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  Humor for Learning - Words & Customer Understanding

Sometimes it's hard to figure. You labor to get the words just right. You write instructions for users of your services, design what appear to be straightforward procedures (to you). You explain...but still, customers get it wrong. They don't fill in forms properly, they go to the wrong place even though everything is clearly marked...perhaps they are dim-witted?

No, probably not. We often forget that the meaning of words depends on the way people interpret them. And our language is very ambiguous. For example, when you say "Just go through that door", one obvious meaning is that the person should walk through the doorway. However, another possible interpretation is for them to attempt to go through the door with great, crashing energy (i.e. break it down). A police officer attempting to arrest a felon might be more likely to see the second meaning, most of us would think that the first meaning is obviously the one intended. So, not only do the words carry meaning, but the context, situation and experiences of the individual hearing the words carry considerable weight.

We've pulled together some examples of misunderstandings taken from the computer world, partly because they are very funny and partly because they help highlight that what we may take for granted is not so simple. When writing material for the public (or other customers), it is always useful to evaluate whether it will "make sense" the way you want.

Computer Customer Confusion

An AST customer was asked to send a copy of her defective diskettes. A few days later a letter arrived from the customer along with Xeroxed copies of the floppies.

A Dell technician advised his customer to put his troubled floppy back in the drive and close the door. The customer asked the tech. to hold on, and was heard putting the phone down, getting up and crossing the room to close the door to his room.

Another Dell customer called to say he couldn't get his computer to fax anything. After forty minutes of trouble-shooting, the technician discovered the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and hitting the "send" key.

A Dell technician received a call from a customer who was enraged because his computer had told him he was "bad and an invalid". The tech. explained that the computer's bad command" and "invalid" responses shouldn't be taken personally.

Another customer called Compaq tech support to say her brand-new computer wouldn't work. She said she unpacked the unit, plugged it in, and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. When asked what happened when she pressed the power switch, she asked "What power switch?"

Compaq is considering changing the command "Press Any Key" to "Press Return Key" because of the flood of calls asking where the "Any" key is.

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