Mocking Our Customers (Part 2)

on November 14, 2013

I hate people who are intolerant. ~ Dr. Laurence J. Peter

I hate intolerant people. ~ Gloria Steinem

Last week I wrote about intolerance — how we tend to believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, unless, of course, their opinion is too different from our own, in which case they are extremists, and really, extremists aren’t quite as human as we tolerant people are, right?

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Truth is, intolerance is our natural, default position.

Most people can’t understand how others can blow their noses differently than they do. ~ Ivan Turgenev

The Stain Of Disdain

Intolerance spills into every part of our lives, including our relationships with our current and potential customers.

If ever I become a big, successful company, I hope I’m not real mean to my customers — like I am now. ((Inspired by Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy))


“But wait, wait,” I hear you say, “I am not like that. I treat my customers with respect. Or, at least, I treat them with all the respect they deserve.”

Yeah, right. I’m quite sure that you cherish the greatest respect towards everybody’s point of view — never mind how comical that point of view may be.

Be honest with yourself. Think back over the times you and your co-workers have stood around the virtual water cooler, mocking the stupidity of your customers; bemoaning how they don’t “get” your product or service.

A bad workman blames his tools. ~ Chinese proverb

True enough. But the reverse is true too. A bad toolmaker blames his customers.

[A]s designers and engineers in general, we’re guilty of designing for ourselves too often. ~ Bill Moggridge


To badly paraphrase Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame, we love people — it’s our customers we can’t stand. ((I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand. ~ Charles M. Schulz))

“If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this,” Bezos says, veering into a familiar Jeffism: “We are genuinely customer-centric…. Most companies are not…. They are focused on the competitor, rather than the customer.” ~ excerpt from The Everything Store


Ah, but you’re not convinced. You need some concrete examples, eh? Well, let’s visit our favorite whipping boy, the IT department (but don’t console yourself by thinking that your department or your company is any better — ’cause it’s not).

IT not only holds its customers in disdain, they have informally codified the practice. Feast your eyes on a couple of the lovely IT Acronyms used to describe — well, used to describe you:

  1. His machine was experiencing an I.D. Ten Type error. (Type it out with numerals: ID10T error. Yup, that’s you they’re referring to.)
  2. PEBCAK (“Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard”)
  3. PEBKAC (“Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”)
  4. PIBCAK (“Problem Is Between Chair And Keyboard”)
  5. PICNIC (“Problem In Chair Not In Computer”)
  6. POBCAK (“Problem Occurs Between Chair And Keyboard”)

Funny, right? Unless you’re the butt of the joke. Which you are.

What you discover about life’s shell game is that it’s hardest to follow the pea when you’re the pea. ~ Robert Brault

You don’t like being treated like an idiot. What makes you think that your customers like being treated that way either?

Gods, Rational Beings and Human Beings

When we look at our clients, we make (at least) two egregious errors. First, we think that our customers should be just like us. Second, we think that our customers should be rational beings instead of human beings.

Gods Like Us

I’ve got sad news for you: You’re not a god and your customers are not meant to be made in your image.

Our customer’s will never be pitch perfect nor should we want them to be. If they were the same as us, what would they need us for? Rather, our customers should be IN HARMONY with us and it is WE who need to adjust ourselves to tune in to their needs, not the other way round.

It is our differences — the very differences that we find hard to tolerate — that make us and our products and services valuable to our customers.

Rational Beings Like Us

Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. ~ Ambrose Bierce

Consumers are not logical, rational beings. We are human and liable to human foibles. We are susceptible to advertising and lack of product knowledge; we fall prey to the need for instant gratification, etc. We are, in a word, imperfect.

[pullquote]Don’t make the mistake of conflating “imperfect” with “flawed.”[/pullquote]

But don’t make the mistake of conflating “imperfect” with “flawed.”

Human beings are a complex mix of heart and mind. We, the providers of goods and services, need to predicate our relationships with our customers on the basis of humanity and not upon the vanity of rationality. Expecting human beings to act as automatons is as silly — and as undesirable — as expecting fish to climb trees. Or drink in bars.

A fish walks into a bar. The bartender says, “What will it be?” The fish croaks, “Water.”

Human Beings Like Us

Just as it is in our client’s nature to do what is best for themselves, it is in our nature to do what is best for ourselves.

[pullquote]That’s not our job.[/pullquote]

But that’s not our job.

We’re SUPPOSED to be doing what’s best for our customer.

To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Problems are gifts.

Every problem has a gift for you in its hands. ~ Richard Bach

Gifts that we have to work very, very hard to unwrap. But when we take the time to do so, the reward is immense.

Every time you think your clients are stupid or whenever your clients frustrate you, you should be asking yourself why that is.

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. ~ Abraham Lincoln

Solving the basic disconnect between what the customer wants and what the customer is currently getting, is exactly what the customer is hiring you to do.

We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. ~ Lee Iacocca

The further apart you and your customer are, the greater the opportunity for you to find a solution that bridges that gap.

Don’t find fault, find a remedy. ~ Henry Ford


Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others.  Unsuccessful people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?” ~ Brian Tracy

“But, but, but,” I hear you say, “this sounds like it’s hard to do.”

Yup, it’s hard to do.

It’s SUPPOSED to be hard, if it wasn’t hard everyone, would be doing it. The value — and the profit — comes from our doing the hard, complex work necessary to make our client’s life easier and simpler.

Money can be made when something looks easy, because easy is very hard to do. ~ Carl Schlachte

If your really want to acquire better customers, there’s really only one way to do it:

Be the change you wish to see in the world. ~ Gandhi

Next Week

In part 3, I will focus on a single example — how Microsoft, by disdaining and misinterpreting the importance of design, also dissed their end users.