Three Ways Developers Can Deal With Tough Customers

Writing software would be a far more enjoyable job if developers didn't need to deal with customers.
Posted November 14, 2011
By

Eric Spiegel


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We all know that lighting matches near a combustible substance like gasoline is not a good idea. Yet people go up in smoke every year.

Similarly, putting a developer and a customer in the same room can have a combustible effect. Many developers tend to be very direct, and talk in technical terms the customer can’t comprehend. They sometimes have very little patience for customers who send mixed message about their requirements.

As a result, many developers (and their projects) go up in smoke every year as well.

The fact is, developers are taught how to write code – NOT how to deal with customers. Over the years, I have worked with many different types of customers and have learned that each customer has a different way of working, different expectations and, frankly, different temperaments.

That seems obvious enough, yet developers – even seasoned ones – sometimes look past the interpersonal aspects of dealing with customers.

I have written about why managers may want to think twice about having developers talk directly to customers. However, there are many developers that are quite good at interpersonal communications.

In fact, when a developer has the combination of strong functional understanding of the business they support and a deep technical expertise, the result can be a deep level of confidence and trust with their customer.

When Kenny Chesney sings about how a boy and girl can be like matches and gasoline in “Ain’t Back Yet,” the implication is that the results can be both good and bad. And as in romantic relationships, understanding how to deal with different personalities can impact the outcome of business relationships.

Therefore it is important to recognize that when you are dealing with a customer, you are building a relationship. It could end very badly if lines in the sand are drawn. Or it could result in a long congenial relationship when common ground is found.

I’m not overlooking the fact that a developer without the required technical skills to get the job done isn’t worth too much. But I would argue that a developer that doesn’t have the necessary people skills to work with different types of customers is not worth a whole heck of a lot more.

A more dynamic developer is one that can handle the bits and bytes, as well as handle a customer that is unaware their attitude is submarining a project.

It’s not always as simple as asking the customer questions about how they want a system configured or how they want a change coded. A well-rounded developer will have the people skills to deal with all kinds of personalities and be able to make the resulting technical changes that put a smile on the customer’s face.

Here are three types of customers that are exceedingly challenging and some ideas on how to best deal with them.

1. Detail Oriented – I once had a customer whose written feedback comments were almost as long as the original requirements document. He once said “Sorry I’m such a PITA.” I had no idea what that meant and had to Google it. Turns out PITA stands for “Pain In The Ass.” At least he knew his personality type!

Nothing gets past these customers – which is both good and bad. They tend to focus on the excruciating detail of every requirement and outcome, often providing a lot of overbearing guidance and suggestions that can make you wish they could write the code themselves, because it seems like you’ll never get it right.

On the other hand, working with these types of customers can provide some unique learning opportunities, since they have often developed extensive knowledge and understanding of their particular systems and environment. Often, a big challenge here is to get them out of the weeds enough to focus on the bigger and longer term picture around what they are trying to accomplish.

If you go the extra mile and provide more relevant and insightful detail than usual, you will go a long way to improving their level of satisfaction.


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Tags: programmers, developers, developer salary


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