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Doing the same thing over and over again over a long time usually gives the opportunity to recognize some pattern.

One pattern I found in solving customer messages is the following:
The less friendly and the more agressive the customer acts with the message processor the worse is the actual outcome of the message.

What does ‘outcome’ mean here? To me a positive message outcome includes:

1) The problem is technically solved.
2) The solution was available quickly enough so that the solution is still relevant to the customer
3) The customer feels better after the issue is solved – it was a positive change for him.

So, in oder to find out how to facilitate the 3 points above, let’s look what one can do to actually prevent them. Let’s start looking for anti-pattern… these are the WTMTW (ways-to-make-things-worse) I found:

WTMTW #1: Don’t cooperate at all!
Just tell the message processor that there is a problem in some area of his so-called standard-software and let him alone with that.
If the message processor asks for log- or trace-files ignore this or just send some arbitrary file.
If he asks you for a system connection, deny this and insist that the problem must be a bug that should be analyzed in-house at SAP.

WTMTW #2: Pump up the pressure!
Open each and every message on priority ‘Very High’ or ‘High’ regardless how important it is to the business processes of your company. If you don’t get replies to your message entries that you made 5 minutes before the office hours are done in your timezone – call the CIC and complain about it.
Ask to be connected to the message processor immediately and threaten him/her with the escalation of this message to the highest management level there is.

WTMTW #3: Ignore the basic rules of human communications.
As the support people are trained to handle sensitive cutomers they get along without any problem when you don’t put any formal greetings or regards in your messages. Don’t even tell them what your name is – it’s none of their business, is it?

WTMTW #4: “Punish” the message processor by giving him/her bad rates in the customer satisfaction survey after the message had been closed. He/Her should know that they cannot mess with you.

WMTMW #5: Fortify your position!
You’re not ‘just another customer’ but the most important one. Let the message processor know exactly how important you and your company are. This surely provides the motivation to “give out the solution” more quickly. Don’t react to anything the message processor writes or asks before he has confessed your importance.

Interestingly these anti-pattern (!) are used quite a lot.
More interestingly to me it seems like the group of the users is heavily biased to be maskulin ***.
I can hardly remember to have ever read a message of a women that was not at least  civilized. And in my memory I can only find phone-calls to men, that swaered and shouted all the time while talking to the message processor.

To me ‘message processing’ (similar to most other services) can be seen either as a conflict or a strategic game.
In both models one overall strategy is most often the most succssfull: focus on the goal – not on positions.* 
For all involved parties the outcome of a message is best, when the problem is solved.
Assinging the guilt or blame to anyone does make nobody better off. Making the other party angry – never a good idea to get things done (ever argued with your mechanic..?).

But what if you got a ‘really bad’ message processor? Well, tell him/her directly what you don’t like and what you expect. Ask to have the message handled by a different processor if it does not get better.
If anything else fails: contact your SAP representative and discuss what can be done to improve the outcome of messages for your compary (and yourself).

*(-> reading hint may be “Getting to Yes”)

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13 Comments

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    1. Lars Breddemann Post author
      Thanks for your reply.
      I surely did not want to imply anything like that. I mentioned *one* option to get more from the current support setup.

      Meanwhile I’ve read your blog and find it quite interesting. Your description of the support experience is – as you write – not so singular. There are many customers that expect a better service for their money.

      On the other hand there are also many customers that are quite happy with the service they get – that happy that they even decide to pay more maintenance fees to get MaxAttention, Premium Support etc.
      If I was a customer and I was very unhappy about what I get for my money – putting in more wouldn’t be my next step.

      I’m well aware of the partial lock-in situation that customers face once they decided to implement such huch business infrastructure like a ERP, CRM or BW system. Switching it is expensive.
      But it can be done – and that is something every vendor will try to prevent (at nearly every cost).

      So if the majority of SAP customers would say: “Improve your support or we switch or cancel the maintennce fee!” What would happen?
      I’m pretty sure that, as SAP is a investor relations driven company, they would rather improve the support by putting more money in,  than loose customers through the effects of a super-cheap support organisation.

      As long as the customer do signal: well, support is not perfect, but quite OK – well I guess so long the economic decision of SAP management will follow the direction of ‘streamlining’ it further. That’s the kind of economic logic applied in modern companies, as far as I know (correct me if I’m misled here).

