Preston Smith's Corner

Should engineers be spending their precious time visiting customers?

December 1999 Quick Tip

A few years ago, managers were concerned about having their design engineers visiting customers. They feared that either the engineers would be too honest, ruining a sale, or they would over-generalize from the few visits they were able to make. Nowadays, these concerns have abated, so the remaining concern is simply: Can I afford to pull a busy engineer off design work to visit a customer?

In fact, your design engineers are your front-line troops, making the countless daily decisions that will accumulate to determine whether or not your product is customer-friendly. Without having “walked in the customers’ shoes,” these decisions are likely to be made both poorly and slowly.

Consider an airline, where the flight captain is making these front-line decisions. Most captains, who are isolated from their customers by a bulkhead, will announce at the beginning of a flight when it will touch down. But customers don’t care about touchdown; they only care about when the plane gets to the gate so they can leave. The captains who pay more attention to what their navigation computers are telling them than about the customers behind the bulkhead will announce the impertinent information every time.

Even a company as admired as Hewlett-Packard and a product line as successful as their DeskJet printers has had problems with unfriendly products. HP has implemented a program of customer visits, including training for their engineers, to make their DeskJets more customer-friendly.

Remember that there are two keys to effective customer contact:
– Design engineers must be in DIRECT contact with customers.
– This contact must occur before they start designing.

(c) Copyright 2013 Preston G. Smith. All Rights Reserved.

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