Uncharted Waters

Apr 19 2016   4:36PM GMT

Start With Customer Experience

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman

Customer engagement
Customer service

Software is in a sort of heyday right now, a new tech stack or programming library is popping up almost daily. It seems like most business ideas now start with tech and then work backwards to the customer experience.

I spent last week in Atlanta visiting with a client and talking at a conference with my co-blogger, Matt Heusser. The night before the conference there was a nice speakers dinner. It was a chance for people to relax a little before speaking (if you get the pre-talk terrors, you know what I mean here), and also a way for the organizers to reward the contributors. After the conference, we had a smaller get together with the client to talk about current projects and working together in the future.

That reminded me of a comment from Steve Jobs after a sharp question from an audience member at one of his presentations.

In my technical career, I’ve almost exclusively sold myself based on a skill set and occasionally (use in case of emergency) based on a tool or two I knew that others didn’t. My resume looked, and probably still does since I haven’t updated it in a couple of years, like most every other resume you have ever seen — lists of projects, lists of highlights, and little snippets of context.

That was my base line for selling for a long time, and it just isn’t very good. My style was a little cold and detached from anything a customer would actually value. Software geeks might appreciate some of it, but we should probably set the bar higher, right?

Back to the smaller post conference dinner for a minute. The only real goal of that meeting was to hang out for a little bit and get to know each other more. I work with a lot of remote clients and only get to place a face with the voice and name every few months on trips. After ordering drinks and normal pleasantries, we started talking about partnership. Not in the sense of joining our companies, but focusing on the areas where our value systems overlap and we could serve and help each other grow rather than having a traditional  relationship of “I give you this, you pay me that”. I think that is in line with what Jobs is describing in the video about focusing on the customer experience first.

Software professionals have a special type of disdain reserves for sales people. The sales staff tend to be just a little too slick for our spartan taste, they probably talk fast and frequently, and have nice watches and shiny fast cars. They also know a lot about a branch of philosophy called rhetoric. Rhetoric is the art of constructing a message that is persuasive.

Have you ever made a proposal at work only to have the manager say she needs approval, or even worse that if everyone on the team buys in you can go for it? Learning how to craft that message would probably help, but driving toward the customer experience and value would help more. In the land of software testers, we usually see this in bug reports. More than once, I have found a problem and spent too much time reporting it only to have that come back in the tracking system as a feature, or not a bug. I presented the technical information as clearly as I could, but we don’t make decisions on tech alone. If I had been able to tie those bugs to real people that would be unhappy, or even better, revenue, we would have had a completely different conversation. The people that can translate tech to customer value, like how sales people do automatically, tend to rise up fast.

Developing a business is hard work, I’m learning first hand right now. But, focusing on the customer value first and last might tick the odds of surviving and thriving a little further in our favor.

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