      Coming back to the my original blog: I as a message processor cannot change the overall situation of SAP support. I can just try to work as good as possible.
      The same applies to the single customer person who is in charge of handling the problems of their SAP solution.
      Thus working in a rather fixed framework I tried to show what strategies could improve the outcome.
      Anyhow: it’s my personal opinion and there are surely other message processors that do work in a different manner.

      KR Lars

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    1. Lars Breddemann Post author
      Hi Jim,
      I had read your blog already – thanks for pointing out again.
      Seems that this topic is quite interesting for many SDN members.
      What I was wondering about was, if the low participation rate was limited to a specific feedback channel. E.g. the ratings that customers can give for each message are heavily used (I get many of them 🙂

      KR Lars

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      1. Jim Spath
        Lars – send me email directly and I will forward details of the feedback survey.  This will be a topic for the February ASUG newsletter I am editing.  Jim [ james dot spath at bdk dot com ]
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  1. Paul Hardy
    I work in IT support myself so I am well aware of the bizarre helpdesk messages that come from “users”. People normally intelligent and articulate are reduced to incoherent babbling when trying to decsribe an IT problem.
    So when writing a message to OSS myself I am acutely aware to try and describe the problem properly and attach helpful attachments etc – as in “do as you would be done by” furthermore I am English and as such would rather die than not be polite.
    This is what I find:-
    (i) If I do attach a file, say an SQL trace, it is ignored by OSS, and they ask me to attach an SQL trace as an attachment.
    (ii) Even if I mention that I have already looked at and applied  OSS Note 12345 and it did not work I get a message back asking me to apply OSS Note 12345.
    (iii) I am in Australia, and the nearest support desk must be in a different time zone, leading to a 12 hour time lag between each response from me and the reply back.

    I obviously have no way of knowing, but evidence suggests that the initial text of the message seems to be ignored, and instead a search for OSS notes is done based upon the title of the support message I have raised. After a few back and forth responses we start to get the original text looked at. The battle is to get the message escalated beyond first level support.

    Generally, I always try the SDN and other internet forums first and do not hold out much hope if I am forced to resort to OSS.

    I apologise for sounding negative, and I am sure that a lot of the problem is on the “customer” side but I am not going to let SAP off scott free as a lot of the problem is on their side too.

    Cheersy Cheers

    Paul

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    1. Lars Breddemann Post author
      Hi Paul,

      looking through some of your oss calls I can fully understand why your experience wasn’t “that positive” :-/
      Obviously also and perhabs especially “your mileage will vary” holds true.

      Seeing collegues doing a bad job sometimes is always frustrating – knowing about the causes for these failures is even more dissappointing.

      Nevertheless – internally we know already about (at least some of) the defiencies and do try hard to improve it.
      E.g. I am working in a position where I’m not only working on customer messages but spend most of my time with providing know-how and help to co-workers.
      KR Lars

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  2. Markus Doehr
    I found this blog by accident while browsing through other blogs of the highly appreciated author – and I feel the need to comment on this one 🙂

    I´m working a rather long time with SAP systems (in august 14 years) and I´m opening the most of our OSS calls for our company if they are not too application specific.

    Main statement:
    =====
    The quality and speed of the support is HIGHLY component dependent.
    =====

    There are components, where I even don´t open calls any more – because it is just a plain waste of time. Instead we live with “deficiencies” and/or malfunction – which is better for everyones nerves, blood preasure and eventually for health. I´m no more disposed to explain support people @ SAP how to correctly open a system connection, where to put the cursor in their SAPGUI screen and where to click to get access to our systems (which happened more than once).

    We have had calls in the past, where we sent messages back and forth over WEEKS reproducing the same problem and error again and again always with the same results without progressing, reinstalling a complete system environment with three involved systems. Once the problem was forwarded to development, it was solved in a matter of minutes.

    The biggest problem (in my opinion) is the fact of the total separation of “support” (aka Installed Based Maintenance) and “development”. When a message is forwarded to development and you talk to second level support people more generally, I often get the impression, that they even don´t KNOW about always-being-repeated problems just because there exists notes to fix or workaround a problem. If they really knew about some basics, they could do something but since the messages is processed mainly in first level, development isn´t even aware, that there *IS* a problem. They are developing and focusing on the next generation once a product is GA, the rest is “the past”.

    On top of that comes the point about the “measurement of effectivity” – one could get the impression, that at the end of the month people in first level try to hold back the known necessity of forwarding messages to second level because doing that now in the old month would destroy an alleged good statistics about primary support being good.

