Words from potential ex-customers

It is only customers who pay dollars as your revenue and enable your read this post comfortably at your office. Almost every company considers “Customer-oriented” as one of their key values although they can be expressed in various ways. It is “Passion for customers, partners, and technology” in Microsoft. This post is about two real personal experiences around customers, or ex-customers.


#1: My mother’s mobile phone

My over-55-year-old mother is of the old school, short-sighted. She has nearly zero knowledge about computer, menu, input method or any that sort of high-tech things. One day she realizes needs of contacting us from time to time in her way and decides to grab a mobile phone. Typical user scenarios of her interest can be summarized in descending order as follows:


  • Power On/Off – for power saving
  • Receive a phone call
  • Call her contacts(<10)
  • Set/Close alarm – She need prepare breakfast for family every morning
  • Handle recharging easily – when to charge, when to start/complete


  • Larger UI elements – It is not convenient for her to bring glasses always
  • Louder sound – Her hearing is aging

And then I go ahead to bring her one of my used feature-rich phones with enough confidence. After helping input her contacts with concerns whether she can ever figure out where to start, I start demo-ing how to use the phone. Problems arise from the very beginning. To power-on, the phone provides two approaches:

(1) Hit a green button, wait for a second, and then hit another button to confirm

(2) Alternatively, hold the green button for 3 seconds

My mother finds she is in trouble telling “hit” vs. “hold”, and it is especially hard for her to judge when the startup itself is completed, or whether she hit the button heavily enough. She also complains that the button is too many for her and keyboard is totally useless for her. UI controls are over-crowded to hardly figure out what is going on in the screen… Similar things happen in other scenarios. This makes me think several things seriously.

(1) Is feature-rich always good thing for customers? People(especially software makers) tend to add more and more features to their products version by version, and then charge customers more because of this. But in reality, this may result in confusion or even troubles sometimes.

(2) Are customers kidnapped? Feature designers always think their product should be used in this way, or in that way. But they can never imagine that for everyone. Providing enough customization-ability is probably a good practice. Customers should have the call on their click length.

(3) The elderly mobile market is ignored? I search for a phone dedicated to the elderly, but to my surprise there is no such type. Because kids and women have much bigger spending power? Can Windows Mobile easily hit this market niche?


#2: Medical checking report

A friend of mine was sent to the hospital after two days of Diarrhea. The doctor made a chemical examination of his excrements with the suspicious of certain virus. When we got the report, one highlighted message shows:

Rotavirus --> Negative

I am totally confused. Negative? What should I do about it? And then I had to turn to a doctor in the front desk and had the conversation as follows.

Me: “Execute me, could you let me know what it means by ‘Negative’?”

Doctor: “It means no reaction for this virus.”

Me: “But what does ‘no reaction’ mean here?”

Doctor: “There is no such virus found in the examination. In other words, your friend looks OK from the report.”

Software industry is not alone around such kind of customer interactions. This reminds me of two thumb rules:

(1) Don’t assume customers are as knowledgeable you/your study/your expectation. They can be lack of most basic things in your own area.

(2) User customers words. Customers care about their own problems more, and don’t care how you help solve them that much.