On Wednesday some of our clients experienced problems with broadband. It was a short ‘outage’ lasting around 15mins from 08:50 – 09:05. Once over, we resolved any remaining issues and contacted the customers affected to explain it had been a problem with the broadband provider and that things were now back to normal. Customer contact is important and so making sure our clients know whats going on is vital.
At around 10:00 we received an explanation as to why this outage had happened. In order to offer you the full majesty of the complex, technical and frankly ludicrous language used, I have included it below :
At 8.55 a new BGP customer was brought online. They sent a full routing table to us rather than the aggregated /21 they own. Due to a misconfiguration, the prefix limit filter we had in place did not limit what we were receiving. The additional prefixes in turn caused us to trip maximum limits set by our peers and transit providers which closed BGP sessions down, ultimately preventing connectivity to and from the wider internet.
What was that you said ?
Where do I start ! Well firstly I’ll be frank with you. I understand around 30% of the above explanation and its really only the bit about a ‘routing table’ which I know is used by Internet computers to let information flow (or web pages appear). Therefore, this is something about that table being affected and stopping the flow of information. But the point is to highlight that this level of technical language is not necessary, especially for the vast majority of clients who are business users, not technicians.
It put me in mind of a conversation I had with a group of women at a networking event the day before. It was the usual situation of “Hi, what do you do?” and I have learned over time not to talk too much about IT as it often turns people off. IT people have a reputation for being a bit dull………….. no really !
Tell them how you can help, not what you do
What I try to do in order to make any IT issue more understandable is to offer a simple explanation and a real world example. So I replied “Well, I help people get the most from their technology investments and make IT work as they expect, which it rarely does when you take it out of the box”.
Now that went down very well and conversation flowed almost immediatly along the lines of “Oh, you are so right, it took me ages to get my [insert latest gadget name] to work when I bought it”. I could have gone on about ADSL, Gigabit Switches, Point-2-Point VPN, VoIP etc, etc, etc…………. but its not necessary. That sort of language is only relevant for the small number of technicians who work at the high level of IT day-2-day.
What business people need is someone that listens to their real world needs and understands the challenges, the explains it to a technician in ‘geek’ language. The two need not, and should not mix. The best way to explain this process is to use a reference from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
In that book there is a reference to a Babel Fish which, if placed in the ear, can translate any known language you hear into your own language; French to English, German to English or Vogon to English; You get the point. Well I often describe myself as the IT Babel Fish; someone who can turn gobbledygook into a language business owners understand.
So, the next time you speak to any IT person and they start filling the conversation with geek language, simply do what it says on the back of the Hitchhikers Guide [Dont Panic!] and ask them to explain it in plain English please.