic & extrinsic motivation

I moved this post to my new blog:


Fix price project in trouble…

Yesterday I receive this e-mail:

Dear friends,

Sorry to bother you, but I’m asking for your advice on the following
matter.  My company is engaged in a project that is losing money.
It’s a fixed-scope, fixed-money and we’ve badly underestimated the
effort required.  For the record, we started in May last year, and we
estimated it would be over in a year.  My current estimate for
completion is around March-June 2010, depending on how many people we
leave on the team.  Currently we are staffing 6 people, but the
original plan called for 4 people.

Yet the customer insists on paying us the fixed amount, and we’re
losing money badly.  The people on the team is discouraged; there is
no end in sight.  Our customer’s customer is also angry because of the
delays.  The only good thing is that we managed to keep the developers
working regular hours.

On Monday I’m going to have a Difficult Conversation with the
customer.  I’m going to ask them to convert the current fixed-scope
project into a variable-scope one.  I will tell them:

“Dear customer, the amount of money that you are still to give to us,
according to the plan, will allow us to keep this team going for about
15 weeks, working barely above cost.  We’ll do everything you need on
this project, for this time, so that we reach most of your major
business objectives.  After those 15 weeks, we’re even, and any
remaining scope will have to be done with a new contract, or possibly
with a new supplier.”

I’m going to list the following advantages:

* No more bickering about change requests; we’ll do everything you
need, in priority order.
* We’ll start splitting stories aggressively so that we can get the
most important functionality working, cherry-picking it from the whole
remaining scope.
* Working in a more focused way we can probably obtain most of the
business value you expected, since 15 weeks is a lot of time.
* Therefore, we’ll give you the maximum possible value for the money
that you originally intended to spend.

They are not going to like this; they are very much of the mind that
“it was your estimation error, so you must pay for your errors.”  My
view is that we’re working full time, with competent people, dedicated
full time to the project, so if we’re taking so long it’s mostly
because the project is complex.  It’s their product we’re building
after all; when all is said and done, they will have a product, and
we’ll only have the loss.

What I’m not comfortable with is, what to do if they refuse to see it
this way.  I’m thinking along the lines of,

“I’m sorry; if you refuse to cooperate, and bind us to this contract,
we’ll stick to the letter of the contract.  We’ll keep no more than 4
people on the project, we’ll take as much time as it takes, we’ll pay
our penalties and not worry anymore about your deadlines.  Also, we’ll
start doing things strictly according to the spec, and we’ll refuse to
do anything that is not in the spec.  If what we build is not what
your customer needs, then we’re sorry but it’s not our problem.”

I’m not comfortable with that, because it will be hell for the
developers, and it will possibly lead to the customer dumping us and
not pay us anyway.  And I don’t like to threaten anyone.  This course
will probably lead to great losses for both parties.

The other option would be to threaten to walk away from the project
right now; this would also lead to litigation and great losses for
both parties.  My boss does not approve of this possibility.

So I’m asking; what would you do in my place?  What would you say
when/if the customer refuses to agree to put a cap on our losses and
accept a variable scope project?



My scariest idea :

– Ask for help from the customer.

My less scary idea:

I guess that this team got into this trouble because they have created and delivered functionality that was not initially agreed upon. That in itself is normal. It is actually good to give the customer what he wants. I’s my guess that the problem in this situation is that the team did not remove other functionality. So now they deliver new stuff and the originally requested functionality. And then they go over budget.

So I advised this person to get a list of things they have added based on customer demand.

With that list they could now negotiate:

1 The customer pays extra for these extra features
2 Remove other initially features that are not yet developed.
3 Remove the extra features (not interesting for both parties)

These idea’s about fixed time and budget agile projects are based on two articles from Pascal Van Cauwenberghe. If you do fix price projecs, make sure you read these:

That are my idea’s. As this is a very tricky situation and I’m pretty sure some of my readers are smarter then me, feel free to e-mail me or post a comment with your idea’s.

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


Paying by SMS…

This week I went to Gent with my two sons by bus. As I had little money on me as we left, I paid the bus by SMS for the first time.

When we came back My mobile phone ran out of power before we got home. So I was in doubt what would happen if a controller office would have gotten on the bus.

On the FAQ of “De Lijn”, it states that this is no problem. If you give your number they can check this out.

I like this system. I ‘m used to walk around with no money. As we don’t take the bus this regularly, it is not a good idea to buy a prepaid bus card. (On top of that we would never have it with us when we need it.)

I like this system much more then the proton system where I have to set money aside to pay before I want to pay.

