You Need to Talk to Your Customers More

One of my favorite “old man” stories to tell my kids is about the computer science department at my university. I’m not really that old, but I am old enough that I remember watching CS majors in the computer lab using the dot matrix printers to print out their coding assignments. (I am old enough that I didn’t have my own computer in college, but then again I was a history major so as long as I had books and pen and paper I was well equipped for my classes.) The campus computer labs had the 3.5” disk drives. When I moved out of the dorms the only internet I could get at my place was dialup.

At this point I can hear my kids groaning and telling me to “get off the lawn” so I’ll come to the point. Most of the things I do in my work each day were not only unavailable when I was in school, they weren’t even a concept. The cloud? 😂 Software as a Service? 🤣 In my day, sonny, software came in an actual box!

The internet has changed everything in a short time. It’s important to remember that. Your customers are running up against these changes and looking for tools to help them. That’s probably why they found your product. You need to talk to your customers so that you understand what they need and why. Listen to them and explain how you can help.

When we have conversations with customers we’ll know their needs and wants much better than we ever will through post-purchase surveys, NPS scores, or exit questions. Actual conversations give more insight than in-app tracking or heat maps. It’s sometimes hard, but talking to your customers will tell you so much that you didn’t realize and will make your entire business better as a result.

Deep Listening

Listening to music with musicians is interesting. Most musicians I know think of listening to music as an activity you do exclusively; not while reading a book, not while looking at your phone, or while working on email. The music deserves full attention while it’s playing. You learn and gain from the music by listening attentively and deeply.

This isn’t to say that musicians don’t like background music. They do, but they also have the annoying habit of actually listening to the background music much more than normal people do. (If you’re friends with musicians you’ve probably had the experience where they groan for no reason or interrupt you to say “I love this song” when you were unaware there was music playing.)

Imagine if everyone listened deeply all the time. How would our conversations be different? How much time could we save in meetings? How many misunderstandings could be avoided? How much more affection would we perceive? The next time you’re in a situation where listening is important, whether to music, to a friend, or even to the news, listen deeply.

Of Course I Understand Your Acronyms!

…and I wouldn’t be brave enough to tell you if I didn’t.

My first three months working at a tech company I was constantly looking up acronyms just so I could understand what people were discussing on the company chat. It felt silly to have to do that, but at least I was able to catch up quickly.

Now that I have teenagers they will occasionally deign to translate their acronyms for me, the old guy. In a family group chat they’ll say, “BRB. In case Dad is wondering that means Be Right Back.” Funny kids I have, right?

All of this is mostly harmless and kind of fun. Just make sure that acronyms don’t exclude people from the work you and your team do. Internally it can be inconvenient. For your customers it can be a deal breaker.

HT to Stephan Pastis and Studio C for the inspiration.

In a Digital World We Miss 65% of the Message

I read in interesting article that got me thinking about communication. Ray Birdwhistell wrote in “Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication” that words carry no more than 30-35% of a conversation or interaction. This isn’t to say that words aren’t important, but the non-verbal aspects of interactions carry a lot of weight.1

In a world where more and more of our interaction happens digitally, we are missing out on a lot of context. This isn’t exactly a new problem. For much of modern history people communicated in writing and experienced the same problem. Handwriting did help in some ways—you can spot emotions in the way people write much better than you can in type. Those types of context clues are still far more than we get when we’re communicating in texts and DMs.

In my job were we’re mostly working remotely this is something we worry about. We call meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. I know I have misunderstood a colleague by reading tone into a message that wasn’t really there. We realize this can cause problems so we try to self correct by supplementing our digital, written communication with voice and video communication.

It is important to take the time to have real conversations so we can appreciate the nuance and full spectrum of meaning in the messages we receive. It will likely mean slower communication, but it will be much richer.


  1. You’ve probably heard a different statistic. Albert Mehrabian’s 1970 study’s is often misquoted to mean that non-verbal communication makes up 93% of all communication.