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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sponsoring other techs to improve customer service

Despite not being officially deemed a manager at one job, I did some manager-ish things which seemed helpful. Several years back, someone decided that we would have a "sponsor" scheme where one senior(ish) tech would act as a sponsor or mentor for up to three other techs. The idea was to be someone they could talk to about whatever was going on, and yet also have a person with sufficient technical knowledge and experience to help with those things as well.

I was chosen to be a sponsor, and picked up three other techs. We came up with a name for ourselves -- we were "The Mad Hackers", after a Commodore BBS scene handle I had liked back in the '80s. We'd get together and talk about things briefly once a week, and I'd give them updates on things I'd heard that were going on in the company.

I wound up taking this pretty seriously. Every week, I would devote up to one hour per tech to review their tickets. I would make a list of everything they had "touched" (had assigned to them at some point) which had then closed during that past week. I would read through them to see what happened. Depending on the outcome, I'd either write a simple one-liner summary or throw it in the "they just passed it on and didn't need to do any work" bucket.

In doing these reviews, I'd find places where customers had shared their love for the company or the wonderful things my guys had done. I'd pluck those kudos notes out of the tickets and put them on my list and also made sure those details found their way back to the VP types who were in charge for rewarding awesome techs. Then, later during our 1:1s, I'd bring that list with me. I'd say, "hey, did you see this? Customer X really appreciates what you did here. Good stuff!"

Our 1:1s were also technical, since I had the chops to review that angle of things as well. Sometimes I'd discover something new, like a better way to handle something that they had documented in a ticket, and I'd thank them for figuring it out. Then I'd also make sure that ticket made its way into my own home-grown ticket indexer system so that other folks could find it too. Other times, I'd note where something might have been less than ideal and would suggest something to try next time. "Hey, I know you did X here, but did you know you can do Y? It's faster, easier, and is less likely to break later."

I like to think that it improved the situation. Unfortunately, nobody else took the sponsor role seriously, and pretty soon it became obvious that I was the only one who had stuck with it. Also, the team lead who invented the concept fell out of favor with the head honchos and wound up being fired a few months later. Without the support from above, there was no time to spend on these meta discussions, and it collapsed. We had to get back to the business of just working tickets directly. Any hope of a higher-order way to improve things was gone.