My SXSW presentation, for those that may not have seen it

My talk about talking to pissed customers, how to earn customer respect, etc.

A Newbies Guide to SXSW

I had a conversation with someone today that will be attending SXSW for the first time.  He was looking for what to expect/prepare for, etc.  So below are some of the things I have learned, best practices, etc.

1 – Wear the most comfortable pair of walking shoes you own.  Do NOT go buy a new pair of shoes now – it is too late to break them in and make sure they are comfortable.  Find that ugly old pair of sneakers in the back of your closet if you must.  Comfort is critical.  You will walk miles and be on your feet 18+ hours a day (if you are doing it right!).

2 – Don’t shake hands.  Fist bump if you must, but so many people coming from all over the world bring in flu strains your body won’t be expecting.  Better safe than sorry (and I’ve been sorry more times than safe, I am afraid).  I also don’t recommend using hand sanitizer right after you shake hands with the CEO of that great company you just met – might send the wrong message :)

3 – Chapstick rocks.

4 – Don’t carry anything that you can’t fit in your pockets.  You will either regret you did and/or lose it. After 18 hours you will hate that “comfortable” backpack.

5 – Be wary of the weather and pack accordingly.  You will be outside a lot.  And sometimes the weather even comes inside (like it did at our party last year when the roof leaked!). If it is hot, a big floppy hat is a lifesaver. Doubles as an umbrella.

6 – The only thing I carry besides my wallet and iPhone (and the charger) is a bottle of water.

7 – Use FourSquare – that’s how you can find the stuff that isn’t in the official program.

8 – Take advantage of the hallway track.  Some of the best friendships and business deals are made informally in the halls of the convention center.

9 – Party well.  By that I mean have fun, but pace yourself.  There are a lot of parties and a lot of people.  And everyone has a camera phone.  If you end up in a viral video on YouTube, make sure it is for the right reasons!

10 – If you are with others always set a few times and places to meet back up each day in case you get separated.  AT&T did much better with cell coverage/reliability last year than the year before, but relying only on your phone may leave you alone.

BonusSee my session!

Got some more helpful tips?  Add them in the comments!

Let Them Figure it Out. Then Support Them.

I’ve spent a lot of years buying my kids great computers, surrounding them with programming books, even taking them to work related events where geeks talk about programming.

But I never tried to force them into following a programming career.  But knowing they know computers is still important.

My son handed me a rock when he was 12.  He asked me to take it to my then boss.  My then boss was a genius.  He invented raster-graphics, has a ton of patents in WiFi and networking, but he was a trained Geologist.

My then boss talked to me for an hour about that rock.  And I came home and told my son, “this is an awesome rock”.  I did not remember the technical, but non-computer related details that my ex-boss shared. They were extensive, and impressive.  Just not memorable (to me).

Now, many years later, my son declared his Major – in Geology.  The guy has always loved rocks. And found fossils, and perhaps even a couple meteorites.

I know he will be a better Geologist because he also knows computers.  But his passion is in rocks, so I applaud him.

Follow the passion.  If you are doing what you love to do, you will probably be happy.

I will never write a book about what I care mostly about – why is that?

I love taking care of customers, and there have been so many great books that can teach you the mechanics of taking care of a customer.  When to shut up, when to speak up.  When to pay up.  Even when to suck up.

I can’t write any of that any better than anyone else has already done (and possibly not even any worse).  At best I could come up with a smarter title and better marketing – so perhaps my book would sell better than someone else’s book. But it would not add any more real value to the conversation.

I would love to add a chapter to each of these books though.  I would call it something like, “When to (politely) tell your MGT to go to hell and do what you need to do to make things right”.

Of course, I have never, and never anticipate telling my MGT to go to hell – I’m not suicidal.  I have had lengthy conversations about which of us are correct though :)  But does my MGT know how far I will go, how much hell I will raise, and how many people I will wake to serve a customer?  They do.  You don’t get a title like “Chief Disruption Officer” by swimming in calm waters.

My chapter would focus on making sure that your organization had that guy or gal that cares more for customers than anything.  That isn’t afraid to get fired for fighting for them.  Because they are expected to do just that.  They are paid to raise a bit of hell, wake up a couple VPs if needed.  Call the Chairman of the Board on a Sunday, if that is what it takes.

This is a customer advocate at best. One that is unafraid, because they are expected to err on the side of the customer.

Many have discussed the notion of the employee who is “untouchable” – meaning they can’t get fired without a huge payout (hell, we do this in sports all the time, why not do the same with customer advocacy!?!).  That gets them the freedom to never sacrifice customer experience. And it is mostly a good idea.  But like everything, it is not a perfect idea.  It could be abused and used for purposes other than serving customers.

I actually like almost the opposite of “untouchable” – I like the notion of “damn near fired” more :)

I like it when I push us.  I like it when I make us uncomfortable with finding a solution to a customer issue.  I like that I am sitting on the edge of the wall – and that I could easily be pushed off if I don’t stick to what is right, what is true, and what is fair. And do it in such a way that everyone wins – at least a little.  YOu can never succeed if your goal is to create a loser.

You become as close to “untouchable” as you can get by trying to find a way for everyone to win.  And it isn;t a balance, because it is hardly “even”.  Even is generally where you are at when you get invited into the conversation – everyone thinks they have already given too much.

Winning is getting one of them to move, just a bit.  And having them feel good about it.

Rob gets a “Cube Grenade” – Culture of Service.

Click to enlarge

I’ve known Hugh MacLeod for a couple or four years. Knew him online for even longer. I’ve respected his work – which first got my attention with his work for Stormhoek.  Then came the Blue Monster, for Microsoft.  I liked the way his cartoons got me to think about things.

That was before I came to work for Rackspace.  Recently Hugh was in San Antonio, and he toured our corporate headquarters in a once abondoned 1.2+ million square foot shopping mall.  He saw the worlds largest (certified by Guinness!) Word Search puzzle.  He saw the only known functioning escalators in a hosting company’s offices.  We had a good time, and later went out for some BBQ with a few Rackers, and guests from the community.  It was a great day.

While he was here, Hugh and I started discussing him doing something involving Rackspace.  Working with a number of other Rackers (Rackspace employees), we decided that we wanted Hugh to focus on what we are most proud of – what makes our company unique, and why the number of employees has doubled since I joined 26 months or so ago, and why our customer count has risen just as quickly – even in a down economy.

So here is his first cartoon – and I really enjoy it.  I thank Hugh for making this one special as my very own personal “cube grenade” :)

Click to enlargeOur motto is “Fanatical Support” – which is based on our unique culture.

This is the first in a series of cartoons, blog posts, etc that explore why culture is important to us, and why a culture of service – to each other, to customers, and to our community is so important to our success.

I am hoping this series starts a conversation about culture, and service.  So feel free to comment!

Hugh’s original post is here.

Rob