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Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a SQL Server Professional working in the UK where he recently worked as a DBA in women's clothing, not literally he hastens to add! He is certified in SQL Server 2008, runs the Maidenhead SQL Server User Group Pass Chapter and is on the organising committee for SQL Relay. In his spare time plays the trumpet in local symphony orchestras.

His online presence includes:

How to provide a better customer service

Thomas La Rock (Blog | Twitter) recently wrote a blog post about misplacing a  device he has called a FitBit One which is a pretty cool piece of kit, it’s entitled “How to find a missing FitBit”.  For those of you who don’t know what they are, think of it as a pedometer meets social media device (and much much more). Without it sounding like an advert it really is addictive as you gain badges the more steps you do, you can also share your stats with friends and have a league table to see who is doing best. This may sound a bit manual, but it’s not it can sync up to your laptop via a USB dongle and it uploads the information for you. I used this very product as a demonstration of the use of the cloud in a conference in Barcelona I presented at last year.

What did I do when I lost my FitBit?

Well to be honest, the first thing I did was hit a search engine. After a while I decided that taking my anger out on an inanimate object wasn’t the way to go, so clicked on search instead. The guys over at FitBit have a pretty good FAQ section and provided a list of things for you to do in this scenario. One of the tasks was to email support which I duly did, I wasn’t expecting anything to come of this, but I received an email that contained this:

FitBit response

To say I was shocked was an understatement. This is probably the best customer service response I have ever had!

The SQL Server related bit

In Thomas’s post he lists a number of steps that you should cover in a “production down” outage. I’m not going to list them in this post. If you want to read them you should read his post.

The reason I am writing this is primarily not to inform you of the great customer service I received, but to make you think of the business owners that you are providing a service to when a disaster strikes.

How do you engage with your “customers”?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most of you just think about the technical aspect of disaster recovery. There are of course other things that need to be considered, that’s the state of mind of those people whose data you are trying to save. These people are scared, they may not know you (or maybe they do and now they’re really scared). They potentially don’t know how skilled you are and that you have a disaster recovery procedure in place – you do have one right?

Many of them may never have been in this situation before. Remember this, they are scared they will be thinking things like; “What if I can’t get my data back?”, “Can my department recover from this”, “Will my project / business be shut down?”

It is the responsibility of someone on the team to ensure that people in your business are up to date with proceedings and are made aware of any problems as soon as possible so alternative plans can be put into action.

In order to help you with this task I have come up with five ways to help you communicate more effectively.

5 Customer service tips

1) Understand that time is of the essence.

There are a number of processes that you can put in place prior to a disaster occurring that will save you time when dealing with your customers during a disaster whilst making them feel valued at the same time.
Consider adopting some of the following strategies:

  • Assigning a member of the team for being point of contact for all customers.
  • Create an internal distribution list for this scenario.
  • Create a document that can be used as a template for an auto-response. This autoreply should apologize for the disruption and point people to using the email distribution list rather than contact a team member directly by email or phone where their enquiry can be dealt with in a more timely manner.
  • Consider setting a new voicemail message giving the number of the point of contact.

Implementing these suggestions will only take a few moments and could repay you tenfold in the time saved from dealing with worried customers whilst still providing a level of service.

2) Be empathetic

I have already touched on this point before, but as it is so important I will re-iterate it again. Your customers are scared they are looking to someone to make them feel better about the situation. You are that person. Being empathetic is easier if you take on board the rest of the top 5 hints and utilize them.

3) Be honest

If you are the person doing the work be honest to your representative, they won’t thank you for it if you’re not. Likewise, if you are the representative and you have just been told that you have more chance of winning the lottery than hitting your RTO (Recovery Time Objective) then tell them that. By this I mean you will miss the target not that the best chance they have of supporting their family is to play the lottery!

The level of honesty will be up to the most senior person working at that point. There might be some details that for business reasons you should not disclose.

4) Take responsibility

This is the time where you earn your salary as a DBA. Apportioning blame to someone else is energy wasted on something other than the task in hand. You should have a single focus to recover as much data as quickly as possible. Anything else is a distraction. Focus on those tasks that will allow you to achieve your goal more quickly.

Of course if you are the one taking the blame then accept it, make a note, vow to yourself that it will never happen again. Learn from the pain and become a better SQL Server professional.

If you are the department representative and have a difficult call to make to senior management then make it. It might be they need to make some kind of company release or put an alternative procedure in place. It won’t look good if you were the one who delayed that decision which cost the company more money.

5) Keep focused on the positive

Be confident in your abilities, you will have practiced this scenario before and if you haven’t then from this point on you will! If you aren’t sure what to do take advice there is a whole community out there just waiting to give a helping hand to those in need, take comfort from that.

Tell your business users that they have seasoned professionals working for them on their behalf and that this problem will be resolved for them as quickly as possible.

The importance of feedback

After the disaster is over and things are back to normal it’s important to hold a debriefing to see where you as a team could have done better. It’s important that you can take onboard any criticism that can be put your way, don’t be afraid about this as it’s about the situation and the process, not you as an individual.

What’s great about this scenario is that you too can have your say, make a list of everything that would have made your life easier if you would have been able to use availability feature x. Ask them if there is anyway that they could put aside some budget in future for this kind of thing. Talk to them about the importance of maintenance windows and how you can help reduce the risk of this kind of thing from happening again.

A wise IT professional once told me “It’s important that they feel the pain they have created, otherwise change is difficult to influence”.

Now is the perfect time to ask for that faster piece of kit, upgraded licence, extra member of staff or training.

How do you handle this scenario?

I’d love to hear how you have handled this scenario in the past. I hope for those of you who haven’t thought about this aspect of DR before that it’s been beneficial to you.

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