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Think the Way Your Customer Thinks

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One of the biggest challenges an organization faces is to stop thinking it's the center of the universe.

Customers think that they are the center of the universe. Customers come to your Web site to get their needs fulfilled. They will think you are great only if you meet their needs efficiently and cost-effectively.

Here's an example: I'm in the market for a new laptop. I know in America it's sometimes called a notebook. But what if I didn't know that? Organizations are always making assumptions about what their customers know.

Look at the many university Web sites that have a “Prospective Students” classification. I heard that a survey recently found that students thinking of going to university didn't relate to this classification. The university response: “That's what we've always called them.”

Repeat after me: “What you call your customer is irrelevant.”


It's the way your customer sees the world that matters.

On the Web, you've got to think the way your customer thinks. You've got to use the words—and it's all about words on the Web—that your customer uses.

Anyway, I considered buying a Dell laptop. Dell has good products but has given me awful service lately.

So, I decided to shop around. I went to Computers.com and found a feature on ultraportables—excellent. Ultraportable may be a new word, but it means a lot to me (I'm on the road all the time).

I read about the IBM ThinkPad X31. As I live in Ireland, I couldn't buy from Computers.com, so I went to IBM.ie.

Here's where the fun began. I came to the IBM Web site seriously considering buying the X31. I was interested in talking to someone. Unlike on the Dell homepage, there was no telephone number. So I clicked on the “Contact” link. No sales contact information.

Please, please… get to the point on your Web site. It amazes me how many organizations publish stupid images and marketing waffle that means absolutely nothing.

Allow your customers to quickly do what they need to do. Facilitate. Help them to act.

So, anyway, I click on “Products & Services,” then click on “Notebooks.” I find the X31. There's a “How to buy” link in the left column, so I click on it. Of course, IBM doesn't sell direct, so I have to find a dealer. I browse the drop-down menu, but can't find Ireland.

But wait. There is a link for “Other Countries,” so I select it. Strangely, that brings me back a list of dealers who sell online. How “Other Countries” equates with buying online, I don't know. There's still no sign of Ireland.

I know that Ireland is a small country. But come on, we're not that small. Surely, someone in IBM has heard of us? (They do have an office here.) Even stranger: IBM has an Irish Web site, but no Irish dealers.

Then, it dawns on me. I select UK. Lo and behold, as far as IBM is concerned, Ireland is still part of the UK. Obviously, the IBM Web design team is working from a map of the world published in 1920. At a minimum, IBM should have a classification in the dealer dropdown titled “UK & Ireland.”

Choose the right words and you facilitate action. Choose the wrong ones, and you frustrate and annoy.


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Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.

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