Lessons From REMIX10 – Helping Customers

With the tagline “Share the web love,” REMIX10 kicked off in Melbourne today, and while the event is geared towards developers and designers, there are important cross-overs with what IT pros face every day, and important lessons to be learned.

Straight after the keynote, event organizer Michael Kordahi had a “lounge” session with various industry and development specialists, talking about different aspects of the development and design industries.

One fellow conversationalist was Shane Morris, a user experience (UX) professional who recently left Microsoft to start his own company, Automatic Studio.  The topic of conversation turned to the “top tips” which designers should bear in mind when creating projects for customers, and two particular gems of wisdom which Morris passed on will resonate with especially with IT professionals:

  • Don’t think of yourself as a “normal” user
  • Work with the customer to find out what their expectations are

Sound familiar? There’s a lot of ribbing and joking which occurs between designers/developers and IT pros.  They generally see us as short-sleeve-wearing hardware nerds, and we often see them as obsessive code monkeys, but Morris’ comments highlight a very important similarity between both groups, which is that more often than not, we are working to assist the same customer groups.  And with that in mind, the lessons learned by one group should be heard loud and clear by the other.

Don’t think of yourself as a “normal” user

As IT pros, we often get frustrated when users, seemingly inexplicably, do the precise opposite of what we expect them to do. And then we get even angrier with them when they get angry with us. It can be a vicious loop.

By our very nature, IT pros are expert users.  We think about IT all the time, and the problems we encounter almost always have a workaround, no matter how obscure.  This is NOT normal user behavior.  “Normal” users have a hierarchy of support technicians to appeal to, and there’s an inherent assumption that any IT problem they may run in to is not their problem to solve.  In fact, it’s probably your problem.

Fair or not, this is how it works, and as IT pros we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t proactively take this into account.  Try to think like your users and avoid problems by ensuring that they never happen. You won’t get any thanks, but no thanks are far better than actual complaints.

Work with the customer to find out what their expectations are

Why is this important? Because more often than not, the customer doesn’t know. We often assume that when customers come to us with a request, that they have already spent some time thinking about what they want and how they want it to work, and that they’re coming to you with a well-formed plan which now requires your expertise.

Ahahahahahahahahaha!

Ahem. This is usually not the case.  The customer has a vague idea beneath a veneer of certainty, and it’s up to us to crack the veneer, challenge the customer’s assumptions and work with them to find an appropriate solution.

Remember, there’s a world of difference between what a customer wants or asks for and what they actually need.  And again, we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t endeavor to help the customer through this often difficult process.

Designers, developers, and IT pros…all sharing the love…

Disclaimer: I am attending REMIX10 as the guest of Microsoft Australia

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