Customer Care

Port-to-Port is a part of a program called Seismic that is provided by Ingram Micro. I’m giving a presentation at the first Seismic Partner Conference. My title is “Putting the Service in a Managed Services Practice.” Managed Services is an industry term that elicits a lot of debate about its definition. My discussion will sidestep that debate and make the point that we went out of our way to create this phrase that includes the word service and we’re spending all of our time and attention on the managed part instead. That’s all I’ll say so I don’t spoil the punchline of my speech.

However, since I agreed to do this presentation, I’ve been attuned to the service being provided to me as I go thru my day. Overall, it sucks! We’ve been conditioned to accept lousy service. We aren’t even shocked to receive truly appalling service. Exceptional service is so rare now that we start looking around for the candid camera or Ashton Kucher because we’re sure we’re about to be “Punk’d.” I realized, during my heightened sensitivity, that we’re a big part of the problem. We don’t insist on better service. We don’t point out the lousy service to people who can do something about it. And, more importantly, we don’t acknowledge the exceptional service and make sure that the people responsible are celebrated.

I was standing in line at the post office. There were about 7 people in line and only one service person at a counter that had five or six stations. The lady in position six turned to the man in position seven to complain about the lousy service being provided. He joined in. I, standing in position three, could hear them, as I’m sure the lone postal representative could also. I paid more attention though. This young man behind the counter was going above and beyond with each customer. He looked them in the eye and greeted them as they approached. He helped them to figure out what postal services they really needed. e even ignored the two complainers at the end of the line. This guy was awesome! When my turn came, and he treated me in the same great fashion that I had witnessed with his previous customers, I told him how impressed I was with his care and concern. He paused, then smiled and said, “Thank you.” And yes, I made sure I was loud enough for the whiners to hear my compliment. I’m sure they received the best service they would get all day when they became the sole focus of that incredible young man.

Gut Feelings

I spent the day cleaning my desk here at home. It was reading The 7 Levels of Change by Rolf Smith that made me even decide to tackle what I’m sure my wife figures to be a long overdue task. In the book, Smith describes the office of a Level 6 person. It sounded as if he were standing in my office as he made the description. At that moment, I put the book down and started cleaning. It was already overdue at the library anyway.

As I went about clearing piles, I came across a recent article by Rob Walker from Fast Company magazine. His column, called Murketing, was discussing our love of the guy who makes incredible gut decisions that defy the odds and ends up winning. This article was enough to take me out of my Level 6 reverie and send me off on the kind of tangent that Smith would describe as typical of a Level 6 person. (I hate it when I stand as a good example of someone else’s categorization of the world.) The tangent led me to think about (and dig thru old notes about) making decisions. I trained as an engineer. I have a minor in probability and statistics. I finished my MBA by figuring out how to map any major business decision along two coordinates. Yet all my notes about decision making had to do with the power of going with the gut. It’s the way I tend to make decisions. I’ve found as I study human psychology and behavior, it’s the way we all make decisions, even the most rational and anal retentive of us.

Creative Thinking

Creativity. The thinking process. Where ideas come from. These are things that fascinate me. I’m naturally drawn to articles, books, websites, speeches, and conversations that touch on the concept of creative thinking. I find it amazing how many people start off with a statement like, “I’m not very creative.” You know what? They’re right!

The biggest measurable difference between creative people and non-creative people is whether they define themselves as creative or not. That observation often takes me on the quantum physics tangent and discussions of Schrodinger’s cat. I’ll save that tangent for another time. My (admittedly short) attention is on creative thinking right now. It has been sneaking into my world from all sides lately.

Back in the late 80s, I put together a workshop on creativity and presented it to my work group. It went over well enough that I was asked to present it to a few other groups over the course of the next year. It was some of the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. People started believing they were more creative, and then, they started being more creative. I felt like an evangelist doing revival meetings. What I learned from that is the secret to teaching: Help people realize what they already know.

Many people believe that creativity is some kind of special power, akin to magic. Really it’s nothing more than seeing ordinary things in different, extraordinary ways. Once you get past everything else about it, that’s all there is. The essence of creativity. It’s not scary when you use that definition.

