Mocking Our Customers (Part 2)

John Kirk / November 14th, 2013
Recap

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.1

Hubris

“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

Bingo.

To badly paraphrase Charles Schultz of Peanuts fame, we love people — it’s our customers we can’t stand.2

“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

ID10Ts

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.

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

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.

That’s not our job.

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

Conclusion

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.

  1. Inspired by Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy []
  2. I love mankind—it’s people I can’t stand. ~ Charles M. Schulz []

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?
  • stefnagel

    Here’s a related thought, by David Copperfield I think. He said that he practices a magic trick until looks easy and then keeps practicing until it becomes magic. That’s the 10K hours effect.

  • robbieP

    It’s SUPPOSED to be hard, if it wasn’t hard everyone, would be doing it.

    That reminds me of when Tom Hanks said the almost same thing in League of Their Own.
    We don’t pay to see the “easy” anyone can do that, we pay to see the hard look easy.
    I like the quotes.

  • James King

    So your answer for better serving customers is to embrace their “irrationality”?

    Your premise is faulty. We already live in a world of irrationality and it isn’t improving the state of things.

    For that matter, many products are designed using focus groups and other methods that attempt to respect the desires of the consumer. It is in the attempt to serve the perceptions of the consumer rather than the biology, psychology and sociology of consumers that produce failure.

    The problem with technology is that it is so unlike what appears in the natural world. There are many recent studies that show that knowledge retention is superior when using “analog” mediums like books, pen and paper than when using computing devices. Our psychologies and capabilities were developed over tens of thousands of years. They won’t be changed or reversed in a few decades, contrary to what most futurists believe.

    What we perceive happens in a very small area of the brain, the rest of it runs autonomic processes of which we are barely aware. The technological paradigms that allow us to transcend the conscious mind and rely largely on those autonomic processes are what we consider “intuitive.” Much of our learning facilities are hard wired directly into our brains. In other words, we are born with knowledge and capabilities. Much of today’s technology and processes force a reliance on cognition that is inefficient. When people have difficulties with systems or processes, it is largely the result of constantly having to “think.”

    The problem with perception is that, as a sense of understanding about ourselves and our environment, it is grossly inaccurate. Some people prefer red, some prefer blue but our preferences have absolutely nothing to do with how we actually process light. If the understanding of how light is effectively processed by our eyes is “rationality,” then we have far too little of that.

    It reminds me of the argument re: skeumorphism… Steve Jobs was a famous champion of it because he felt that it would make technology more relatable. The problem however is that the “analogs” on which a lot of skeumorphism is based are no longer relevant. Most children wouldn’t know what a cassette player or a VCR is if you hit them on the head with it. Even CDs are becoming relics of the past. Processes, systems and technologies are most accessible when they are most relatable. Attempting to create processes to facilitate how people perceive the world vs. how they actually process their environment is like attempting to hit a moving target while blind folded.

    Jef Raskin felt that it was imperative that we find ways to highly quantify processes that require cognition with the purpose of identifying the most efficient. He understood that every day tasks should not require high levels of cognitive thought and that choice, other than in the most limited circumstances, was the enemy of efficiency and productivity. The ugly truth is that humans, other than in rare circumstances, process information in pretty much the same ways. Serving customers is about meeting their needs in a way that is relatable for them, but that has nothing to do with their perceptions. For instance, humans are hard-wired for “reciprocity.” In other words, they will generally reciprocate whatever action they experience. However, acting nice to a customer does not always produce a 1 to 1 response. I knew someone who sold diamonds for a living… she developed an entire technique based on asking questions and improving the relatability the customer had for both her and the item being purchased. Humans are naturally social creatures, it is hard-wired into us for survival. Asking a question that requires a complex answer creates a psychological bond based on the process of “confiding.” Focusing on those things gave her a success rate far greater than her peers.

    I don’t expect this post to be without controversy because I’m generally not that lucky. But, to anyone who questions this post, walk up to someone and attempt to hand them something. Don’t hold it up as if you are offering it to them, act as if you are actually giving it to them. The overwhelming majority of the time, they will instinctively take the item without question provided the item is benign and easily distinguishable. Serving customers is about getting past their actively cognitive minds. What’s underneath is the “rational” part of their minds they don’t actively perceive, the parts that were honed from thousands of years of survival.

    • FalKirk

      “So your answer for better serving customers is to embrace their “irrationality”?” – James King

      My answer is to embrace the fact that they are human beings.

      • James King

        You seem to think that rationality is not part of being human, that being rational is being an “automaton.” Understanding our environment and making decisions without ego is the highest state of thinking to which a human can aspire. Without rationality, there can be no reasonability. The world is already too colored by perception. I’d prefer for humans to elevate their game.

        • FalKirk

          Being ONLY rational is being an automaton. Human beings are a complex mix of both the rational and the emotional. To ignore this is to ignore reality. It must be embraced and even celebrated.

          • James King

            I dont disagree with this point in general, just as a strategy for serving customers. I think a company like Apple is effective because it serves the parts of humans that are essentially the same, not the parts that are different.

          • FalKirk

            “Truth springs from argument amongst friends.”~David Hume 🙂

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