Telephone calls, conference calls, remote meetings, and emails– in modern business, communication rarely occurs face to face. There just isn't always the time; a phone call or a quick text is much quicker. Despite this, there have been many studies that show non-verbal communication is actually more important than verbal. In fact, studies have shown that 65% to 75% of all communication occurs non-verbally, and relying upon verbal communication alone can lead to significant misunderstandings.
The Engineer as a Problem Solver
Engineers tend to tackle communication as just another problem to solve– which can lead to misunderstandings. Engineers are less likely to perceive non-verbal communication coming from their customers. Instead, they're more likely to fixate on words. Because of their problem-oriented approach, engineers may misunderstand a customer's actual intent and fail to develop a bond or relationship with the customer. They may miss the point of the conversation entirely.
Developing a Relationship with the Customer
Many IT organizations have earned a bad reputation over the years. Systems administrators and network administrators are often seen as being haughty and arrogant, technocrats who have little patience for the ignorance of others. It's easy to see why: those within the IT industry tend to be as direct as possible, especially when dealing with those who have low skill levels when it comes to technology.
It isn't that they are refusing to explain, it's that it's prohibitively difficult to explain high level concepts to the average consumer. Naturally, though, this does have a tendency to drive a wedge between customers and engineers.
The Consequences of IT's "Bad Reputation"
IT engineers aren’t usually focused on developing their communication styles and listening skills. Rather, they're interested in producing the best possible product. And while that is a priority, it's impossible to create the product the customer truly desires without actively listening to them. IT engineers often have to deal with frustrated customers who don't adequately understand the technology being developed or its constraints. Not only does this lead to unsatisfied customers, but it furthers the communication gap.
At this point, customers may attempt to find their own solutions. They will go to external resources or third parties in order to meet the needs they feel were expressed and ignored. Customers now have an unprecedented amount of access to solutions. With the abundance of cloud offerings, they can quickly deploy systems on their own– whether or not these systems are ideal for them. And unfortunately, all of this comes down to a lack of communication.
Bridging the Communication Gap
Engineers must be more attentive to the needs of their customers than ever. Today, customers can simply walk to another company and procure another product offering– they can even deploy it on their own. Customers who feel as though their needs are being ignored or misunderstood won't waste their time trying to explain themselves; they'll just move on to another business.
In order to tackle this problem of communication, engineers need to learn to listen to their customer's needs– both spoken and unspoken– and advocate for their own technology. Engineers may understand why their solution is preferable to the competition, but they cannot assume their customer will just trust them. Modern customers are savvy and are able to connect with solutions on their own; they can take the ball and run with it if they so choose.
IT engineers need to build a solid working relationship founded on respect and trust with their customers if they want to avoid losing them to the shadows.