One thing that still is not clear to me, there are different amounts to pay if you go long distance with the bus. That does not seem to exist for SMS tickets. (There it is paying by the hour)

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

Dates next European BootCamp’s are set

The last year I have organized 3 open BootCamp in Europe and 2 closed bootcamp’s.

We have just set two new dates for more BootCamp’s to come:

From 5 till 10 October 2008

From 8 till 13 February 2009


Price for a full week everything included: € 3900.

Partners of people coming to BootCamp can join the same BootCamp for € 600. (The price of the stay)

We give 10% reduction for people on their second camp, 20% for people on their third camp

We are convinced that being Booted not only improves the communication  inside work but also inside a relation. As we realize not many people see this advantage before their first BootCamp, we now also offer the possibility to have your partner join a later BootCamp for a reduced price.

Partners of people that went on a previous BootCamp can now join for only € 1000.

I am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project Coach and you can reach me @ Yves at my agile training company

New KBC Online & Vista

I have posted a while ago my problems with the new KBC online way of working.

This post explains how to make KBC Online work on Vista. This article does not talk about the installation of the Smart Card readers.

When I tried to use it using the KBC Online activator everything seemed to work fine.

  • I could enter the default password I got from KBC
  • I could enter my new password.
    • The new password should be between 6 and 8 characters. Case insensitive. Wow that is totally not secure. My passwords typically are at least 10 characters and are case sensitive. The fact that a password has to be between 6 and 8 characters makes it very easy to know if something could be a password or not. It’s true that a card burns after three tries, so this makes it saver. But the fact stays that people wil recognise passwords easier when they know it is between 6 and 8 characters.
  • Except for the last step. The saving of my certificate/anex password did not work.

I did this installation (like I do most of my installations) on a friday evening/night.  So there wa sno possibility to call the helpdesk. (That wa sthe only option the software gave me.) Some googling did not help, I tried to look at the KBC website for some more information, but there was no.

So I stopped and went to bed. I did not write down the password. (I could not save it so I falsly I assumed it was not changed.)

When I could finaly call the help desk I realized I forgot the password. (Remember I normally use bigger passwords.)

Because a few days were passed I did not know exactly what went wrong. They blamed the E-id software on my machine for the error. (Which was not possible as I told them it was installed after their problem. The helpdesk did not listen when I told them that. It is not possible to use the KBC online software together with the E-id software. Mmm, maybe they should have used E-id, but that is another discusion.) At least the help deks person liked to have a technical guy on the phone (Usualy helpdesk people don’t like this.)

After doing all that I burned my card (which I actually find OK, not writing down my password was my own fault.)

When I got my new card I tried to activate it during business hours. I could again do the different steps except again the saving of the certificate.

This time the help desk was able to help me immediatly (I still had the error message on my screen.)

He asked me to go to “KBC Online for business”|”beveiliging”|”configuratiescherm”.

In this screen I think I had to select “installatie van uw certificaat” ==> Now I could save the certificate.

He also asked me to install a piece of software that would add a few KBC url’s to the trusted sites. You have to do this. I don’t think this is true. I don’t have to do this. I wil receive a lot of popups when I don’t, but that is my problem.

On top of that when I add it to the trusted sites of Internet explorer. (KBC only supports Internet Explorer) IE behaves very strange with trusted sites. It actually opens the trusted sites in a seperate window. That gives the impression of being in different memory. I don’t think it is actually different memory as when I open an untrusted site in the trusted site window, the untrusted site is opened in a tab in the other window. I personally prefer to have all my sites open in one window. This confuses me a lot.

The install file I had to download from the dutch version of the KBC site.  The English version does not have the file. The helpdesk person could not understand that I wanted to go to the site in english. Well allthough I speak dutch and my english might not be that good, every program on my computer is english. That is just the way I work.

KBC online en gebruiks vriendelijkheid…

KBC online schakelt over naar een kaart ipv een sleutel. (Dat terwijl ik net een jaarje van Isabel naar KBC online ben overgeschakelt om van de kaart af te zijn.)
Ik ga de kaart gaan halen zodat ik later verder kan werken zonder problemen.

Aangezien ik nog wacht op een nieuwe pc maak ik daar nog geen gebruik van. Er staat op dat ik tijd heb.

Deze morgen KBC online werkt normaal (==> volgens de helpdesk gisteren)
KBC Online werkt plots niet meer.
==> 3 maal verkeerde code in gegeven. Vreemd ik dacht dat ik de juiste code ingaf.
Na ja kan iedereen overkomen.

