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Making Customers Happy vs. Making Happy Customers

Last week I was in Sweden for our 5th ever Scandinavian FME User Meeting. On the way there, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the Business...

Last week I was in Sweden for our 5th ever Scandinavian FME User Meeting. On the way there, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the Business of Software conference in Boston, which featured a wide range of excellent speakers, many of them icons of the software industry. There was much to reflect on, but after spending a couple days with over 120 fantastic FME users, I flew home thinking carefully about Darhmesh Shah’s admonition to “Make Happy Customers” rather than “Making Customers Happy”.

It may seem like a subtle point, but when I reflect on nearly 14 years of visits to Sweden, I can really see the difference. In March of 1997 when I made my first trip, it was, in retrospect, all about making customers happy. Why? At that time, our product could do a lot of the same amazing things it does today, except, well, you’d pretty much have no way to figure out how you’d actually get it to do things. We effectively had no user interface back then. (We just didn’t know it yet!) So I was going to Sweden to do training. When I arrived, the customers had the software plus the hope and the faith, that it could do what they needed it to do. Certainly they’d not had any results whatsoever already. They weren’t happy..yet. After a week of learning how to understand fast talking Canadian-accented English (I apologize for that), where to put continuation characters, what things are upper and what things lower case, and a variety of oddly named operations (DonutFactory anyone?), problems were beginning to be solved and I’d begun the process of making them happy.

Fast forward to 2010. It’s hard to believe (or even quantify) all the ways a continually evolving product can improve in 14 years. As I met with and listened to the presentations of the customers, they were already happy. They could get results, amazing results, with little to no interaction with any fast-talking Canadians (who incidentally have learned to talk more slowly after all these years). Yes, the operations are still oddly named (DonutBuilder?), but the environment (Workbench) and community ecosystems (fmepedia, fmetalk, fmeevangelist) combine together to allow happiness to flow earlier and earlier in our customer’s experience with us and our products.

But I think this quest for “Making Happy Customers” is one that we’ll never quite complete, perfectionists that we are. While we’ve made great strides in 14 years, there are always things we can do better, things we can make easier, things we can make more obvious. And so I guess we’ll have another FME release, with all that entails

Dale at the FME Scandinavian User Conference

While in Sweden, I enjoyed sharing the stage with the original Swedish FMEer – the Swedish Chef, who gave an entertaining lightning talk on alternative ways of making donuts…

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