When it comes to customers, don’t be defensive!

Have you ever heard the joke about the Dell Customer support call, where the customer says he can’t see anything on the screen and it turns out there’s no electricity? I’m not sure if that is a true story or not, but having spent a large amount of my life dealing with customers, I wouldn’t doubt it. I think some of the most memorable stories came from the time I used to work at an ISP, including this gem:

Customer: “I can’t send email”
Me: “What exactly is happening?”
Customer: “Don’t know. It just sits there”
Me: “You’re using Outlook Express right? Does some box come up when sending email?”
Customer: “Yes”
Me: “What does it say?”
Customer: “Says something about not finding some host”
Me: “Hmm. Are you connected to the Internet?”
Customer: “I don’t want to connect to the Internet, I just want to send email”

Of course, back then (talking dial-up connections), the Internet was also known as Internet Explorer. Today you can still get similar calls, except the Internet is now known as Google.

If my years of dealing with customers has shown me one thing, it is to be more humble, less arrogant and a hell of a lot more patient. And this has served me well in many aspects of my professional career, specially in dealing with other developers and talking to business people. That’s why I always recommend that developers should be in touch with customers directly, if not for any other reason than to improve their communication skills.

The customer is always right

I’m sure you’ve heard this saying before. And we can all agree that it’s not true, specially with those arrogant customers that are not only rude but are ignorant. How do you deal with them? How do you handle those support emails that not only undermine your competence but also attack your baby, your pride, your software?

There are mainly two options:

1. Show them how wrong they are by showing your competence and superiority and being defensive.

2. Try and explain to them why they might have made a mistake, without being defensive and always being humble. Never arrogant.

The first might release some of your anger and frustration, but ultimately it won’t benefit anyone. The second option will not only firmly and politely put the customer in his/her place, but also re-affirm your professionalism. And in the long run, you’ll gain some great communication skills which will help you in many aspects of life (except getting a date…we are still nerds).

Don’t be defensive!

4 thoughts on “When it comes to customers, don’t be defensive!

  1. Olav Gausaker (@olavgm)

    Completely agree and, to be honest, I’ve learnt lots of interesting things from customers that ask for “stupid” things, and use that to improve the user experience with software I’ve developed.

    Reply
  2. Johan van Rhyn (@jvanrhyn)

    I also agree with this blog wholeheartedly, and so with Olav too. “Stupid” questions should be approached from a position of learning on what your customer’s perception your application is. What developers (myself included) perceives as functional and easy to use may not necessarily be true for the user who uses that software every day.

    Reply

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