Lead Article (Self-help topic – Answer the questions that aren’t asked)

 I am sure you are all familiar with Donald Rumsfeld’s most famous quote. “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

One of the greatest ways to increase customer satisfaction in the IT space is for an IT consultant to answer the questions that are not even asked. I spoke with a friend recently. He rang me to get some help with his notebook connecting through his phone to connect back to his server (you know the phone calls – you are in IT so you know the answer to every question vaguely related to IT – imagine the calls that Bill Gates must get from his friends!) I went through the obvious steps – tech support 101: reboot everything. After a little more troubleshooting I asked if anything had been recently renewed. He said he had just bought a new phone. A little more troubleshooting and I realised that no data pack had been put on his new phone. I left him with the advice that he needed to ring his phone carrier and add a data pack to his plan. Once that was completed he rang back and told me how frustrated he was with his carrier. You see it was his fault that his phone wasn’t working properly because he didn’t tell his phone provider when he connected his new mobile that he needed a data plan.

This is a classic example of a sales person being absolutely correct – but totally out of touch. For a client who deals with IT only when it is required, most of the items of significance are unknown unknowns. The client does not know what the client does not know. This friend of mine had no idea what a data pack was. He knew a simple procedure that he used with his old phone to connect his notebook back to his office and he saw no reason to think that a new phone would have any impact on that procedure.

A truly gifted salesperson – or one that was simply using common-sense – would have ensured that he went through the range of outcomes or actions that the client wanted to perform. It is no good asking if the client wanted a data pack. You may just as well have the average Joe on the street walk into a bank to put some money in a term deposit and the teller says they should have asked to perform some CFD trading. It is very easy to forget that clients are not in the same industry as the salespeople and therefore to not have intimate knowledge of the industry, the products or the changes that have occurred recently.

Therefore a great skill for a salesperson is to not just answer the questions that are asked. Anyone with a basic level of knowledge can answer a question that is asked of them. A particularly skilful salesperson will pose questions that the client didn’t know to ask – and then answer them for him. For example, do you want to work from your notebook while away from the office, if answered in the affirmative, then prompts the answer that the client needs a data pack. The client doesn’t care what a data pack is – they just want to be able to connect.

Let me give you another simple example. My wife flew into Sydney last week. The flight landed just before 10pm so you could safely assume there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the roads. When she jumped into the taxi, the driver asked her if she wanted to go via the Eastern Distributor and pay the toll or go via the normal city roads. My wife is always thinking of where to save a few dollars – so she can put it to her next pair of shoes – so she asked the taxi driver to go via the normal city roads.

To my wife’s surprise, they hit a huge backlog of traffic. My wife pondered out loud why there was so much traffic on the roads at that time of night. Quick as a flash the taxi driver came back with the comment – with a tone of voice that said that everyone should know – that an international cricket match had just finished and 40,000 people were trying to leave the cricket ground and their path would take them straight past the ground. My wife asked why they didn’t go via the Eastern Distributor and the taxi driver exclaimed, with annoyance, that she had requested they go via this path.

Once again, a simple comment from the taxi driver at the beginning of the trip that the roads would be at gridlock due to a major sporting event would have led to the logical conclusion to use the motorway. The taxi driver hadn’t done anything wrong – just not enough right. I am sure that the taxi driver wouldn’t understand why my wife was annoyed – he did exactly what he was asked to do – but going that little step extra and providing answers to questions clients don’t know they should ask is what makes the difference between customer service that is acceptable and customer service that is exceptional.

Tell me what you think the number one unknown unknown is in the MSP space at md@smallbusinessrules.com.


Science Quiz Question

I have a sure-fire money spinner. I have decided to open up a boot-camp style weight loss clinic where I will guarantee a one per cent weight loss over the three days of the boot camp for any person that attends my boot-camp – or their money back. Is there any place on earth that I could locate my boot-camp and any time of the lunar cycle or time of the day that I could achieve my guaranteed weight loss target by differentials in gravitational forces rather than having the attendees actually lose any weight. In other words does our weight (as opposed to our mass) vary significantly at different heights on earth and with the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun? Can I ‘scam’ my gullible attendees by using science behind differentials in gravitational forces?


