Thinking of customers like a CEO: lessons learned along the way

The story I’m going to talk about is not related to my current job, anyway.

Some time ago I jumped on a brand new job, a service oriented one, where we had many customers and we offered a product as a service.

One of the first tasks I was assigned to was to check what was going on with a customer: he claimed there was a misbehaviour in our product.

Replicating this kind of problems was difficult, because at the time the product itself was not very mature; also, many customers were using the product in a very unconventional way and this caused more trouble; finally, the product was very susceptible about network conditions, users, browsers, locations, etc. A real mess, but that’s probably the same in every other startup :)

Anyway, I tried hard to reproduce the bug as described in the ticket, but whatever I did, I failed. So I took the easy path, and wrote as a response sorry but I am unable to replicate the problem, probably the issue was temporary and has resolved by itself.

After no longer than 1-2 hours, the CEO answered to my card. And wrote:

this is not the way we should ever answer to our customers; this is the best way to see them go to competitors. We need to find an answer that is supported by proofs, or fix the problem.

I don’t remember, however, what was the issue in the end. I asked a more experienced colleague if he could help me and in a couple of hours we figured out. But I think that day I leaned some important lessons.

Not me, not my coworkers

about the image: i work remotely, so this is not me and not my coworker, but it can be seen as a beautiful depiction of us discussing of problems :)

Lessons learned

  • In every company (and more importantly in a startup) customers are the most valuable asset. “This is the best way to see customers go to competitors” - I think this will stick in my head for a long time.
    Try to open a complain to Google, or Facebook. Your experience may tell that it’s very rare that you’ll have to deal with their customer care, given that their products are almost bug free from day zero. However, shit happens and if it happens to you, you’ll discover that reaching out to some human and talk about your problem can be impossible.
  • Not really in target with the title of the post, but … I used to feel ashamed if I had to ask for the help of a senior colleague, but now I think that was the right thing to do. Honestly, we (as programmers - debuggers) should not spend more than 2-3 hours on a problem, or without hypothesis to test. I pretend to be smart and to solve every possible mistery in code, but in reality I sometimes focus on details while the problem is in the bigger picture, or the inverse. Asking help to somebody with experience is not like saying “I give up” or “I’m not good enough for this job”. It’s more like “I need another point of view to reason on this problem”.

Hope you find these lessons useful.

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