May 11, 2006


Cathy Marshall spends a couple of hours talking to the IT Support guys.

Her call, too, is very important to them, just like yours. But she works for Microsoft, so you'd think it'd go better.

It used to be, you'd have the IT Support guys on site, and you'd be nice to them. You'd offer them Red Vines and M&Ms. That way, if you had them work on your computer, they wouldn't accidentally reformat the hard drive when they were reconfiguring your email.

More and more, when I answer the phone at work I find that callers are surprised -- and sometimes a little frightened -- to discover that I'm not a voicemail tree.

...It's not just that they won't engage in small talk (or Smalltalk); they never even tell you why they're having you do the seemingly meaningless sequences of steps. Over and over. You're just right-clicking and left-buttoning and poking at this tab and opening that window and going to this website and double-clicking on that icon.

In Jamaica, I had a nice chat with the executive chef of a family of resorts about the challenges of managing lots of kitchens -- especially kitchens in places where motivation and discipline are sometimes in short supply. He said that one big lesson in recent years, which he attributed especially to Ritz-Carlton, was simply pushing authority to fix things down the line.

The only time I had a real conversation with one of these guys was one Thanksgiving Day, when I spent 6 hours on the phone with David in Colorado. The thought of all that togetherness elsewhere -- all that warmth, all those turkey smells, all those dysfunctional families breaking bread -- while the two of us sat at our respective computers trying figure out why my Smart Card had suddenly become a Downs Syndrome Card (a 'tard card?) threw us into conversation....