TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
Audience first, for crying out loud

I make no secret of being a convinced user of Apple products.
Apple's design principles, both for hardware and for software,
are close enough to my own, with a high signal-to-noise ratio
and a clear attention to verbal and visual detail, and I regard
the Apple Human Interface Guidelines as mandatory reading
for anyone designing interfaces under any operating system.

My long-time enthusiasm does not mean that what originates
from Apple automatically wins my approval (nobody's perfect);
For example, I was not impressed with the e-mail below, sent
to me recently by “Jessica” at iTunes Store Customer Support.

Dear Jean-luc,

Greetings from Apple! Before I start finding a solution to your problem,
I want to begin by introducing myself. My name is Jessica and I'll be
assisting you today. It is essential for me to be able to provide you
with the right information for your issue, and that I will do the best
of my ability to help you resolve the situation.

I understand you are unable to download 5 of the songs in your down-
load queue. I apologize for the situation and will be happy to assist you.

I have posted fresh copies of the songs to your account for you to
download again. Please follow these steps to download the items:

I could be patient with the unneeded but otherwise harmless
“Greetings from Apple”, but I was far less happy with the fact
that Jessica chose to talk about her (who she is, what she finds
important) before “starting to find a solution” to my problem.
If you want to help, tell me that you have a solution for me,
not that it is essential for you to do the best of your ability.
Then, and only then, I will want to know whom I might thank.

In other words, the whole first paragraph in the above e-mail
can be removed: it does not tell me anything that I cannot find
elsewhere in the e-mail (or that I find I am entitled to expect).
So too can the apology in the second paragraph: I see no need
to apologize (I never suggested the mishap was Jessica's fault),
but if an apology is in order, it is best moved out of the way—
near the end of the message. A revised version may read thus:

Dear Jean-luc,

I understand you are unable to download five of the songs
in your iTunes download queue. I have posted fresh copies
of the songs to your account for you to download again.
Please follow these steps to download the items: …

If you have any other question or concern, do not hesitate …

iTunes Store Customer Support

The insistence on starting by introducing oneself instead of
focusing on the audience's concern is so typical of speakers,
too: “Good afternoon. My name is … and I have chosen to talk
today about …” At this point, who cares what your name is?
You haven't done a thing for your audience, and you sound
like you have selected the topic out of personal interest only.
If you want the attention of your audience, talk about them,
not about you (yet): reach out to them in an attention getter
bring up a need they care about, then (and only then) tell
them what you have done in an effort to address this need.
Now you can clarify who you are—in relation to their need:
more than your name, you need to establish your credibility.

Remember this basic rule of politeness that your mom or dad
may have taught you: always talk about the other person first
and about you later. It works wonders for e-mails, for talks…
and for dating. You want someone to get interested in you?
Simple: show interest in him or her. Audience first: it works.

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