Saturday, September 20, 2008

Telepresence, is this StarWars?

The other day, I had a memorable experience. It looked to me a little like StarWars. I was told I had to meet with some researchers and a customer of ours. The meeting was going to take place in the Netherlands, but the scientists would be in the US. Frankly, I had some difficulty understanding what they meant, till I got there.

We were introduced in a room with half an oval table and three large flat screens in front of us. On the screen appeared a number of people in what looked like the other half of the same room. The illusion was complete. If I made abstraction of the screen frames, I would have had the impression of really being in the same room. And then the dialogue started. The discussion was initiated in a low and soft voice. There was no need to scream, no noise beside the voice HP_Halo_MeetingRoom_SM.jpgof the person who spoke. Suddenly I interrupted him, and to my uttermost astonishment, he stopped immediately, turned to me and listened.

No, I have been in video conferences before. I have never seen anything like this. We even had a demo of a device they were developing. I had actually not realized that, on top of the three screens I talked about at the begin, was another screen that serves to collaborate. They shared computer screens with us and so we could see the demo that was performed on their halve of the table with the computer measurements that were affected by it. This was extremely impressive I have to say. Our customer very quickly became enthusiastic about the device and started discussing characteristics, usage etc. We had been able to gain his attention at short notice without having to travel across the Atlantic. This was really efficient use of our time. By the way, I learned that the room was a "Hale Room" from Hewlett-Packard.

Have you had such experiences? What do you think about it?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Can you beat up your customer

In the last couple entries, I spoke about the cultural differences between the Dutch and the Belgians, let me stay on that topic as it allows me to illustrate even more why we cannot take things for granted.

Several years ago, I was asked by one of our sales people to join him in a sales call to his Dutch customer. This was actually my first sales call in the Netherlands and I accepted it immediately. I thought it might be interesting, it actually was, way beyond my expectations, but for completely different reasons.

After the check-in at reception, we were guided to our clients office and sat down in front of him. My colleague introduced me, up till then, nothing unusual. But he turned back to his client and told him in non uncertain terms, he was completely pissed of with him because he had not placed the order he had promised and as such, my colleague had missed his forecast. Obviously, the client did not take that and the discussion heated up quite heavily. I was sitting on my chair completely frozen and asked myself how soon we would be thrown out. I could not understand why he was risking the whole relationship for what turned out being a small delay due to someCRW_0380 administrative issues. The bashing lasted for about one hour. When they finally came to an agreement and the customer apologized (believe me or not), he turned back to me, and as it was already late afternoon, told me, "look I want to hear what you have to tell me, why don't we go and take a drink in a nearby bar. This will allow us to talk more freely." And yes, the customer even paid for the drinks.

The Dutch have this great capability to completely separate business and private life. It is not because you have an issue on the business side, that this will affect your personal relationship. This is actually a great asset, but that got me shivering before understanding what it was all about. Never take things for granted, make sure you get briefed on how business is done in a country prior to go to the first customer meeting. I can tell you out of personal experience. Do you also have such stories to tell?