What About Customer Service?

I was online the other day doing some research about excellence in customer service when I ran across one of Seth Godin’s recent blogs about his disappointing experience at a car dealership. It caught my attention, as I had just had a very similar and equally disappointing experience at a car dealership myself.

What first struck me was the commonality of our experiences, and how, despite American’s heightened awareness about good customer service, entire industries may be lagging behind. Then I began to think about all of us in one “technology industry” or another and it dawned on me that some of us may be lagging behind, too.

This experience was made all that more clear when I recently talked to a couple of our clients who were returning to us after being with another vendor for a year. One of the major reasons they returned was that with MSI they got to actually talk to engineers, support folks and their account executive. If they have a billing problem, they can call me, the CFO, directly and actually TALK to a human being. One of their largest complaints and their biggest reasons for returning to our services over our competitor was that they were not forced to use some arcane, and in many cases, barely functional web-application, email interface or other non-personal communication. With MSI they talk to engineers, their reports come to them in email and if they have a problem – they get to interact directly with the people who can make the problem better. Kind of a novel concept, huh?

Who would have thought that in a business as driven by technology as information security is, that human contact would be such a differentiator? The simple act of talking on the phone, getting to know your clients and making sure that they never get relegated to some automated purgatory seems to have become a very powerful difference indeed.

After all, the kid at the drive thru at McDonalds must learn about customer service before he fills his first order, but do we teach our engineers, our technical support staff and our project managers the same, simple messages? Excellent customer service isn’t just for fast food and superstores, we need to embrace these concepts in whatever industry we work. Although technology is an exciting, ever changing industry, it looks to me as though many of us should be sitting in “Customer Service 101” right next to the car salesperson….

Security Practices Apply to Everyone

Recently, I had requested bank account numbers and bank routing numbers from a few companies with whom we have just begun doing business. I needed to get these companies set up for on line payments since all of our corporate banking is conducted electronically.

I made my request to accountants, chief financial officers and the like. I got the information I needed but what surprised me about receiving this data was that each person emailed the information to me in plain text with no encryption.

Employees with responsibility for corporate financial data have some of the most sensitive company information at their fingertips every day. Often, I think we neglect to recognize the potential for damage if this data got into the wrong hands. Of course, measures are in place within our office environments and on our computer networks, but security for email is often forgotten.

Although my financial counterparts may not use encryption every day, I would encourage them to adopt a method and learn to use it. If your primary responsibilities focus on accounting in your organization, I urge you to inquire with your technical support staff about an encryption method and then use it whenever you transmit sensitive data through email. If your IT department does not have an accepted encryption method, you can begin to research some common options by reviewing PGP, GPG or the encryption built into Win Zip (just make sure you use strong passwords).

Then you will be doing your part in maintaining your company’s confidential data whenever it travels over the Internet!

Making Passwords Manageable

Recently, with the passing of the Thanksgiving holiday, many of us have paid closer attention to those things for which we are thankful. I, too, have just taken an assessment and realize I have a plethora of things for which I’m grateful, at home as well as at work.

I know this might sound trite, but in my work life, I am thankful for my password vault. I’m sure many of you know and use this simple software tool, but for those of you who do not, a password vault is a software application that stores a list of all of your many passwords. What sets this type of tool apart from the plain text Word file where I used to store all my passwords, is that this application provides encryption. Now, I need only remember one password in order to access all of the rest!

This new device has set me free! As well, it has enabled me to follow all of our corporate guidelines for password creation and updating. No longer do I simply change the number behind my bird’s name! And, I can easily change all my passwords every thirty days, whether a particular network requires it or not.

I know this has been a problem for more than just me. Often, as a part of security assessments, our staff will conduct a physical review of our client’s workplace. During this “walk through”, we often find post-it notes with passwords underneath mouse pads and on computer monitors themselves! I always said, I was more secure than that, since all my passwords were in a document on my hard drive. What I learned was that since my document was named “Passwords” and was in plain text, I was no safer than the person with the post-it note!

But, the number of passwords I needed to remember and the frequency with which they needed to be changed was ever increasing. I wasn’t sure what to do until someone suggested a password vault. There are many of them available now, both open source and as off the shelf products. All that I have seen are easy to install remain as an icon in your taskbar or on your desktop and are easy to use.

My message here is short and sweet. Get and use a password vault. You and your security team will both be glad you did!