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Working life
By ReallyEvilCanine (Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 03:14:22 AM EST) A Day in the Life, WTF, fuckwits, Atari 800, perception, cake, pie (all tags)
Add Eggs and Milk.

More than 20 years ago I worked for an Atari certified repair shop fixing Atari 400 & 800 computers and peripherals as well as 2600 and 5200 game stations. The owner made it clear to me that under no circumstances would we do any while-you-wait repairs no matter how urgent, no matter how much anyone pleaded. While he explained it, I didn't grok.

I finally understood when I violated this policy. It almost cost me my job.

x-posted to da brog, sans poll.

The problem was a harried and desperate woman with a broken space bar. Her kid had bought the Defender game cartridge and since the space bar was used for the last-chance smart bomb, it would be hit rather harshly in the heat of battle. This was rather a common problem and we made a metric buttload of money fixing keyboards instead of replacing them, something no one else in the country seemed to be able to do. She needed it back to finish writing some papers that night.

I bought the sob story and she watched as I quickly and easily fixed the machine. She was upset about my apparent "rough treatment" of her $800 computer (about $2,000 in today's cash) and called the owner a few hours later to complain. Shit rolls downhill.

The biggest problem came not from the work done. I fixed that keyboard and had her out the door inside 10 minutes. Rather, the problem came from her perception of service and value.

I've carried this lesson with me since. When I had my own company I charged much more than the going rate, excessive even in light of my simple and absolute guarantee. Customers winced when they first heard it but never, ever complained when the work was done. Instead they'd simply spread the word and send me even more business.

Sometimes you have to fix things immediately. When a blade farm is down and a 20,000-seat call center is sitting around playing Solitaire, things need to move quickly and they do. Resolve it fast and the customers are happy. But for everything else, well...

I realised a couple years ago that customers, despite how often they write WE NEED SOLUTION NOW!!1!11shiftone, are actually dissatisfied when they send in a problem and within two hours receive a complete solution. Maybe they're angry they didn't see it themselves, or maybe they think it's something we should have warned them about.

You know those instant cake and batter mixes which require an egg and milk? Totally unnecessary. Those ingredients could easily be added to the mix so all you'd have to do is add is water. In the beginning companies like Betty Crocker did just that. They found that sales went up drastically when they required the use of a fresh egg and/or milk. Market research showed them that by having to add such ingredients, the people using these instant mixes somehow felt like they were actually "cooking". Their customers get a lot more warm fuzzies and feel better having to do more -- and totally unecessary -- work.

When a ticket comes in with a question that just makes me want to bash my head into my desk again, I often don't send the answer despite knowing it after reading only the first two lines of the complaint. Instead I make them add an egg and some milk. My first response is to make them do some busywork. It's psychological. They feel like the error is more complex than it really is and that they're involved in the process of resolving it.

That doesn't mean every request for additional information is busywork. Sometimes it can narrow down the scope, but my boilerplate includes all possible resolutions. I just delete as necessary.

My charge has already seen this in action. He's learning quickly. $SomeBank insisted on an urgent and speedy answer to a stupid question. $OurOlderBigApp isn't supported on Windows 2003 but that's what they installed it on and were surprised that it didn't work. Paul told 'em so from the start. They're not happy with this answer. Paul now knows to first ask them for logs and maybe wait for a day before sending the exact same response about Win2K3 not being supported along with any old error line from the log that somehow confirms this.

Paul doesn't know our full error code system but he already agrees that we need a Root Cause: 17-Fuckwit.

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A Day in the Life | 5 comments (5 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Psychology by yicky yacky (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 03:57:27 AM EST

See also the Amstrad fan.

Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
There are countless examples. by squigs (4.00 / 3) #2 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 04:23:51 AM EST
The most common example is the old chestnut where the expert chargeds $10000 for tightening a bolt.  Then itemises the bill as something like "tightening the bolt - $1.  Knowing which bolt to tighten - $9999".

The perceived value trick is something that a lot of people have discovered independently. 

[ Parent ]
Aye by Herring (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 04:50:45 AM EST
I made that mistake yesterday. I'd been sent to attempt to pacify manager woman of the guinea pig department.  She was hating all things IT pretty badly. I made the mistake of opening with the sensible suggestion - one tweak to a stored procedure, a slight modification of their work practises and we're done. She'd been screaming at us that this is urgent so I thought she'd appreciate a quick fix. She rejected the solution out of hand and favoured something which would involve change requests, 4 or 5 days of bureaucracy and changes to the UI and 2 other components.


We talked her round in the end. I think somebody drugged her.

christ, we're all old now - StackyMcRacky

ah yes ... by BlueOregon (2.00 / 0) #4 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 06:35:14 AM EST

... the Betty Crocker et. al. story ... I recall it from a show I watched on PBS half a decade back. Dealt with the 50s, TV dinners, track housing, etc.

Fascinating, really.

I need to get around to getting a "definitive source" for the cake/brownie/whatever-dry-powder baking mix story at some point.

It was the result of market research by yicky yacky (4.00 / 4) #5 Thu Nov 23, 2006 at 04:18:54 PM EST

performed by the psychoanalyst Ernest Dichter (who practised next to Freud in Vienna and set up the Institute for Motivational Research) for Betty Crocker Foods.

According to Betty Crocker Foods' own market research, their cake mix was being asked-for, so they couldn't figure out why was not selling. Dichter apparently conducted a series of focus groups where housewives free-associated about the cake mix. What's interesting is that Dichter's conclusions were nothing really to do with "perceived value"; he concluded, from the sessions, that the cake mix was a source of unconcious guilt for the housewives; it was essentially too care-free; too convenient. The addition of the egg served not only to break that barrier in terms of direct effort, but tied into notions of Freudian psychology (that the woman was literally giving of herself [i.e. her eggs] and thus demonstrating the appropriate care and commitment). It's a precedent-setting case as it was really the first time that serious psychoanalytic results were shown to have a massive influence on sales figures (above and beyond Bernays' efforts). It's regarded by some as the genesis of modern marketing.

I first came across it in 'The Engineering Of Consent' — episode two of Adam Curtis' documentary series 'Century Of The Self' (The section runs from roughly 18:00 to 24:00).

Vacuity abhors a vacuum.
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