Instructions for use:  Do customer need them?

By September 16, 2016 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the Daily Nation on July 12th 2016

We often say that babies do not come with instruction manuals yet mothers (and some fathers) in their wisdom are able to figure out what to do when. If we are able to take care of babies with minimal or no instructions, do we really need instructions for use of the products we buy? Do these instructions really make a difference to the customers?

I bought some uji (porridge) flour a while back. On the instruction for use it read “used like any other uji floor”. This perplexed me, I wondered if the company is just too lazy to give instructions or they think instructions do not matter.  On the other hand, I was quite impressed a few days ago when a hawker selling pawpaws gave this instruction to me “Ukifika nyumbani toa kwa karatasi ili siive mojamoja” meaning “once home remove the pawpaws from the plastic bag so that they can ripen one at a go”. This was a simple instruction. It did not matter whether I needed it or not but I though the hawker cared enough about his customers to want to share this information with them.

A simple instruction for use on many food products is the use by date.  This requires retailers to be extra careful not to sell items that are beyond their use by date. This also means that any customer who buys an expired product has the right not only for a refund but also for an apology.  Pharmacies and chemists too have a burden to share instructions for use but many have abandoned this responsibility. I recall that in the past they would tell you whether to take the medicine before food, with food or after food. Today, many pharmacist will just hand over the drugs in silence even without the dosage instruction. They possibly expect that customers know or you will Google the instructions. My aunt was once discharged from a leading hospital without instructions on how to inject herself with insulin. She was back the following day for assistance. I believe this was great disservice by the hospital.

Some business are very creative and go to the extent of giving instructions for use of their facilities. The push and pull door signs is a classic example. I have also seen malls where they ask customers to press the buzzer if the toilets are dirty. A friend of mine shared some hilarious instructions posted in the gents for use of the urinals at some shopping mall. Instruction are expected to make it easy for the customers and for the business.

Most electrical, electronics and other machines and equipments come with detailed instructions manuals or have the manuals accessible online. Many of us only look at these instruction manuals when there is a problem. When we flip through the manuals looking for a solution, we are always delighted to find what we are looking for.

Every business must ponder about the instructions that their customers need whether basic or complex and provide them in advance. This makes life much easier for the customers.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy