Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Conference Call Hell

I’m holding in queue for the conference call webinar to start so I figured I’d write for a minute. This looks like it’s going to be a good learning experience. The conference is the “12 Secrets of Successful Project Management,” specifically I’m assuming, as relating to AutoTask’s PSA product line. Karl Palachuk is speaking today, which is the main reason I’m logged in. Karl is  a pretty heavy-hitter in the MSP world, so I’m interested to hear what he’s got to say.

Meanwhile, I’m snarfing down a bowl of Lucky Charms while I sit here on mute waiting for the conference to start.


What I’ve Learned Today:

Well, that was enlightening. I had to endure the first conference call, which was very informative. The second, ugh, not so much. The first was my PSA platform, the second was my RMM platform but it was geared to third graders. “Hey, look what you can do if you press the button that says Connect. You can connect”. Duh. Nothing innovative or mind-boggling. Maybe Karl Pulachek’s webinar just raised the bar of my expectation too high? Dunno.

I really enjoy these MSP conferences. Basically they provide a way for me to rejuvenate myself by talking to and listening to some very highly successful people in my industry who KNOW how to what I do and wrote the book on it. In Karl’s case you can take that literally. He’s one of the most published authors in the MSP world and the guy is pretty insightful.

Dont’ Be Interrupt-Driven

I read a book called the 4-Hour Work Week that basically said the same thing that Karl did today on the subject. Basically, no one in his company checks email throughout the day. They have regularly allotted times they login to their mail, respond to it, then close it back out. Further, and this is interesting, they have a company policy forbidding Outlook Popups to notify you when you have mail. The reason is that, like everything else nowadays, they cause you to lose focus on what you’re doing.  This is the exact reason I work from home a lot of the time. When I’m in my office my staff know I’m in the office and assume this means they can take the time to talk about all the things they haven’t been able to talk about since the last time they saw me. This results in me pretty much losing 80% of my productive time in the office to chatting, office gossip, questions about customers, and  Hey boss, what do you think about this idea” kind of chatter. Yes, it’s all important and yes I care what they have to say, but I can’t possibly do my job if I have to stop and talk to them all the time.  Hell, I can’t do my job when I’m home half the time because I can’t get off the phone long enough to focus on what I’m doing.

I’m going to digress here for a moment… I have a few friends who do this, and I HATE it: I’m working on some code, trying to debug some JavaScript or maybe just do company taxes, and the phone will ring. I’ll look at it, decide to press ignore and call or text them later. Thirty seconds later it rings again. I sigh to myself and hit ignore again. (If this were a customer issue, they should KNOW to call the office, not my cell phone. Twisted Networx provides 24x7 service. This does not mean necessarily that Tommy Jordan has to do that. That’s why I have a staff in the first place.) This will usually go on anywhere from four to five times before they annoy me yet again by leaving a voicemail. I get about 40 important voicemails a day, so unless you NEED something, don’t leave me one. I know you called… I’ll call you back when I get time. Now I’m thinking “ok, maybe something is wrong. Maybe they need something.” So, in frustration I put down what I’m doing and call them back. Is anyone bleeding, dying, suffering from terminal psychosis (besides me)? No. They were just calling to see what was going on… at 3 PM on a Tuesday! What in God’s name do you THINK is going on? I’m working! What the hell else would I be doing in the middle of the day that would preclude me from talking to my friends all day long?  *sigh*

Ok, back to my point. I learned that myself and my staff, especially my Project Manager and partner are very Interrupt Driven, and it’s partially my fault for making them that way. Neither of them is super-responsible about always carrying a PDA or notepad so when I ask them to do something I usually ask for them to do it right then because they’ll both forget it moments later if they don’t. Now I’ve made them do two things with 50% efficiency rather than doing one thing 100% efficiently and moving on to the next task at hand.

I’ve got to find some way to combat this sickness in our company, some way to make myself and others focused on one thing at a time.

We all need to stop being able to be reached every second of the day. There needs to be clear lines of communication to us, but for the most part calls need to go through the PBX, emails need to be handled in an appropriate timeframe, but not immediately, and we need to spend more time on DOCUMENTATION! We have this immediacy to our approach that  needs to be corrected. Every computer company in town is backed up for days and weeks and I feel bad if we cant’ fix something same day or even same hour. I’ve got to get out of that mentality.  We are a service company but clients will understand that we have a schedule and we have working hours and we have priorities too. If they REALLY need/want us right that second, or same day, then they can pay a premium price for that service like every other IT company charges. At any one time we have 5+ in-house repairs going on, 2 projects being quoted, 1 or 2 installations mid-phase, and are trying to handle incoming calls for new service. I’m just going to have to start enforcing next day service or something rather than offering Zero-Day services for every little email incident.


