In business there are many ways to gain a better perspective about a project. Reviewing documentation in the form of sales collateral, customer knowledge bases, or developer workflows are common routes. Formal training classes or ramp-up meetings are also popular techniques. These are excellent stepping stones which everyone should be encouraged to seek out, but there is another option. Customer visits are a fantastic way to expose developers to actual and/or potential clients. These visits are an invaluable tool that result in a win-win for both the customer and developer.
Initiating a visit shows customers a personal level of attention that they rarely get from most companies they interact with. Even a single visit can make great strides in mending fences or building even deeper bonds. It provides essential one-on-one face time to better understand the client's view of the world. These conversations will outline the problems they encounter and the concerns they have. It additionally creates an open line of communication where important questions and topics can be discussed. During these visits customers feel and understand that they are being heard and that their opinion/expertise is valued.
Although some developers might initially cringe at idea of customer interactions, the results speak for themselves. Being able to see a customer in action is second to none. Developers always leave with a deeper understanding of the way customers use their software. Customer visits also provide interesting revelations about features and interactions. Additionally, most developers take pride in their work and like seeing their blood, sweat, and tears in action. It provides validation and confirmation that their work is valued, appreciated, and important. Seeing customers in action also helps bridge the gap between features being requested and their resulting code.
On-Site Visit Recommendations
- Developers should never visit customers alone. The visit and its purpose should be driven through other departments such as sales, customer service, or product management.
- Don't forget to be on one's best behavior, smile, look presentable, remain engaged throughout the visit, and thank them for their time.
- Let the customer do the majority of the talking. The primary purpose of the visit is to listen, inquire, gain insight, and answer questions.
- When talking with customers refrain from "tech speak." Keep the conversation high level and only get as detailed as absolutely necessary. Let the customer set and define the level of conversation.
- Always have a quick way to document thoughts and ideas. If it helps and it's allowed, takes pictures of the experience for future reference.
- Do not give out contact information to customers. Let them use the predefined lines of communication. Providing personal contact information can accidentally open a door that is difficult to close.
- After the visit, plan an immediate debriefing to discuss interesting insights, thoughts, and/or concerns. This should be scheduled no later than 48 hours after the visit.