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People Are Annoying -0r- Why I Want to Sell to Commander Data

If only we could just target computers to buy our stuff, instead of people. Some days I want to sell to that guy Commander Data in the Star Trek TV series and movies. He was a computer.

Disclosure: I’m not a Star Trek fan. I can’t even say “trekkie.” In fact, I know of Commander Data only because I was dragged to a Star Trek movie by a beloved family member. I thought he was the best character in it. If you don’t know him, here’s a YouTube link (or you can click the video below).

So why Commander Data? Because he isn’t human, which means he doesn’t have two extremely annoying human traits. He doesn’t lie, and he does read.

1. People Lie

This comes up today because of  Who’s Who and Who’s Not in the Freakonomics blog yesterday. (That’s one of the world’s great blogs, by the way.) Steven Levitt tracks some research related to the who’s who business. More than half the who’s who claims of military honors were bogus. People lie.

People are even more willing to lie when it’s a survey, or a form to fill out, or a poll. (Have you heard about the Bradley Effect, by the way?) When I was at Creative Strategies International we used to do polls of people’s intention to buy, and the respondents were always exaggerating their budget. Ask people in a survey how many hours they spend watching television, or what their income is, or books they read, and they lie. We know about the problem in resumes.

I can’t resist adding an old joke my mother used to tell, maybe just because it’s a great memory — she was born in 1923, and died years ago of cancer — but it fits. The frat boy asks the girl: “Do you drink?” “No.” “Do you smoke?” “No.” “Do you neck?” (And for those of you who don’t get that expression, cool it, this was my mother, after all, and she’s referring to the 1940s). “No.”

“So what do you do?” the boy asks, with a bit of frustration.

“I lie,” she answers.

2. People Don’t Read

People don’t read instructions. They don’t read manuals. They don’t read signs. They don’t read labels. It’s amazing how much you can’t communicate with simple signs.

We had a software problem, years ago, that we thought we’d solve by putting a dialog that made sure people understood the tradeoffs in taking one path in the options. Nobody read it. People called to complain. So we added a click, stopping the program, so they had to click “OK” to indicate they’d read and understood. Nobody read it. We put it in red. Nobody read it.

On the Web, you try to clarify commercial problems, putting it in simple words, as simple as you know how to do. Still, half the people don’t read it. Put it in red, and require a click, and they still won’t read it.

Conclusion? I like Commander Data. He doesn’t lie. And he reads.


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