Monday, December 19, 2005

Watch for Flying Customers

Someone here at work just threw out the "C" word--customer. If you know me at all, you know that that is not my favorite "C" word, although "customer" can be used in more polite conversations than the one I really like. It's not that I hate the customer as an entity. I do however hate it when they're irate little babies, but that's another issue.

What I hate about the word "customer" is that as soon as someone uses it, I know there's a 90% chance that someone is in the process of justifying doing something stupid. Usually it has nothing to do with what the customer really wants. It's more likely some pet feature of the person speaking and, in the face of not being able to justify the idea on its own merits, they throw out the vague and unassailable phrase, "Our customers really want this."

Even if that were true, I don't really care. I'm not as interested in how the customer thinks they can solve whatever problem they have than I am in what the problems are in the first place. That is to say, tell me the problem, not your idea of a solution. I'll listen to the solution you have in mind, but don't expect it and hopefully if you're a sales guy don't fucking promise it to close the deal. That's how application rot begins.

Now bitching is all well and good, but how does this boil down to something that is my fault and that I should work to correct? My job (the one I'm not doing) is to demand several specific scenarios from the speaker. What customer needs this? What is the specific problem they're trying to solve? What alternatives have we considered? Who else will this be useful to? Who died and made you boss? The list goes on.

I have of course tried this in the past and it ultimately fails in many cases. Those in the know will recall the big customer functionality of pasting non-ID values from an Excel spreadsheet directly into a text box to accomplish some task. My new supplementary job on top of this is to be a siege master. Sure, you repelled my initial attack, but now I'm going to dig under your walls and catapult diseased meat into your courtyard. In general, I'm going to keep making it difficult for you to drop the "customer" trump card and make sure that every discussion ends with you feeling like a fucktard that won't want to open his mouth in the future.


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