Joe's Blog

Getting IT Right


All too often I deal with companies whose IT systems just don't work well together. Yesterday I ran into a text book example of this while dealing with a large, multi-billion dollar communications company. It's a long story, the gist of it however is that I renewed a contract online but my bill indicated the renewal did not go through and I was overcharged. The first rep. I contacted about this couldn't find the problem because she didn't know how to use her billing system properly. Luckily she couldn't use the phone system properly either and put me out of my misery by accidentally hanging up before she could do any real damage to my account. Thankfully the second rep. I got was more competent. He determined that yes, I did renew the contract properly and on time, but since their contract renewal system is different from their billing system the billing system was not aware of the renewal. Doh!

Every once in a while though I'll bump into a company that gets it right. Lee Valley Tools, a family-owned woodworking and gardening tools business, is one such operation. Here's part of a feedback letter I sent them a couple of years ago detailing how well I found their IT systems supported one of my purchases.


I just wanted to say how impressed I am with your IT systems. I recently used your web site to plan some purchases and was pleasantly surprised to find automated features at every step of the process.

When I was browsing your online catalogue I thought "it would be nice if I could keep an online list of everything I plan to buy" ... then I saw your shopping cart. Just what I needed.

When I started using your cart I thought "this Wish List feature looks good, I'll create an account so I can start using it" ... then I created my account, using my customer number, and I saw that I could query up all my old orders. Nice touch.

When I got to your store I thought "too bad I couldn't print out my online shopping cart list here and use it instead of those pencil and paper forms" (Lee Valley is one of those places where you fill out a paper order, hand it to someone behind the counter, and then they get the goods for you from a stock room) ... then I saw the PC kiosks that allow customers to do exactly that. Wow, looks like management really knows their stuff around here.

When I got to the kiosk I thought "hmmm, I'm not comfortable typing my password into a PC in a public area" ... then I saw the notice about the security mat I was standing on that erases all my personal info. after I step off the mat. That was the icing on the cake.


I was further impressed when, 12 minutes after emailing this letter, I received a personal reply (not one of those automated "we got your email" replies) from one of their customer service reps. thanking me for my feedback and letting me know they already had some of the enhancements I suggested in the works.

Sometimes we get so caught up with the bits and bytes in individual systems we forget that it's not enough to focus on each one in isolation. A typical client will encounter many different IT systems in a single transaction -- web site, phone, contracts, billing, hardware, security, email, etc. If they don't all work together harmoniously then the entire customer experience fails. While some large companies never seem to get their IT systems synchronized no matter how much money and talent they throw at them it's good to see that some companies, like family-owned Lee Valley, know how to get IT right.

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