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Unfairness has been described as “relationship poison” in a study of customer relationships, aggravating conflict, opportunism and undermining the relationship management benefits of contracts.

People’s sense of fairness is innate and has been demonstrated in a wide range of sciences from genetics to primate behaviour.  The feeling of being treated unfairly is instinctive and powerful and can lead to extreme results [1] (although different people react differently to unfairness).

So, do you treat your end-users fairly?

More importantly, do your end-users perceive that you treat them fairly?

Here are ten reasons why you should and how you can show respect for your users that will pay off in the long run.

  1. Your user’s attention is an asset that deserves compensation.
    People can only pay attention to one thing at a time (don’t believe all that nonsense about multi-tasking). That means that paying attention to you comes at a cost to the user – not being able to pay attention to something else. That is an opportunity cost and has value to the user. If you compensate the user for that value, they will feel that you are treating them fairly. They might even realise that others just rudely grab their attention (advertising, anyone?) and that you are much more respectful.
  2. Your user’s information is an asset that deserves compensation.
    In order to achieve your objectives, you probably need information from your user – their shoe size, their email address, their credit card details, etc. This information belongs to them. If you offer them compensation for the use of that information, they will feel that you are treating them fairly. They might even realise that others just rudely grab demand their information (user registration forms, anyone?) and that you are much more respectful.
  3. Your user’s commitment is an asset that deserves compensation.
    The first date is one thing but by itself, ultimately empty and unfulfilling. Having a second or third date means something more. Beyond that is where the real value lies. You don’t get that far without reciprocity. You just don’t. If your user honours you with a repeat encounter, respect that by giving them something in return (narcissists please note, your mere presence is not actually enough).
  4. You are not the reason why the user gets up in the morning – support their life, don’t try to drive it.
    (Another one for the narcissists). Your offering might be wonderful but it is probably not the centre of your user’s life. They will have given it a place in their world because they would like it to help them through the day in some way – but that is all. Don’t expect them to change their lifestyle or do hours of study or training to use your product, unless changing lifestyle, studying or training is the whole point of the product. Be their butler, not their boss.
  5. You are a guest – be a good guest
    Your users have invited you into their personal spaces. Mind your manners, don’t interrupt, take off your shoes at the door. Be entertaining, responsive and offer to help without getting in the way. Be a good listener. Don’t offer your advice or opinion unless it is asked for. You want them to look forward to your next visit, not dread it.
  6. Users take a risk with you – honour their trust in you.
    Running with the ‘delightful guest’ metaphor, don’t leave your hosts feeling they should be careful what they say in your presence and count the silverware after you have left the room. You really do want to be invited back – they might even bring out the good stuff next time. Maybe one day they will ask you to be a godparent.
  7. Speak the user’s language.
    It is probably not C++, XML or Swift. Nor legalese, medicalese or psychobabble. Half of the population of developed countries has no more than Level 2 literacy skills [2] so requirements of vocabulary, sentence length and complexity, etc. need to be limited.  Is the language you are using even the user’s first language? Addressing someone with language that they do not understand suggests that you do not truly want to communicate with them – not a good way to win friends and influence people.
  8. Allow the users to express themselves.
    You are not the only person in the room and certainly not the most important one. It is not all about you (hello again, narcissists) – it is about your user. Let them actively participate. Let them be a co-creator of the outcomes. Then your offering becomes partly their offering. Then you have ‘ownership’ and engagement.
  9. Listen to what the users tell you.
    Ask for feedback in a way that makes it seem like you mean it – and respond to that feedback, promptly and gratefully. They went to the trouble to give you information (one of their assets – see number 2 above), so you owe them for that. Acknowledge the user’s contribution to improvements, don’t just take all the credit for yourself. If you want to be a masterful listener, don’t wait for the user to speak up: closely observe their behaviour and modify your designs to better match it. You’ve got the user on the dance-floor – now let them lead and you be the expert follower.

[1] ^ Tripp, T.M. & Bies, R.J. (in press). “Doing justice”: The role of motives for revenge in the workplace. In M. Ambrose & R. Cropanzano (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Justice in Work Organizations. Oxford University Press.

[2] ^ Using the OECD scale of 5 proficiency levels; http://www.oecd.org/site/piaac/Skills%20volume%201%20(eng)–full%20v12–eBook%20(04%2011%202013).pdf

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