So you are going to have your first customer meeting? While I would be surprised if someone sends in the newbie without backup from an experienced meeting participant, here are some tips I've recently shared with my students.

Disclaimer: This article is based on my personal experience and opinions; it is not a definitive "how-to" guide for meetings. The original target audience for most of these tips was teenage first-year students.

Preparation

Good preparation is half the work, so here are some things you should do before the customer walks into your office.

Inquire what the meeting is about

This might sound funny, but ask what the meeting is about. Ask about a plan, goals, questions that need to be answered, etcetera.

Know your team and everyone's roles

Know who does what during the meeting.

Check if you are allowed to make any decisions on the spot; saying "yes" or "no" to a customer can turn into undesirable outcomes.

Make sure you also know your team's strengths and weaknesses. A good team compensates for each other and forms a strong bond.

Ask about the company's relationship with the client

Interaction with the client depends a lot on their relationship with your company. Are they long-term customers who love to hang out and have fun, or are these people who want to buy a product and move on?

Even in the same company, I've seen customers who were "strictly business only," personal friends of colleagues, recipients of the company's "weekly erotic email" (don't ask; it was highly unprofessional), and everything in-between.

Ensure external hardware works

"Can you unmute yourself?", "Wait, I've got to restart my Zoom because mac OS needs permissions first.", "Does this HDMI cable even work?", "The computer has to restart due to updates!"

Prep your tools, make sure all cables and remotes work, and please, for the love of all that is good in this world: close unrelated browser tabs and chat apps if you are screen sharing!

Have the wifi password ready

Home is where the wifi connects automatically; you need to ask for the password everywhere else. Have the (guest) wifi password available for the customer before they have to ask.

Silence your devices

The customer gets your full attention. Silence every device that can make sound or pop-up notifications. As mentioned before: close apps when other people can see your screen!

Go to the bathroom

Meetings take time, and you do not want to find out you've underestimated your bladder in the middle of a customer's story.

At the meeting

So your client is arriving at the site, here's what's next.

Start at the planned time

Guests might be late, but hosts should not be. Be prepared to start the moment that the customer walks in.

Coffee, tea, and wifi

Offer the customer a drink. When in doubt, offer a choice between the basics: coffee, tea, or water. I prefer to have tea bags, milk, and sugar individually packaged and up for grabs at the table.

The beverage moment is also a perfect time to offer the wifi password, explain where the bathrooms are, ask how the client's trip went, and if they need anything else.

Tell your name and role

The chair of the meeting should make sure that everyone knows who is who. Tell people your name and why you are in the meeting, but don't be too honest if you're there to prevent sales from selling the impossible.

Take notes

Aside from the regular note-taker, write down anything that you think is particularly important to you. Do so while actively nodding to make it clear that you are listening to what's being said.

Do not share sensitive information

If your customer inquires about people, including yourself, do not give personal answers. If people are sick, have a home emergency, or are on a honeymoon: it's all "away on personal business" or "they couldn't make it due to a scheduling conflict."

I also once had a training meeting where someone apologized to the clients because they had to leave to attend "an important appointment," essentially telling the other participants that theirs wasn't. Bad, very bad.

Think functional, not technical

This one is for my fellow engineers. Go against your natural inclination to think about technical solutions while the customer is talking.

Think in functionality; look up "user stories" online, and you will find plenty of informative resources.

Apply this mindset to the situation described in the next section.

Work with the customer, not against them

If the customer knew how to fix their problem, they would do it themselves.

Your customer has a problem they need to solve, and your task is to help them. They have domain knowledge and real-world experience with their situation; you have the technical know-how.

Combine everyone's knowledge, ask a couple of "why?" questions, and get to the root of the problem. Your role as advisor is essential here because customer satisfaction is one of the keys to long-lasting relationships and good publicity.

Personal notes

Let me tell you a secret: I hate most meetings with a passion, which won't surprise those who have read my article Quick meetings are a lie.

Meetings are (only) useful when they have a clear goal and structure. If we all blabber on for two hours on a subject that only half the people in the room find interesting, you can see energy leaving the place. It doesn't have to be that way, though!

I will inquire about the necessity of my presence in a meeting and have previously declined to join some. You can ask people to call you in when they need you (like, when they only need you for 25% of the meeting) so no one's time gets wasted.

Still, go into a meeting with an open mind, and you might come up with new insights, learn about opportunities, or simply get paid to kick back and observe. Whatever you do, however: give off a positive vibe, and you might get rewarded with a cool new project!

Wrap-up

It is unlikely that you will be left alone as an inexperienced meeting participant, but I hope that these tips still help you in your first meeting!


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