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It takes a village idiot

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of the expression that it takes a village to raise a child. I’m not saying it isn’t true—I just get bored easily. But I want to coin a new phrase: “It takes a village idiot to create your customer experience.” If you want to find out why I say that, let’s take a stroll together down Duh Drive, which would be the logical place for village idiots to live.

So, before you ask, no, I am not saying that the people creating customer experiences are idiots–far from it. What I am saying is that in some ways, that’s the problem.

Have you ever sat and watched someone come to your Web site who has never been there before? Have you observed customers in a focus group or a usability test where they say exactly what they are thinking as they experience your Web site?

I have, many times. And the results were usually the same. Our Web site stunk on ice. This fabulously crafted, meticulously thought-out creation, from a team of geniuses, could baffle and perplex any customer who sat down in front of it.

We could swear that it was self-explanatory. Sometimes we told ourselves, “OK, this version is dead simple.” But at each and every interaction with real breathing customers, we learned that it wasn’t. That things we took for granted were not understood. That our customer experience was not idiot-proof.

And faced with this result, one of my colleagues would invariably joke, “What we need are smarter customers.” It was funny every time. Because what we really needed was a dumber team. We needed a village idiot to design our Web experience.

What I mean is that all of us smart folks needed to dumb down what we expected of our customers. And while it’s fun for me to carry on this way about smart people and idiots, what’s true is that everyone involved was smart.

Our customers were smart enough to sit down in front of something completely new and operate it, with varying degrees of success. But our Web team needed to be able to put themselves in the customers’ shoes–to realize what things we insiders took for granted and what things might confuse people who knew less about our site.

Now, hard as we tried, we’d never produced something that required no customer feedback. But trying to use a simplistic view–acting like an idiot, you might say–helped all of us to better anticipate what might confuse our customers, so that we weren’t completely throwing away many of our attempts, the way we once did.

You can do the same. Don’t accept the idea that your customers will learn how to work it. Because you’re just waiting for your competitor to design an experience that feels natural to your customer–I mean to your former customer.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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