Our last blog talked about innovation and creativity. My search led me to some interesting inventions in 2010 – one of which was the ‘teenager repellent’.

Howard Stapleton (Merthyr Tydfil, Wales) invented an electromechanical teenager repellent – a device that makes annoying high-pitched noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults. The “Mosquito” ultrasonic teenage deterrent aims to solve the problem of unwanted gatherings of youths and teenagers in shopping malls, around shops and anywhere else they are causing problems, claiming to be “the most effective tool in our fight against anti social behaviour”. He later used that same technology to make telephone ring tones that are audible to teenagers but probably not to their teachers.

This has gotten me to thinking about what ‘customer repellent’ we all carry around with us in the software business. I am currently in the process of having some building work done on my home – and the similarities between building a room and implementing software are significant. Lets think briefly about the things that act as a ‘customer repellent’ between a builder and a customer and see if the links are the same between a software implementer and a customer.

1. Quote $: Take time to provide a well thought out, easily readable and accurate quote. Don’t guess, don’t make stuff up. No one will get upset down the track if you have a justifiable basis or documented assumption to back up your quote. e.g. When my builder says “we quoted on 3 sky lights but now you want 4 to brighten things up – there is no argument about paying a bit more”.
2. Jargon: Make sure you explain what is happening in terms your customer understands. Don’t use the term SQL when your customer refers to it as a ‘database’. The builder explains exactly what he has done so I understand which is very different to how he speaks with his trades people. “we have build the box gutter by bending a large piece of flat metal to fit, and made sure there is 900mm on each side. This means that if there is a massive storm there is no chance of it ever leaking.”
3. Be the expert: This means do not pretend to the be expert – but actually be one. When the builder says “there are two ways of doing that – but I strongly recommend you go with option 2 because it is foolproof” – I always agree with him even it it costs a little more. Also he will always defer to an expert if need be. If there is a questions about electrics he talks to the electrician.
4. Never lie: Sounds simple but get caught once and the trust is over. Never lie also means never be over confident if you could be wrong. I recently had someone say that they guaranteed that this XXXX had never been the case – when it was the case. All credibility is lost.
5. Give advice and make suggestions: You are the expert. If you are not making suggestions about new tools, new ideas or how you have seen other customers do something – you lose credibility. When I asked “the new room seems to have made the kitchen darker” the builder gets a new job by saying “I did a house recently where they put in a small skylight with a big opening at the bottom to diffuse the light right across the room, and by putting down lights around the edge it became a great feature”.

I think you are starting to get the point. Unless you are doing these things you are actually putting up a customer repellent. You will lose customers. You should lose customers. In the last few months I have seen a tradesman whose pants are falling down – deliver much better customer service than what I often see in the software marketplace. Think about what you do everyday and how you are inadvertently pushing customers away like mosquito’s.