When I moved at the end of 2004, I had to make arrangements to move all my services, of course, providing my phone company and Internet service provider with that golden opportunity to get me on the phone and keep me there until I agreed to pay them more money for options I obviously could not live without. At the time, Bell Sympatico had recently teamed with Microsoft to launch its sympatico.msn.ca portal, and call centre agents were desperate to sign customers up.

It wasn’t clear to me then what exactly the benefits were, other than finally getting off the phone, but after the countless hours I had already spent with tech support related to getting set up again in a new house, just getting off the phone was incentive enough.

Little did I know that the call centre folks so eagerly enjoining me to sign up for MSN Premium weren’t just enthusiastic or even just afraid of their whip-cracking, conversation-taping bosses, as I imagined call centre slaves to be. No, it turns out they were getting great prizes for a job well done – breaking down the feeble objections of psychologically exhausted customers like me.

In the last issue of Pipeline, I wrote about the need for IT companies to re-examine the events they hold to interest – and yes, sometimes reward – IT journalists.  According to Cynthia Richards, president of Event Spectrum Inc., with whom I spoke for this week’s Q&A, IT firms are also realizing the same holds true when it comes to the events they hold for their own employees.

Beer and pizza might have been enough in the old days, when IT pretty much sold itself. But today, faced with a growing number of competitors, an increasingly educated customer and fewer advertising dollars, smart IT firms are realizing there is probably no greater return on investment than an employee who knows – and cares – about their product or service. That applies throughout an organization, but none more so than to those who work on the front lines dealing directly with customers.

I’m not sure of the long-term impact of events featuring pot-bellied pig races or staged interrogations by fake CSIS officers, as ESI has done (please see this issue’s Q&A), although both are welcome alternatives to the half-baked affairs many corporations subject their employees to. But having been on the customer end, I can say that education combined with incentives, delivered with flair and creativity, obviously works.

Kathleen Sibley is the editor of Technology in Government.

ksibley@itbusiness.ca 

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