Documentation is the major thorn in my side with our industry. Working for Scott and Moe taught me that documentation is key. I used to do it to cover my ass, but it’s become so ingrained in me that it’s second nature and it drives me nuts when my staff can’t seem to utilize basic principles. With the exception of my Project Manager, the entire rest of my staff literally sucks when it comes to documentation. Some of them don’t even bother to complete work tickets, check the PSA system, and never close anything out in the portal, which means I have to call them at the end of the week and try to figure out who to invoice, what notes are important, who did what to whose computers, etc. I’m literally at the point that I’m going to stop printing paychecks if all the notes aren’t closed out on Friday for all tickets up to that date. That may be the only way I know to get invoicing done properly. I track every customer I ever talk to, every prospect, every email is filed and organized so I can get to it rapidly and my notes on client’s systems are usually a minimum of two paragraphs long. I have staff members who don’t know phone numbers for key points of contact, who forget to invoice customers for work they do.. they’re literally working for FREE PLUS I’m paying them to do it!

Actually, the point of this rant on documentation is not quite the one I’m whining about. Karl’s webinar today confirmed that I’m pretty much going to have to make our processes almost ISO compliant in order to be able to get anything done. The problem is I’m the one who has to write all that documentation. Who is going to run the shop, pay the taxes, prepare the bills, etc while I spend weeks documenting procedures on how to prepare an invoice, how to track purchases of materials for clients, etc?

At the end of the day it comes down to being a necessity. What’s the process for fixing a computer? If you ask them it’s something like:

  1. Get computer.
  2. Get customer information
  3. Repair problem
  4. Call customer

That’s so incorrect as to be ludicrous.

Our actual process, as I guess will be reflected in documentation when I complete this blog rant, is:

  1. Enter ALL of customer’s information into PSA program (TOC) either in person when they arrive or over the phone before they arrive.
  2. Explain billing procedures for in-house/on-site service to customer and get approval.
  3. Enter a service ticket in TOC and assign it to the proper service desk queue, including all symptoms of problem as well as any custom software issues we might encounter and customer’s preference on backup if necessary.
  4. Print hard-copy and attach it to computer.
  5. Service the computer and document all working times and notes in TOC.
  6. Mark service ticket as Completed in TOC
  7. Print service ticket and attach to computer with receipt.
  8. Print invoice in QuickBooks, referencing TOC Service Ticket Number.
  9. Contact customer and inform them politely their computer is ready and schedule a pickup.
  10. Be there when they come to pick it up.
  11. Collect Payment BEFORE you give them back their computer!
  12. Enter payment received in QuickBooks.

Is that anywhere near as fast as their version? Nope. It’s longer, more laborious, and yes it takes a few minutes more, but what they don’t see is how much time they waste (at billable rates) by wasting my time to fix their kindergarten crap later, not to mention their time. They could enter it at the time it was done and cost me 12-15 dollars per hour. If they wait until I have to track them down at the end of the week, they’re costing me $170.00 per hour in lost revenue in addition to making me a really unhappy camper who has to do a crap-ton of overtime to get caught up.


To continue with the documentation problems I’m having, I’ve got staff who tells clients “Sure, I’ll handle that” and that’s all I ever hear of it until the client calls wanting to know if its been completed yet at which time I say “I’ll get right back to you” upon whence I call up whoever they talked to and figure out why they FORGOT to get a customer some information or a quote or whatever. I swear I freakin’ baby-sit grown-ass adults all day long and I spend my nights financially changing diapers!

The resolution to that problem? Stay In Scope!

If it’s not in the scope of work you’re currently working on, stop long enough to issue a service ticked for it, assign it to a queue for another technician to handle, and get back to what you were doing. Complete the job you were sent there to do and then schedule the next job when you’re done. You most likely already have other things already assigned to be doing, so whether you know it or not you really DON’T have time to be hanging around that client for another hour and a half. Get your tail back to the shop and fix the PCs sitting there on the bench!


Ok, obviously I need a break… I forgot how much I missed blogging to vent my frustrations. I started this post to talk about what I learned, now how what I learned reinforced my feelings that my company needs serious overhauls in the effectivity department! (Is effectivity a word?) But seriously, this is stupid. I work with some of the brightest people I know but none of them could remember to wipe their own butt if I didn’t remind them to. I need a really hard-core office manager, but I can’t afford one until I get the billable hours up. I can’t get the billable hours because I need a hard-core office manager to get on top of people to get billable hours up. Catch .22!


Ugh. April called, so I’m gonna take a break and maybe return to this later. Meanwhile, any thoughts or ideas?


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