Posts Tagged ‘equipment’

Last time, I added that title as a joke to my blog post on how to keep people from breaking your equipment. The take home message was to make people feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns and to let them know that this stuff can be complicated so it is okay to forget and need help. So, the obvious joke was "okay, now how do i get them to stop asking me for help!"

That's an honest question to a real problem. Any of us who have run cores or who do training for a commercial product have had those users/customers that just won't learn the system. They come to rely on the core director/manager/product specialist to answer any and all questions. These users quickly wear on you because before long the questions start repeating themselves. If you are working with someone that is exploring new functionalities each week, then you can excuse continuing questions because, again, this stuff can be complicated. But, about the third time someone asks you how to save data or export files or put in a sample – you can be excused for getting annoyed.

So, what to do with users that keep asking for help.

  1. Ask yourself, why aren't they valuing your time? First, you need to be clear whether or not it is your job to be on call for every little thing. If the answer is no, then why do they think you are on call and how do you make them realize your time should be valued as much as their own. One possibility is that you haven't made your role clear.
  2. Clarity is king. If you are in a commercial role, did you clearly lay out what the process would be after the sale and install? Did you include the words "independence" in the description? If you are a core director, did you start out your training session by explaining what you would be doing over the course of several sessions and how the final goal was independence? Be clear up front, let the user know what will be expected of them or better yet what they can expect – understanding and independence.
  3. Be honest with yourself, your training might suck. At some point, if this is a recurring problem then you have to ask if you are doing a good job teaching. Being a core director, assistant, or an Application Specialist is not the same as being a scientist, just as being a good postdoc is not a guarantee to be a successful PI. Are you teaching users how to become independent or are you just dumping information in their general direction?
  4. Charge them. When all else fails and someone refuses to value your time, then you have no choice but to charge for your time. This should not come out of nowhere, there should be an open and calm discussion with the user concerning the expectations you laid out and that hands-on time requires a fee.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

y-u-no-who-broke-the-spectrometer

A couple months ago I was at a core facility with one of our account managers. This was not a microscopy facility, but I still saw the one thing that many cores have in common – angry warning signs. “DO NOT LEAVE THIS EQUIPMENT ON ALL NIGHT” or “DO NOT TURN OFF THIS EQUIPMENT!!!” or “IF YOU BOOK TIME ON THIS EQUIPMENT AND DON’T USE IT, YOU WILL STILL BE CHARGED!!!”

Not all cores have these signs, especially those that offer services for hire, but many of the cores I have visited have posted warnings in the facility or on sign-up pages. Why? Well, because users tend to break stuff. On my first day as a core director at UNC Chapel Hill I was shown the 63X oil immersion objective on our Zeiss 510 NLO confocal. It had weird striations around the barrel and I asked what they were. “Oh, it wouldn’t come off and someone took a wrench to it. We don’t know who did it.”

I think the second sentence of that conversation is the more worrying one. I think the fear of  the core director finding out you don’t know how to use the equipment and that you then broke something is the reason why so many things are destroyed. Everyone makes mistakes and if we keep this in mind when training our users, making it clear that there is a correct way of doing things but that we understand mistakes happen, then they are less likely to feel the need to hide those mistakes. If we make it clear that none of us are perfect and there is a lot to learn and a lot to remember, then maybe more people will come to us before making an error to ask for help. I say “us” even though I am now on the commercial side because we get the same calls you do as core directors, only they are usually from angry core directors instead of users.

Perhaps the only signs or rules that really help avoid equipment damage are those that make it clear how complicated systems can be, that we all need help, and that asking for help will never be punished.

Next time – what to do with those users who KEEP asking for HELP!!!

First off, I don’t think I have blogged two days in a row since those halcyon days of political blogging in the late ’00s. Maybe this will start a new habit for me, maybe not. Yesterday, I wrote about the satisfaction that one gets from making eyes pop with a new and better way of doing something. There is no better feeling when you are working on the commercial side of science. I thought it would only be fair to treat the other part of this emotional roller coaster and one that is much harder to deal with – making your customer’s eyes burn with anger. Here are three examples that are somewhat specific to equipment sales, a brief description of mistakes made, how I handled them at the time, and lessons learned.

  1. We don’t do that anymore.” Early in my sales career I found that our organization promised a manual tweak to an instrument for our customer. Once the system was delivered and installed and it was time for the tweak, those of us in the field were informed by the office that we didn’t provide that service anymore because of the implications of new FDA regulations. There was anger and righteous indignation. We did as much of the work ourselves that was allowed and then found a third party vendor that would finish the tweak. Lesson Learned – try to ask for clarification internally about any process or promises with which you are not familiar and that are not written out clearly in the quote. If you are a customer know that anything quoted is under contract, but anything promised is possible or probable, but not certain. Priorities change. Economics change.
  2. What do you mean it won’t scan that fast?” I walked into this situation where a previous sale had been completed without a demonstration – not my sale. It was insinuated that the system would scan a sample at a certain frame rate. The system arrived and it would not do that frame rate under normal conditions. Eyes burned with hatred, venom was throw, spittle was spittled. At me, because I was the guy who showed up. After walking through what they were looking for, I showed them a super-secret hidden feature that could be activated in the .ini file that would allow for faster scanning at a lower resolution. They were only looking for intensity data and not images so this fit their needs. Hugs were exchanged, backs were slapped. Lesson Learned – try to know your product inside and out and if you don’t, then have some good people on speed dial. If you are a customer, see the result you want or talk to someone who is doing the same type of work.
  3. He doesn’t work here anymore.” The downside of having a great support person is that they don’t always stay with the same company. People want to recruit them away. In one case, we made a sale that was at least partially based on an awesome application specialist, who then left the company before the system was installed. It happens, but it is never a fun conversation. There isn’t much you can do except to put the customer in contact with whoever will be filling in the gap while a new person is hired. Lesson Learned – the goal for company and customer should be a clear path to independence with some occasional technical help around complicated experiments or analysis. Don’t ignore the technical expertise of the company that is selling you the equipment, but don’t rely on it long-term either.

Going through this list reminds me of an article at HBR about character traits shared by top salespeople. One key trait was conscientiousness. Make sure expectations are clear on both sides. Don’t risk confusion after the sale because you don’t want to rock the boat during the sale. Rock the boat, make sure everything is in the open.