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Don’t Force Me Into Your Format!

the pain of being forced into a different format

the pain of being forced into a different format

How many times have you gone to a fast or casual eatery and were interrupted mid-order with questions that you would have answered, had the server not interrupted you? You had ordered your salad and was requesting your dressing on the side when you were interrupted with questions about your beverage or bread. Is it just me, or does anyone else find this infuriating? As a teenager working in the food services industry, I was repeatedly trained about the importance of listening to the customer. I had to allow the customer to fully state their order, capture what they requested, then circle back to fill in any gaps. These days, it seems that restaurant workers are not as well-trained and as a result, are unaware of how much extra work is involved just to place an order. The reason? They are forcing me into their format. Although I have no idea about the menu layout on the register, these workers have become accustomed to their own logical order. The moment you step out of synch with what they anticipate – BAM! They force you back in line with well-intentioned questions that help them, yet throw you off course. WARNING: This takeout scenario may seem familiar:
Worker: Welcome to Happy’s – make I take your order?
Customer: Yes, I’d like your #1 combo with no mayo and..
Worker: what size drink with that?
 At this point, you have two options – continue with your original order according to the way you think or succumb to the worker’s format and  answer the questions in strongest malicious obedience mode, in the order in which they are asked. The second scenario continues like this:
Customer: Regular.
Worker: Would you like to upsize your meal?
Customer: No.
Worker: Will that be all for you?
Customer: No.
Worker: What else would you like?
Customer: No mayo, no cheese, and a wheat bun for my sandwich.
Worker: Does that complete your order?
Customer: Yes.

The issue with this scenario is that what began as an open-ended and customer-focused question quickly deteriorated to a closed-ended conversation with the customer feeding the worker information in the chunks and bits they request. That would be great – except YOU are the Customer! The worker should be listening to you. He or she should also you to fully express your expectations and requirements before responding and asking additional questions. This is frustrating for everyone because it hinders the worker’s effectiveness and forces a much longer engagement than necessary.
As frustrating as this scenario is on a small scale, apply it to a software or product where the users – multiple clients – are the customers. As technical and business specialists with a specialities – solutions consultants, project managers, business analysts, technical leads, UX and interaction designers, UI designers, instructional designers, content strategists, marketing communicators, knowledge managers, training consultants, online help authors and technical writers, we must constantly consider our client users. We are tasked with listening and providing multiple ways for our customer to achieve their desired result. We shouldn’t force the user to conform to our standard. Instead, the user perspective must shape our priorities, define our mission, and drive our goals. True usability and customer satisfaction is achieved when the user is blissfully unaware of our existence. When we listen carefully and align our goals with the customer’s priorities, they enjoy a seamless user experience. So the next time you initiate your next great project or plan your next fantastic deliverable, carefully consider your user and their preferred format moreso than your own. It makes a world of difference to everyone.

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