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Dealing with Customers in Electronics Design

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by D from BC, Feb 8, 2007.

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  1. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    Once I've profiled my customer as "problematic", I immediately start
    charging for time to clarify the design request.
    (Block diagrams, flow chart whatever..)
    Sometimes I'll give a customer exactly what they describe. I don't ask
    for the purpose nor do I fit the electronics to the app.
    When the customer realizes that they goofed by not giving the designer
    not enough information, I make more money $$$ by charging for design
    So.... foolish customers with $$$ = profit... :)
    So I like everybody...the smart customers and the foolish ones. :)

    Is this sneaky?
    Is it a 'give'm what they want no hassles' approach?
    Does this help when customers want to keep the app private?
    Is this risky for reputation damage?..
    A happy customer gets a PCB that does the job.
    Whereas, a clueless customer getting exactly what asked for and later
    it's discovered that it's not enough and the designer looks bad.
    D from BC
  2. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    Absolutely reasonable.
    Many professional engineering organizations would consider that sort of
    behavior unethical and would probably be willing to testify against you if one
    of your clients chose to sue you. :)
  3. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    Joel, You need to face reality. Many clients are obstinate in their
    requirements, no matter the physical realizability.

    The way I handle it is with a (generally) two week "specification"
    phase, where I create a block diagram and a real specification from
    the customer's "requirements".

    The rules of the game are... at the end of the specification phase,
    either I or the customer can walk away. However the customer must pay
    for this phase.

    It actually usually works out quite well... the customer (and I) end
    up with a realistic/realizable specification.

    Of course you still end up with the chip that meets the specification,
    but the customer admits, "That's not really what I meant" ;-)

    Then there are the customers who walk away, saying your price is too
    high. So they go with the low-bidder. A year or so later they
    return, quite in the panic... "fix it quick" = premium price ;-)

    ...Jim Thompson
  4. PeteS

    PeteS Guest

    As Joel said, perfectly reasonable. I don't necessarily wait for them to
    be 'problematic'; I usually write it into the contract that spec changes
    will incur costs at the standard hourly rate unless there is some other
    provision such as a fixed fee per change (where change is strictly defined).
    I would tell the customer that I have insufficient information to
    produce a working design. That's another part of the contract; I have to
    be given sufficient information to produce what they want. That may
    sound obvious, but I've had a few where I had to pull that one out.

    I wouldn't just 'do whatever they said' and give them something that
    doesn't work.


  5. john jardine

    john jardine Guest

    For 'problem' customers it's an approach that will lose repeat business.
    Always set out the options. Point out the clear shining path they need to
    follow. This must be done at initial contact over a telephone or at a first
    meeting before any cost have been run up.
    Within the first 10 minutes you must demonstrate you understand their
    specialist needs/problems even better than them. Win 'em over and they move
    from being "problematic" to just plain 'ole awkward bastards :).
  6. It's almost always like that with software. They never know what they want
    until you meet the agreed on specs. Then they tell you that isn't it.
  7. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    -- snip --

    Some customers come to me knowing the process, and basically say "we
    don't know what it'll take & we don't expect you to either". For them,
    I just charge my rate.

    Some customers want (or must have) a more detailed bid. For them I
    gently tell them that I'm slow, and I just don't have enough information
    to do a reasonable bid. Then I promise them (and deliver) a
    specification that'll be good enough for them to shop around to other
    contractors if they so desire.

    So far I've never had one go elsewhere, but if it should happen I'll
    still have my money for writing the detailed specification.


    Tim Wescott
    Wescott Design Services

    Posting from Google? See

    "Applied Control Theory for Embedded Systems" came out in April.
    See details at
  8. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    The reason a customer comes to a designer is, presumably, because in
    context the designer is smarter than they are. That's what they pay
    for. If you take advantage of the situation, and purposely run the
    cost up because of their "stupidity", that is indeed unethical. It's
    also rotten, and bad for repeat business.

    Anybody who deliberately does crappy work, to run up the tab and play
    the change game, is a jerk.

