The human side of the Internet

Business to Business

Over the years, I’ve written, lectured and plain old talked about the technical side of the Internet and the Web. I’ve covered everything from globalization and business issues to hardware, designing and coding standards. What I’ve never addressed before is the non-technical side of things – the “human factor.”

The human factor can make or break your venture and turn a great and profitable idea into a failure. The randomness of this factor and the inability of business to anticipate how their people will work with the technology must be addressed. So I’ve taken off the gloves and gone after two real-life offenders.

Recently, a client wanted to purchase a new laptop computer and sought out my advice on a variety of options and makes. We took a look at the usual players and found the best option that met my client’s needs on Future Shop’s Web site. Upon completion of the order, he was both notified on screen and by e-mail that his order had been processed and to expect delivery in three days.

Well, three days came and went and my client decided to find out what was going on. To his surprise, the order had been cancelled with no warning or explanation – he had entered his business telephone number on one of the order screens and since his credit card referenced his home number the order was automatically rejected.

A little disturbed by this, he went on to change this information and reorder the computer, since customer service couldn’t fix the problem over the phone. Once again, three days went by without a computer. His order had again been cancelled. A call to customer service provided no valuable information.

My client went to a competitor and Future Shop lost his business simply by not communicating with him.

They forgot that on the other side of an order is a real person, who needs to be notified when his or her order’s status changes. They also forgot that if customers should call “customer service,” they expect the person on the other end of the telephone to be able to do something and not tell them they did something wrong and to try again.

For my home-based connection to the Internet I use a high speed cable connection from Rogers. As you can imagine, I am not the typical user and when I call, there is a real problem and not just a confused user.

Through the course of my work, I have the occasional need to access servers beyond the standard public Web server and in some instances these servers are secured. Several servers I access regularly are actually programmed to do a reverse lookup on the computer accessing them to ensure there is no IP spoofing going on. I recently encountered a connection problem to one of these secured servers.

After investigating it from my end, I discovered that during a recent upgrade to my local segment of the Rogers network, Rogers failed to properly configure some new routers with the correct forward and matching reverse DNS. Hence my connection to these secured servers was being rejected.

Armed with this detailed information, I called Rogers technical support. I was greeted by a friendly individual – let’s call thim “Joe.” I started to explain the problem and Joe listened. He understood my problem and I offered to e-mail him the trace route which identified the problem routers. However, Joe didn’t have e-mail access. A little stunned, I proceeded to dictate the IP addresses of the four offending routers.

Confirming my problem, he told me he needed to confer with his supervisor. After being on hold for about two minutes, Joe gave me the bad news. While he was able to confirm the problem, he and his supervisor couldn’t do anything about it. I was given an e-mail address to a specialized technical group and told to e-mail them.

Ah, someone with an e-mail address I thought. No, just a general e-mail box Joe informed me, but they are required to respond within 24 hours.

This is where the fun began and where Rogers forgot that there was a person on the other end of the e-mail. I sent in the detailed information and immediately received an auto notification that my problem would be looked at within 24 hours. A day later I received an e-mail saying there was no problem as they confirmed a forward and reverse DNS on a router. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a router that was on the list I sent in and the e-mail didn’t come from a specific individual who I could start developing a rapport with, but from a general mailbox with no phone number alternative. I pointed out the problem once again and a day later was told I was using a router on my connection and they could help me.

This was the point where I lost it. Having a router on my connection has nothing to do with the error on the Rogers network and I pointed out that if they gave me access to their DNS server I could fix the problem in under five minutes. I also threatened to terminate my Rogers connection. This time I received a more apologetic e-mail confirming that there were in fact problems on the network and that they would be fixed immediately. Well, it’s 12 weeks later and no one at Rogers has taken the five minutes to fix the problem or to communicate the status to me. So whom do I need to e-mail to get it fixed? Ted Rogers would be my guess.

If a competitive high-speed service were available to me right now I would switch immediately. Why? Because I started being treated as an e-mail and not a person the moment I stopped dealing with Joe.

If these two tales can teach us anything, it is to remember that on the other side of the Internet connection whether it is a Web site or e-mail there is a person. And that person needs to be treated with the same respect and dignity that you’d give them in person at your place of business. A second thing to remember is that if you treat someone well, they might tell one or two people, treat them bad and they’ll tell the whole world just as I just did and that might be enough to kill your great on-line business idea.

K’necht is a Toronto-based consultant specializing in the project management and business analysis of technology projects. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and can be reached at