[I’m Reading] Why wasn’t I consulted (or, the web is a customer service medium)

Posts with the label [I’m Reading] will be about articles I’m finding interesting. I often find things interesting even when I completely disagree with them. No lawyers approved this message.

One of my all-time favourite pieces of writing about the web is by Paul Ford (perhaps better known as @ftrain). It is so good you might want to stop reading this and go check it out. It’s cool, I’ll wait.

Good right? Totally.

Paul proposes a framework for media that operates in terms of “questions answered”:

Here’s one question: “I’m bored, and I want to get out of the house and have an experience, possibly involving elves or bombs. Where do I go?”

The answer: You could go to a movie.

Here’s another: “How do I distract myself without leaving the house?”
You might turn on the TV.

“I’m driving, or making dinner. How do I make a mundane thing like that more interesting?”
Radio! Especially NPR or talk radio. “

The question for the web, according to Paul, is this:

Why wasn’t I consulted?

Ever led a redesign? Launched a new feature? Changed the design of an email? This might sound familiar:

Brace yourself for the initial angry wave of criticism: How dare you, I hate it, it’s ugly, you’re stupid.
The Internet runs on knee-jerk reactions.
People will test your work against their pet theories: It is not free, and thus has no value; it lacks community features; I can’t believe you don’t use dotcaps, lampsheets, or pixel scrims; it is not written in Rusp or Erskell; my cat is displeased.
The ultimate question lurks beneath these curses: why wasn’t I consulted?

Most important for any media types considering paywalls and/or membership models (emphasis mine):

Create a service experience around what you publish and sell. Whatever “customer service” means when it comes to books and authors, figure it out and do it. Do it in partnership with your readers. Turn your readers into members. Not visitors, not subscribers; you want members. And then don’t just consult them, but give them tools to consult amongst themselves. These things are cheap and easy now if you hire one or two smart people instead of a large consultancy. Define what the boundaries are in your community and punish transgressors without fear of losing a sale. Then, if your product is good, you’ll sell things…If you don’t want to do that then just find niche communities who might conceivably care about your products and buy great ad placements. It’s a better online spend.

BONUS! Here’s what got me thinking (again, because I reflect on the principle of #WWIC at least once a week) about Paul Ford’s piece:

53% of customers who ask a brand a question on Twitter expect a response within one hour. However, if a customer makes a complaint to a brand using Twitter, that figure goes up to 72%.

And more:

brands that provide customers with a timely response can expect the following benefits:
34% of customers are likely to make another purchase.
43% are likely to recommend the brand to their family and friends.
38% are more receptive to the brand’s adverts.
42% are more likely to recommend the brand through social media.

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