  9. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    I can imagine the court case:

    You Honor...
    My client is a dummy..
    Function Z was requested, spec'd, approved and later rejected.
    I created a PCB with electronic functions X Y and Z as agreed.
    Yes, I was aware that function Z was stupid but I did it anyways
    because that was the requirement.
    Yes, I do conduit my business in a manner that profits by allowing dum
    design requests..
    In an effort to save time, I avoided saying how dum function Z was.
    That's where I draw the line.
    It might seem exploitive but my client is only paying for functions
    X, Y and Z and NOT a consultation for the entire product nor my
    opinions of function Z.
    Replacing function Z with functions Q and R cost extra.
    However...I should mention that if it's a project involving safety
    then I voice any and every concern..
    D from BC
  10. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    I should have mentioned this earlier...
    I'm giving the impression I do deliberate crappy work. :)
    It's not quite like that..
    I can do a design as spec'd... It works great. Customer is happy..
    However,during a design I sometimes forecast changes the customer will
    But I don't implement that in the design nor do I mention my forecast.
    Then the customer requests the changes as forecasted.
    Then zingggg!! $$$$ Extra charges for the changes.
    What about the ethics of that?
    Sneakyness for profit?
    D from BC
  11. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    I try to point out that sort of thing early: "y'know, when all is said
    and done you're going to want to do it this way".

    Then I let them decide whether they want to change things right then, or

    If they see my point, I've made brownie points, and I get repeat
    business. I figure that for the amount that I demand, part of what I do
    should be to minimize the time that I spend.


    Tim Wescott
    Wescott Design Services

    Posting from Google? See

    "Applied Control Theory for Embedded Systems" came out in April.
    See details at
  12. Jim Thompson

    Jim Thompson Guest

    You've perhaps heard of GM's "limp home" function when you car's CPU
    shoots craps.

    Wonder who it was that forced that to happen ?:)

    ...Jim Thompson
  13. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    I wouldn't do that. At the beginning of a project, I try to find out
    as much as I can about the customer, his science/technology, his
    competitors, and what performance is normal in his business. Sometimes
    I buy books or hit the library and cram about NMR, xray detectors,
    microchannel plates, RPM sensors, whatever he uses, so I know
    something about his business and pick up a few juicy buzzwords. And
    when we meet, I try to make every possible suggestion to make his
    product better, and warn him of anything that might concern me. If
    later we trip across a potential problem, we feel obligated to tell
    the customer ASAP, so we don't sandbag his time to market. The few
    bucks you make, witholding something you know is missing, may cost him
    a thousand times as much.

    I've worked this way with several big scientific and aerospace
    companies, and they have come back for more... many, many times.
    Sometimes they're shocked that we are completely honest with them. If
    we do charge for NRE, we do it and don't go back for more.

    We did that today, visiting a boutique radar company in Livermore. We
    delivered a loaner product and I asked them about their requirements
    for a spec that I know our product may be weak on, and told them what
    we can and can't do.

  14. Rich Grise

    Rich Grise Guest

    Well, for one thing, that's what contracts are for, and one other
    thing I really want to stress:

    Were you hired as a "designer", or merely an implementor? There's
    quite a difference, you know.

  15. If you do a good enough job of understanding customer needs, maybe you
    can charge enough to do it right the first time and still come out

    Best regards,
    Spehro Pefhany
  16. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    I do favour -do it right the first time- for my own projects.
    But with customers...I dunno..
    I've had projects that never seem to stop improving. So there may not
    be a do-it-right-the-first-time....There's just good-enough-for-now..
    Sure...I'll forecast many improvements but not do them...There may not
    be time.. The clock is ticking and Ding!...good enough..
    To customer after I get check, "By the way I have improvement ideas
    for xyz, it'll cost x dollars if you're interested"...
    Sounds shady doesn't it? :)
    D from BC
  17. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    Do you mean..
    A in thinking about everything...
    An in thinking about the implement?

    So....maybe I can bid like this..
    Designer price: $5000.00
    Implementor price: $1000.00
    D from BC
  18. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Yeah, that sounds like a great way to get future business.

  19. D from BC

    D from BC Guest

    It was a wish I could say it like that type of thing... :)
    Besides, a client that takes me to court for no good reason is going
    to be called something...

    In court it probably would be:
    "My client has the special ability to not know what electronics best
    fits the application."
    Sound better :)
    D from BC
  20. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    I think it would be very unusual, at least in the US, for a client to
    sue you over poor quality services. What they'd usually do is just go
    away. It's even rare for a business to not pay a bill, even if they're
    not happy with your services, and especially if you charge by the

    Of course your client knows less about electronics than you do. That's
    the point of their seeking presumably professional help. Knowing more
    than them puts obligations on *you*.

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