“Working As Designed” — Now What?

man with crossed arms

Many thanks to Bruce Middendorf for suggesting this topic.

Customers regularly report issues that are not clear-cut product bugs, but that show that the product was not designed to work in the best possible way for them. Support files a request to the Engineering team and we are told that the product is “working as designed” and to please file an enhancement request to address the situation in a future release–something we know could take a very long time.

Communicating this news to customers is not easy. Here are 9 suggestions to preserve the customer’s loyalty (and your dignity!) while delivering the message.

  1. Do it quickly: bad news does not improve over time and will weigh on you while you dither. Do take a moment to prepare your response, but don’t delay.
  2. Create options if possible. The customer clearly has a problem, so even if the product cannot be changed perhaps you can suggest a workaround or another approach entirely.
  3. Prepare a crisp statement. Summarize the technical situation, why the product is working (perhaps not as the customer would wish, but working nevertheless), and how the customer can proceed, whether by using your workaround or other avenue.
  4. Give your manager a heads-up if you think the situation will escalate. Your manager can decide to deliver the message with you or perhaps reach out to the contact’s manager. Give them that opportunity.
  5. Deliver the news live. It’s always a good idea to deliver bad news live because you can gauge and manage the customer’s emotions. It may not be pleasant but it’s much safer than sending an email and hoping for the best.
  6. Practice the delivery. Anticipate the objections that will arise and be ready with answers. For complex situations, ask a sympathetic colleague or your manager to play the customer.
  7. Empathize with the customer. Make it clear you understand what they are trying to achieve. Make them feel heard even if what they want will not happen, at least for now.
  8. Anchor your emotions. Don’t overshare: you may be completely convinced that the product should do that the customer wants, but you are representing the organization as a whole. And don’t be scared: the customer may be angry, but they are angry at the situation, not you.
  9. Be ready to share a written summary. One of the goals of the discussion is to help the customer share the news with their team. Send a written statement suitable for forwarding so you can influence the communication to go your way.

What have you tried to handle the dreaded “working as designed”? Add a comment.

Looking for customer skills training for your team? We’ve got you. Contact me to schedule a session.

2 Comments on ““Working As Designed” — Now What?

  1. Excellent advice, it works! It’s hard to do but builds a positive relationship between both parties. Thanks for this article.

  2. Thanks, Ken! I think the main technique for success is to build confidence on the delivery: yes, it’s possible to empathize with the customer *and also* hold the corporate line!