More to come….

Microsoft Might Not Be So Evil After All

I’ve been thinking about the Macintosh computer since Apple decided to switch to the Intel processor. I’ve worked with several people who are Mac users, and even though I have seen Macs crash and seen software errors and the like, I do believe that Mac owners are happier with their machines than PC owners. I’ve always explained the so-called Mac superiority as the difference between open and closed systems. Apple controls the hardware and the OS. That makes it easier to prevent problems because you know just exactly what you’re dealing with. This probably explains why it’s a license violation to run the Mac OS on a non-Mac machine.

I finally bought a MacBook last weekend. I was a bit peeved that I couldn’t get the black one without paying a color premium, but I grew up in the world of the putty colored computer, so  I saved my money and took the one that looks like a kitchen appliance. I’ve been impressed with a lot of the Mac’s capabilities. The most exciting, by far, is the machines ability to go into sleep mode, or more precisely, to come out of sleep mode. I’ve carried a lot of laptops and tablets running Windows and they never did this worth a darn. This little guy might be the closest thing to the portable device for which I yearn.

On the other hand, I found that using my Mac in the business world is harder than using a Windows machine. This is why I’ve concluded that Microsoft may not be so evil after all. Before the freaks and zealots on both sides of the Mac/PC debate jump into attack mode, let me say that Port-to-Port Consulting, my business, exists primarily because of Microsoft and what they’ve done to make business computing possible for the masses. Let me also say that I’m a reluctant fan of Microsoft and a want-to-be fan of Apple. Now, with disclaimers and full disclosure covered, I’ll say this. The Apple Mac works so much better because it is truly designed to be a personal computer. What I mean is, the people who have Macs and love them don’t have to do much in the way of sharing with others. Sure, they send emails and log into chat rooms, but they work in their own world. They don’t have to share calendars, or contacts, or any of the things that businesses do routinely.

We noted in our office that maybe that’s the reason (and not the control) that the Mac seems to perform better. Perhaps the problem gets significantly harder when you introduce the concept of sharing. I know Apple makes servers, and Macs can connect to Windows and Linux networks, but in the end, Apple doesn’t push networking because they know that their users tend to work solo. I think that’s a big part of the performance difference. Look at how much harder it is to coordinate a group of people to get something done as compared to doing it yourself.

Thought Provocation

In the past three weeks, I’ve been in three very different venues where a presenter thought it important enough to present the Shift Happens slide show to us. Each time I see it I’m more amazed at the collection of facts. We continue to accelerate just like the universe does. Where will it all end? How can we hope to keep up?

One of the things that strikes me from this is the importance of us learning how to get along. It seems that there is too much information about any given subject for any one of us to keep up. It makes me feel more confident about what Port-to-Port does for our clients and customers. We take the responsibility for keeping up with small office technology so they can spend their time trying to keep up with everything else.

I wonder how much has changed since I started writing this post.

Human Contact

I grew up in a family that wasn’t very expressive of their positive feelings. We knew we were loved, but not because anyone ever told us that. We knew it the way big dogs know that it’s about to rain. It just couldn’t be any other way.

Somehow I came out of that upbringing as a really touchy feely kind of person. I love to hug people! Over the years I’ve found that hugging isn’t considered normal in most business settings so I tried to tone it down. A few months ago I read Tim Sanders’ “Love is the Killer App” and discovered that it is OK to hug in most business settings. I just have to ease other people into it. I’ve been hugging more ever since. Sanders gave me the tiny excuse I needed to increase my human contact. The change in my temperament has been noticeable. I’m less stressed and happier.

You should try it for 30 days. See if you can hug 12 people each day. Start with opposite sex hugs but work your way toward an even split between men and women. Those man hugs where you keep you locked handshake between the two of you count, as do the back-pattings to avoid real contact. Watch what happens to you and the people around you.

Working a Room

I got to use my new tuxedo last night. My partner and I took our wives to the grand opening of the new Power of Children exhibit at The Children’s Museum. We had a lot of fun and contributed in a small way to the ongoing success of the museum.

