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Just Breathe: Building an IT Reputation During COVID-19


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Image: peshkova -
As COVID-19 runs its course, telecom managers are adjusting to changes like everyone else. Another IT leader in my company recently sent this email, and it seems appropriate to share at this challenging time:
Patience is a virtue, and a little kindness goes a long way.
The time was and is bound to come, perhaps multiple times due to the increased stresses of the current global situation where we all start to feel stressed out, far overworked with no end in sight and short-tempered. Everyone needs to take a moment to breathe and please don't forget to keep taking a moment when necessary going forward. This already applied implicitly but in times like these when the volume and criticality of requests are several multiples higher and with our daily lives being twisted into something unfamiliar, it needs to be explicit. Every single professional on our team works diligently to deliver their best work, and we all need to understand that no one is slacking, no one is trying to intentionally dump things on each other and getting frenzied will only increase mistakes and create rework. While everyone outside of our teams appears to be instantly escalating and constantly is just fear and uncertainty, it isn't directed at you, so don't take it personally. Just breathe, think before you respond in a negative way and instead try to diffuse the situation so that we can all work optimally delivering services as a unified team.
This is a difficult time for all of us, personally and professionally. Some of us are experiencing periodic busy signals, and I just wanted to share my observations and opinions.
This is the result of network congestion. It's happening everywhere across the country. Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects of a perfect storm. Each factor below is contributing to more Internet and voice traffic than what is normal:
  1. Millions of Americans are suddenly working from home. Video conferencing usage has dramatically spiked.
  2. Many offices are "call-forwarding" inbound calls to WFH employees — doubling call loads.
  3. Some carriers and ISPs have suspended data metering and cap penalties.
  4. Schools are canceled, and kids are home —staying busy with streaming movies and playing online games.
Carriers are seeing a significant increase in traffic. Last week, AT&T reported wireless calls are up near the 30% range, WiFi calls about 70%, and home voice calling up close to 40%. Amid this crisis, I’m happy to see AT&T continue to make FirstNet a top priority. Other carriers and providers like Verizon and CenturyLink have seen similar increases.
Fortunately, some of the carriers have responded quickly to this spike in demand and increased their capacity. Others have quickly increased capital budgets and will beef up their capacity as quickly as possible.
Many larger corporations haven’t completed migrations to VoIP. As a result, telecom managers find their mixed environment presents a challenge to send workers home. Some companies have completed their VoIP migrations but didn’t implement a business continuity plan. Regardless of your camp, this is a time in which we as telecom managers must improvise, adapt, and overcome to enable our users to work from home.
Not everyone can simply tell their internal customers to take their phone home or use a softphone, mobile app, or cell phone. It would be nice, but we don’t live in a perfect world. (Now that’s the understatement of the year!)
Are Providers Missing the Bigger Picture?
Just as IT managers are grappling with this new reality — rushing to equip users with the tools that they need to continue to work — providers need to understand that simply pushing COVID-19 promotions isn't going to work. Maybe it’s just me, but I am turned off by all the obtuse emails and LinkedIn posts from sales professionals just screaming: “We can help you through this crisis! We sell VoIP phones! This is the best way to handle your telecom needs in this crisis!” Ugh, really? In the middle of a crisis when everyone is trying to keep their employees safe, do you really think a company is going to launch a project to roll out VoIP phones?
To all you sales professionals out there, please let me share some advice: Sales is built on reputation, not crisis. Take some time to learn more than just the selling points of your product, but also how much work goes into sound design, implementation, testing, training, and business process changes. Don’t try to capitalize on a crisis.
Your reputation will follow these things — good or bad. Hawking a product on the coattails of a national pandemic is like scalping tickets on game day. It may not be wrong, but it’s not doing your reputation a whole lot of good. Many sales professionals say that their most valuable asset is their customer database. I would disagree — it’s your reputation.
So, how do you build your reputation? Two things: build relationships and earn trust.
Here are three suggestions to do just that:
  1. Offer tips on different ways you see customers responding to the crisis so that we learn from each other.
  2. Help a local small business send their employees home. Do the implementation for free and give them the first year of service for free. And when you are done, don’t brag about it all over social media. Let your new customer brag for you.
  3. Set up a technical helpline on a certain topic. Schedule the time for two hours a week, open to anyone (your customers or not). Be there. Listen to your customers. Give away your most valuable asset — your time for two hours a week. Be strict. The support number plays a message outside of those hours. Do what you can for those callers. Help them. Build trust. They will come back to you.
When this is all done, our lives will all be a bit different. Carriers will learn from this and grow their capacity and resilience on the backside of this crisis. Work from home will be much more accepted. Truckers will be appreciated more for keeping the supply chain going. Families may cook at home a bit more after learning new recipes. Canning and preserving food may even make a comeback. Gardening will probably grow in popularity again. Other niches will certainly pop up. Some communities will grow closer and tight-knit.
If you are feeling stressed, let me leave you with this: focus on the things that you can control. Let go of the things you can’t influence and just breathe. We are all in the same boat, and together with patience and cooperation, we will make it through this period.