Unlearning your Website: Thinking Like a Pre-Customer

Many would consider their industry expertise to be a competitive advantage. What if I were to suggest that your knowledge about your products and services can be the greatest hindrance to the success of your website?

Tappers and Listeners

Consider this fascinating study, highlighted in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

A group of people are divided in half. The first group, the tappers, are assigned with the task of tapping the rhythm of a well known song, such as Happy Birthday to You or The National Anthem, on a table. The listeners are assigned with the task of identifying the song that is being tapped out by the tappers, based on the rhythm.

The experiment resulted in only 2% of the listeners being able to identify the song correctly. Upon learning this, the tappers we’re shocked that the listeners couldn’t recognize the tunes. After all, they thought, these were common tunes, and they were tapped skilfully. The problem, of course, is that the tune was already in the head of the tappers, but not the listeners. (try this sometime with someone, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to recognize a well-known rhythm)

The Curse of Knowledge

Much like the tappers, we’re cursed by knowledge, which makes us incapable of acting as if we didn’t have that knowledge. In our head, the rhythm of our song plays out nicely. We tap this rhythm on our landing pages and product pages, listing the features that impress us the most, the ones we’ve worked hardest on. Of course we’re convinced of the value of our products, because we already own them. Of course we know how to complete the checkout process on our site, because we built it. But what do potential customers (those without our knowledge) think?

Defeat the Curse by Listening to your Pre-customers

Unfortunately, we can’t unlearn what we already know. For that reason, we must seek the feedback of those with far less industry experience than ourselves.

Don’t rely too heavily on customer feedback. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s really the non-customers you need to hear from. After all, the return customers who are already giving you feedback are affected by the curse as well, since they already understand the value of your products and how to use your website. Do whatever possible to get an outside perspective from those who aren’t yet interested in your product. Learn about the barriers that you’ve taken for granted while under the curse of knowledge.

You can never unlearn everything on your website, but with the right perspective, you can begin thinking like a pre-customer again.