Archive for July 2009

Rethinking Overseas Technical Support

July 15, 2009

After nearly 25 years as a PC, I became a Mac late last month.

I didn’t make the switch so I could grow my hair long – bedsides it’s probably too late for that – and I discarded my tie in favor of open collars long ago. The Mac just seemed easier and besides, my son, Eli, was lobbying me to switch for quite some time.

And while the adjustment has been pretty stress free, there are some moments…which brings us to tonight’s tale.

Perhaps one of the most maligned groups in the IT world is the overseas tech support team. People say that those from across the globe may be more difficult to understand and culturally, are not in tune with an American’s way of thinking and approaching an issue. However, if my most recent experience is any indication, it may be time to reconsider this perspective.

My friend, Alan, at Microsoft tells me that the technical support world is changing. The shift is to more online chat – and less telephone conversation. There are a lot of reasons for this. Online chat allows supervisors to more quickly review calls for quality and the transcripts of these calls are much simpler to access.

Anyway, back to our story.

I had purchased an application for offline storage called Mozy. I had heard good things about it and one of my colleagues at a client was a strong proponent.

One of the differences in the Mac world is that when you click on an application icon, sometimes the only thing that opens is the thin ribbon for the application on top of the screen. In the case of Mozy, it also opens a screen to show you what it is backing up. My previous orientations with PCs had taught me that the screen that opens is indeed the application itself…so I never noticed the ribbon.

This led me to believe that the application’s client had never loaded and so I could never set preferences or schedule the backups. Naturally, I made a call to technical support.

I’m not writing about the fact that the two people that I worked with were courteous or knowledgeable or patient. What impressed me was that I received personalized, professional e-mails with new suggestions every day. It felt like these two professionals were focused solely on my issue – and that they were more committed to its resolution than I was.

It took a little more than a week for me to realize that the “problem” was likely not a problem and simply my unfamiliarity with the Mac interface. And while I learn new things about Apple each day, the most important thing that I may have learned is that international boundaries are likely not what separates quality from mediocrity. More appropriately, it is corporate culture, professional training, personal commitment, outstanding character traits and appropriate reward systems that are the differentiators.

So Sandeep and Mohammed, here is a shout out for an exceptional job. Well done – and thanks for this important reminder and lesson.

Scarcity: For Marketers, Less is More

July 6, 2009

When Joni Mitchell wrote “Big Yellow Taxi” and the expressive lyric, “Don’t it always seem as though you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?” she may have been onto something.

The last of Prof. Cialdini’s weapons of influence centers on scarcity or, as he explains it, the increase in the appeal of an opportunity when it appears that it will soon become unavailable. This lure is evident in the actions of those who put a telephone conversation on hold when another phone line rings simply because of the fear that the chance to hear information might be lost or the possibility to speak to that person if that call is not taken.

In fact, the thought of “losing” something over winning something is typically more appealing and interesting. More people insulate homes because of the “money that they could lose” rather than the money that they could save.

Consider the language of marketers who tell us that “only a limited number” are available or that you should hurry because “a sale ends Sunday.” Scarcity has a tendency to make items more valuable in our eyes. This is because we understand that those items that are difficult to possess are typically better than those that are easy to possess. This concept is more often than not a true one. The second factor that weighs in that we hate to lose “freedoms” – that is whenever free choice is limited, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them more.

Cialdini engages the reader in a very interesting discussion of the behaviorists’ view of Romeo and Juliet. Was this a case of young and pure love or rather was the intensity of the love heightened because of the extraordinary obstacles that the Montague and Capulet families placed in the path of these young lovers and therefore infringed on their freedoms? Or to use a biblical example, did Adam and Eve desire the apple more because it offered enlightenment and knowledge or because it was “one of a kind” and prohibited?

The Iranian election and the management of its outcome by its supreme leader may be an additional event worth studying through the prism of scarcity. Did the current leadership fan the flames of revolt by making opposition information scarce (and more believable because exclusive information is more persuasive) and by reducing freedoms while creating obstacles? And conversely, can groups pretend that information is restricted so as to align others with their perspectives? If this interpretation of Cialdini’s thinking is correct – and he does acknowledge that this concept applies to information and censorship as well – there are tremendous implications for the way governments manage conflict and companies manage information flow.

There are a number of corollaries to our scarcity weapon of influence. The first is that scarcity has greater impact when people have a taste of abundance and then have that abundance replaced with scarcity. Cialdini cites the glasnost era led by Gorbachev followed by a crackdown. The Soviet people chafed at the loss of freedoms and fought more strenuously to keep the freedoms that were already experienced during the Gorbachev regime.

The second corollary is that scarcity is made more impactful when there is competition for a good or service. Imagine for a moment, those department store sales where certain goods are only available between certain hours and the panic that ensues within the store. These sales are designed to foment both scarcity and competition and force a buying decision.

So how does one control the strong emotional pull of scarcity? First, we need to recognize the heightened sense of arousal that comes with scarcity. Then, knowing that we are now engaged at this level, we must separate the use we have for the item from the desire to acquire it. By its very nature, scarcity is about possession and not utility. Distinguishing the two will allow us to behave more rationally.

It is important to recognize that all of the weapons highlighted in “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” will become more pervasive simple because of the overwhelming information available to and thrust upon us. We are truly information overloaded and it is imperative that we recognize when gut reactions cause our behaviors. Where Cialdini has done us a great service is by “pulling the curtain back” so that we may more effectively recognize manipulation, and combat it.


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