Customer service in H-E-double-hockey-sticks

In my last couple of days down here at Disneyworld, I got back to thinking about customer service.

A while back, one of the other bloggers at ZDNet posted an article addressing the importance of providing outstanding service to our end users (The IT Commandments: Put thy users first, above all other things).  In my last couple of days down here at Disneyworld, I got back to thinking about customer service. 

Here in education IT, we're usually lucky to keep our heads above water.  If I can keep the majority of my ancient computers running and maintain some reasonable degree of network stability, I'm a pretty happy guy.  But the only thing that keeps my users satisfied with this fairly sad state of affairs is customer service.  Sure, everyone knows that I'm stretched pretty thin and have a ridiculously small budget.  But that excuse only goes so far with educators and administrators who have a limited understanding of what it actually takes to keep a building (or district) up and running and who have mission-critical IT needs.

So here I am in Florida, sweltering outside Orlando. (By the way, if you actually choose to live in Florida, feel free to talk back below and tell me why.  I'm not sure if any of you have noticed, but it's really hot here.  Every time I walk outside from an air-conditioned oasis, my glasses fog up.  UGH.)  Obviously, the weather has me down and non-stop Disney music piped through every available conduit is starting to wear on my nerves.  But even under these less than ideal circumstances, I have yet to meet a Disney cast member (if you've read my last few posts or you've ever been here, you know that's what they call all of the staff here) who isn't friendly, knowledgeable, and, more often than not, bilingual.  These folks can barely see straight from selling $4 sodas to crying kids and cranky parents for 8 hours in 90 degree weather, but they always seem thrilled to tell me how to get to the next ride or how to find the nearest water fountain. 

We in Ed Tech, with our stretched budgets and oftentimes clueless users also work under less than ideal conditions.  It is all too easy to fall into the roll of "harried-IT-guy," fending off questions and piles of work with irritability and speed.  This past June, as I was collecting the teacher's laptops for upgrades this summer, I was rushing to not only finish grading finals, submit my grades, and inventory the computers before the janitors came crashing in.  When I discovered a laptop filled with an ant colony (yes, larvae and all) from a teacher who ate a lot but used his laptop very little, my usually pleasant demeanor became a bit strained (to put it mildly).

However, no matter what we encounter, customer service is the name of the game.  We are here to help, first and foremost.  Like every Disney cast member knows, the customer is always right.  Remarkably enough, I'm much happier to buy a $5 box of popcorn for my kid from someone who is cheerful and who not only knows the way to Magic Mountain, but happily gives me detailed directions, than I am from someone who is grumpy and clueless.  In the same way, our users will be a lot more likely to accept "the best we can do" if we maintain positive relationships with them and treat them as the customers that they are.