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7 Practical Tips for Customer Engagement

7 Practical Tips for Customer Engagement

Here are a few practical and high impact tips that I have learnt and used multiple times to enrich customer relations.

1. Stating the obvious

Most people who make decisions are under some sort of pressure to come to a conclusion. Some like to think through and come to a conclusion, but more often than not decisions come out as a response to something as opposed to a planned outcome.

It always helps to call out the obvious impacts of a decision even if you think the customer is experienced.

Here are two examples:

Delay of work due to reprioritization:

This is a frequent one in projects. Change of mind on priorities can have a flow-on effect for current work underway. Paraphrasing as "So, just confirming, you want us to stop working on X and start working on Y" has several times had the customer come back with "Oops, no no, I thought we can get both done on time. Thanks for calling out."

Addition of cost due to reprioritization/addition in scope/change in requirements:

Its a given that we need to highlight that change of scope is going to possibly increase effort, however, I have also faced issues where a "point of contact" / "product owner" approving effort only to get the invoices questioned by the person who signed off on the budget. Having clarity on who can sign off on additional budgets and clarifying that again in this scenario is beneficial.

2. Transparency in meeting notes

This is a life-changing tip to kill procrastination for meeting notes. Most people take notes for a meeting but wait for another time to make it pretty enough to send out. Especially if customers are involved we often see two sets of notes going out - one internal and one external.

If two parties were in a meeting, everyone heard what was discussed and there is really no need to have two sets of meeting notes. The more you practise to take notes in a presentable fashion, the easy it becomes and you can send the notes out in a couple of minutes after the meeting is over.

Microsoft One Note is an amazing tool when it comes to meeting notes. It can be synced to the cloud, can insert meeting details from outlook automatically and then the email button triggers an email to all participants.

Yay to transparency.

3. Transparency in dependencies

Many a time, there is a person requesting a service which then gets triaged to different teams to fulfil. The complexity of large organisations makes this an inevitable fact that there are teams focussed on certain aspects of a problem and the request is going to be passed around.

Keeping the requestor in the loop of what is happening in the background is very important to make sure that they have visibility into any of the actual bottlenecks. Otherwise, the interfacing team will get negative feedback even though they might be the ones coordinating and trying to get a problem resolved as fast as possible.

This also helps in cutting out middle-men when it comes to following up on items.

4. A shared understanding of effort vs value

Project and product vision is very key driving factors for decision making by every single team member. They need to be empowered to do what would benefit the advancement to the goal of the project.

From my perspective - data integrity, reliability, core functionality, usability and nice to supporting functionality is the general order to consider priorities.

Teams have wasted plenty of effort to focus on non-critical features and looks at the request of the product owner only to end up in a state where the project becomes financially non-viable.

It is important to have a shared understanding with the product owner on what is important and assertive on what should be a priority. Influencing skills are very valuable here.

5. Closing out communication threads.

It is always good to close out communication threads to a logical point. Anything as an action item on you should be on a task board or a calendar.

6. A mental picture of how you work.

This is a technique I started using while working mostly or exclusively remote. There are all sort of assumptions that people make of what another person is doing while performing their job. People tend to think that others work just like they do, use similar tools and priorities.

An example is that most customers in non-technical roles, including product owners, are heavy users of emails and meetings. They take it that other team members, e.g. that developers use their emails in a similar fashion and expect the same level of importance given to it.

When working with interstate/remote stakeholders, it is good to provide them with a mental picture of how you approach your work day.

Here is an example conversation when I used to consult for interstate engagements:

On a typical day,

  • I start by checking my emails, answering any quick queries and converting others into a backlog of work. 
  • I then exit outlook and add a reminder to check emails at 12 noon. 
  • This gives me about 3 to 4 hours of concentrated time to focus on the programming tasks. 
  • I then look at the backlog of tasks which you have the ability to prioritise
  • I work on the first item and then move on to the next.
  • Anything that requires more clarification is marked as blocked and move on to the next.
  • End of the day, I send an update email and answer any additional emails that came in the last 4 hours.

Key takeaways/reactions from this are

  • I check emails only thrice / Oh I thought you will be answering my emails in an hour.
  • It is important for you to prioritise my backlog / I did not know that this is the only place you base your work on
  • It is important for you to provide enough detail on a task / I see why it is important to invest time in writing good user stories.
  • Anything that happens in between is an interruption / I can see that I don't need to email you or call you to change priorities for the next task.

This is from a developer/Product owner perspective, but this technique can be applied to any working relationship.

Think of this as simple as indicating while driving, it makes the other drivers aware of what you are up to so that they can plan accordingly.

7. Reminders

Using reminders effectively can be a huge advantage for self-planning and check-ins.

Ever came across those people who are very good at remembering things? Some are naturally good while others use tools to their advantage.

Step 1 is to choose your tool.

After trying a few, I have chosen my work outlook calendar as my tool. This is because I plan my days according to what is coming up in my calendar.

Step 2 is to ensure that you plan your activity in a little more detail than usual. Here is an example.

E.g. I have been invited to my son's school for a parent-teacher meeting on Monday at 4 PM.
I will add a 4 PM Appointment on my calendar.
I will add a 3 - 4 PM appointment for travel.
I will add a 30-minute block to take a few notes on anything specific that I would like to ask the teacher and add it as part of the appointment on my calendar.

Step 3, add check-ins with dependencies for activities, according to its priority to you.

E.g. I have to provide details to someone by Friday which requires me to get some details from person X. It is good to add a reminder to check-in with person x, the day before to ensure that they are on track.


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