The Little Things

The Little Things
The Little Things

Today I've been mentoring my apprentice in more of the soft skills area of work rather than the technical side. I walked him through some back and forth discussions with customers, how I create SOWs, what a good report looks like, etc.

Recently I spaced a response to a customer for about a week. I responded in my head but never sent the email. Now I've watched a number of executives and sales people handle this sort of situation like this:

"Hey, its been over a week since I responded, can I get an ETA?"

This does a number of things:

  • Protects the forgetful person's ego from the embarrassment of screwing up.
  • Puts it on the other person / customer. They usually think it got lost in SPAM or in the ether.
  • Creates a sort of aggressive relationship where the customer thinks THEY screwed up and are are now trying to appease in the other direction based on a falsehood.

This is an integrity issue that creates a relationship of stress rather than trust and connection.

How did I handle it?

I owned my mistake up front and took accountability for it, without being overly apologetic (which in and of itself can be a type of manipulation). Because this is such a relatable mistake, the customer was very gracious about it. I then provided as excellent a response as I could.

Sure, I felt embarrassed, and I was worried this would affect the project, but most of the time this creates a relationship of trust and understanding. I don't actually want to work with someone I can't be honest with and I definitely don't want to lie to make myself feel better, make the other person feel worse, and preserve the short term project. I prefer to lose a customer through honesty rather than retain one through lack of integrity.

What would you say you do here?

The next thing I showed my apprentice was a series of small but important things in the back and forth emails. This is a particularly excellent customer to work with so I pointed out why. Here are a few examples:

-In the first email they proposed some meeting times and dates. A lot of the time the interaction goes like this:

  • Them email1: "Hey can we have a meeting about X?"
  • Me email2: "Sure, when would you like to meet?"
  • Them email3: "Can you propose some times?"
  • Me email4: "Sure, how about Monday at 1pm, Wednesday at 3pm, or Friday at 11AM?"
  • Them email5: "Hmm, none of those will work for me, how about Tuesday at 4?"
  • Me email6: "Sounds good, talk to you then."

This probably sounds horribly inefficient, and it is.  And there are things I could do in the interaction to make it better, such as proposing some times myself in email2. However, I just want to illustrate how nice and smooth this customer made it by just proposing when they were free right off the bat in the first email.

- They were informing me that they had to get XYZ person in the company to sign off on something. They included "I expect to hear back from them on this within X amount of time".  Many customers don't add that sort of thing so I wait a period of time and then follow up. The fact that they were willing to set a time frame made the interaction just a little bit smoother and easier.

- They volunteered some of the nuances of their business and its particular needs revolving around funding, international differences, executive perspectives on security, etc. Usually I have to ask a series of probing questions to get this information but this customer anticipated that and just provided it right off the bat.

- They handled most things with a few quick emails and bulleted lists, rather than multiple zoom meetings. Different issues require different types of communication mediums but often we lose time having meetings when an email would suffice.

These little things are what you learn over the years doing many projects which can make it enjoyable to work together, or just tolerable.  Even if my apprentice doesn't end up customer facing, he now has a better understanding of what's going on behind the scenes, the reasons for delays, and hopefully how to improve his interactions going forward. When training someone in reverse engineering, penetration testing, and exploit development, don't forget to train them in integrity,  good communication, and efficiency as well.

Thanks for reading!