Understanding Customers: Part One

A brain of two halves ...

POSTED BY ADAM FOX ON 15/12/2016 @ 8:00AM

Let's get this out of the way; customers are people, too. I'm a customer quite a lot and I often find trying to understand my own behaviour is like running in a circle; I might get some exercise, but I'll end up right back where I started ...

Understanding customers is really difficult. Even when you're a customer yourself!

Understanding customers is really difficult. Even when you're a customer yourself!

copyright: lightwise / 123rf stock photo (licensee)

But at The Office Genie we don't give up, so we decided to write a blog post tackling that difficult topic. A few hundred words in and it became obvious that we need a series of articles. This is the first one.

Understanding customers - hereafter referred to as people - requires first talking about brains, which are one of the most difficult things to understand in my experience. More difficult than cookery, trigonometry or ... well, brain surgery, I guess. Is that ironic?

I'm not saying I can do those things, or that they're easy. I can't and they are not easy (although I'm proud to say that my chicken Caesar salad is, if I may quote my partner, "nearly edible"). Yes, learning is difficult, but it's much harder when you have to unlearn something first.

For example, if we were born believing that two plus two is five it would be far more difficult to understand that the actual answer is four and why. However, we all have a human brain, so we all have some ideas about how it works. Or, at least, we think we do. I say that because the science is showing just how much these assumptions about our own brains aren't always correct.

To illustrate this point, most of us are convinced that we do everything on purpose, by choice and for clear, sensible reasons, right? But how often are we equally sure that someone else didn't follow similarly clear and rational thought processes?

"We're talking about the conscious and the unconscious brain!"

I still struggle to grasp this concept. I don't want to get all Freudian, but he did suggest a useful metaphor: That our minds are like icebergs.

The tip of the iceberg - the only bit you can see - is your conscious experience. The majority of the iceberg is below the waterline and, for all intents and purposes, invisible; these are your unconscious thought processes. We're now coming to understand just how much these invisible thoughts (that we have no control over) influence our behaviour.

My understanding is limited, so I find it difficult to explain the difference. Helpfully, much smarter people - who were probably also someone's customers at some point - are there to help show the difference between the consciousness and unconsciousness mind.

There's something you've been doing unconsciously all day, but you'll become consciously aware of it when you're reminded of your breathing.

Breathing just happens usually, but you're aware of it and can't force yourself to forget about it. It'll take a little while and a few distractions, but your breathing will slip back beneath the surface of the water with the rest of the iceberg.

It's just one small, simple example, but it can show the divide between the conscious and unconscious. Other examples can be found by thinking about whether you remember driving to work this morning or even locking your front door?

When we talk about doing things on autopilot, we really mean we did them unconsciously to some degree. And if we weren't aware of breathing, how much else might we not be aware of? If we can't really remember locking the door, how certain can we be of the reasons for our behaviour during that time?

"Altogether, this is just a hint at our unconscious processes and the effect they can have!"

It's really only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I'm a customer - and a person - quite a lot and I often find really trying to understand behaviour is like running in a circle.

I might get some exercise, but I'll end up right back where I started.

Until next time



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