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If Godzilla taught user interface lessons…

A few weeks ago, I helped my mom buy an iPad.

You would think that my mom, who is in her 70s, would be the one learning the most from this exercise, but you’d be wrong.

Going through this with her simply reminded me (again) to discard all assumptions when building a user interface, when training and most of all, when designing a process that brings new customers into the fold.

So why Godzilla?

Godzilla has very short arms, much like a T-Rex. Those of you who remember Bill Harley’s dinosaur story about the boy who wanted to be a T-Rex will be familiar with Godzilla’s challenge: Harley’s dinosaur ate the french fries off his plate like a dog because his arms wouldn’t reach the fork.

Godzilla would have an equally rough time using software that assumes the user can touch the iPad’s screen.

What I’m getting at here is that making assumptions about your clientele (or in this story’s case – end users) can threaten your ability to help them if it’s focused in the wrong place because you made too many assumptions.

My Assumptions

Before you think I’m accusing you of making assumptions about your clientele, keep in mind that I had done the same thing prior to going through this iPad install: I assumed that there was some familiarity with iPads/iPhones and touch devices in general – even though I knew better.

While mom has been a desktop computer user for quite a long time – she doesn’t have a smartphone or another touch device, so we were going into uncharted territory. This also meant that there was a pretty good chance that she’d have no familiarity with iOS basics, the iOS app store, iTunes, or anything else in that sphere of knowledge.

The adventure

Let’s go over what we did, what I learned and what you can take away from this little adventure.

The steps we performed: Initial power on, get wireless working so everything else would work, connect to iTunes store, create an iTunes account, timeout while fiddling with passwords and addresses, start over on the iTunes store setup and thus, account setup, then setup iTunes and download the Kindle reader app.

For someone in the geek business, this is a fairly simple exercise. Here’s the trick – if you’re an iPad owner for over a year – do you remember the steps and details of the signup and setup process? Do you think it has changed in the last year, much less two or three years? Of course.

So again, assumptions creep into the discussion. My probably-faulty memory was helping mom through this process without seeing her screen, so another layer of frivolity crept in.

After the create-an-account timeout, things went pretty smooth but the assumption monster was always peeking around from behind the iPad.

Your turn

Given my story about the iPad, think about the process you go through with a new client. Sometimes they seem so lost, so uninformed, so out of touch.

And here we are, looking at them like fools. They are the fools, so to speak, who just paid us to help them deal with the fact that they don’t know the things they paid us to help them with.

Perhaps a definition is in order.

Client (n) – “a person or organization in the case of a professional person or company.”

If your newest client told your best prospect that they are “In the care of…” your business, what would they say?

Is that different you would want them to say? You know the truth, be it good or not so good.

You may call them clients because you want to believe you treat them differently than ‘just a customer’, but if you don’t, they aren’t.

Back to those assumptions

Think about the last time you visited a doctor’s office. You come in, someone shoves a clipboard into your hands and you write the same information three times on different pieces of paper. Occasionally, someone asks a question about one of your answers.

Is this process guided? Non-repetitive? What about your questions? Do all the surprises and customer / client / patient assumptions go away?

On their next visit to your office, shop, warehouse or store… do they know exactly what to expect before they arrive? Do they leave without having experienced unexpected, unpleasant surprises? Do they know what they should expect the *next* time?

Assumptions work that way too.

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Why they leave

Why do they leave your site?

Why don’t they buy?

Why do they abandon a shopping cart after going to the trouble to shop on your site, select items and add them to a cart in the desired size and color?

This might give you an idea or two…