Science Quiz Answer

This month I want to really stretch your minds back to some interesting concepts from your high school physics. Firstly, I am going to remind you of a few facts from those glory days at high school.

Fact 1: Gravity is not a force ‘sucking’ us to the earth. Gravity is a force exerted between any two objects with mass. The formula for the gravitational force involves multiplying the mass of the two objects together and dividing by the square of the distance between the two objects (and throw in a universal gravitational constant for good measure). Therefore we exert the same gravitational force on the earth as the earth exerts on us and when we stand near another person, there is a (miniscule) gravitational force exerted between the two people.

Fact 2: The earth is not a perfect sphere but rather it is an oblate spheroid. Due to the earth’s rotation, the sphere is distorted by centrifugal force. Therefore the radius of the earth at the equator is 6,378.159809 km and the radius of the earth at the poles is 6,367.470963 km. This means the earth is 10.688846 km larger in radius at the equator. This difference is actually greater than the height of the largest mountain above sea level (Mount Everest at 8.85 km). When we consider the equatorial bulge, the place that is farthest from the earth’s centre is the peak of the volcano Chimborazo in Ecuador at only 6.267 km elevation – but it is near the equator.

Fact 3: The mass of the earth is 5.9722 × 1024 kg.

Fact 4: The moon has a mass of 7.3477 × 1022 kg and can come as close as 3.5640 x 108 m to the earth.

Fact 5: The sun has a mass of 1.9891 × 1030 kg and is at a mean distance of 1.496 × 1011 m to the earth.

Fact 6: Electronic scales are usually calibrated to a standard gravitational force of 9.80665ms-2.

I will also make some assumptions in my answer.

Assumption 1: The mass of a person attending the boot-camp is 100kg.

Assumption 2: My target audience is around the Helsinki region where the gravitational force is the highest on earth at 9.819 ms-2.

Assumption 3: My boot camp is at Quito, the capital of Ecuador and a large city near the equator that also has a high altitude above sea level (2.85 km). This minimises the gravitational force at this location – down to 9.777 ms-2.

When our target person of mass 100kg stands on the scales at Helsinki, they exert a force of 981.9 N on the scales. They are calibrated to 9.80665ms-2 so they display a figure of 100.1259 kg (assuming the scales have lots of decimal places). When those same calibrated scales are then used at Quito, they will display a mass of 99.69765 kg. An apparent weight loss of 0.428281 kg or 0.428%. I am well on my way to the guaranteed one per cent weight loss.

Now, what about the moon.

I see the moon above me relative to my place on earth once every 24 hours and 50 minutes. Therefore I would set the weigh-in time for one of my victims – whoops – clients in Helsinki to be at a point in time when the moon was on the other side of the world. The gravitational pull would increase their weight slightly. How much? The person of mass 100kg now shows 100.1263 kg. A marginal increase. At my base in Quito, I ensure their final weigh-in is at a point when the moon is overhead therefore the gravitational pull of the moon will decrease the force they are exerting on the earth (and hence on the scales). The person of 100kg mass will now display 99.69726 kg. Overall with just a location change and using the moon, I have managed to reduce the apparent weight of this person by 0.42904 kg. A percentage ‘weight loss’ of 0.429%. The moon didn’t help much!

I chose the moon first because of the gravitational force the moon exerts on the tides. The sun has more mass than the moon but is at a greater distance from the earth. Can that help me in my quest? Again I would set the weigh-in time in Helsinki at midnight so the sun was on the opposite side of the earth therefore exerting a gravitational force downwards. The total effect of the sun and the moon now results in the scales showing 100.1867624 kg. At midday on the final weigh-in at the end of my boot-camp – with the sun overhead and ensuring I have my moon orbit with the moon overhead, my scales in Quito now show 99.6367897 kg. A total weight loss – through scientific trickery – of 0.549973 kg. The best I can manage through science is 0.55%.

Ultimately I think my scam would be shown to be just that – a scam – and perhaps the age-old advice of exercising daily and eating healthy foods might be the best option after all.

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