Mission of the Customer-Facing Engineering Tutorials


Stereotypically, engineers do not relate well to their customers.

Take the scenario of a fictitious engineer, Tom, who has been just moved into a customer-facing role. After becoming comfortable with the technical aspects of his role, Tom has a desire to tackle its customer-facing aspects, but is having difficulty making the transition. Specifically, Tom is trying to work on improving his communication skills as this seems to be a problem area when working with customers. But he doesn’t know where to begin. And worse, his non-technical office colleagues constantly remind him that “engineers can’t communicate.” Given these obstacles, it’s no wonder that Tom’s customers are having difficulty understanding him.

Continuing with this scenario, Tom enlists the help of a colleague, Sue, to help him confront this challenge. Sue encourages him to focus on the communication skills he already has, helping to change his view “engineers can’t communicate.” She attempts to inspire confidence in Tom by framing the argument this way:

“Tom, think about a typical day at the office when you interact with other engineers. My hunch is that you and the other engineers communicate quite well in your social circle– most of your can compose logical, well organized arguments to express your views on technical and complex subject matter. But you struggle to relate to your end-users and others in your organization that sit outside of the Engineering department. So, learning to communicate with different audiences is a skill that you would need to acquire.

However, you would not be learning this skill from scratch, as you already know how to communicate with other engineers. Rather, you would need to tweak your communication style to suit different audiences. Reducing or eliminating technical jargon would significantly help you meet this goal.”

By making this one change in his communication style, Tom’s customers now understand him better.

If Tom had not heard Sue’s advice, which one of these, in Tom’s perception, do you think he would have found more difficult to accomplish:

  1. Learning the specific steps needed to become a better communicator, such as how to eliminate or reduce technical jargon.
  2. The thought of overcoming the stereotype placed on him that “engineers can’t communicate.”

The first one is a cognitive activity while the second one is an emotional activity that requires a change in mindset. My answer is #2.

So..

These tutorials are more about helping an engineer overcome the emotional barriers to learning customer-facing skills than learning the customer-facing skills themselves.