The Internet – Don't Broadcast Yourself

The internet is about 2 way communication. A company that “broadcasts” but doesn’t enter into a dialog runs the risk of alienating their customers and appearing authoritarian.

Recently a bit of an online dispute arose when a local representative from a security company failed to adequately respond to some criticism from members of community mailing list that I’m on… not only did he fail, but when the pressure got too much he just disappeared and stopped responding to the list members questions.

Then a few days later the regional GM of the security company wrote a response, but instead of joining the list and posting as himself, ie. embracing dialog, he chose to ask one of the list moderators to post the email on his behalf. That undermines the dialog since no one knows whether he will ever read the replies.

While he did address some of the issues and make promises to meet with community, his email generally  felt a lot like something between a press release and damage control. It was impersonal and failed to address all the complaints.

However, my biggest criticism of the communication was the GM’s suggestion that people submit their issues or complaints in writing directly to the local representative instead of airing them on a public forum and asking for public response.

This is where I get up on my angry horse and start shouting. That’s the “old way”… this is the “new way”. In the “old way” you could tell each customer who complained “We’re sorry you had that experience but no one else is having a problem so it must be an isolated incident“… The “old way” isn’t going to work any more, and the more companies try and push people back to the “old way”, the more they’ll think you have something to hide.

The good news is that a company who embraces the “new way” can reap the rewards. If you respond on a public forum to one person’s issue you’re actually communicating with the entire group in a personal manner, and they all walk away thinking you’re a good guy who answers their questions and deals with their issues, even if you weren’t actually responding to a question they asked.

It remains to be seen what the fallout from this issue is, but it certainly isn’t having a positive effect on the company’s sales… especially since I need to decide which security company to use in a months time.

Where is the love? – Chapter 1

Love is not something we generally associate with business — we don’t love most of the companies we deal with and more unfortunately, most people don’t even love their own jobs. If you’re in business it is more than likely that your company doesn’t love your customers (beyond what could be considered blatant cupboard/money love) and even if your company doesn’t hate its customers, it probably isn’t partaking in public-displays-of-affection towards them or even letting them know how they feel.You might think I’m joking. But you’d be wrong.

Unless you’re in the business of manufacturing leopard print kitchen appliances that only work in small Eastern European countries, the chances are that someone else is doing what you’re doing, and probably better. The longer I am involved with businesses the more I realise that most consumers seem to pick the companies they deal with in a seemingly random manner. It’s not really random, and there are plenty of books out there detailing why consumers act the way they do and if you care to study them you’ll probably end up with the same conclusion I did; that humans are herd-like animals, apparently no more intelligent at choosing which grassy hill to stand on then a pack of cows on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

cows2.jpgAnd this for the most part is reality… Consumers choose one company over another because other people are doing it and aren’t spontaneously self-combusting. Spontaneously Self Combustion seems to be the benchmark for good service these days. If the customers aren’t exploding the company must be doing a good job.

But like young Brook Shields felt in the first part of Blue Lagoon, there must be more to this.

Who is that first cow and why did he walk onto that particular hill? We know why all the other cows followed him — because cows are like humans, a little bit stupid.

That first cow was probably a lover.

He loved the feeling of the dewy grass under his hooves, he loved the way the mist sat peacefully in the lower lying parts of his hill. He loved how he could return to his perfect spot where the grass was perfect and the sun was perfectly aligned so as to warm up his bum and not be in his eyes. And how the tree was nearby for later when it got too hot and he wanted some shade… and the view… he loved the view. It reminded him of Scotland.

All the other cows went up onto that hill because that’s what cows do… that and our lover cow hadn’t yet exploded.

Consumers, as I have already pointed out, are a lot like cows. We do love to have the sun shine on our bums and not in our eyes. And when we find a company that makes us feel that way we generally stay with them for a long time.

Unfortunately companies are not grassy hills. Generally they suck. They take your money and give you just enough of whatever it is that they’re meant to be giving you so that you don’t go mad cow on their scrawny, dried up grass, no shady tree, hill asses.

In my imaginary little world I like to believe that that perfect hill is actually loving that cow back… loving how his hooves feel running down its back, loving how the cow stands in the same spot, chewing on his puke and gazing happily into the distance. The hill loves feeling loved.

There is a problem though. Cows don’t have money.

If cows had money our lover cow would become a perverted cow. He’d look to see which hill he could get for less and could he perhaps swap the tree for a small umbrella and maybe the grass didn’t really need to be real grass so long as when he ate it he didn’t explode.

This is what customers have become. Selfish perverted annoying little brats who make you angry and call you at 6:15 when you’re just about to go home and moan that their widget isn’t working just like you promised it would and if you don’t make it work RIGHT NOW they’re going to leave your company and start using that other company who’s customers also aren’t exploding.

And then we wonder why we don’t love our customers… and why they don’t love us.

There is another way. Love. Imagine if your customer loved you and the widget. Imagine if you loved your customer. You probably would have spent more time on that widget, setting it up just right because you loved the way the customer loved you when their widget was working perfectly… and if your customer loved you and their widget still didn’t work they’d call in the morning because they’d know it would be an inconvenience to call at 6:15pm. Because you loved them and they loved you.

You may think I am mad, but there *are* company-consumer relationships like this.