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Author's profile photo Santosh Vijayan

7 simple principles for a productive customer interaction

Design Thinking brings in a new paradigm where the development team is in close touch with customers (or prospective customers) and most importantly end users of the applications. According to me, there are certain principles which have to be followed when we interact with the end users. These are principles which I derived from my experience in SAP for the last 11 years.

1. Customer interaction is required

Customer or end user interaction should be done with the right attitude. It is not a process step which has to set to “Done” but more a genuine way to get the real requirements from end users and develop software to meet those requirements. Meeting the end users with the right frame of mind is a key ingredient for the success of the Design Thinking process.

2. You represent the organization

When you meet end users from a different organization, it is very important to keep in mind that you represent the organization you work for. Right attitude and right temperament are the key to making an impression. Sometimes, the end users will not be very co-operative or friendly (because of many reasons) but it is always better to tackle the situation with a calm mind and avoid conflicts.

3. Take them out of their comfort zone

End users will most probably be comfortable with whatever tools or processes they are working with. Change is not easy and they know it as well. You might not get any meaningful insights if the end users feel that any issue they raise could possibly lead to a change. So it is important to bring the end user out of their comfort zone. It is posible to do this in a variety of ways – one possible way could be to introduce hypothetical but possible scenarios which cannot be handled by the current process or tools.

4. Balance between customer satisfaction and feasibility

Customer satisfaction is the ultimate goal for any customer facing company. But in our zeal to satisfy customers, sometimes we bite more than what we can chew. It is always important to keep in mind the feasibility of the solution being proposed before making a commitment. It is in the best interest of both customers and the development team to have feasible commitments. Undelivered commitments can lead to more heartburns than communicated restrictions.

5. Be prepared

Preparation for a meeting looks very obvious but is mostly overlooked. The importance of preparation becomes much higher when we are meeting customer end users. From my experience, I have also seen that a well prepared meeting usually goes smooth and without any surprises. Preparation not only means the content of the meeting but also the meetings that happen before to set the agenda for the meeting. Planning to arrive at the meeting location (if it is not in the normal work premises) on time is also a component of preparation.

6. Be frank

Customers like a frank discussion. Whether it is about a product or about a specific feature of the product, it is always better to be frank and honest. If we are not honest, customers will anyway find out at a later point of time and it is definitely not a good situation to be in when we are asked questions about our earlier statements.

7. Be open to new ideas

Finally, keep an open mind. If we are in the development team, we tend to get very close and personal with our products and we tend to find an excuse or explanation for every issue or feature request which comes our way. Any feedback is good feedback and we should have an open mind when listening to end users. This will go a long way in keeping the communication open and getting valuable feedback.

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      Author's profile photo Heike van Geel
      Heike van Geel

      Hi Santosh,

      thanks a lot for sharing your 7 principles. Spot on.

      Perhaps you can add in which capacity and under which purpose you engage with customers and end users?  (to your principle No. 2)

      My interpretation to No. 2 is that we must explain the purpose to why we would like to engage with end-users. It is obvious to any UX design professional and Design Thinking fan, but that does not mean that it's obvious for anybody else.

      I would not say that end-users are not co-operative nor friendly, as a matter of fact based on my experience they are very friendly, but the fact that somebody comes and wants to examine, observe and interview them about their work might be at first perceived as scarry. And let's not forget or be honest, their current SAP user experience might not be state of the art for serveral reasons 😉




      Author's profile photo Santosh Vijayan
      Santosh Vijayan
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Heike,

      I completely agree with you.

      My second point was more in the context of my experience in the maintenance organization where the escalation meetings are not the friendliest of meeting 🙂 . But what you have mentioned in the context of Design Thinking is absolutely correct.



      Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer
      Deepa Iyer

      Hi Santosh,

      Thank you for sharing the 7 principles. I agree with them but do have a question about your experiences for principle number 5- Preparation.

      Believe me, I am all for preparation - however, in some cases the session may not go as per the planned agenda. Reasons could be many- heated conversations among participants, one person taking up time or discussions headed in a different direction than the topic on hand.

      Have you had customer interactions where you had to moderate and bring the conversation back on topic? Has some tool or technique worked better than others in this situation?



      Author's profile photo Santosh Vijayan
      Santosh Vijayan
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Deepa,

      Moderating a meeting (especially with customers) is a big topic by itself. Recently, I attended a training for "Moderating Usability Testing" and that gave me some insights on how to handle some scenarios.

      The only principle I follow is that I gather as much facts as possible about the topic (and related topics) before the meeting to handle any query. But still there could be surprises but atleast you can handle most of the situations with a calm head if you have the facts to back what you are saying.

      Thanks and Regards,


      Author's profile photo Sumanth Hegde
      Sumanth Hegde

      Excellent Article!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member


      Good stuff.  Just to add to your reply to Deepa's query - the role of a coach comes to play to intervene and get the team on track or advise the team lead to get it back on track.  In some situations the coach or the lead can pull aside this person and give a firm and gentle advise to follow the group brainstorming norms.