I Can’t Go Back To My Boss With That

Often our primary contact at an organization is counting on us to deliver consistently and reliably. But what they need even more than that, and what they don’t necessarily come out and say, is that they need a web reliability partner who can feel what they are feeling.

Often in our web maintenance retainer relationships, we are planning future work with our primary client contact. Let’s just call her Jane for convenience. Jane has a lot of duties. She’s juggling a lot of tasks and projects at once. She’s most likely a director of marketing or a marketing manager. Jane has a boss she has to answer to. Usually, that is a VP level officer or higher. She has to deliver results, consistently and reliably to her boss. What Jane needs most of all is for us to regularly put ourselves in her shoes. She needs us to feel what it’s like to be her so that we never put her in a position where she has to say, “I can’t take that to my boss.”

Maybe it’s a budget overage. Maybe it’s a missed deadline. Maybe it’s broken code that should have been fixed a long time ago. In all cases Jane needs us to keep her out of trouble. She represents the organization that we work for. If we make her look good then we know the organization is being well served. If Jane “can’t take it to her boss” then she has to make up for the deficiency somewhere else or she has to watch her back. She’s counting on us to keep her out of this kind of trouble. Here’s how we do it.

Our client relationships are pretty much uniformly very long term. This means we have the time to learn about people and how they work within their company. We learn about what the priorities are. We learn about what sets people off and what serves them well. This is all garnered through the faculty of empathy.

Years ago we did work for the ABA Journal. We launched a new site for them, got a Webby for it and continued on with them as a maintenance partner. The ABA Journal would publish on Fridays. They would send out an email blast to their members to come and read the new website articles. It was critical to the ABA Journal and to our primary client contact there that the site not crash during that burst of traffic. In the early days it often did. We learned early on that our primary contact, we can still call her Jane, was in the hot seat and under a great deal of pressure when the site would lag or crash on a Friday morning. Many other things were secondary to this for Jane and for the ABA. So through empathy and compassion we learned what was important. It took a while to finally resolve the performance issues, but in the mean time, communicating a clear and deeply felt understanding of what it was like to be Jane made all the difference. It gave us all the extra time we needed to get things on track.

Sometimes Jane “can’t go back to her boss with that.” Sometimes she has to. We’ve learned that when we can at least communicate with her at all levels that we get her, she’s able to in turn communicate that to her boss when she goes to bear bad news. “These guys understand the problem. They appreciate the urgency. They care. They are on it. It’ll get fixed.” That’s usually how you get through the hard stuff. Of course when we’re at our best we are way ahead of things and we don’t even let Jane get into a tricky situation. This too comes about through empathy.

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