If you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny.

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.
Monday, February 19, 2024
If you have to explain a joke, it isn't funny.

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What's the secret to keeping customers coming back? How do you motivate your audience to return again and again, eager for more? There's only one thing you need to do to turn one-offs into repeats and it's so obvious you'll be surprised you never thought of it before.

If you write software that requires a complicated manual to understand, customers won't buy it.

If you provide a service that requires extensive training, few customers will want to use it.

If you have to explain a joke, it will never be funny.

I've seen it dozens of times in my career. A service is offered that does the job but is so complicated that only highly trained experts can get full use out of it. The natural response to poor adoption is to provide in-depth and extensive training (often at high cost).

Like a horse that's already left the barn, providing complex training after the fact does little to stem the bleeding of customers who abandon your brand.

I'll freely admit that I've been guilty of this "fix it downstream from the problem" approach. As many of us are, I was a victim of the curse of knowledge — because I'd built or designed a system, I knew from the ground up how it worked and how to get the most out of it. I couldn't understand why others didn't see it with the same clarity and knowledge I had.

Great teachers understand the curse of knowledge and shift their presentation style to focus on their audience who are exposed to the topic for the first time.

"Stupid users" was a common thread, almost to the point of becoming a meme. Amongst tech support and software development crews, "PEBCAK" was a common acronym (problem exists between chair and keyboard).

It's easy to blame the end-user for not understanding how to use a system that isn't user-friendly.

Along with my work at eRep and our use of the Core Values Index™ psychometric assessment to help people not only understand themselves but to understand other people, I've learned a valuable lesson about audience.

First, know yourself. Second, know your audience.

When you are selling a product or providing a service to others, forget yourself and your perspective. How you see it and what you know about it is essentially irrelevant.

It's all about your customer.
It's all about your user.
It's all about your audience.

How you present your product or service is important, but it's not even the most important thing.

How you design your product or service is your number one priority.

If your product or service is designed from the ground up from your customer's perspective, you've got a huge leg up. If it specifically addresses the problem your customer wants solved, and is engineered to be used by that specific customer, the only thing you have left to do is cash the check.

If the number one problem your product or service is designed to solve is your own profit margin, don't expect lasting success.

Customers can quickly determine which competing product was designed for them. Your target market will make their preference known between your service and that provided by your competitors by where they spend their money.

If you find that your customers are primarily tallied under the "one time" column and not the "repeat" category, first look at your product or service design. Does it require a lot of training or explanation? If so, then this next maxim will seem contradictory:

Don't address a complex system with more training. Make it less complex instead.
That's it. That's the hack or "one simple trick" as the click-baiters on YouTube shout like carnival barkers at every person passing by.

Basic instruction is common and not necessarily a bad thing. Having a well-designed and thorough knowledge base and support FAQs on your web site is a great customer service move. In fact, it's a best practice.

But if that thorough knowledge base and support section is a requirement just to get started for most users, then you need to look upstream. Find out how to tweak, re-engineer, or even completely redesign your product from the ground up (if you have to) in order to make it easier to use.

If your customer keeps asking, "How do I use this?" the only real answer is to make your product easier to use.

If you have to explain a joke, it will never be funny.

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (ruckerworks.com), and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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