Can You Please Stop The Spam For Me?

Anyone who ever worked with customers knows that customers are ignorant. They don’t care how, what or when, they want their instant gratification now. Now, damn it! I mean NOW! Certain providers are happy to oblige, some would spit in customer’s soup to return the favor, some would turn such a customer away and ask not to come back ever. Everybody’s got their own favorite story to tell.

However, there’s another trend, that you may observed if you stick with your clients long enough, especially if your relationship is more or less successful. It’s the trend of ignorance rising, based on belief that you, the service provider, can solve any problem out there. From e-mails bounced off to Sun stopped rolling around Earth. And the better you do your job, the more unreasonable client’s demands become. While working as a systems administrator awhile ago, I have experienced this firsthand. Once you fixed something unbelievably hard once or twice, clients start thinking you can fix internet for them, no less. With them just asking.

Recently, one of our clients asked us to route a few common e-mailĀ  pointers to actual people’s mailboxes. Immediately they started having, what they called, a “spam problem”. As in: “After he did this we started to have a spam problem”. Inclined to say the famous “welcome to the real world, Neo”, I tried to educate client’s staff on what is spam, how it originates and why I can do absolutely nothing to stop it, except for a set of measures that will definitely reduce it, if applied properly. Client wasn’t interested in spending any time on implementing spam protection (not to mention implement any of the commercial tools), while his staff is forced to use web mail instead of any other e-mail client. I still did what I thought I should – turned on SpamAssassin on the server to at least mark the most obvious cases of spam, so they could bulk-delete them and explained how to use filters in Outlook. Not that I expect any significant improvement of the “spam problem” for that particular client, but too I can’t be very pushy.

One of the reasons, as I see it, for not adopting any solution whatsoever, is that instant gratification thing:

What? You can’t turn off the spam? What about that solution? Still not 100% proof? Then I don’t want any solution at all!

While this approach works perfectly in 10022-SHOE zip code, it doesn’t really work in a world of Bayesian approach to catching spam. The only way to do this is to hire an interpreter from SHOE-ish to English.


My Web Site Doesn’t Work – A Troubleshooting Checklist

Plenty of web developers have these clients that client (rarely – a few clients) that call 30 secons after their web site isn’t active. It is often hard to say on such a short notice why the client’s web site isn’t working, especially when the statement goes like “Nothing is working“, “We can’t use our web site” or “Can you please fix the web site already, it’s doing something wrong“. Of course I understand your frustration, but I might as well be checking that right now but still have no answer for you. Even worse, there might be a problem on a client side, that prevents him or her accessing certain features and it takes quite some time to figure what exactly isn’t working, why, how to fix it and how long it takes. Also, calling every five to ten minutes to talk about the progress may seem productive, but in fact each 5 minute call increases issue resolution by 30 minutes on average. I’ll be more than happy to keep you posted by e-mail or IM, this way both of my hands are dedicated to fixing the issue.

However, I believe clients (being the small to medium businesses) are perfectly capable of executing a few steps on their own. After completing the following steps of what I call a Troubleshooting Checklist a client’s call will have much more information for me so I can address exactly the issue they are having.

Troubleshooting Checklist

Step 1. Check your internet connectivity. Close your browser, type a few of your favorite URLs or just go to Google, Yahoo or Microsoft’s web sites. If you can’t get anywhere, chances are – the problem is with your internet connectivity.

Step 2. Use another connection to get to your web site. There’s number of technical reasons that non-technical people may not fully understand (and shouldn’t really bother to, in my opinion), but the truth is – if your web site looks dead from your PC, but works perfectly fine from your Blackberry – there’s something wrong with your internet connectivity.

Step 3. Flush your cache. We might have migrated to another server, our provider might have changed something unbeknown to us (yet), so your cache may me old. Reboot the PC and/or router if you’re using one in your office.

Step 4. From my experience with over 20 various models of routers and modems from pretty much any manufacturer on the market – hardware do act up from time to time. You may need to reboot the PC, router, modem or all of the above in order to get going. Try it before calling, it may save you a lot of time. Also, check if your cleaning lady accidentally pulled the plug on your modem. Things happen.

Step 5. Ask around if anyone was trying to login multiple times from your office to any of the services and failed. Our firewall might have blocked you after certain number of failed attempts, so you might have locked yourself out. Yes, the fix is on our side, but if you ask before you call we can fix it faster.

Step 6. If only one machine has the issue while all others work just fine – it’s definitely something on your side. Keep looking or call that guy who set up the network.

Step 7. When calling be prepared to outline all the steps you or your workers make to reproduce the error. If we can’t reproduce the error – we may have a very little idea how to fix it. Even if we do we will have to rely on you to let us know if it has been fixed. Overall it takes a lot of time to communicate back and forth, so the better we both get prepared, the faster the issue gets resolved.

Step 8. We try not to keep track of your passwords. In fact – we shouldn’t even know them. So if the issue requires us to login somewhere, make sure you have the password handy. Better yet – change it before we start working on the issue to something simple and change it back to something complicated once we’re done.

Step 9. If there are any other projects or ideas you think you should discuss – write them down and make a separate call. While resolving an issue (which may span across multiple accounts, not just yours) personally I can’t dig deep enough into idea to provide any meaningful feedback. However, when the issue is resolved I will be more than happy to assist you.

This may not sound like much, but it allows to minimize the damage and speed up the process dramatically. Feel free to chip in yours in comments.

business clients

Small Business Acquisitions

Acquisitions are nothing new. Your lawyer will call my lawyer or leave a message on my machine – or something like that. The problem starts with smaller acquisitions, where lawyer’s service would cost just as much as the cost of acquisition itself.

Last couple of days I was involved in the sale of my client’s web site. He sold his Russian food web site to another entrepreneur who already owns a brick and mortar store plus couple of related web sites. Obviously I cannot disclose the amount, but let’s just say it’s not large enough to think about involving lawyers.

The way the sale was proceeding was a good example of lack of knowledge on the part of small business owners. Small business owners don’t quite realize what is being sold and bought during the transfer of rights to the web site and it’s domain name. Some people think that the actual CD with web site code and database is the object of sale. Some think it’s a domain name. Some think it’s the login and password to administration area of the web site.

In either case while being the web master for the web site in question I became a third party who revised the contract, got the CD with latest back up of the web site code and database, passwords to admin area and e-mails.

Domain name and hosting transfer are still pending, as the client who bought the web site doesn’t clearly understand the difference between the two.