Helen Ross 19 April 2017 3 min read

The first step is admitting when you know nothing

Some of you would have received an email from me a while back asking for feedback on our CMS. I’m very fortunate to work in a company that genuinely cares about their customers and wants their products to be a reflection of that.


Personally, I’ve worked in varying forms of customer service for basically all of my working career. I like to think I have a pretty astute ear for hearing things that aren’t the true voice of the customer. So, when I sent out my little informal survey I had a pretty solid idea on the kind of feedback that I’d receive.


Boy was I wrong.


To redeem myself a bit, the pain points I had expected were some of the ones included, but my pants would be on fire if I tried to pretend they were the only issues at the top of the list.


After I gathered my feedback, I very quickly had to come to terms with the fact that my base assumptions needed reevaluating. I also uncovered a few issues so ingrained that users weren’t even seeing them as problems, just situations they had to work with (or more accurately, around).


For a moment, I was pretty bummed out. Then I realised this was one of the best things that had happened in a long time. Not only did I have a number of really solid insights that could help drive future development, I could start with a brand new premise based on data I’d collected:



(Possibly a little dramatic but you get my point)


I’ve spoken with a few of you before about something I’ve shorthanded into “assumed knowledge”. It stems from the concept of the four stages of competence.  Essentially, when we spend a lot of time in a particular knowledge space, we eventually get to a place where some of our knowledge is subconscious. That is, we don’t need to actively think about it to know it to be true.


For a basic example, if I work in IT I will know that in order to use my desktop it must have access to a power supply. This is such fundamental knowledge that when you show someone how to do something on a desktop, you skip the entire boot up process, because it doesn’t seem necessary. You assume they already know.


Now take it from a basic example to a product. One of your products. Your customers need these products, but they don’t live and breathe them the way you do. You no doubt realise that some of the knowledge you have isn’t shared by your customers. But is this realisation accurate?


So I challenge you to ask yourself, what knowledge are you assuming your customers have? What knowledge do you know so fundamentally that you don’t even think about it anymore (tricky, right?).


Feedback a great tool to give you insights into this. Don’t forget: feedback can come from your internal customers as well as your external ones. It’s import to remember that for every person who contacts you, there are others who just get fed up and end up buying from a competitor.


I find one of the most valuable resources for finding unidentified knowledge gaps is new employees. They know the very basics of what your company does and no more. This is a perfect platform for feedback!  Give them your website, give them your new product, give them the new email you’ve been working on. Then listen to what they have to say. Most importantly, listen to what questions they ask. These are the kind of questions new customers will ask – and maybe some existing customers already want to ask.


Be careful of that assumed knowledge and ask yourself:


You know your specialities, but how well do you really know your customers?