Don’t Be A Drug Dealer!

It has been said that drug dealers and software companies are the only people who refer to their customers as “users”.

There are eerie similarities between them.

Like drug dealers, some software companies want to get you addicted to their products so you return again and again for more, regardless of the utility provided or the long-term consequences.

They might give you the first “hit” (or the first month’s subscription) for free. Once you’ve had a taste, you’ll want more. The barrier for “users” to change to another supplier can be high once they have committed to pay for the product.

Word of mouth is always the most effective marketing. If a product is good and gets people saying positive things, the seller can expand and capture more “users”.

Likewise, up-selling is possible once there are customers who return for more. Some “users” will buy bigger and better hits or even entirely different products once they are hooked into some form of brand loyalty.

Treating customers as “users” thus seems like a great idea. Doesn’t it?

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But wait … What is wrong with this picture?

Treating customers as “users” really is like being a drug dealer. It demeans their humanity.

Your customers are people and deserve respect.

Sure, it is possible to understand consumer behaviour and use that to improve experiences with your products. As a discipline, psychology can help us understand how people tick and how we can improve human experience.

Being informed about how to identify the real problems people face and how to truly solve these problems is one thing. But cynically manipulating your customers as returning, paying “users” is another thing entirely.

In fact, viewing your customers as returning “users” encourages the cynical path of creating addictive experiences (think of the well-publicized negative impacts of social media platforms today) and making a play for profit at the expense of improving human experience.

There is a better way. Treat your customers as people, in all their beautiful complexity. You will more deeply consider their problems, the appropriate solutions, and this will help you avoid the path of cynicism (eg. creating more and more addictive experiences at the expense of everything else).

A lot of research has been done on why people resist positive change and how to break down barriers to acceptance for new technologies, and this knowledge can be harnessed in a constructive way.

If you solve the right problems and improve their experience, your customers will return of their own free will, without a need for the tools of manipulation and addiction creation.

Which side of history do you want to be on?


What Is The Problem, Really?

Do you really understand your customers? Do you really understand the problems you are trying to solve for your customers?

The real problem may not be as obvious as you think.

Most lifts (a lift is an elevator in US English) have “Close Door” buttons that do nothing. After a fixed time delay, the door closes, regardless of whether the button was pressed or not. Most people do not realise the buttons have nothing to do with the door closing. After all, they press the button and then the door closes.

The lift userĀ desires the door to close. They press the button. They perceive that pressing the button causes the door to close. Problem solved.


The excellent book “Are Your Lights On?” by Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg defines a problem as “…a difference between things as desired and things as perceived”.

Take a few minutes to think about your customers and the problems you are trying to solve for them with your product. Do you really understand the problem? What do your customers desire? How can you change their perception?