Lessons learned when development teams engage on major customer escalations

When a major customer issue is escalated to the development team, it is natural for the team to go into high anxiety mode, over-responding to the wrong things and under-responding to the right things.

Below are my key recommendations based on my experiences (based on my update to the GitLab Handbook on this subject):

  1. Talk to your development leaders and product management counterparts before making commitments to customers in real-time.   The impact of what the customer is requesting may have an impact on other commitments that you may or may not be aware of.
  2. Don't assume your customers understand your internal processes for making changes.   They want to know when it will be available for them to use.
  3. Don't assume that customers will communicate in ways that are compatible with your team's norms.  They may engage in written communication (Email, instant messenger, support tickets, etc.) differently than you do regarding the level of detail and timeliness of responding.  They may have different norms in meetings as well (how often they attend, whether they notes, whether they use video, etc.).  Explain the benefits of how you operate and the risks of not operating in those ways, and ask them the same about their norms.  Adapt together to find something that works for everyone.
  4. Take detailed notes in each conversation to avoid miscommunication.
  5. Have a single source of truth (SSOT) where all customer concerns are recorded so everyone involved can collaborate on it.
  6. Consider recording meetings (if you and the customer are amenable) and making those recordings available to everyone invited.  That allows those who couldn't make the meeting (or want to review it) to see any screen shares and the participants' tone and body language.
  7. Have an agenda for every meeting and make the top of the agenda the top items of concern, ordered by priority.  That will reduce missed expectations on timelines and priority.
  8. When there is an action item for someone in a meeting (whether they are present or not), tag them so they are aware (in Google documents, instant messenger, etc.).
  9. Create opportunities for your development team and the customer to collaborate asynchronously.  Don't wait for meetings to coordinate.  For example, consider adding your developers working on the escalation and the customer contacts to your instant messenger via "single-channel guests."  How to do this in Slack can be found here.
  10. Remind everyone to communicate early and often.  It is common for those lacking information to assume the worst.


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