Why are my customers barking?

A story of seeing what the dog sees


My wife and I hardly ever have a chance to get away, and when we do, we have to leave our “poor” dog behind. So we didn’t want to pass up the chance to take Moxie on a road trip to Portland for the weekend. What seemed like a mistake turned into a valuable lesson about seeing things from a customer’s perspective.

For those that don’t know, this is Moxie:

We arrived in Portland at our pet-friendly hotel on Friday evening, and were told we couldn’t leave Moxie in the room alone. Since we hadn’t eaten all day, we thought it would be a great time to explore while finding a restaurant that would take her. In reality we debated ordering in and getting on our laptops to work but managed to rally for the sake of a mini-vacay.

After surveying the area, we grabbed a table outside at a great place called Tasty n Alder. We were in our chairs and Moxie, of course, was laying on the ground. Now I want to point out that Moxie is a really good dog. She doesn’t beg for food, doesn’t bite, and hardly ever growls. So we were kind of surprised when she started to bark almost uncontrollably. I began to get that feeling that parents must get on a cross-country flight when their child begins to throw a fit. After making sure to point out to the table next to us that Moxie never barks, I looked at Moxie and tried to beg her to stop with my mind.

Tasty and Alder

My wife thinks it’s silly when I try to understand what our dog is thinking. “What is it about tennis balls that makes Moxie so happy?” “Does she really think we’ll get to the park faster if she pulls harder?” In this case, we were both frantically trying to figure out what it was that set her off. We think maybe it’s the new city, the fact that it’s late at night…all the things that might make someone feel strange.

I take Moxie for a walk around the block. She seems calm right up to the point where she goes back to her spot on the ground, looks up towards us, and barks like crazy again. We know she’s not hungry or cold. There’s no other dogs around. No kids are bothering her. There’s nothing under the table to rile her up. It’s just a dog barking for no good reason, and we’re gonna to have to leave before the food arrives or risk getting run out of Portland.

Just before calling it quits I bend down to the ground to Moxie’s level and had to laugh. I figure out quickly why she’s barking. From her perspective on the ground, Moxie could see the back of the winter hat on a woman near the window. The ledge blocked everything but a giant pom pom, which to Moxie, must have looked exactly like one of her toys bobbing around. Moxie wasn’t angry, she just wanted to play with her stuffed friend. We mentioned it to the woman sitting right inside, and problem solved.

A toy
Not a toy

Seeing things from our customers’ perspective

I hate to admit it, but I learned a lot about business that night. We tend to see customers from our perspective. We know how we want people to use our product, so we tend to design it that way. When people don’t sign up or buy our product, we think maybe our price is too high or people must not know that we offer features that other companies don’t.

For us at RiffRaff, we see the company as a great way to get more out of how we spend our free time. When someone complains on social media that they have to pay for golf lesson they booked but didn’t show up for, it’s easy to dismiss that person. But if we put ourselves in their shoes, we may realize that the wording of our message could be interpreted to mean the threat of rain may cancel the lesson. So when they saw drops outside their window 10 miles away, they assumed it was raining at the golf course too. I can see that.

Look, everyone sees life from a different point of view. The rude person pushing to get on the bus may have come from a place where that’s considered normal. Maybe your spouse isn’t forgetful for not remembering that you had another startup event to attend; maybe she just had a million things pile up on her plate that day. And when a potential customer clicks to your site through a Facebook ad but doesn’t buy, maybe it’s not that they don’t want to speak conversation French in a unique setting, maybe it’s that they’re not familiar with your company and when they Google the name, the first thing they see is Katy Perry with a weird looking rapper.

In other words, maybe the puppy isn’t barking randomly, maybe you’re just not seeing things the way she is.

-Steve Vargas

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