    I have to a certain extent really understanding for all that – in sense of organizational needs, key performance indicators in messages processing and such things – no offense but: We as customers pay A LOT of money for maintenance and support and I do EXPECT a certain level of professionalism, quality and speed and what´s most important: The WISH of the people to help, to see an OSS call not as an “oh yeah, yet-another-silly-customer-call” but as a challenge – each single one.

    And to finally come to a very good support example: MaxDB 🙂 Since the beginning with ADABAS the quality is steady or improving, the speed is AMAZING, support people often even call on prio medium or low calls and even if they are flooded with messages just to say “I´m flooded, I will take care of your call as soon as possible” – and they keep up on communicating.

    With such a “communication model” it´s a total different experience for the customer. You get the impression that someone is taking care, that there is interest, that there *IS* support even if the call would take longer than expected/wanted.

    That´s really a fact other components can take a leaf out of the book, seriously.

    And without becoming too philosophic: If you work in the support, you either can see it as a job only (first example) or as a vocation – because you like working with people.

    Uff.. that was long… (sorry for that)

    Markus

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  3. Markus Doehr
    I found this blog by accident while browsing through other blogs of the highly appreciated author – and I feel the need to comment on this one 🙂

    I´m working a rather long time with SAP systems (in august 14 years) and I´m opening the most of our OSS calls for our company if they are not too application specific.

    Main statement:
    =====
    The quality and speed of the support is HIGHLY component dependent.
    =====

    There are components, where I even don´t open calls any more – because it is just a plain waste of time. Instead we live with “deficiencies” and/or malfunction – which is better for everyones nerves, blood preasure and eventually for health. I´m no more disposed to explain support people @ SAP how to correctly open a system connection, where to put the cursor in their SAPGUI screen and where to click to get access to our systems (which happened more than once).

    We have had calls in the past, where we sent messages back and forth over WEEKS reproducing the same problem and error again and again always with the same results without progressing, reinstalling a complete system environment with three involved systems. Once the problem was forwarded to development, it was solved in a matter of minutes.

    The biggest problem (in my opinion) is the fact of the total separation of “support” (aka Installed Based Maintenance) and “development”. When a message is forwarded to development and you talk to second level support people more generally, I often get the impression, that they even don´t KNOW about always-being-repeated problems just because there exists notes to fix or workaround a problem. If they really knew about some basics, they could do something but since the messages is processed mainly in first level, development isn´t even aware, that there *IS* a problem. They are developing and focusing on the next generation once a product is GA, the rest is “the past”.

    On top of that comes the point about the “measurement of effectivity” – one could get the impression, that at the end of the month people in first level try to hold back the known necessity of forwarding messages to second level because doing that now in the old month would destroy an alleged good statistics about primary support being good.

    I have to a certain extent really understanding for all that – in sense of organizational needs, key performance indicators in messages processing and such things – no offense but: We as customers pay A LOT of money for maintenance and support and I do EXPECT a certain level of professionalism, quality and speed and what´s most important: The WISH of the people to help, to see an OSS call not as an “oh yeah, yet-another-silly-customer-call” but as a challenge – each single one.

    And to finally come to a very good support example: MaxDB 🙂 Since the beginning with ADABAS the quality is steady or improving, the speed is AMAZING, support people often even call on prio medium or low calls and even if they are flooded with messages just to say “I´m flooded, I will take care of your call as soon as possible” – and they keep up on communicating.

    With such a “communication model” it´s a total different experience for the customer. You get the impression that someone is taking care, that there is interest, that there *IS* support even if the call would take longer than expected/wanted.

    That´s really a fact other components can take a leaf out of the book, seriously.

    And without becoming too philosophic: If you work in the support, you either can see it as a job only (first example) or as a vocation – because you like working with people.

    Uff.. that was long… (sorry for that)

    Markus

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    1. Lars Breddemann Post author
      Hi Markus,

      just to give a quick feedback on this.
      We do know that we can improve our work here – improvement is always possible, I guess.

      The internal KPIs for the different parts of support are constantly revised. Anyhow – changing work habits is a time consuming process. People have to be lead to improve the way they do their work.
      People in the sap support are not rewarded to for keeping messages – but for solving them and for archieving a good overall customer satisfaction.

      Personally I don’t like to see the kind of bad support that you described neither (and sometimes I’ve to clean-up such messages…).

