Use analogies when talking to non-techies

Posted in IT at 9:29 by Borniet

A while ago, the emailsystem on my hosting when down. I had alot of complaints from my customers, as alot of these people rely on their email for their companies, and for their private lives.
I had an epiphany in the shower in March. It wasn’t as
stunning as the vision Saul had on the road to Damascus, but
it hit me pretty hard. After my vision cleared and I picked
up the soap from the floor, I resolved to apologize to all my
end users for wasting their time. For years I’ve been trying
to educate them about computers’ inner workings. Fine, but
most of my end users don’t care about innards.

If their reports come out when they should, it doesn’t really
matter to them how the machine does it. I realized that as
long as the data is accurate and sorted properly, they
wouldn’t care if the reports were created by little green
elves working inside the printer with tiny pots of ink and
quill pens made from hummingbird feathers.

After that revelation, I developed a two-tier format for
messages to my end users. The first paragraph tells them I
made a mistake (or there was a hardware problem, or the elves
went on strike), what they saw at their end, in simple terms
(”Your screens went blank”) and that I fixed the mistake (or
the hardware types fixed the problem). The last line in the
first paragraph says “Technical details follow, if you are

The second and successive paragraphs discuss technical
details. 95% of my end users skip them.

90% of your clients don’t know disks are partitioned. Most of
them think a spool is how you buy sewing thread.

You may have a gifted writer on your staff who can come up
with brilliant metaphors. If not, I can supply them on a
regular basis for a fee. Here are two samples of $4
metaphors. Sometimes a bit of humor can take the edge off of
customer dis-satisfaction.

“The computer did a triple gainer off the three-meter board,
but someone had drained the pool”.

“If the e-mail system was a goldfish, you would have seen it
floating belly-up in the bowl last weekend.”

Try it out yourself next time you need to explain something technical to a non-technical person. You’ll see that it really works, and they respect you so much more then when you are using all techy terms.

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