The Epistemist

…on the knowledge journey

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Commander Data’s emotion chip?

September 13th, 2009 · humor, kvetch

Today, I was wading though layers of voice IVR options to get some questions answered on a cryptic letter from my brokerage. After one of menu selections the robotic voice responded: “Due to the type of the account you have, I feel you will be better served by talking to one of our representatives”. Really? This IVR feels?  So that is where the missing emotion chip is installed!

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Issues vs. Incidents

May 28th, 2009 · support

In designing technical  support processes, it is critically important to understand the difference between issues and incidents. There is a subtle but clear difference,  but the teams often mix the two together, causing churn and wasted resources.

An incident is a problem report from an end-user; it generally describes the specific symptoms being experienced that may be unique to a particular environment or setup. Incidents are all about the customer; they are managed at the Tier 1 support level and tracked in a CRM system.

An issue is the underlying problem that caused the incident; it may impact more than one customer. Issues are all about the product, and are managed at Tier 2 level.  All issues should be captured in a Knowledge Base; they are worked on in a CRM or a bug-tracking system.

Issues are resolved by Tier 2 or Tier 3; associated incidents are closed by Tier 1 – with  a loop back to the customer!

The churn occurs when incidents are handled one after another without consideration of what the underlying issue may be. This is why it is so important to use KB with every customer interaction, so that every incident can be traced to its root cause through an issue.

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Reserach design draft completed

May 25th, 2009 · dissertation, knowledge

I have finished the writeup for my dissertation research design (deliverable for KA 753B); here is an excerpt with the problem statement and the method overview.  This will go into my concept paper.

(Full text here).

Research Problem

In most cases, when a person is faced with a challenge or a problem, he resolves it through an individual cognition process, and by accessing his personal knowledge base, which may include known facts, information and existing experience in solving similar problems, plus the knowledge about how and where to access additional resources. This type of problem-solving is a solitary and slow process, and may be quite inefficient, especially in a time-sensitive situation. It may also be ineffective if the prior experience or readily available resources are not adequate for the particular type of the problem.  In some environments, people are beginning to turn to collaborative problem-solving instead. More often than not, this collaborative problem-solving is not a part of a structured, well-defined issue resolution process, but rather is a product of self-organized, ad-hoc collaboration between weakly connected, cross-functional team members.  Experts and non-experts “swarm” over a problem until it is resolved. Only one person in this group has the actual responsibility to resolve the problem, and yet the group assumes collective ownership of the challenge. The groups are typically very small – 3-7 people. None of the participants in this collaborative problem-solving event may have the complete knowledge set that would allow them to solve the problem individually, but by integrating their individual experiences and knowledge banks, they co-construct the new knowledge about the problem at hand that gives the group the tools to solve the problem.

I am interested in understanding and describing the qualitatively different ways that the participants in these “swarms” make meaning of their experience. My main research question is: “How do people in collaborative problem-solving groups understand their experience?” If we knew more about how the individuals involved understand their experience, it might help us understand the genesis, operation, dissolution, and re-emergence of such groups.


The method I am planning to use is phenomenography. The reason I am considering this method is that it is well-suited for understanding the experiences of people, and especially for uncovering the differences between the ways people process their experiences.

Phenomenography is a second-order research method. In the first/second order dichotomy, first-order research describes the phenomenon as the researcher experiences it, while second-order research method focuses on other’s descriptions and experiences with the phenomenon.  Phenomenography originated in Europe as a method to explore students’ conceptions of a learning process (Booth 1997; Marton 1981a; Marton 1981b; Marton and Booth 1997; Marton and Pang 2006; Renstrom, Andersson and Marton 1990). The method has since been applied to other group learning and sense-making scenarios (Andretta 2007; Collin 2006; Osteraker 2002; Paloniemi 2006; Prewitt 2005; Vallee 2006). A particular strength of phenomenography is its focus on the differences between the way individuals experience a process or a part of a process. As a result, the variety of points of view can create a rich fabric of meaning. In addition to enriching our knowledge of the meaning-making, phenomenography offers a strong practical application: since some ways of understanding the experience are more productive than others (Marton 1994), focusing individuals on understanding their experience in these more productive ways will help them   to contribute and cooperate better. With this in mind, an ordered and prioritized list of people’s conceptions may help managers coach and mentor employees to support and promote the valuable mindsets. It also may help create better problem-resolution outcomes by focusing participants on a particularly productive way of framing the experience, and accelerate knowledge transition from tacit to explicit.

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Critical Battery on Kindle 2: Hard Reset

April 18th, 2009 · support, tools

My Kindle 2 has run out of power and had a splash screen with this bone-chilling message:

Critical Battery

Your battery is empty.

To continue using your Kindle, connect it to a power source.

It may take a few minutes of charging before your Kindle starts.

It was bone-chilling because I was at the airport and did not have the charger handy, so I was facing four hours on the place with just the  Hemispheres magazine…  the horror…So I connected the Kindle to my laptop with the USB cable but still the  same message.   Ughh. But when I got home (after the utter misery of having to read a random paperback hastily bought at a newsstand) and connected with the proper Amazon charger – it still won’t charge!

None of the tips on the Web helped, but I did call Kindle Support and here is what worked (in this exact sequence):

1. Slide the power button and hold it for 30 sec.

2. Release and wait for 20 sec until the screen begins to flash.

3. As soon as it does, plug in the power and keep it connected for 2 hours.

Worked as a charm!

What was disapponting in this whole experience was that the Amazon support agent immediately know what the problem was and had the exact step by step instructions for this process, but it was nowhere to be found on the Amazon FAQ list. Why force the customers to talk to a live agent for an issue that is apparently well known to Amazon???

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Correlation and causation

March 10th, 2009 · research

I am participating in a research design seminar, and this pearl from could not have been more relevant:

“Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing ‘look over there’.”

This is a flyover for a really cool cartoon.

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What business are we in?

January 15th, 2009 · support

My boss said that he had been thinking about this question a lot lately – “What business are we in?” This is a seemingly simple question but getting the answer right can make or break a business.

Theodore Levitt in his classic 1960 HBR article Marketing Myopia has several great examples:

•    The railways almost failed because they thought they were in the railroad business but in fact they were in the transportation business, and their competitors were cars and buses, not other railways.

•    Hollywood film companies were almost destroyed by television, because they thought they in the movie business, when they actually were in the entertainment business:     ” ‘Movies’  implied a specific, limited product. This produced a fatuous contentment that from the beginning led producers to view TV as a threat. Hollywood scorned and rejected TV when it should have welcomed it as an opportunity—an opportunity to expand the entertainment business” (Levitt, Theodore. 1960.  Marketing Myopia,  Harvard Business Review 38, 45-57).

My boss was thinking about our business unit as a whole, but it made me think how to define the business my team was in. We provide support to the customers of our product, so are we in the business of fixing customer problems? No, this is too narrow a definition. Are we in the business of improving customer satisfaction and increasing loyalty? This is better, but still not quite it – something is missing, the unique value that we are adding.

I think we are in the business of helping our customers achieve full benefit of using our product, so they can be more productive and successful. The key difference here is that this last statement looks outside, at the benefit we add for the customers, not just for our company. And if we make our customers more productive and successful, they will, in turn, be more satisfied and loyal, and then they will keep coming back to buy more of our products.

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Day 5

December 25th, 2008 · family

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Dissertation timeline

December 23rd, 2008 · dissertation

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Maui Vacation

December 18th, 2008 · vacation

  Wailea Beach

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Great Support Experience

December 5th, 2008 · support

Association of Support Professionals has recently published a report on creating a great customer experience, and my essay was included in this publication – check it out here.

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