      You’re quite right with the argument you make about how to take the job. Unfortunately you cannot tell how people will do their job when you hire them.
      I trained quite some collegues in doing DB support and the outcomes had been very different!
      Until you can tell what the reason for rather bad support performance really is, one or two years are gone by (it takes that long to provide the technical knowledge).

      When I look through the replies to this blog I realize that only customers wrote that actually know very well how to cooperate efficiently.
      You, as well as Jim and Eddy are very well trained and experienced system administrators.
      You are the rare exception to most customer ‘experts’ that open messages!

      I can understand that all three of you have had bad experiences with some supporters – but the ‘ways to make things worse’ I described are not made up but day to day experience in my work. With such behaviors even a ‘good’ supporter has it’s problems to still deliver good support…

      KR Lars

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      1. Markus Doehr
        Hi Lars,

        I totally agree – and everyone can easily follow your arguments just by looking at the forum. We (the customers) have in that case the advantage of “No, I won’t reply to this one…” but an OSS call must be solved and I can REALLY feel your pain literally when I see some of the communication going on there. You need to have an endless patience…

        I think, that many problems are “house made”, means, the claim to make software installations/upgrade/maintenance “easy” by hiding the complexity behind colorful and nice GUI applications. This works only as long as you STRICTLY follow the guides; one small deviation and you’re gone.

        If an installation/upgrade/maintenance task would *require* much more education, people would be coercively dig deeper into the stuff and would hence be enabled to understand, what’s going on “behind the screen/scene” before they even try to click on an icon in an explorer and expect something nice to happen.

        I actually just have a call open where I assume that for 90 % of the customers the application works as expected, for the other 10 % it does not – and now starts the trouble. Since I have *NO CLUE* what a certain program is doing or what is expected to be done by it, I can’t give any more information to the support as long as they not request something. There’s just a red icon telling, that something did not work, that’s all. If there was a “background” of those things I could read about without making dozens of assumptions and/or guesses I could certainly help the support more (or even completely myself). Because this is not there I have to cumbersomly create calls, screenshots, explain what I have done etc. – it’s utterly disgusting if the only thing you can do is pushing on a button and hope that it turns green.

        I would expect something like the MaxDB support guide, which is a SUPERIOR technical documentation and what helped me a LOT in the past just by reading it and getting an “AHA!”-experience. I wish there was more such documentation in the platform/application area, this would help making things much easier for the customers and for the support.

        Keep on your good work (all the team!)

        Markus

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        1. Lars Breddemann Post author
          Hi Markus,

          well – patience – yes, as anybody working in services, it’s no obsticle if you bring it 🙂

          The comment to “pointy-clicky” systems: I cannot more acknowledge to that.

          Something I witness all day is a diminishing level of training that people get, even though they are responsible for highly complex systems and very complicated questions.

          A part of this surely comes from the tendency to outsource IT operations to more ‘economic’ providers. I’ve seen several cases already where the highly trained and well experienced administrators had been ‘switched’ (that is: kicked out!)  just to have another company from the other side of the globe to do the job.
          While this sounds like a good idea first, one should clearly ask, why the other company can deliver the same service quality so much cheaper.
          SLAs are not everything – to my view SLAs are often either fullfilled in a ‘hollow’ way.

          For the accolade I can only thank again for myself and the whole MaxDB team.

          KR Lars

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          1. Markus Doehr
            “…Something I witness all day is a diminishing level of training that people get, even though they are responsible for highly complex systems and very complicated questions.”

            I was attending a lot of courses in the past – and also a WebAS Java course. The first half of the day we spent clicking on a “play” and “stop” button in MMC to stop and start an instance. Surely, an important thing to know how to stop and start instances but: wouldn´t it be more interesting to know, what the system is doing if you “click”? I mean, it´s pretty obvious what those buttons mean…

            What I want to say is: even if you *want* to know more about the background, there´s no possibility of gaining that knowledge in that area. We have a Federated Portal Network and as soon as only blank pages show up I´m lost. I can either open OSS calls and “wait” for some answer or – what we actually do – restart iteratively all affected systems until it works again.

            And about the outsourcing thing: I couldn´t agree more. If I read in the forum that people run production system, clusters in really BIG environments and they have totally NO CLUE what is going on then… well.. of course you will get very basic questions in the support in case of a problem.

            I´m happy to have had the chance to grow up with our environment (we started with 2.2D on ADABAS as a single system). Even today, if a problem arises in our database area, most of the time the (MaxDB-) support is taking two or more minutes to explain what is happening and how this can be resolved – instead of just pointing to a note.  🙂

            Markus

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