Be Flexible Like a Pretzel: Changing to Accomodate Customer Service Needs

By Jack Sumrall, Sales, PhaseWare, Inc.

My youngest brother has always been the quiet, sincere type.  He’s a family treasure.  However, these traits were not always as appreciated…especially by his peers during his early teen years.  At home he was rambunctious and outgoing, but at the large, public school he attended, he was more introverted with only a few friends.  When he reached his freshman year at a new school, he was really struggling to find a way to fit in.  He was small, so he wasn’t a jock; his grades were too good to be a slacker and too poor to be a brain.  He was starting to notice girls, but they weren’t noticing him.  He felt lost.  Then an interesting thing happened that became a prominent part of our family’s lore. 

His high school decided that they would add a wrestling program.  They named the football coach as the new wrestling coach.  The coach loved the idea because he saw it as a way to keep his football players in shape in the off season and immediately made the whole team sign up for wrestling.  As the season approached, the coach realized that he had no one to participate in one of the lower weight classes.  One day in Gym, the coach saw my brother climbing the rope and asked him if he would like to try out for wrestling.  It was the first time the coach had spoken to him.  My brother said ‘yes’ without thinking and immediately regretted it.   Yet, when the first practice came – there he was.  Over the next few weeks he worked as hard as anyone.  Though small, my brother was wiry and strong.

When it came time for the first wrestling meet, the coach called the team together to give them a pep talk.  He applauded their efforts; cautioned them about the opposing school, which had a recognized wrestling program; and even singled out my brother as someone that had worked especially hard.   All pumped up, the wrestlers headed out to the Gym.  As my brother was walking out, the coach called him aside.  He reiterated how proud he was of him, but wanted to let him know that his opponent was the defending state champion.  “Whatever you do,” the coached warned, “DO NOT let him get you in the Pretzel hold! No one can get out of it,” the coach added.

“OK, coach.”

When it was time for my brother’s match, the coach said “Remember“, and sent him out.  My brother was so excited about making the team, wearing the school colors and being part of a group – that he rushed right in.  The other wrestler grabbed him, threw him down and had him in then Pretzel in less than five seconds.

The coach couldn’t believe it.  He turned and was walking away.  A few seconds later he heard a blood curdling scream.  He whirled around just in time to see my brother break the hold and pin the other wrestler.  Teammates swarmed around congratulating my brother.  It took a few minutes for the coach to pull my brother aside.  “What happened? How’d you do it?”, he asked excitedly.

“Well coach”, my brother replied, still breathing heavily, “you told me not to let him get me in the Pretzel, but he did.  I couldn’t move any part of my body.  I thought that it was over, but I looked up and there were [family jewels] close to my face.  With all my strength, I leaned out and bit them as hard as I could.”

“It’s amazing how much strength you get when you bite yourself in the privates!”

As my brother will tell you – Flexibility is a strong asset.  One of the trademarks of a poorly developed Help Desk application is lack of flexibility

Change is inevitable.  Change is constant.”  Benjamin Disraeli

In today’s environment – products, customers and service needs are continually advancing.  The demand to consistently meet and exceed customer expectations places a major challenge on the people, processes and tools used to support those customers.    So, for the successful companies the one constant is change.

In customer support, rigid software can make adapting your application to the evolving customer and business needs extremely expensive, not to mention time consuming.  In fact, sometimes it can be more prudent to start over than to pursue the costly upgrades and the continued maintenance of inflexible code.

Conversely, an adaptable application can handle changing requirements gracefully.   Flexibility is important for all types of applications (and wrestlers), but Customer Support seems to be an area that begs for agility.  Where else do you have such a direct interaction with the dynamic needs of your clients?   Where else is it as important is it to be able to adapt your processes and tools rapidly? 

What does flexible software actually mean?  For some solution providers it means a professional services engagement – even for the smallest request – for example, adding a new field to an existing screen.  To some solution providers it means an SDK (Software Developer Kit) – a tool that your programmers can use to customize their application.  Both of these approaches can accomplish the task of adapting the application, but at what cost?…and, in what timeframe?  Also, will there be an issue when you need to upgrade?

There are two flexibility areas that I would understand fully before making an investment in a solution.   1) Is the architecture designed for configuration, customization and integration, and 2) how much customization can be done by my personnel – especially the non-technical, end users?  Here are some points that a flexible application should have:

  • 1. Architecture that is designed to be flexible – built in from the ground up
  • 2. Integrates with other applications – information can be easily shared
  • 3. Easily adaptable by end users – non-programmers can customize for their environment
  • 4. Screens can be configured for specific user needs –
  • a. What information is needed
  • b. What type of information – text, date, numeric, drop down choices, ect.
  • c. Where should the information field be located on the screen
  • d. Screens can be specific to the type of user
  • 5. Upgrades/New Releases aren’t compromised – user changes slide right into new releases
  • 6. Encourages personalization –
  • a. Quick
  • b. Simple GUI
  • c. Table Driven
  • d. Drag and Drop

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” – Charles Darwin

Bend, but don’t break.” – My Brother

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