I like events at The Children’s Museum because they are usually put together in a format that encourages people to move about the museum — thereby increasing the opportunity to interact with one another. These are events that maximize one’s chance of meeting new people. I love it! We often think that the rest of the world thinks and acts basically like we do.  Every now and then we get to see that’s not the case.

Last night, I was in my element. I love to “work a room.” I realize that many of you will cringe at that statement. To you, working a room sounds like a sleazy salesman technique designed to collect as many business cards as possible so the telephone harassment can start the next day. Before you read on, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths….

Better? OK. What I mean by loving to work a room is this: I am at my best when I’m meeting new people and becoming better acquainted with people I already know. I didn’t give or receive a single business card or telephone number during this event. I did get to say hello to several friends and associates that I hadn’t seen in some time. I met clients in a setting quite different than usual. I talked to kids who had won awards for their community activities. I met Ruby Bridges, the little girl from the Norman Rockwell picture who had to be escorted to school for her entire first grade year. I talked food, and wine, and coffee with a couple of old ladies who got a kick out of the conversation. All of this was as natural for me as swimming is for ducks.

While I spent time meeting people, the other three members of my party sat and talked among themselves. They “people watched,” but they didn’t engage. I’m not saying that to put them down. I’m just saying it stuck me as an odd way to spend an evening with a building full of interesting people. That’s when I realized that I’m wired a bit differently than most. I got a charge out of my wandering interactions. The people with me got their charge from sitting and watching. We all went home having had a great time.

Everything Goes in Circles

I started Port-to-Port Consulting in 1991 with one of my best friends, Bob Beaty. As we did the research and planning to launch this venture, we got lots of advice from well-meaning people. Most of the advice was crap! We were told things like, “You can set your own work hours.” Sure, as long as we wanted to work all the time. Or, “You get to choose who you want to work with.” Sure, as long as they wanted to work with us, and could afford to pay us. Speaking of pay, my favorite was, “You can set your own salary.” That is, as long as you don’t mind actually getting a paycheck!”

Over the years, a lot of things have changed. We do have more control over our work hours now. We’ve been far more selective about who we work for, and who we hire to work with us. We’ve even been successful at cashing a paycheck for a long time now. It took years to get to the point that we were allowed these privleges. Only by persevering through the times when we had no choice in these matters have we been able to reach this point. Now, I’m finding that some of the other tenets we held dear are suffering for success.

Two other things Bob and I heard a lot were: 1) “You can wear whatever you want to work;” and, 2) “Your friendship is strong enough to make this work.” As each piece of advice in turn proved to be crap, I started to cling to the ones that were left. The work hours was first to go, then the pay, then  the people we work with. Yet I held strong to whatever was left. Yesterday I bought a tuxedo. This spells the end to another founding tenet. I modified the wear what you want tenet over the years so I could hold onto it. In its latest incarnation, it has devolved to, “I don’t wear a tie.” Even with the tuxedo I still hold onto it, but I realize I’m playing games of semantics at this point. You see, instead of getting a tie with my tux, I got one of those little button covers that looks like a man-broach. I know that owning a tux certainly kills the spirit of the wear-what-you-want, but I’ll hold onto it anyway.

And the other great tenet? Well, Bob left the business a long time ago, and he took our friendship with him. After all these years I still wish I had found a way for us to separate as business partners and remain friends. Even now, I consider Bob to be one of my dearest friends. If he called and asked for my help today, I would give it willingly and happily. I know that he won’t though, just like I know that owning a tux is a clear violation of the wear-what-you-want rule.

But hey, the other rules have come back into being! These rules, perhaps, just need to wait their turn.


I’ve been a member of a group of business owners for several years. Today was the first half of a leadership retreat that we’re doing at the Edward Lowe Foundation in southern Michigan. We took a break to watch the Colts lose in the last 5 minutes to the New England Patriots (a depressing result for us), then we took the Clifton Strengths Finder survey online.

It’s an interesting idea that we spend so much of our time trying to improve our weaknesses instead of increasing our strengths. The folks behind this website say that’s backwards and we would all be better off if we worked from our strengths instead. I accept that in principle, but it’s hard to break the habit of trying to be more well-rounded.