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Users don't care if you are the best.


I know I'm preaching to the choir here, so this is directed at the people who aren't reading this but should:

Your users don't care about how fabulous you are. How fast your product is. How many awards you've won.

If we want to inspire our users, we have to care about how fabulous they are. How fast they are. How many awards they might win as a result of using our products or services.

That's what sociologists, psychologists, and cognitive scientists tell us. It's what biologists and anthropologists tell us. Self-interest is hard-wired into the brain. That doesn't mean people aren't capable of thinking of others...but let's face it--when your user makes a list of the people he cares most about, you're not in the top ten.

We've talked about this in other blogs including Users shouldn't think about YOU, and
How to create a non-fiction bestseller, but since it's my favorite theme, here I am again.

Because I just keep wondering why so many advertisers/marketers/companies/individuals keep promoting how great they are... how they are better than the competition, blah blah blah, rather than focusing on how important the user is, and better still... how this product or service will enhance the user's life.

And we're not talking some Big Important Deep Cosmic Spirtual Thing. Software developers, teachers, designers, car salespeople... we all have a chance to frame what we build and do in terms of how it helps the user kick ass.

Here's what we wish employers and prospective clients would say to the person or company they're considering:

"Quit telling us how great you are, and start telling us how you plan to deliver something that helps the user become greater."

"We care about the lives you touch. We want first-person testimonials. We want to hear from the guy who got a raise because of what he learned from your blog. We want to hear from the woman who laughed so hard coffee came out of her nose because of your game. We want to hear from the couple who found a shared interest because of your product."

But again, it doesn't have to be anything earth-shattering. Think about the seemingly little things a company's product or service has done for you like... Made you smile. Made you feel--and be--a little smarter. Made you catch your breath over the beauty, quality, or sexiness of the product (or hell, even just the coolness of the package... anyone who's kept their iPod box beyond any possible reason knows what I'm talking about). Helped you take--or digitally alter--or display--a photograph that makes your child look as happy as you knew he was when you took the shot. Made you look like a million bucks (sorry Hugh, I meant quid). Helped you become just a shred more passionate about something you love. Better yet, helped you become passionate about something you didn't even know you liked.

So... who have you helped kick ass today?

Perhaps more importantly, for you passionate-user-creators, how are you making sure that you can hear about it? What can you do--or what can you ask your employer or clients to do--so that you can capture some of those testimonials? So many of those company feedback forms make me want to throw up because they're all about the company! The ideal feedback form would try anything possible to get the user/evaluator to talk about himself. So the next time an employer tells an employee what the users/customers think about the company or product or service, I'd love to see that employee respond with something like, "That means nothing to me. Tell me what the customer feels about himself as a result of our company..." Right. ; )

Posted by Kathy on May 2, 2005 | Permalink


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Yes i think this trend of making the users feel great abt themselves on a result of a product is important. For example reading the HF design patterns the first thought that comes to your head is "I really do understand these stuff... I know design patterns now". Now that is a best seller

Posted by: Prasanna | May 2, 2005 9:59:46 PM

Sales people are trained to sell themselves, then the company, then the product. And for the good reason that customers like to know who stands behind the product, can they be trusted to tell the truth about it, will they be there to fix it when it goes wrong, what's their track record for quality.

Drug dealers may get by on selling a product that makes the customer feel good about themselves, but in the real world it's not great technique.

Posted by: Wally | May 3, 2005 4:08:28 AM

Wally, I take it to meaning a lot of companies keep looking in the mirror saying, "Who's that handsome guy in the mirror", and continues to croon. To a company it's generally a me, me, me world; when the reality is its a customer centric world, and people forget that.

A sales guy sales like he has to, but there is a limit of how much grooming a company needs before enough is enough and the product must dominate the landscape. All I need to sign off on giving someone a contract is a basic track record, a contract on expectations & service, not a biography on the company, its founder, or how much ass kissing they do.

How will you serve me, how will you make my life easier, how will you give me more power for less effort.


Posted by: C9 | May 3, 2005 9:19:25 AM

This is must-reading for software companies. I'm wondering though about that previous post on manhole covers: http://staffingtechnology.blogspot.com/2005/05/designer-manhole-covers-or-safe-roads.html

Posted by: gregg Dpurgarian | May 3, 2005 10:36:14 AM

It's a me, me, me world from all perspectives - the user doesn't care about the companies he buys from; he cares about himself, first and foremost. If the supplier even appears to give a rat's behind about him, he's more likely to come back for more, out of pure self-interest. It's in a supplier's interest to be interested in the customer - marketing 101, really.

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 4, 2005 5:24:39 AM

Gregg, re: manhole covers and safe roads. If there's a clear correlation between manhole design and road layout then I'm in agreement, but I'm not sure these two actually tie up.

Posted by: Joel Goodwin | May 4, 2005 10:46:04 AM

Sales people have to have product knoweledge to impart to customers. This makes the customer an educated consumer. It is what customers want, especially when buying high end products.

Posted by: Between The Sheets | May 25, 2005 12:49:20 PM

"Sales people have to have product knowledge... it is what customers want..."

Absolutely right. My point is about the *orientation* of the person/company with the knowledge--to the user/customer, the salesperson's knowledge means nothing by itself. It means *everything*, though, in the context of how (and whether) that knowledge can be applied to the user's benefit. So do I care how smart your salesperson is? No. Do I care how many awards you've won? No.

But... (another big BUT), I care what you can do for *me*, and these awards and knowledge can, in the right circumstances, be a reflection of that. Too many companies and individuals focus on the side of what they know, and forget that it's about what that knowledge can DO for the other person. And that user/customer cannot always be expected to make the leap and assume that just because the salesperson is knowledgeable, it means he's knowledgeable in a way that will be put to meaningful use for the user's benefit.

We all have far too many experiences now where that hasn't been the case -- knowledgeable salespeople who, for example, use that knowledge to sell you something that offers the salesperson the largest rewards. Or look at the all the ad agencies who win award for ads that impressed the judges but never actually led to increased customer awareness and sales.

Of course, when a company has piled up a lot of industry awards and kudos and especially large clients, that usually *is* a result of their capabilities. But people are becoming less and less trusting of the salesperson/company/advertiser as the authority figure who knows.

I have to admit, though, that I will always pay a premium to buy certain products from local knowledgeable -- and TRUSTWORTHY--dealers rather than take my chances online for a lower price but without that valued expert. If I buy a high-end camera, for example, I'm going to the people I trust, even if I can save several hundred dollars online, just because I know the guy's advice is meaningful to me.

Same with my car mechanic. The problem is finding the people who know a lot but also get you to at least *perceive* that all that knowledge is simply there to make your life better : )

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | May 25, 2005 1:02:18 PM

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