At Nepeta Consulting we work hard to understand our customers and explain things in their language. This is vitally important if we are to deliver a successful project. It can also be quite difficult.

An example came up in our Getting Started workshop. We were talking about email and taking the step of setting up a specific business email. In tech-speak, you start thinking in terms of POP and IMAP and Exchange. These however means nothing to someone who is only interested in sending and receiving messages. Almost inevitable, the question arose “Like Gmail?”

Terry Pratchett once wrote about “lies to children”. If you tell them the truth, they will look at you blankly as it whizzes over their head. You have to simplify things. The question is how much you can simplify before you start coming out with something which is potentially misleading. Children often come back with the inevitable question “why?”. With customers, it may be more difficult as very few of us like to admit we do not understand. We have all breathed a sigh of relief in a meeting when someone else has asked the “silly question”.

Well, is it like Gmail?

There are lots of ways to describe email. Which ones should you use today?
There are lots of ways to describe email. Which ones should you use today?

Choose your answer:

  1. The only thing that is like Gmail is Gmail. They have all sorts of patents to make sure that is true.
  2. The technology is different, but you can check your emails on your phone and they will still available on your laptop.
  3. It is not Gmail but you can manage it through your Gmail account.

The choice will depend on your audience.  To get it right you need to work out what they mean by Gmail and also the point you are trying to get across.

What are you trying to say?

If you know you will need to come up with a simple explanation of something complex, doing your homework beforehand pays dividends.  If you watch your audience, you can often see if you have lost them and may need to try again. You can also ask whether you need to explain further.

These situations work both ways. We need an understanding of our customer’s business to recommend a solution. They need to understand the solution in order to put it into action. The best results come out when both sides work to ensure that misunderstandings do not occur. It is not a weakness to ask, nor should it be considered a problem to explain something several times. The benefits are worth it.