How far is that extra mile anyway?

We have all heard of the phrase "going the extra mile" when people talk about providing exceptional service to their customers. And I'm definitely a proponent of this mentality.

However, I've also once heard of the phrase "your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency", murmured by a former colleague when referring to a particularly demanding customer, and also think that it makes perfect sense.

At the office, I sometimes get calls from our partners/resellers with requests of the kind "um...I've got this demo in 2 hours, and I need your help to build this integration against this application that I want to show for my demo."

First thought that always came to my mind was that wonderful phrase uttered by the colleague. I mean, c'mon! My day is usually fully planned out and these kind of things really throw a monkey wrench into things.

My following thought would be, well, they are trying to sell our product for us, and consider the alternative: I tell the partner to blow off and tell the customer to reschedule and give us more time. On such close notice, this would make the partner look very bad in front of the customer, not to mention the partner might have made a long trip onsite for this demo--all of which aren't the end of the world, but a lost opportunity nonetheless.

With that thought, I put my regular schedule aside, got online with the partner and in 2 hours, whipped up a prototype demo into shape, in time for them to show the customer. Everyone was happy...well, except may be me! <whine>You've taken 2 hours of my life on something you could have done yourself, and I want it back!</whine>.

So, although I think that my colleague's "lack of planning" speech is absolutely spot-on--just like the theory of communism is absolutely spot-on--unfortunately, just like communism, it's not very practical ;-)...which brings me to the subject of this blog post: how far is that extra mile? I'll get back to you when I have the answer.

Dead Dog's back

I used to love listening to the The Dead Dog Café on CBC RadioOne every Sunday morning. It had some really witty silliness sketches, done from an aboriginal perspective. I'm not aboriginal (heck, I don't even know if I'm original) but I really enjoyed this show, which was why I really missed it when it suddenly disappeared off the airwaves in 2000.

I tuned into CBC's Sounds Like Canada program on the way to work this morning, and noticed that it's back--I guess after 6 years, somebody at the CBC finally decided to respond to popular demands.


Ingenuity: striving to stay ahead of the curve

As we've been struggling a bit in the past several weeks, dealing with the slight inadequacies of some of the less user-friendly third-party SDKs that we've had to work with, I'm reminded of the tale that might help boost some creative mojo's for us all. It's a tale about how we created one of our very first plugins for AppConnector four, five years ago, an exercise that attested to the ingenuity of our research team, of which yours truly had the great honour of being an insignificant contributing member.

We needed to build a plugin to integrate with this other application, but it had no documented API into its user interface (AppConnector is all about integration at the UI level), and the vendor had neither the interest nor the intention of helping us find out. Hmm...Sounds familiar? Anyway, our research team had to study it the hard way, devising various experiments to feed it various inputs and observed its responses to come up with some consistent patterns, and let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, for a bunch of lowly developers and business analysts, our process was so scientific that we could have claimed a SRED grant for it if we wanted to. It was. ;-)

We did run into some snags, through no faults of our own, however, but rather it was a limitation in their product. I'll never forget the conversation with their support guys when we called. On the phone, we told them that we were trying to do this and this, driving the user interface using that and that, and we expected it to behave this way but it behaved that way, blah, blah, blah, and yadiyadiyada, is this a bug, and can you help? At the end, they said they would talk to their developers and get back to us. What happened right after that was totally hilarious, my product manager and I couldn't stop snickering as we listened. They started talking to each other as if we we had already gotten off the line. (sneaky us!). I'm paraphrasing from this point on as it is quite a few years back, but the jist of volleys were like this:

Guy A: Did you get all that? Did you understand what they're trying to do?
Guy B: Yeah, man, it's totally crazy s**t. Did you know that? What they're doing. Did you know that that can be done?
Guy A: No, man, that's pretty wild.
Guy B: ....
(dialogue continues for at least another minute...eventually)
Guy A: Anyway, let me talk to X and see if we can fix this for them. I'll let you know.

So...We figured out how to use the software in a way that the original creator hadn't conceived. We took it to a new level they didn't think possible. If that's not ingenuity, then I don't know what is.

The moral of the story here is this: we need to remind ourselves, from time to time, that we ARE the experts! People look to us for solutions to the problems, not the other way around--because we do things that they think impossible to achieve, and not because we're a small bunch of super geniuses, but because we invest, painstakingly, our blood and sweat, not to mention countless hours, in figuring out things that are too time consuming for them to do had they attempted to do it themselves. And although it is sometimes unavoidable to need some guidance from our customers/partners, most of the time we are the ones to show them how it's done. As little karoras in our own rights, we all have the creative spirits within us to do that, to make a difference, and to be a part of something of revolutionary potentials.

Recent breakthroughs made by one of the team members this week further convinced me that the feeling is mutual throughout our closed knit group. Kudos, MDM! Go get 'em, maestro!