Technicians have unique view of user needsEvery supplier says, "We listen to the customer." Still, communications often break down. The customer winds up with too much stuff, or not enough stuff, and is unhappy. The vendor relies on the account rep’s interpretation of customer needs, the customer relies on the internal support person’s interpretation of staff needs, and sometimes one or another doesn’t quite get it right. Vendors’ front-line technicians can help here. Being good listeners is part of their job, and they hear a lot that might not be said to the decision-makers. To prove my point, I’m going to hand the mike to Simon Apperloo, who emailed me recently about my column, "IP Telephony: What’s the Point?" Simon wrote: "Hi Henry:… "As a technician, I deal with all different sizes of IP systems here in Calgary. The customers’ expectations and knowledge vary drastically. "Smaller customers get the product because the price is reasonable and that’s what is being sold. They want dial tone, and this is the way to get it. They have been told they can manage their own system, but don’t really care to do it. "They like the fact that they can move their phones themselves. But since they rarely make changes they forget how to manage their system! "For the larger sites IP Telephony has a different spin. Again, the customer is purchasing because it is current product. Depending on the size of the site, the ability to move sets easily is a huge deal, and a bad one for techs like me! We have actually had customers physically move to a different building without involving us as a supplier. This is a bit unsettling but has a neat appeal. "In sites where they have dedicated telecom people, they usually have PBX management software already. So when a user moves they do not take their phone with them. Their extension gets moved to the new set on the new desk. So the customer does not use one of the big advantages to IP sets. IP Trunking"These sites tend to make use of IP trunking. They already have the data pipe and can make use of centralized trunking and voice mail. "Some places are all about applications. Most do not have the infrastructure to support things like unified messaging or desktop applications to integrate with their phone. Also the training curve for the end user becomes a huge issue in these companies. They can’t afford to spend the resources on training the new guy for four hours on how to use all the apps for their phone. So they buy the app and then do not implement it. "People like they can turn on and forget about and it works, like voice mail....In our office we have a number of add-ons for IP sets and voice mail. The one that the techs like the best is mobile extension. It is an application that allows a caller to phone the DID for their desk set and the PBX will call their cells at the same time allowing them to answer the call on their cell or their desk. It gives the caller one number, and we can turn it on and forget about it. Simple, straightforward, and it works. "IP telephony allows for a lot of flexibility. That’s good, but too often that flexibility and opportunity drags us down with things that we don’t want."Simon Apperloo The next day, Simon read the "Living with Unified Communications" column and sent this message: "Hi Henry: "Kind of funny the timing of all this. Today I was setting up unified messaging on a client site. Spent the time with the customer who wants to see how it works. They want to roll it out to specific users as an easier way to implement desktop faxing. "So we get it set up. Works good, just like it is supposed to. However it does not work the way the customer perceived it would. They couldn’t believe that their email would end up in their voice mailbox. ‘That’s not going to go over very well,’ he said. You see they are hoping to have the voice mail forward to the email inbox....Another example where an application will not get used because it is not what the customer thought it would be."Simon Apperloo Simon tells me he’s been doing his job for seven years now. "Do your customers’ executives ever ask you about anything?" I asked. "No. Our contacts talk to them and then tell us what they need. They don’t always get it right, but that’s usually because they’re not told everything." The most successful people I know spend a lot of time asking what their customers are concerned about. But they also ask everyone around them: their staff, their colleagues, their suppliers. And they truly listen to the answers. Why? So they focus on what truly matters. "On the Line" is based on the consulting experience of Angus Dortmans Associates. Henry Dortmans, president, welcomes comments and suggestions. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (416) 849-2896. For information on the firm’s advisory services, seminars and speeches, visit www.angusdortmans.ca.