The way a firm handles Y2K can show you its true colours

Back in May I made contact with the Export Institute and asked them if they had any advice for exporters when it comes to Y2K.

Back in May I made contact with the Export Institute and asked them if they had any advice for exporters when it comes to Y2K. "Send us a fax of your questions and I’ll be sure to put them to the committee," said the chairman of the transport committee — the man deemed responsible for Y2K. A couple of weeks ago I rang Vodafone and asked someone there what would happen if on the night in question everyone picks up their cellphone and calls someone to ask about their Y2K status — would Vodafone cope? The Export Institute people informed me that the questions I sent them were being considered and I would be contacted in due course. Eventually someone from a freight company called and said she’d been asked to respond to my questions, but she wasn’t allowed to and had forwarded them all to head office in Europe and someone would get back to me. Vodafone informed me I would have to put my questions in writing and they would respond in kind. No questions would be answered over the phone and neither email or fax would do either. It had to be a letter. Needless to say, I’ve heard nothing from either of them since then. As a journalist I’ve learned there are two sorts of public relations people in the world: those who think their job is to help journalists make contact with the person they are looking for within the organisation and those that think any story is bad and must be crushed before it is written. Now, I may be biased, but I’ll always have time for people who try to help me do my job — not because I think my job has overwhelming socially redeeming features, although I do, but because these people realise that spreading information and understanding helps the cause, whereas hiding behind a veil of secrecy only makes people curious. I know you’ve heard me bang on about communication more times then you or I care to remember, but I think the way a company handles its Y2K responsibilities is indicative of how it handles communication in general, and that’s something that bears discussing. Think about it not from a journalistic point of view but from your own. You deal repeatedly with dozens of external companies — some are suppliers and some are customers — all of whom are vital to your ongoing operation. Surely it’s better to work with someone you trust, someone who is upfront about their Y2K situation? Try making up a list of those companies that made it easier for you and those that made it difficult. Why would you choose to work with those companies that made it harder for you to do your job unless you have to? Sure, there are going to be some you can’t get away from — say, the bank or your largest customer — but what about the others? Are they going to make your life easier or harder in the future? What about next time you need something out of the ordinary — will they be a help or a hindrance? Now you know more about how your relationship with these partners works when it’s put under pressure — after all, it’s easy for suppliers or vendors to be your best buddy when everything’s going your way. How did they stack up when the heat was applied and you needed to know about their service or product? Did they go the extra mile for you, and if not why not? Would you trust them again? Would you use their service in the future if you were given a chance to change? Once Y2K is over and done with, you could try applying some pressure of your own and see how far that gets you. In this day and age there’s no need to saddle your company with partnerships that don’t live up to your expectations. Let me know what you think. Paul Brislen is Computerworld’s Y2K  reporter. He can be reached at paul_brislen@idg.co.nz, or phone: 0-9-377 902.

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