Just Solve the Problem

A client of mine is dealing with a problem I see over and over and it all stems from a lack of communication.

The employees spend most of their time dealing with who did what, when they did it, why they did it incorrectly and worst of all, who is responsible for the whole mess. During the three week period of dealing with this issue, not once was the actual problem addressed.

The actual incident that started the whole chain of events, a customer complaint, was ignored. “Has the customer complaint been resolved”, I asked as they were in the middle of yet another finger pointing match.

We spend so much time being angry at one another of who did what instead of actually dealing with the problem at hand.

The other night my 9 year old son forgot his math book he needed in order to complete his homework. My husband steamed about his constant forgetting and I started to as well. But then I thought about it. What does that accomplish? He still didn’t have his book. We called one of his classmates – drove up the street and borrowed the book. An hour later, homework done, book returned, problem solved.

Don’t get me wrong. There is the underlying problem of my son forgetting to bring home his book. There is the underlying issue of my client’s staff not being able to communicate.

You have to solve the underlying issues that cause the problem in the first place. But not at the expense of the immediate issue.

Do you have an issue facing you or your staff?

Stop a moment and identify the real problem. What needs solving? Stop the arguing, stop the bickering about who did what. What needs to be solved immediately. Once that’s solved you can move deeper.

Stop the blame. Don’t blame the person – blame the situation and the lack of a system or method to solve the issue. Don’t make someone responsble for the problem – make them responsible for the solution.

The Problem with Email

One of my clients experienced an issue with the lack of email communication follow up. You’ve had it happen to you. The client says “I sent you x emails and I never heard back from you.” It may have cost a sale, a lead or just an extra bit of email fur flying back and forth until the issue was cleared up.

Its kind of like the ‘Check is in the mail’ routine. How can anyone guarantee that an email that you or a client sends will be received by you?

There’s the ever present Spam pile – where emails get entangled in your particular spam solution. It sits in there until you take a gander and find it – much later then it was needed. It may bounce. You’re on vacation and your email box fills up – the email gets bounced. You have no record of it bouncing and the sender missed the bounce message. You may have been delete finger happy and missed the email as an important one – off it went to the trash. Your email server or client may have hiccupped and lost the email. You may have just been plain too busy to deal with the issue and it went into your do later pile. It never came to the top of the pile – until it was too late.
Or, the one I see most often, I sent you four emails and you never responded sounds a lot better then I forgot to send you the email you requested.

So how do you handle a hungry email problem like this?

On one side, yours, you can handle it by having a system for follow up emails. You send an email with a request for a reply and your system follows it up by reminding you that you haven’t received a reply yet. Delegate a task and your system flags the email as something you need to check on after a certain date.

On the other side, how do you make sure you receive all your emails?

Check your spam solution. What happens to people you don’t know that send you an email? Do they go into the spam pile automatically? If you rely on leads coming in that can be a disaster. But so can 200 spam emails a day. If you have a rule based system – you can get pretty fancy with spam detection. You might think about leaving the rules on for “true spam” and having people that you don’t know flow into your email inbox. You’ll increase your spam, but you can always mark the ones that slip through and they’ll be caught next time.

If you’re on a limited email account – one that gives you low amounts of space – most corporate accounts, make sure you keep your mail box clean, especially if you’re headed out. If you start getting bounce complaints – check your account – I’ll bet you’ve got old mail stored on the server.

I’m still waiting for the secretarial email client – the one that will remind me to do my follow ups, let me know when there’s an issue with an email. Wouldn’t it be great – Kim – this one looks like spam to me – Press S to have him marked for life with a huge S on his forehead or Press H to send him straight to hell. By the way – you have 15 emails that need follow ups, your mom wants you to call her and the house needs bread and milk.

RSS Rudeness

I read lots of blogs via my RSS reader. Some I receive via email notification. Lately I’ve noticed that many of the RSS feeds and the email notifications no longer contain content. Just an irritating blurb that if I want to read the posting I have to visit the blog or website.

That’s why I have my reader! So I don’t have to visit. I understand the logic behind it. If I visit I will count as a visitor in your stats, I will see your advertisements, I will take a gander and your nifty products, etc. But I’m not gonna do it and you’re just ticking me off. It reminds me of standing in the checkout line and seeing the magazines on the side rack. Dog gives birth to monkey. Britney has had enough of Kevin. I buy the magazine, open up the article and sure enough – its nothing like the cover says.

If you must include only partial content in your RSS feed, be nice enough to give me the intro to your article. Just telling me that its great isn’t enough. Give me a sentence or two about the article. Entice me already.

Switching Gears to a New Newsletter Provider

If you’ve been sending a newsletter, you’re probably familiar with opt-in and opt-out approaches. You’re likely familiar with the heavy hitting approaches that Newsletter Service Providers insist on to protect people that subcribe to your newsletter.

If not – here’s how it works. You’ve got an establish list of 2,000 email readers. But you know that only 1/2 of them actually receive and read your newsletter. You can’t guarantee the readership because you don’t have a system in place to validate each email delivery and when the email is opened.

You decide that the best action would be to use a service that provides those capabilities. List in hand, off you go to find the best service. Once your service is established, you import your list.

