Know Your Customers Language To Create a Better Product Experience.

The Curse of Knowledge

I have a surprising amount of friends who are pilots. Private, commercial and one friend, Shawn, who flies a DC-10 over fires (currently in Australia). When more then one of my pilot friends is in the same room inevitably they start talking about flying. I try to pick up what I can, but when they start rattling off engine names, shorthand for weather conditions and procedures, I resign myself to either listen or ask a 1000 questions.

This same thing happens around developers for a lot of people. But this language disconnect occurs with all kinds of leaders when talking with customers.

Customer language plays a crucial roll in the products you make.

  • First, your customer’s language should show up in your product, so that it’s easy for the customer to understand and use.
  • Second, customer language should be used when you talk to customers.

When you talk to customers, you don’t want to sound like a pilot or a developer (unless your customers are pilots and developers).

It’s easy to forget that you have the curse of knowledge, you know what your customer doesn’t. That knowledge makes you valuable, but it can also make customers eyes glaze over when you speak to them.

If you’re not self-aware, the curse of knowledge can create a wall between you and understanding your customers — and ultimately making a product that’s easy to use.

Knowing About People Vs. Knowing People.

Knowing about people means having their data and demographics.

Knowing people means talking to them.

With every product, a language grows with the team that builds it. Shortcuts are used to talk and understand concepts. Acronyms start to grow like weeds.

The language a product team uses is often focused on the solution being creating. While the words a customer uses are concentrated around their problem, tasks, and the action they want to take.

To help you build a better product here are three ways to bridge the gap between product talk and customer language.

Bridging the Gap Between Product Talk and Customer Language

1. Don’t use “backend” and “system” language.

When you are building a product, you get a deep understanding of what’s happening behinds the scenes. You start to understand how databases work, how systems are connected and the flow of operations all making your product work.

When a customer touches a button there may be 100 levers and connections happening in the background — all the customer sees is a button. And the button is all the customer may need to see.

Often we get tripped up when we talk to customers. We start talking about all the levers in the background, especially if we love the technical challenges that were over-come, and all the customer needs to know about is one button. Their eyes glaze over.

Hold back from indulging in the genius of your product, and sharing all the behind the scenes with a customer; it will get in the way of connecting with them.

When you are working with customers talk to them from their perspective, you’ll get a lot better insight from them.

2. Bring customers into your tribe by teaching them your language.

“Okay,” you may say, “but my product is unique and to really use it and explain it you need to talk about your backend and system concepts.” That’s cool; I get it.

Teach people your language.

People are funny. They will often not ask you to explain a concept they don’t get — because they don’t want to look stupid.

When I say tribe, I mean it the way Seth Godin speaks of a tribe:

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. Over millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another.”


He then says “… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”

Teaching customers your concepts gives them a way to communicate better with you, and it’s an opportunity to provide them with belonging.

3. Consider speaking in customer language with your team.

Every product team speaks with shortcuts, words that embody a whole concept. It allows you to communicate with your team quickly because your team is a tribe.

If you want to get more in-depth insight into your customers as you explore and build out the experience of your product, try speaking about your product from the customers perspective.

I’ve had success in changing some shortcut team language to be customer facing. Meaning when someone on my team says purchase or buy it’s a customer word but it’s a shorthand for creating data, kicking off an API call and 100 other background levers being thrown. In this way, the team gets to stay connected to the customer through the language used.

Using other peoples language helps you see the world from their perspective, and in turn, make a better product.

Speak the Customers Language

The real big secret here – when you speak in the customer’s language, it allows you to listen more deeply to what they say, understand their true needs, and build a better product.

When you make products from a place of understanding people, and not just the problems they face, you’ll have an exceptional genuine quality that sets your products apart from others.

Speak to customers in their language. Bring them into your tribe.

Customers are people. To listen well, learn the customer’s language.

Also published on Medium.