"This page intentionally left blank"

This sentence, when I first saw it in an IBM manual, totally confused me. "What is the point," I asked myself, "of having this sentence? Of course I can see that the page is blank. What's more, doesn't the sentence actually contradict itself, because the page really ISN'T blank anymore?"

Then I thought about it some more, and realized that they had a reason for printing that message: they didn't want people to think they had "messed up" by forgetting to print material on that page. The material from the previous page DID really end on that page, and the material on the following page DOES really start there. In other words, they were saying, "It's OK, we know what we're doing, and we didn't make a mistake here."

When working with your customers, having credibility with them and gaining their trust is critical.   If they have questions about your ability, or if they're nervous about what you're asking them to do, they will resist.  In that case, your time to resolve the problem ticket will increase, and your productivity will decline.

Think to yourself, "Where might the customer have a problem or be nervous about my instructions?"  It may be helpful to remember what Sun Tzu wrote in his classic book "The Art of War":  "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles."  Your general approach, when giving instructions in this area, is to emphasize that you know what you're doing and you know why the customer might be nervous.  For example,

- A customer attached a file to an e-mail message, but now wants to dis-attach it.  In stepping the customer through the process, and if it's applicable, say to the customer, "Now just be aware that when you press the 'delete' key, all you're doing is preventing the file from being sent along with the note.  That file still exists on your computer.  It's not being deleted even though you're pressing the 'delete' key."

- A customer is calling about a new release of a particular application.  In working with that customer, be aware of key differences from the earlier release, and emphasize that awareness.  You might say, for example, "Yes, I know that in that earlier release, you had to do [x].  However, in this release, you now have to do [y].  That was a major change."

- A customer is calling about Windows updates.  Think about saying something like, "Yes, EVEN IF your virus definitions are current, you STILL need those Windows updates."

When you talk with customers this way, you gain their trust and show your awareness of their situation.

Questions or comments: e-mail me at

About Calvin Sun

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

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