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Selective listening doesn’t work in a user–centred world

Selective listening doesn’t work in a user–centred world

One of the greatest benefits of a Netflix subscription has been discovering the joy that is Modern Family. This US–based sitcom takes what, in most other treatments, would have been lazily–handled stereotypes and transforms them into three dimensional characters.

One of these is Claire Dunphy, a suburban ‘mom’ of three who, as with all other characters on the show, is a brilliantly scripted collection of aspirations and insecurities.

In one particular episode, Claire takes it upon herself to confront a troublesome driver that has been plaguing the neighbourhood by driving at high speeds around the suburban streets. She puts up a series of posters that are intended to deliver a message to the mystery driver, ‘signed’ by the community. Claire believes the sign reads:

“Slow Down”
  – Your neighbours

However, everyone else can see that the sign simply says “Slow down your neighbours”. No matter what she is told, Claire is convinced of the effectiveness of her sign and the clarity of the message she believes she is communicating.

This dissonance can be all–too–common in a commercial context. Organisations can choose to listen only to their own internal dialogue, rather than investigating the differences between what they believe they communicate outwards, and what people are really hearing.

Looking at a business from the inside out – from a customer perspective – can present challenges that may never have been considered by a Board, a marketing department or a web team. And with no dissenting voices internally, companies can trudge on for years before a major event demands some critical thinking. 

It’s an easy option for a business to collectively put its fingers in its ears and say ‘la la la can’t hear you la la’, rather than taking the decision to listen. Listening takes courage and vision. Listening means preparing to accept that everything you were so sure of may not reflect the real relationship between you and your customers.

And listening may reveal that customers are not quite as dedicated and loyal as you believed, that your message may not be clearly understood; and that there is work to be done to really connect with the customers you thought you knew.

For all of the marketing, PR and advertising a business can throw at the marketplace, it is the quality of their experience that will ultimately shape customers’ perception. And to those people, a business that provides poor user and customer experience might as well be saying:

“We don’t need you, customers”.

Unless changes are made, the proverbial nettles grasped, a business may find that the message it unintentionally sends out comes back in a slightly altered, but devastating form:

“We don’t need you.”
  – Customers

By Rick Monro

Rick was UX Director at Fathom from 2014 to 2017, when he left to take up a role as Principal UX Architect at Puppet.

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