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Establishing a Better Relationship Between Engineers and Customers

Cultural differences
Meetings
Remote

13 March, 2019

Dieter Wachters, Vice President of Engineering at Collibra, explains the importance of customer and engineer correspondence. For him, this is especially critical in offshore situations where priority in customer support can become bogged down by distanced empathy.

Problem

Especially when building business-oriented software with customers all over the world, the engineering team often doesn't understand the customer needs and pains enough. This often leads to losing focus from the real business value that needs to be created and leads to lower engagement and productivity.

Actions taken

In enterprise software, it often isn't scalable to have the engineers have much direct contact with the customers, but it's clear that every such connection is an eye-opener for the engineers and helps the customer to understand the software and you as a company better. Some things you can do:

  • As a manager, make sure that the product managers, architects, and product owners have a constant focus on the 'why'. Don't just explain what needs to be built, but spend the extra time on telling the customer story: why they need it, how they use the product, what problem they are trying to solve, ...
  • Make sure engineers have the opportunity to listen in on customer calls with product managers.
  • Invite a customer to come and speak to the entire team at your office during an 'all hands' session.
  • While this isn't suitable or in the comfort zone of every engineer, consider placing engineers at the customer site for a while (few days a week or full time for a few weeks). The customer will benefit because he gets strong direct product knowledge in house, the engineer will benefit because they learn to understand how the customer uses the product and on top of that, empathy is increased between the two parties. One caveat with this: make sure the customers keep following the correct procedures for reporting issues, requesting features and escalations, instead of contacting the engineers directly.

Lessons learned

  • Some engineers can get caught up in something they are passionate about and eventually lose sight of both deadlines and the true business value of things.
  • It is important to build some empathy between the customers and the engineering team.
  • Continuously focus on the 'why' (business value) of a feature.
  • Engineers need to understand what the customers are doing with the product they are building. They can be really proud of what they are doing and build a connection from just a 30-minute conversation with the customer.

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