Monday, July 04, 2005

T.I.P.S. 101** How to Deal With Squishyware

How to Deal With Squishyware
By Gil C. Schmidt

In a conversation with Diana, creator of T.I.P.S., I mentioned how many of my Internet-related clients seemed to complain about having to deal with “people issues,” or “squishyware” as some techno-geeks call the rest of us. (The put-downs are flying now!) As an advisor aiming at improving the commercial relationships between the two groups, I hereby speak as squishyware to the techno-geeks. Heed my squishiness!

1) We are the customers: if we don’t buy, you don’t get to do more chillin’ things. Yes, you create the fabtech hotness that we crave, but if it doesn’t connect with us in a fundamental way (more on that later), we won’t buy. We don’t buy, you don’t have a job. Think of it as code and you won’t forget it.

2) “User-friendly” is not a typing exercise. When customers say “user-friendly,” they mean it. What you find snazzy and sweet, we find annoying. Think “granny and a toddler”: If you can tell granny how to use the thing in under 3 minutes or teach a toddler how to use it in under 3 minutes, you have a winner. (Neither granny nor the toddler can be Nobel Prize winners in Physics.)

3) Explaining your work is not punishment nor a chance to show-off. Most technical people act as if having to explain the inner workings of their products is an unjustified burden, while some act as if they’ve been spotlighted for “Look At Clever Me!” Awards. If someone takes the time to ask, it’s because they are genuinely interested. Keep it simple, focus on what they need to know (and not how much you know) and you’ll find yourself in an actual conversation instead of a mini-Cold War.

4) “Technical” and “Customer” service are the same thing. The moment you try to separate the people from the hardware or software, you lose sight of the most important bond: without people, hardware and software do nothing. As technicians, you are experts in technology while the rest of us aren’t. Your job is to either simplify the technology for our use (yay!) or spend lots of time teaching us how to use it (boo!) That’s your choice and we react to it. And pay accordingly.

Combining tech-savvy with people-savvy is a powerful formula. When you find your techie self getting wrapped up in the intricacies of programming or functionality, step back, remember you were once squishyware and think of how the rest of us can benefit even more from your next cool thing if you bridge the technology gap.


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