Alan's Cardinal Rules for Customer Con-Calls

As a part of my work with the VOSJEC and occasionally for other PTS work I've had to be involved as a "technical expert" on conference calls directly with customers.

I'd like to think that I've built a reasonable reputation with those customers that I have spoken with. A big part of this is that I have a number of cardinal rules that I do not break.

Please keep in mind that these rules were written with a slant towards the kind of work that I do, they might not work for you.

I was chatting with a colleague in Holland (Dimitri De Wild) and he suggested that this would actually make a good blog topic.

  1. Keep it technical

    Your part in this call is purely technical. If you are on the call, it is likely that you will have a good technical audience. Stay out of the politics. Taking part in the politics is not going to move us towards a technical solution. The people who handle upset management are the Service Account Managers (SAMs). There are times when it makes more sense to simply drop off the call and let the SAM deal with it while you work the technical issue.

  2. Don't try to "bullshit" the customer, you will get caught out

    This piece of Australian slang may need some explanation. Simply put, it means something like "don't try to feed the customer a pack of lies", or at it's simplest, "don't lie".

    Quite simply, if you lie, you will get caught out and then you not only make yourself look bad, you don't do good things for Sun either.

    This is basic integrity.

    Another side to this rule is, if you don't know, say so. I've found that I get a lot more respect for saying "I don't know, but I can find out", than trying to bluff my way through something.

  3. Don't say anything that you can't or are not prepared to back up with a technical explanation

    This is another integrity rule. Simply put, if you are not prepared to offer a technical explanation for something that you are saying, be it a proposed solution, a description of the root-cause, anything like that, don't say it. If you're not prepared to stand by it yourself, why should you expect the customer to?

I guess that the big thing to remember is that when you are on the phone to a customer, you are representing Sun. Anything that you say will reflect on the company.

Something else that I have found incredibly useful on such calls is to have a "back-channel" to any other technical folk in the call (eg irc, Instant messaging, ...). This allows you to not "wash your dirty laundry" in front of the customer. You can sound out the other folks on an idea before you present it, you can also present concerns over something that someone has said. I'm not saying that it should be anything sneaky or underhanded, simply useful.

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* - Solaris and Network Domain, Technical Support Centre


Alan is a kernel and performance engineer based in Australia who tends to have the nasty calls gravitate towards him

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