Now for the bad news. Even though you’ve diligently gathered your list with opt-in methods – you provided a form for your subscribers to enter their info and you sent them a validation email in case someone nasty signed them up – most reputable service providers are going to require that each of your existing subscribers be re-subscribed. As you import them, they’ll get an email asking them to confirm their subscription.

But you know how that works! Susie isn’t at that email anymore, Joe can’t get HTML emails, Betty has you in her junk mail, and John just skips over your email like he does everytime. So your list of 2,000 quickly dwindles to 1,000 and you think – aak! No one loves me anymore.

One suggestion is to make an official campaign out of the request. Send out a notification in your newsletter that you’ll be changing providers and what they should expect in email as you do.

Offer a free download when they verify their email. Include a tell-a-friend option so you’ll add more users.

Put notification of the change on your webite in case people miss it.

Check your old list for the folks that didn’t respond and send them another request before you take them off the list.

Any other ideas out there?

Backup Strategies

Backing up is essential. If you haven’t done a backup and then you’re just a sucker punch away from losing your data. Picture coming in one morning and not having your 1,000 stored emails. All your marketing information is lost. The website you made a change to last week but hadn’t uploaded yet. The photos from last years vacation. All gone. To recover your hard drive is estimated at $400 and up.

Let’s discuss the alternatives.

1. Easiest solution. Purchase an external backup hard drive and periodically shove over your entire hard drive to it.

2. Backup services. PCWorld has an article on various services. Prices are pretty steap to backup your entire drive, but backing up your data and not worrying about your software installations works for reducing the price.

3. Offsite backup.
Lifehacker has a great post on PC based backup.

Don’t expect yourself to remember to back up your data, or stack your closet full of burned CD’s or DVD’s. Today we’re going to set up automated nightly, weekly, monthly local and off-site backups for your PC using free software. Once you get this up and running, you’ll never have to worry about losing data again.

4. Homegrown DVD. I use my own script to backup what I’ve changed that day to an archive (zipped) file. Then at the end of the week I burn a DVD with all the archives. I keep a weekly archive of my email essentials in a separate archive and that goes in with the the bunch onto the DVD.

5. Last on the list is backing up to CDs. Not the greatest solution given that each CD stores less then a Gig. Buy a software package that allows you to select what you’ll backup and when. Let it run and do all the work for you.

If you’ve ever started over with a set of CDs in your hand and a stack of software to reinstall – you’ve been to Restore Hell.

I don’t want to ever go back there.

How not to use blogging software

Kairosnews brings up the point that WordPress is not a content management system and shouldn’t be pushed to be one.

This post compares WP to a small box of legos when a CMS system is a large tub. With the small box, you’ll be able to build a car, but won’t be able to stretch the legos you’re given to create the full blown website you’ll need.

WordPress is a great tool for building blogs, but stretching it past its limitations is just asking for problems.

Sure, you can build just about anything in WP by adding a plugin or hacking the code, but what happens when your carefully stacked cards fall down?

Its much better to stick with building websites with content management tools, like Joomla, Drupal, Plone. They area made for building websites and have the structure and framework to support the complex tasks that a website requires.

Email Backlog

We’ve all experienced it. Leave for a quick holiday weekend, Christmas, a business trip and your inbox becomes a toxic sludge pile.

All the spam that creeped by your spam solution. All the FYIs and CCs. The requests that are already overdue. They all blink at you. Its all to daunting a task for your brain to deal with – where to start?

Close your door. Lock it if you can.
Turn off your phone and cell phone ringer and vibration.
Turn off your automatic email fetching in your email client.
Make a new folder or mailbox in your email client and name it with the date and the word archive. For instance: archive20060906.
Take all the emails in your inbox and move them to the folder you just created.
Open the archive folder you created.
Sort the emails by sender.
Glance through them quickly and move anything that comes from regular emails you receive back into your inbox.
Leave the rest in the archive folder
Go back to your inbox and resort the emails so that they are ordered by the date sent.
Deal with them one at a time.
If you can do the task in 2 minutes or less – do it.
If you can’t do it in 2 minutes, skip it.
As you do the tasks, get rid of the email – archive it or delete it.
What’s left in your inbox is your Waiting pile. You’re waiting for something or someone to show up.
Create a folder called Waiting.
Move those to the Waiting folder you just created.
Turn back on your auto check.
Periodically, as you get a couple of minutes, deal with anything left in the archive folder.
Repeat the process above as you deal with the leftovers in the archive folder.
As you go kill the spam, file the FYIs and CCs, get rid of the crud with your magic delete key.
Always aim for an empty email inbox.

Don’t forget to turn your phone back on and open your door.

This email inbox is clean!

I love 43Folders Empty Inbox series

Do Blogging Tools Make a Productivity Difference?

I’m using WordPressDash to post this entry. Its a Mac Widget that allows me to post an entry to my blog without opening a browser window, logging in, etc.

I’ve used other tools to create my posts. I’m wondering if they really make a difference in productivity. Does using a tool encourage me to post more often? So far, it hasn’t.

I suppose what I need is to have my computer use its cattleprod widget to electrify my chair and get my but in gear.