Category Archives: Customer Relationship

Email Subjects are Irrelevant, Only Sender Matters

An email comes from you mom, your sister, your BFF. Does it matter what the subject line says?

No, you open it right up.

I suspect there are some commercial organizations you feel the same about. In my house, it’s DailyCandy, BabyCenter, Joyent, Amazon, our insurance agent, accountant, etc.

Any one of those organizations could send out message without a subject line and I can still guarantee they’d be read.

In light of this and a marketing conversation about subject lines and open rates, I asked around which item matters more. Sender came back nearly unanimous.

Makes me wonder if the customers requiring persuasion only by an arduously-crafted subject line are worth the trouble. They obviously don’t trust the sender – and a single email isn’t going to change that. An overall improved customer experience (including ignoring them) might start that process.

In addition – how many of the subject lines in your inbox right now are meaningful and accurately reflect the message body?

I checked Gmail, Yahoo Mail,, and it’s not obvious how to remove the Subject column in any of them. Best I could do was in – move the Subject column to far right and then expand the width of the other columns to push it out of sight. We’ll try this for a week and see how it feels.

It Only Makes Sense if You Only Sell Ads

“Except for one thing. There’s no ringtone for sale. Just like there were no bathrobes a couple weeks ago. Or Dundee statues before that. Or Timberlake boxes. Or Timberlake box song ringtones” – Doodledee

Heck, TikiBar TV understands this:

“Rather than charging a micropayment for your show, sell fans a nice fancy mug!” – Dave Slusher

If Not Traffic and Page Views, What Do We Measure?

Over lunch with a local start up, the conversation moved towards Digg, encouraging ‘Digg’ing, and generally putting more guarantees around getting ‘Dugg’. While it’s great for exposure, it akin to unloading a bus fleet of tourists into your house. Sure, some of them may stick around and have a beer but, is the line to the bathroom worth it?

I’m not confident traffic and page views are actually the metrics worth tracking. Digg or otherwise. MySpace has lots of page views – because it’s such a poorly designed site. Conversely, Digg, MySpace, Flickr, YouTube all have a strong level of engagement.

Engagement. How do we measure engagement?
Number of posts, comments, “friendships”, a given member contributes? Maybe. Feels closer.

Experience has shown me it’s easier to sell to the same customer with each consecutive sale. With that in mind, the idea is to create a structure that supports multiple sales/transactions (subscriptions are the easy answer). If overhead is low enough, it’s conceivable that sustainable success could be attained with a fairly small number of paying customers.

Oh, on a related note – I predict 6 months before Digg is replaced by something else, if only because it will be over run by spammers.

Related Elsewhere:
Deep Jive Interests: Digg’s Failure: When “No Moderation” Doesn’t Work
Deep Jive Interests: Digg’s Editors Show Their Invisible Hand (Again)

Micro Persuasion: Fake News Story Games Thousands of Digg Users

UPDATE 11 Dec 2006

“…digg users are not valuable for a site that relies on advertising clicks to generate revenue, since they drop by for a cursory look, then head off looking for another distraction.” – Jason Clarke

Jason continues:

“But digg users tend to be those that will sign up for almost any beta product or service, then bore of it quickly and abandon it for the next big thing.”

Measuring What You Can’t Automate

“[I] think how much better it would be if we could just measure how much people care.” – Dave Slusher

Like Dave, I don’t understand the fascination with measuring downloads. Well, I take that back – I understand it for producers trying to woo advertisers. I don’t understand why advertisers would want to base their ad buy on download stats. Downloads don’t equal listeners, fans, or impressions.

Requests for downloads are not full downloads.
Full downloads are not plays.
Plays are not listens.
Listens are not engaged.
Engaged are not customers.

And as Dave points out, download requests can be automated.

Kris Smith’s CastLock application provides unique feed urls and could be spun out to deliver a custom, complimentary ad (or other) message to individual subscribers – based on some measure of engagement (i.e. some bastardized quantification of caring).

As early-stage as it is, it still provides more useful metrics than download stats. Mapping individual listeners to customer purchases still needs some work, but the gap would be shorter.

The real question is – what’s the Effort/Engagement ratio of a publication like a podcast or weblog. I’m glad you’re reading this, and I’m glad you know who I am. That’s return enough for me.


“Any website that attempts to improve time spent on every page (or pageviews for that matter) is just wasting time. What matters is intent. Permission. Action. Retention. Likelihood that ideas get spread. Clickthroughs.” – Seth Godin

Building Communities is Building Commerce

Lots of conversations this weeks about building online communities: forums, weblog networks, mailing list, what have you. All with organizations having a vested, commercial interest in growing a community.

While they expressed skepticism about a community gathering around their commercial interest, I wasn’t concerned.

