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June 17, 2009

On the Intelligence of Our Customers

The other day somebody showed a slide that said "Our customers are not stupid". I objected to this, which led to some laughter. But I was actually serious.

I don't mean that our customers ARE stupid, of course. It's just that with one billion or whatever customers, one must assume that they fall at various points along the intelligence scale, for whatever definition of intelligence you choose.

Although you might feel virtuous in declaring that our customers are not stupid, it's actually dangerous. I suppose it's better than looking down on your customers. But if you say "Our customers are as smart as us, they are just think differently", then you will be tempted to view their lack of understanding about how our software works as a sign that things just haven't been explained well enough. Once they see the model, you expect them to figure it out.

On the contrary, if some of our customers really aren't as smart as us, then you have to design the software so they can understand it. If they can't figure it out, it's not an explanation problem; it's a design problem. Explaining it again may be easier than fixing the software, but it won't help.

Now, I think what the person meant was something like "Our customers needs aren't stupid" or "Our customers' understanding of how our software works isn't stupid." That is certainly correct; you have to know your customers so you can design software that works for them. But if you get to know them and discover they aren't all geniuses like yourself, then that's the way it is.

Posted by AdamBa at June 17, 2009 09:10 PM


There is the counter side to this, which is our software developers don't really know how our software is used by our customers. Since many of Microsoft's products are more tool kits than finished products, I've seen that happen to MS engineers before.

Posted by: cebess at June 24, 2009 05:17 PM