Genii Weblog

A handwritten note

Thu 17 Jul 2003, 09:52 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
Over at Signals vs. Noise, there is a post called The Power of a Handwritten note which I found compelling.  Since one of the obvious reasons why many of us start weblogs is to share a bit of the more personal, human side of what is otherwise an impersonal website, it got me thinking what else we do, or could do, to more personally connect with our customers or clients.

One way, of course, is to actually meet them.  I have been speaking at Lotusphere (and Devcon once) for a few years, and it is a great way to meet people.  Since many of my customers are in countries outside the United States, I have also recently spoken in Düsseldorf at a developer conference, and am pleased to be part of the UK admin/developer conference that Ed Brill mentioned recently on his blog.

Besides that though, I try hard to personally connect with customers even when we only meet through e-mail.  I avoid automated replies and follow-ups, and generally try to treat each customer as a person with a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be met, rather than as a potential revenue source.  I intentionally don't charge for support, as I want people to keep up a dialogue with me over a period of years so that I can learn from them how they use my products and how they could use them better, and because I just like to know that they are happy they bought the software in the first place.

For those of you who sell products, what do you do to connect personally?  

For those who are consultants, and are likely to actually meet your clients, what do you do to connect before you meet them, and what do you do to follow up afterwards?  

For customers and clients, what experiences have you had that make you feel more connected with consultants or software companies?  Do you even think that is important?  In many ways, your opinions matter the most.

Copyright © 2003 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

24.1. Richard Schwartz
(07/21/2003 11:29 PM)

Gee... good question Ben. I don't know that I do anything special before meeting with the client in order to forge a connection. But here's something that, until reading your question, I had never really taken notice of... In ten years of consulting, I've only had one customer that I didn't meet. That was a fixed price contract, and it turned out to be the only fixed price contract I ever lost money on. To make a long story short, a Lotus PM recommended me to a big customer to do some custom work that involved building an LSX on the Mac. I got access to an internal Lotus API to create the functionality that was needed. I ported it to the Mac, built the LSX (which included some file handling code that I subcontracted out to a real Mac programmer), and built the application that used the LSX, and... boom! Mac Notes client UI suddenly goes bonkers when the LSX returns the correct results and the script terminates properly. Turned out to be a bug in the core Mac client, not the API or my LSX, and there was no workaround, so we were going to have to wait for the next client release. The customer canceled the deal. Now, I doubt that the project would have turned out differently had I met the client before getting started, but it's entirely possible that if I had met with the customer directly prior to getting involved in this thing, I may have foreseen the need to negotiate a contract that protected my interests better.

Back to the question of what I do to connect... I do try make sure that we each owe the other an email shortly after our first phone conversation. E.g., I say something like "I've got a few additional questions that I think will be better handled by email. I'll get those out to you tonight. Could you do me a favor, and... even before you can get all the answers put together for me... just email me anything you've already got written down about this project. Any RFP, requirements, specifications, or other documents you have that have any bearing on the project." This gets a dialog going, and it also gets the customer used to the idea that I have a preference for seeing things in email.


24.2. Ben Langhinrichs
(07/21/2003 11:44 PM)

Thanks, Rich. That makes a lot of sense. Setting expectations, even about how you will communicate, helps to establish some sort of a rapport.