Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning – Bill Gates
Joining a role with Microsoft Technology Center and now as a Technical Architect, I get to learn from our customers almost every day. This is a great source of learning and I am still slowly but surely starting to get a feel for it. There has been tons and tons of learning’s and that cannot be discounted. One of the key things that I did learn is to listen with patience before jumping into solution. Get ALL the relevant information and then suggest a solution. I think this has been my #1 learning in the past ~ 1 year into my role.
Now these listening skills with some thought through precision questioning is key to proposing a complete solution to our customers / partners. Let me highlight some of my perspectives in this blog post.
Customers are always right
There is no exception to this rule. In fact, we need to be careful and sensitive to their feelings before jumping into a comment. Their real life situations and emotions (passion) with which they are expressing their experiences – these are REAL. We should have an unqualified, unconditional respect to their views – PERIOD.
Being non-judgmental in our perspective to their views is critical. Hence, giving the due credit and respecting their point of view is something we must handle with caution. More so being open and neutral in our Questioning will help a long way. Let me cite some examples later in this article to drive this concept home.
Customers necessarily don’t have to earn our respect, we have to earn their respect.
Though most of the techniques are old and look like no brainer – trust me it is really hard to take a step back and look at the big picture especially when we are talking about Technology. But I have been gifted in many ways to learn these tricks from my good old friend (Govind Kanshi) and still learning some of these techniques every single day from him and many more from my team. Here are some practical examples of answering –
Caution: “That wouldn’t work. You should not have done it that way”
Better approach: “That is a common approach, but based on our understanding and best practices we should be able to achieve the same task faster using ABC technique. Like …”
Caution: “Are you sure you want to use it that way?”
Better approach: “In a performance testing environment, we have successfully implemented the same requirement is a slight different way like ….”
Treat every customer as if they sign your paycheck… because they do.
Listen and probe
I don’t have to explain how listening is a key aspect of the job that I perform. By listening we are more keenly able to capture the context and the emotions attached to a specific comment rather than jumping into any conclusions. And in order to understand this perspective, it is critical to ask open-ended questions to get more insights to what a customer means.
Closed Question1: Do you xCopy your web files into the server?
Open Question: How do you do deployment of your websites today?
Closed Question2: Do you use VS2010 Debugger feature?
Open Question: What are the ways your team debugs code when application doesn’t work?
Sometimes these experiences are based on just word of mouth information that flows from grapevine conversations. Hence, we might sometimes need to get more specifics from customers when you see these hints.
Customer1: “Admin team thinks SQL Server is ….”
Response: “Sir, what do you think …? Can we help you validate this assumption against your applications data?”
Customer2: “That tool is better than this tool?”
Response: “Glad to hear on this tool, can you give us a glimpse of what capability does this tool do for you which you weren’t able to do before?”
And this list continues on and on … But I hope I gave you a flavor of what happens and how we probe and get more insights into the problem. Hence asking open-ended, non-leading, and neutral questions is the key here.
Be honest, acknowledge the issue, and follow-up as appropriate. Customers leave encouraged
We just discussed few techniques that I have learnt over the course of ~1 year. But when dealing with customers, don’t miss the opportunity to learn who your customers are, what they do, how they work, and what issues affect their productivity and success. If your conversations are to their pain points and their problems then you are likely to make good progress in understanding the problem from the outside-in method rather than solution out method. Cheers !!!
It’s mostly about understanding, not helping :)