Sometimes the Customer Just Isn’t Right

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Sometimes the Customer Just Isn’t Right

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Sooner or later, every blogger who also happens to be a consultant encounters the same scenario. You learn something during a client engagement and blog about it – being careful never to name the client or give any identifying information – in order to share valuable information with the community at large so some poor schlep toiling away somewhere doesn’t have to live through the same nightmare you did. Inevitably, somebody gets their nose bent out of shape and blames it all on the long-suffering consultant whose only aim is to make sure nobody else has to face the same challenges without any good information.

There are lots of reasons why this happens. In some cases, you are pointing out something that was done wrong and the guilty party, rather than admitting that they made a mistake and owning up to their responsibility, pretends to take great offense. Other times, the client thinks that you have somehow, without ever giving any direct or indirect evidence, sullied their name across the world wide web. Oftentimes, people just confuse the message, supplying their own assumptions, misrepresentations, and interpretations without any regard for the actual content. And then there are those times, sad to say, when all of the above happens at once and you become public enemy number one without actually having done anything wrong.

The only real reaction to this kind of situation is to shake your head, mourn the poor state of interpersonal relations, and move on with your life. It’s a sad commentary on the politically correct world we live in that you cannot, in whatever style you choose, share non-confidential information freely on the web without someone acting like they’ve been personally insulted. And it amazes me how quickly people forget that if it wasn’t for the bloggers who spend countless hours of their own time toiling away to spread the good word that SharePoint wouldn’t be nearly the phenomenon that it is today (nor would they find answers to most of their problems). We’re the first ones people turn to when they need help and the first ones they turn on when things slip out of their control.

I’m always disappointed when this happens – to me or anyone else – as it almost always has nothing to do with the facts of what was written. On further analysis with cooler heads it usually turns out that the information was accurate and that it was people’s interpretation of what was said that is to blame for all the fuss. I’ve had it happen to me and, sooner or later, it will happen to you if you’re passionate about helping other people in the community. No matter how much you argue your case or how much the evidence is on your side, the customer, once they’ve blown things entirely out of proportion, can’t back down without losing face, so you get the shaft. That’s okay, we get paid to take all of the heat and none of the credit, but it sure is a waste of time and energy, resulting in nothing but hurt feelings all around. If only people could step back and balance their emotions against the facts such situations could be avoided altogether.

One of the things that really frustrates me is when the customer is just flat out wrong but nobody will tell them that to their face. Customers know lots of things we don’t – it’s their business, after all – but they bring in a consultant to act as a subject matter expert then try to argue with everything the consultant recommends. They then get upset and accuse the consultant of acting arrogant, unprofessional or condescending. Let’s get something straight, Mr. Customer – we know SharePoint (or whatever) and you don’t; that’s why you hired us to begin with. If you don’t want to listen then don’t hire us; go ahead and make a mess of it yourself (just remember not to bother us with your problems when things go wrong). We’re not trying to be jerks (at least not deliberately); we’re trying to save you from making a bunch of costly mistakes. This is what we do for a living, after all. And if you’re wrong, it’s also our responsibility to tell you that you’re wrong (gently, of course); or, at least, it should be, save for the fact that there are a lot of people who won’t do what’s necessary when the situation requires it. I’ve never understood how people can convince themselves that they are helping the customer by deliberately withholding information just because they know the customer won’t like to hear it. Aren’t we all adults here? Can’t we handle a little negativity constructively and try to find solutions instead of playing the blame game?

The consulting world can be a very weird place sometimes. Add to that a public presence in the blogosphere and you sometimes feel like you’re living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. If I ever figure out all the rules I’ll be able to safely retire knowing I’ve completed my life’s journey. Then I’ll write a book with all the answers and nobody will ever believe it. But that’ll be okay because all the men in the nice white coats will be very friendly and my little padded cell will feel just like home…