Imagine we’re fighting a problem, and a weird one at that. Now we have two problems: the real problem needs to be solved, and the customer needs to know what’s going on, even if we have no idea what’s going on. “It’ll be done when it’s done,” and “I’ll tell you when I know something” leave customers unsettled.
We work magic as far as outsiders know, and often no outward appearance of progress appears until things just start working again. Our work is the blackest of black boxes to a non-technical customer.
Over- and under-communication can both be problematic, but customers can curtail the former with a quick request to scale back as long as the project is on track.
There’s no such thing as over-communication when a project has gone off the rails. The project probably fell off the rails because serious under-communication led up to an “oh crap” moment. Under-communication produces stress in a customer as they wait for news. If customers need to reach out to you for an update, you’re not providing enough effective updates. A handful of loony customers will never be happy with the quantity or quality of updates, but most customers are well adjusted humans with families and friends and hobbies. Start a project over-communicating, and you and the customer can settle in to a rhythm that’s just right without inducing stress.
In the absence of external stimuli, our minds fill in the blanks. In the case of a project, that usually involves a litany of worst case scenarios. “I haven’t seen or heard from the developer in over a week. I hope he didn’t die in a house fire when he accidentally left an old coffee pot plugged in while working through the night on this bug. I hope he didn’t take my money and move to Ketchikan. I hope I hear from him soon. This is really starting to freak me out.” It’s always nice when a customer hopes that you didn’t die in a fire, but why put them through that in the first place? Just call them and let them know what’s going on, even if you’re still scrambling like mad to figure out what’s going on.
If customer satisfaction is important to you, periodically ask yourself:
- Who is expecting a follow up call from me?
- Who is waiting for information that’s important to them?
- Who has submitted a request and wants to know its status?
You could also ask,
- Who would appreciate receiving status information, even if they’re not actively waiting for it?
— Communication Gaps and How to Close them, Chapter 9
Readers, if you’re still on the fence about the benefits of Communication Gaps and How To Close Them, then take this really short questionnaire that will determine if it will hold three or more interesting insights into your work and your relationships at work:
- Do you work in some kind of IT type role? Programmer, administrator, project manager? Help desk tech? Tape jockey?
- Do you work with other people?
If you answered both in the affirmative, it’s a near guaranteed hit. Only one “yes” still makes it a pretty safe bet. Two negative answers means you’re a troll or a robot, in which case you should really get back to human overload overthrow or bridge guarding, respectively.