Sweat the Small Stuff

Way back when Rudy Giuliani was the Mayor of New York in the 90s, he applied what was called the broken window theory which suggests that visible signs of crime and anti-social behaviour encourages further crime and disorder. It apparently worked and it’s also been found that small positive changes can have significant impacts for companies too; one airline found they were losing custom because their rival was providing one more sausage than they did for breakfast! And if you’re anything like me, that buzz that comes from a stone stuck in your car’s undertray can make you resent the whole car!

This all came back to me as I sat in an airline lounge last week waiting for my flight back to the UK. On one wall the wallpaper was starting to peel back on the vertical edges. It wasn’t a biggie, but in a business lounge? Especially when this particular airline prides itself in quality. It made the lounge feel a bit shabby and made me wonder what other corners had been cut or what else hadn’t been fixed. There may have been nothing else, but how was I to know. A maintenance man with a ladder and some glue could have had the wallpaper fixed in five minutes. More interestingly, though, was the fact that it was also clear no-one working in the lounge either noticed or felt the need to report it.

Why am I banging on about this? Well, it’s often the case that people who are so involved in the “stuff” won’t spot the small issues even though they shout at the customer. Staff may not be able to understand why something so small could make such a difference to their customer satisfaction with the service.

And as CIOs we’re always interested in the strategic stuff, the large stuff, the highly consequential stuff. It’s hard to be interested in a printer that’s not working as it should or an area of the office where WiFi never seems to work properly; we have people to deal with that! But these are the things that make a significant difference to someone’s opinion of the whole of IT and however much we don’t want to admit it, their opinion really counts even if it is the small stuff.

I’m not suggesting that our board report should be full of the little things we’ve fixed each month, but I am suggesting that behind the scenes we need to know that someone is paying attention to the stuff that irritates our customers. It won’t be major system outages, it’ll be the small stuff, the things that people put up with, but they still gradually eat away at their good will towards IT.

This is almost an ambassador type role, one which goes hand in hand with the support team who are constantly fixing stuff. I’ve run Helpdesks and Support teams before now and I’ve seen how they can go blind to small fixes and never get round to them because the large stuff is far more “important”. We all know a Helpdesk is only as good as its last call, regardless of how many calls it takes every day, but if they don’t fix the small stuff, that’s going to have as big an impact on opinion as any faultless Priority 1 fix.

A quality service pays as much attention to the small stuff as it does the big stuff and our teams need to recognise that. Helping them understand what is trivial to them can have a significant impact on someone needs to be made clear time and time again. You don’t want to be chatting with your peers on the board and find out they think IT’s cr*p because the language on their laptop always defaults to US English, or whatever. It’s hard to get to talk business and strategy when these sorts of irritants colour every single discussion you might have.

So, in my view, find a way to sweat the small stuff. Develop an ambassador who has a remit to make sure these things get fixed and is pro-active at making sure people are delighted with the service. That won’t ever be about the big stuff it’ll be about making sure IT doesn’t get in their way and perhaps makes their day easier, not harder. It’s not about by-passing existing support processes and systems, it’s more about having a place where we show, as a team, we care and we’re not just our SLA and KPI figures.

Having a Broken Windows attitude to the technology landscape, means that when a major issue does occur there’ll be greater sympathy for the team as they work to resolve the problems. Above all though, we need to remember that we have to earn someone’s trust and engagement and if their personal experience of technology is being impacted by small, but irritating things then it’s always going to be a struggle to have them as an advocate and a promotor.

This is our extra sausage at breakfast opportunity.