Be Polite, but Solve the Problem

Respect the customer, but also respect their time - and yours.

A junior Product Support engineer on my team got a support ticket from one of our Business Development strategists. The strategist’s customer was running into a product issue we’d seen many times before and which was almost always caused by a particular problem with a known solution. Naturally, the engineer recommended trying that solution.

The strategist said they didn’t think the engineer was right about the underlying problem and asked for other ideas.

The junior engineer was reluctant to contradict the strategist. As a result, the two went back and forth fruitlessly for some time as the engineer recommended other tests and possible solutions that went nowhere.

When I learned this was happening, I told the engineer that while courtesy is important and it’s worth being careful with our phrasing, we should never let politeness get in the way of solving the problem. Deferring to the strategist may have felt to the engineer like the diplomatic thing to do in the moment. But the engineer, strategist, and customer all had important work to do and it was better to avoid burning everyone’s time on false leads.

I recommended the engineer find a friendly way to insist on their original recommendation - say something like, “Humor me,” or “Can you try this as a personal favor?” The engineer did so, the strategist complied, and the problem was immediately resolved.