R2-D2 Whistles Excitedly: Watch Out, Product Manager! That Customer Is Lying!

Yesterday, we looked at an episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars that involved a cute–sneaky and dangerous–lil’ droid.

Today, we’re going to use that story as a springboard into a discussion on how to tell when your customers are lying to you.


The treacherous R2-D2 wannabe Goldie relays Jedi secrets to the evil General Grievous

Goldie: Cute But Deadly

“Goldie” (the droid pictured at the top of this post) looks and acts much like R2-D2: Spunky. Quirky. Speaks in beeps and whistles. But Goldie is a rat fink.

The sneaky lil’ droid comes undone when he clearly sides with the bad guys in battle. In other words, he outs himself. Presuming your customers don’t stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the evil cyborgs trying to kill you–how do you tell when your customers are lying to you?

First, let’s break down the lying a little.

Why All The Lying?

Why do customers lie?

Sometimes, it’s intentional:

  • To get a better price.
  • To unearth information.
  • To get their friends’ accounts reinstated after a community Incident on your site.

Sometimes, it’s quite unintentional.

Think about the last time a salesperson at a retail establishment asked what you were looking for. How honest was your answer? And how complete was it?

The typical customer may go into a complex purchasing decision, such as buying a new car or a new computer, with specific idea in mind (“I want a family car…”)–but that doesn’t mean they’ve identified and articulated all the requirements (“… and it needs to hold fishing gear for six people.”).

How can you tell when a customer is lying?

The Tells

First, look for physical clues…

  • Unable to keep regular eye contact
  • Tight lips
  • Increased shrugging
  • Arm crossing
  • Balling hands into fists

Second, look for verbal clues…

  • Being tongue-tied more than usual
  • Increased usage of qualifiers (eg, “generally”, “almost”, “however”)
  • Freudian slips
  • Deny, deny, deny (eg, “Let me be honest”, “As far as I know”)
  • Touching one’s nose

Watch for the signs–but don’t jump to conclusions based on one or two signs.

Remember to keep previous history in mind, too: Does this customer usually cross their arms and stutter in general conversation? Either they’re always lying to you or that’s just simply how they are.

On the other hand, if you catch them communicating via hologram with General Grievous, you know you’ve got a problem.

Additional Resources

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6 thoughts on “R2-D2 Whistles Excitedly: Watch Out, Product Manager! That Customer Is Lying!”

  1. As a user experience guy, the title of this post made me uncomfortable. After I read it, I’m wondering what PM’s should do if they decide a customer is lying to them. Do you say “I caught you!” What if they’re clients you can’t fire?

    Pop-psychology truisms aside, verbal and nonverbal cues are not reliable indicators of truth or lies. Different people react differently to similar events. Anxiety over a confrontation can cause any or all of these reactions, even when a customer is completely truthful.

    See http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9D0CE7DB1531F934A2575AC0A967958260 and http://www.uplink.com.au/lawlibrary/Documents/Docs/Doc64.html.

  2. Hi Josh –

    Those are great links, and a very good point–there usually isn’t a single “tell” that can provide definitive proof. If you can establish a baseline (eg, how does the client act in a non-excited state?) that should help indicate if they’re being untruthful.

    But you raise an even more interesting point: If you catch a client (or a teammate or stakeholder) in a lie, what do you do?

    – Chris

  3. Awhile back I “called” a colleague on an obviously disprovable assertion about the target audience for a product. The colleague blustered his way through claiming secret knowledge, and also invoked his team authority to shut me down.

    I lost respect for the person, but I didn’t have the choice to stop working with them. So in that case, I didn’t do anything. Except, I guess, to file the incident away for the next time I *did* have a choice about who I worked with!

  4. I stumbled upon your blog from alltop. I really enjoy the design and your writing. Hopefully there are less lies but I feel a bad economy will only produce more.

  5. Hi Alan –

    Thanks for your comments.

    Are you talking about lies inside a company, between businesses, or between businesses and consumers?

    The good news is, sites like Consumerist.com, RipoffReport, and Twitter are just some of the methods available for the truth to get out. Hopefully, people understand that the short-term benefits of lying to customers are outweighed by the long-term implications.

    – Chris

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