Bellen naar KBC kantoor,we bellen u terug binnen de 15 minuten.
1 uur later zelf terug bellen.
U bent verplicht om gebruik te maken van de kaart, dat moest binnen de maand. Aha het feit dat ik voorzienig was speelt nu in mijn nadeel. Spijtig dat men dat nooit gemeld heeft.
Bij mijn kantoor kan men mij niet verder helpen.
Gelieve de helpdesk te bellen.

Bij de helpdesk zegt men me dat het kantoor me wel degelijk kan helpen door een nieuw paswoord te genereren.
Terug bellen naar het kantoor.
Men genereert een nieuw initeel paswoord en faxt het door.
Op het document staat ga naar en volg de instructies.
Geen instructies op deze pagina, wel de mogelijkheid om in te loggen.

Ik log in met het verkregen paswoord.
Lukt niet. Ik probeer nog een paar keer.
Dan klikt ik op gebruikersbeheer, waar er een mogelijkheid staat om een nieuwe sleutel te genereren.
Ah dat moet ik dus doen.
==> Ik maak de sleutel aan met de gegevens die ik gekregen heb.
Werkt perfect.
Ik wil die gebruiken. Sleutel werkt niet==> Fout boodschap weer de zelfde, u heeft 3 maal de verkeerde
code gebruikt. Vreemd dit is de eerste poging die ik onderneem sederd ik de code gebruik.

IK bel terugnaar de helpdesk. Ah ja  had de initiele code nooit mogen in geven in het andere scherm; Dat heeft de nieuwe code die ik nadien aanmaakte geblokkeerd. Vreemd.
OK wat moet ik nu doen?
terug bellen naar uw bank en ze zullen u een nieuwe code genereren.

Persoon overloopt met mij nog eens de procedure. Ja dat heb ik gedaan. “Hoe, dat hebt u gedaan? En dat heeft het geblokkeerd?” Nee dat heb ik gedaan nadat ik merkt dat de code op de hoofdpagina niet werkte. VOlgesn uw uitleg was dat al geblokkeerd vooraf. Ik zal u doorverbinden en bel u binnen 10 minuten terug.

Hij verbind me door met het kantoor en die bezorgt me een nieuwe code.
Ik moet wachten met de nieuwe code, we zullen samen de procedure doorlopen.

Dan doen we en het werkt. Ik kan één week verder. Dan is de code ook weer verlopen. Ik zal maar hopen dat het leveren van mijn pc in een versnelling geraakt.

Ter verduidelijking, de mensen bij de KBC die me geholpen hebben waren uiterst vriendelijk.
Dit is de allereerste keer dat een helpdesk zegt dat hij me gaat terug bellen en dat ook nog doet.

Het is andermaal de software die steken laat vallen.
A de foutboodschappen kloppen nooit. (Telkens u heeft 3 maal geprobeerd)
B De automatische blokkering is redelijk annoying. Zo had de software me ook vooraf kunnen waarschuwen dat dit ging geblokeerd geraken vanaf datum X
C Dat het inloggen niet gaat met de sleutel die ik van de bank krijg tot daar aan toe, doch men had dit wel kunnen detecteren en me automatisch naar de juiste pagina sturen. (Zonder opnieuw te blokkeren)

We hebben nog veel werk in software land. Vertaal: Hoe software andermaal probeert om mensen zich dom te laten voelen. Ik ben blij dat ik een informaticus ben, want ik zou er horendol van worden. Nu is het voor mij andermaal een uidaging om te zorgen dat mijn volgende team niet zulke kemels maakt.

Update: Mijn nieuwe pc is toegekomen. Dus installeer ik de KBC card software. Nu merk ik dat het document dat ik had gekregen effectief vermeld te installeren voor 2008/04/27. Maw mijn heeft mijn vorige manier maar eventjes ander halve maand te vroeg afgesloten. Kwa gebruiks vriendelijkheid kan dat tellen. Ik heb dan ook net gelezen in DataNews dat 80% van de informatici hun gebruikers liever kwijt zijn. Dit is een mooi voorbeeld.
Het wordt nog beter, de KBC software wordt niet ondersteund om Windows Vista. Pardon? Vista is reeds een jaar uit en nog niet ondersteund? Ik heb aan minstens 3 KBC medewerkers verteld dat ik aan het wachten was op een nieuwe PC. Niet één heeft er vermeld dat deze manier van werken niet werkt op VISTA.

Nou ja niet werken is een groot woord: de installatie zegt: je mag het gebruiken maar we gaan je niet helpen. Ik vertaal dat door “We zijn zelf te lui om het te testen. ”

Update: Ivm Vista zie het vervolg verhaal.

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