This is a follow-up post to Customers Aren’t Idiots.
I mentioned in my previous post that I’d try to list a few hints on how to provide constructive criticism, particularly for vendors who want to criticise competitors.
It’s all about tone, so here’s what I’d prefer to see.
Respect your colleagues, and the competitive game that is modern commerce.
The people who work for your competitors are smart and capable. Many of them once worked for your company, and many of them will one day in the future. Ad hominem attacks are poor form, and make you look bad.
Some good natured ribbing is fine, but it’s the person on the receiving end who gets to decide if it’s good natured or not.
Show some sportsmanship, honour the game, and remember Wheaton’s Law.
Respect the Customer
Customers aren’t idiots. Respect them also.
Many of them have a deep understanding of how your products work in the real world, as distinct from your test labs. They encounter obscure corner cases you never even thought to test, and they do things with your products that never even occurred to you.
Customers may not care about the same things you do. What you think is a big deal is something they don’t even spend 5 seconds on. And what you’ve dismissed as irrelevant might be of deep concern to them. Don’t assume you always know what your customers are thinking. Or your competitor’s customers, for that matter.
And a lot of them used to work for vendors, too, or will some day.
Humans are fallible. It’s entirely possible that you’re wrong in your criticism. This doesn’t make you a bad person.
It’s possible that your competitor made an honest mistake. That doesn’t make them a bad person either.
If you think there’s a flaw in someone’s argument or product, try to phrase things in such a way that you’re allowing for the fact that you might be wrong. This will make it easier for you to back down if someone calls you on your mistake. A solid “Good catch! Yes, I got it wrong there, thanks for pointing it out” is the mark of someone secure in themselves.
And if you’re the one pointing out a flaw in someone else’s work, be gentle. It might be you next time. There, but for the Grace of God, go I.
Get Over Yourself
It’s IT. Most of what we’re doing isn’t discovering penicillin, or curing cancer, or creating cold fusion. Our customers might be, but we’re not.
We’re all just trying to find some meaning in our short lives while we keep our families fed and try not to mess up our kids too badly.
Take a deep breath, count to ten, and be nice to your fellow humans.