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Is Anybody Out There?

helpOne of the first things you learn in business school, should you be fortunate enough to be able to pay the tuition, or foolish enough, like me, to take on the debt, is that everyone is a customer.  This sounds simple enough.  So why is this idea sometimes missed?

Many companies are learning that if they don’t support their customers they are unlikely to retain them.  For winning companies it is all about fostering, nurturing and insisting upon a culture of help.  This means from top to bottom, inside and out.

We all know what it’s like to stand at a food counter watching teenage clerks entertain themselves while ignoring their customers.  Or watching waiters pretend they don’t see your raised finger and the expectant look on your face as they zoom by yet again without offering to bring your check.  Somehow we expect this of minimum-wage counter help, but what about within the walls of a world-class organization?  How do you explain a request to a coworker for help or information that is simply ignored?  Better yet, what does one do about it?

The causes of no response to a request for help may be many: email snafu’s, work overload, confusion regarding the request, or a sense that the request is outside the recipient’s area of responsibility or perhaps has circumnavigated the chain of command.

Email may be the source of 99% of the world’s troubles.  Why there was strife in the world before email was invented remains a mystery, but surely it is the root cause of most of the evil in the world today.  In many cases, if a polite follow-up email after a reasonable amount of time doesn’t get a response, a walk down the hall and a knock on the door might.

Of course, Yahoo notwithstanding, more and more of us work from home offices or on the road.  In this case, an often forgotten feature of that handheld device we all carry around may come in handy: the phone call.

For recipients of requests they can’t or don’t want to answer, the situation may be just as difficult.  No one likes to say No and no response may be the politest response they feel they can muster.

So, here are some guidelines:

  1. Before asking for help, have you really done your best to find the answer yourself?  Reread the problem, do a little searching on the web, make sure the question is a good one.
  2. Instant messaging, phone calls or popping around a cubicle wall are all more likely to return quick answers than email—use these when you can.
  3. Persistence, politeness, direct contact and then moving on may be the best recourse for those requesting help.
  4. If you get a request for help that you don’t understand or think is outside your area of responsibility, it is still a good practice to try.  There’s nothing wrong with not knowing the answer, and companies whose leaders say their door is always open should mean it.

Consider: why is someone in an organization asking for help in the first place?  Isn’t it so they can get over a hurdle preventing them from doing their job?  And isn’t their job ultimately about supplying value to the external customer?  A winning company is one that understands that everyone’s job is helping everyone, and acts accordingly.

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Nobody should ever be afraid to ask for help!

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