Business Advice

Bill Gates shows why it’s important to talk to your customers, even if you’re the boss

Dominic Powell /

When was the last time you sat down and answered one of your business’ customer service calls, or talked to a client yourself? The life of an SME owner is always busy, but one consultant believes sitting down and speaking to a customer can provide unparalleled insights into the inner workings of your business.

Not convinced? Even Microsoft founder Bill Gates once took this approach, sitting down and taking an impromptu customer support call whilst on a tour of a new office building.

Read more: The one thing Bill Gates would tell his 19-yr-old self—plus 10 other lessons from his online Q&A

The story is nearly as old as the Internet itself, occurring in 1989 when Microsoft was still a budding tech company. Gates reportedly took the call under the name William, and flawlessly guided the customer through their issues and quickly resolved the problem.

Gates was so good, the customer even called back some time later, asking for the “nice man called William”, and was informed the man who helped out was none other than Gates himself.

Writing for Entrepreneur, president of US consulting firm The Marks Group and regular business columnist Gene Marks believes Gates’ actions should set a precedent for leaders and business owners.

Marks discussed a client of his who runs an 80-person company, who moved into one of their customer service representative’s offices when they went on maternity leave. During his six-week stint in her office, the SME owner took some customer service calls and heard about all the goings-on from the employee’s level.

“I learned more about my own company in those six weeks than in the five years before,” the client told Marks. Not only did the business owner learn more about his clients, he learnt more about his employees, Marks saying those six weeks “strengthened his relationships and changed the way he viewed his company and his people”.

“Even the CEO of Microsoft can take a tech support call once in a while. Like my client, shouldn’t we all be doing the same?” Marks wrote.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is a journalist at SmartCompany and a tech and music geek. When he’s not writing, you can find him reading or browsing record shops.

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