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The Art of Being a Successful DBA- Soliciting Customer Feedback

Introduction

In today’s business environment, being a successful DBA requires more than just being known as a technical expert. There are thousands of those folks readily available. If you want to excel in this profession, you must be viewed as someone who understands both the business and technical aspects of the applications you support. You must also be viewed as someone who understands the importance of continuous improvement and not be satisfied with the “status quo.”

In my previous blog, I provided a general set of recommendations on keeping customers happy. In this blog, I’ll continue our discussion by providing some advice on eliciting customer feedback. In the last blog of this series, we’ll learn how to process that feedback to improve the quality of support we provide to our customers.

I have read dozens of books on quality improvement, from Deming, to Six Sigma and everything in between. I have a fairly expansive library on all aspects of process improvement. The various authors, experts and industry groups provide a wealth of strategies, guidelines, procedural activities and recommendations. There are two common themes throughout all of them: the importance of effective and continuous measurement and the fact that quality is not an end goal but an iterative process.

Quality is not measured by a single success or failure, the perception of quality or lack thereof. There is no black or white, just varying shades of gray. The intent of this blog is to not rehash a laundry list of quality improvement strategies, procedures and recommendations; its intent is to provide a simplistic approach to obtaining constructive criticism from your customers. The next blog will focus on using customer feedback as input to your DBA team’s service delivery improvement process.

Obtaining Customer Feedback

One of the key measurements DBA units can use to evaluate their performance is customer feedback. We feel so strongly about customer input at Remote DBA Experts (RDX) that we have created a quality service assurance program appropriately titled, “The RDX Customer Feedback Engine.”

We have established multiple communication paths to ensure that we receive constructive criticism from all of the personnel that we support including management, DBAs, developers and end users. We educate all new customers during the integration process about the various feedback mechanisms available to them. We also actively solicit feedback throughout the entire customer relationship life-cycle.

Since we support many different organizations in virtually every market vertical (high technology, heavy manufacturing, retail, health care, etc.), it is obvious to us that each of our customers has a unique set of value drivers that they use to evaluate the quality of our service. If we don’t understand what they are, how can we be sure that we are meeting their needs? The answer is that we can’t.

Since I work for a remote services provider, our customers hold us to a very high standard. We won’t know how our customers feel about the quality of service we are providing unless we ask. However, do DBAs that work for a single business organization need their own “Customer Feedback Engine”? The answer is ABSOLUTELY. The majority of your customers will not tell you how they feel about the quality of service you are providing unless you ask them. In order to improve, you have to measure.

Each group that you support has their own set of value drivers. You have to understand what they want. Database administrators have a highly visible role in every organization. You can take advantage of that role to be viewed as someone who is a key player, as opposed to a mere technician.

You can obtain customer feedback by any number of physical mechanisms, but it all boils down to putting your ego aside and understanding that you need to obtain constructive criticism to get better at what you do. Some of the more popular choices are DBA “report cards” or surveys that are sent to your customer base. Customer surveys are key ingredients to RDX’s customer feedback engine.

There are numerous mechanisms that you can use to record customer evaluations on service quality. The prices range from free (Google Docs provides a very robust survey tool) to more expensive solutions provided by third party service providers.

A helpful hint with your internal customer surveys is to make sure you include a field that asks the participants to include their business unit but does not require them to provide a signature or name. This will help the participants feel more comfortable when they fill out the survey and provide you with a higher quality source of feedback information that you can use to tune and tweak your service delivery methods. You will find that many of the respondents will provide you with their contact information. If you see a common theme with any individual business unit, you will still be able to approach someone in that unit’s management chain to address their concerns. At RDX, depending on the survey content, we will require or not require a name.

Since we support so many different customers, let me give you some examples of the questions that we ask:

  • General Support Quality – The intent of the first question is to obtain a general, high-level understanding of how you are doing. It opens up the conversation to allow you to obtain feedback that may not be obtained from the more specific questions contained later in the survey.
  • Responsiveness – Are you responding quickly enough to their requests? Do you complete tasks when they are needed?
  • Communication – There are so many aspects to this subject that it is important to provide the participants with specific examples.
    • Frequency – Do you provide your customers with information on a timely basis? Are you keeping them aware of your accomplishments with clear updates on large projects? Do you inform them when you complete daily work requests in a timely manner? Are you providing your customers with the appropriate status reports on long-running problems that are affecting their applications?

      Content – Does the level of communication you provide to yours customer match their technical backgrounds? Does the language you use seem too technical, not technical enough, too high level or are you delving too deep into the details?

      Clarity – When you are providing or asking for information, do they understand what you are telling them or what you need from them?

      Communication Mechanisms- What communication transfer methods do they feel comfortable with? Do they prefer e-mails, ticket updates, phone calls or quick face-to-face meetings? Our customers range the spectrum from those that blatantly tell us, “Never call me, just e-mail, and don’t do that a lot” to customers who prefer a continuous level of communication using all of the communication methods available.

  • Effectiveness – Are you performing the right tasks they need when they need them? Just as you may find that you need to provide your customers with additional activities to support their needs, you may also be providing them with service activities that are not important to them.
  • Specific Quality of Support Questions – Ask them to rate the quality of the services you are providing to them. This allows you to tailor specific questions to the set of services you are delivering to your customers. At RDX, we provide numeric values to rate specific service quality questions. After each specific question on service quality, we ask the same follow-up question: “If you were less than totally satisfied, what can we do to improve our service to your organization?”
  • Current Problems – Do they have any current issues that you may be able to address? There may be something that ignites a discussion on problems that they thought you would not be able to help them with.
  • Challenges – We always ask what the current and future technological and business challenges our customers are facing. It is important to understand what makes your customers “lie awake each night.”
  • Additional Information – What other questions should you be asking?
  • As we learned in this blog, effective measurements are required to judge the success of any activity. The quality of support you provide needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. These questions allow your customers to provide you with important feedback on the quality of your support. You can then “tune and tweak” your services accordingly.

    In my next blog, we’ll discuss how we use 360 Degree Reviews, Quadrant Analysis, Root Cause Corrective Action Reports and other standardized processes to analyze customer comments to improve the quality of support we provide.

    Thanks for Reading,

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