British People Don’t Always Say What They Mean…Neither Do Customers


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If you are one of my regular readers then you know that I am a Brit. Although I have lived in Florida for many years, I am still British through and through, as in I prefer football (read: soccer) to American Football, tea over coffee, and know exactly what a crumpet is. Another thing I know is that British people don’t say what they mean all the time…and neither do customers.

It is important, however, if you are going to design a good customer experience that you do know exactly what your customers mean, even if they don’t say it out loud. After all, how can you determine where you want to end up with your experience if you don’t know exactly from which point you are starting out?

Why Customers Don’t Always Say What They Mean

Unfortunately, customers don’t always say what they mean. Sometimes they don’t say what they mean because they don’t want to be rude in a focus group, which may or may not be paying them or feeding them cookies. Sometimes they don’t because they don’t want to sound greedy/entitled/racist/dumb. Sometimes they don’t say what they mean because they aren’t sure themselves, meaning that the reason they feel a certain way is subconscious and they aren’t even aware of it themselves.

But sometimes it’s because they are British and as a Brit I can tell you that we make it a habit to never say exactly what we mean. Consider this handy list from

British People Don’t Always Say What They Mean…Neither do Customers.

Source: Luke Lewis, Staff


As you can see, this demonstrates what can happen when you aren’t “in the know” as to what a certain phrase can mean. This chart also explains why I would consider this post not bad instead of quite good.

But British deception doesn’t stop there. What’s worse is that it’s not only what we say that’s confusing, it’s also how we say it. I love this short video about the different dialects of Her Majesty’s Kingdom:

Hearing What They Say Even When They Aren’t Saying it

When you are doing a customer experience design project, you need to start with a robust assessment of your current customer experience. For that reason, every one of Beyond Philosophy’s consultancies for customer experience design begins with an organizational assessment. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, an organization can look closely at what your customers really think about your experience both from a functional and emotional standpoint. During this process, an organization gets a much better vision of what their current strong points are as well as areas that could use some improvement.

One important part of an assessment is to understand what emotions are being evoked throughout the customer experience. These emotions may come out directly from survey questions or they may need to be analyzed by walking the experience as if you were a customer yourself, a process we refer to as Customer Mirrors. This helps uncover the emotions that your experience can evoke at each moment of interaction, giving you valuable insight into how that interaction makes customers feel.

It can also show an organization that outsourcing a call center to another part of the world, one that isn’t necessarily familiar with the nuances of a particular’s culture way of communicating, it can create unintended consequences and emotions that destroy value. For instance, an employee in Hungary may not know that when a customer from the UK is telling them that they “are sure it is their fault, but…” that the customer is really saying that the company is at fault. It can be very detrimental to the exchange if the call center employee does not react appropriately to the statement.

After years of consulting in customer experience, I have learned that customers are a lot like British people. They definitely mean some of the things they say but they don’t always say so in so many words. It’s important to understand that when you are dealing with customers, particularly British ones, that they aren’t always going to tell you exactly what they mean. It’s up to you to interpret what they say and how they think to come up with what they mean—and more importantly feel–about your customer experience.

Do you have a favorite phrase that you use when you say one thing and mean another? Or is there one that people have used on you that you weren’t sure what they meant? I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Maybe I can use them in the future!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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