Great Techs, Lousy People Skills

Bell System Installer

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there often seems to be an inverse correlation between how brilliant a tech is and whether you should ever let him anywhere near customers.

Not all the time, perhaps, but definitely much of the time.

Looking back, I can think of numerous examples of people I’ve worked with who were techo-wizards, but while you could count on them to execute their task list on the job site with excellence, you could, unfortunately, also count on them to say exactly the wrong things to customers.

In fact, at my old job, it was more or less company policy that the only personnel cleared to speak with the clients were the sales designers or the project managers.

Our installers, great bunch of guys and brilliant techs that they were, had strict instructions that the only three acceptable responses if a client cornered them on the jobsite were “Yes, sir/ma’am.” “No, sir/ma’am.” And “You’ll have to talk to the project manager about that, sir/ma’am.”

And for good reason. The wost-case scenarios of letting a tech who isn’t a People Person deal with clients is the danger of either Too Much Information or A Bad Experience, or both.

An example of the former is a situation, many years ago, before I realized that the flow of information should be limited to the sales designers or project managers. I had sold a simple system to an older couple who were, to put it mildly, technophobic.

It really was a simple system, with the least number of buttons you could imagine.

I couldn’t be there for the completion, so I sent out the tech, a young (even younger than me at the time) eager-beaver propeller-head.

Anticipating the risk, I told him, “Do NOT talk about the technology! Show them which buttons to push to get their TV or radio, and that’s it!”

But he couldn’t help himself. Excited by all this technology, he hit the customer with jargon like water from an open firehose: IR-this and interlaced that.

The next morning I came to work to a frantic voicemail begging “GET THIS THING OUT OF MY HOUSE!”

In retrospect, the whole project was doomed from the start.

But as they say, good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement. I learned to segregate the company’s Doers and Talkers, and define roles for each.