Years ago, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) emerged as revolutionary approach to customer/sales psychology. All one needed to do was to mirror customer behavior and customers would buy, buy, buy. Some people might call the technique psychological manipulation and they might be right. One thing is certain – IT customers just don’t engage and don’t commit as often or as readily as the general population. Our techno-think approach to getting customers to buy into our solutions with NLP and related ideas is ill-conceived. What customers need is TLC (Tender Loving Communication).
Considering the short history of information technology (IT) you’ll notice a relatively young, immature industry with an intangible product (software). When you couple the complexities of technology with high IQ of programmers (watch CBS’s Big Bang Theory comedy show for personality clues) it’s no wonder that IT customers feel intimidated on IT projects.
In the words of Clint Eastwood “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
The IT world has progressed remarkably in terms of technical solutions and usability in the past few years, yet the (dis)connection with customers has never been greater. The infamous CHAOS reports (by the Standish Group) aside from the nuances of measurement in their studies concurs with other major studies showing that a mere 1/3 of IT projects succeed in meeting customer requirements and are delivered on schedule and on budget.
Customers don’t need more models, more approaches or more intimidation. What they need is tender loving communication (TLC) – in their own language. How to gain this perspective as a software developer? Here’s a few easy ways:
- Read what your customers and stakeholders read (magazines, articles, websites). If you don’t know what these are, visit them and see what magazines are on their desks and ask them what journals are important to their business.
- Find out the emerging trends facing your customers. Ask them what challenges keep them up at night. Start a dialogue about their daily challenges (aside from technology!)
- Job shadow. Along the lines of the new television show Undercover Boss – ask to spend a day just observing what your customers do during a regular day. (Maybe this could become a new “Take your IT person to Work day”?)
- Take a walk around your customer’s site. In person visits to your customer’s place of work can be eye-opening and refreshing. Always ask your customer first though before simply showing up.
- Ask, ask, ask – show an interest in the people. Somethimes there’s so much technology (e-mail, voicemail, teleconferencing, etc.) standing between true communication in the same office space that the human nature of communication becomes secondary to iPhones, blackberry’s and pc’s. Take a few minutes at the beginning of a telephone call with your customers to find out how their day is really going instead of the “fine, fine how are you” rhetoric.
- Read and research. I’ve been on many IT projects where the development team has been frustrated by a lack of response and participation by the customer group. “It’s not our job to specify their requirements, that’s their job” is a familiar lament. Take the time to do some research and brush up in your customer’s terminology and watch how much more open and receptive your customers may become.
By walking a mile in your customer’s moccasins so to speak, you’ll discover that customers are humans too – and with a bit of TLC (tender loving communication), client engagement will increase – and your rework will decrease. A few simple ideas, no new models – just common sense.
To your successful projects!