  1. It’s already happening.
    A group of people somewhere are already talking about your products. Really, they are.
  2. It’s in everyone’s best interest
    It’s in Corvette’s best interest to have a fan club. It’s in Apple’s best interest to have support forums. It lowers direct support costs while increasing passion. It’s in the customers best interest to show off their expertise and passions (perhaps getting time commerce as well).
  3. In many cases, a community with a for-profit business behind it is more maintainable (see #2).
    Those with a horse-in-the-race are of course have the most to gain by a growing community.

I’m less concerned about a church v state separation in these communities. Those involved will determine the right balance – and it may change over time.

The more important bit is being a person talking to other people rather than a Marketer or a Salesman talking to Consumers.

RSS Puts Identification in the Hands of Your Customers

I’m listening to the Individualized-RSS podcast over at Marketing Edge podcast. The conversation is an attempt to bring the weakness of email into the strength of RSS (or verse-vica as the case maybe) – unique reader identification.

This is what I alluded to in this post from a couple months ago. There’s nothing in the technology of RSS that prevents people from identifying themselves – just by adding some identifier (another url for example) to the end of the URL string.

Any more registration isn’t necessary or even good (yes, this is a hack.)

Plus, it’s a much friendlier way to build a relationship with people. Registration (of any sort) requires people to make a commitment before they know the relationship will be useful and valuable. Not cool.

On the other hand, there are some specific situations where a locked down, personally-identifiable RSS feed actually adds value to the customer. I’m thinking of communications that needs audit-ability, a high-level of filtering, and guaranteed delivery. We’re not talking marketing communications here – we’re talking Very Serious Business and in that case, I recommend talking to Kris at Pale Groove about CastLock.

Don Norman – ‘User’ is Derogatory

“Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them ‘subjects.’ We depersonalize the people we study by calling them ‘users.’ Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people.” – Don Norman

Individuals. All of us. Alone together. Even though we hide behind organizations, keyboards, and words – we’re all individual people.

What’s the Opposite of an Edge Case?

Stowe Boyd and Eric Rice have been taking about the problems of 37Signal’s Basecamp.

I find Stowe’s the most interesting (verses Eric’s ‘nobody uses it anymore’). Stowe says Basecamp is great for small businesses, but it breaks down when small businesses collaborate – there’s no out-of-the-box way to connect accounts on a per-project basis.

“if I am working with four companies who each have a Basecamp instance, I wind up with four account/login/password combinations, and worst of all, no unified dashboard view to consolidate all my Basecamp information” – Stowe Boyd

Thankfully Jason Fried replied and talked about the value of different customers.

“Most people are not like you…. most people don’t have the problems that techies do”

As a quick aside, I think Fried misses the point of the problem by classifying it as “single sign-on” (a “techie” term if there ever was one).

Here’s the question. Do you build and revise a product for:

  1. Most people that use a product just a little bit.
  2. Few people completely immersed in the world you’ve built for them.

I opt for #2, they’re the passionate ones.

In the end, Fried’s right – Basecamp’s API is open and we can rebuild it to the way we work.

If It Weren’t For The Customers

“I believe media companies are afraid of interacting with their audiences, because they (mistakenly) believe that their audiences are made up of people just like them — resentful, mean spirited, backbiting, hostile egomaniacs with inferiority complexes who, if given the opportunity, will spout their opinions without regard or respect for anyone but themselves.” – Terry Heaton

I’m continually surprised when I encounter the Us-v-Them attitude Terry describes. I spent so much of my day building partnerships with clients, customers, and collaborations that I forget it’s still out there.

Share You OPML, Exposing 1% of Your Audience

According to the Feedburner widget 53,657 people are subscribed to 746 of those people are also sharing their opml.

That’s 1.4% overlap.

If you’re running a tech startup, thanks to Share Your OPML, you now know which 746 people to talk with first.

Coincidently, I’ve talked to a bunch of ecommerce, direct-to-customer organizations over the years and 1% is the most frequent conversion rate quoted. On the one hand, it’s pretty cool that successful businesses can be built on 1%. On the other, it feels highly inefficient (99% waste).

If you’re interested, I’ve shared my feeds as well.

Where Are Your Customers Going To Be Tomorrow?

Today, perhaps a small handful of people are skimming 300+ RSS feeds on their laptops, publishing podcasts and blogs, etc. Tomorrow that number will be more. Next week that number will be more. Next year, etc.

If there’s anything I took away from a childhood in rural Wisconsin, it’s when hunting, you aim for where the deer will be, not where it is.

There are 2 questions;

  1. Where will your customers be tomorrow?
  2. What do you do when the deer have guns?

Related: Stop worrying about other people copying you.

Loving the Market – Hating the Marketer

“Dependency breeds resentment. Marketers resent consumers, because marketers are dependent on consumers.” – Dave Rogers

Dave nails a mentality that’s troubled me for years. Whether marketers and their customers or agencies and their clients. There’s an underlying resentment rampant in the ‘creative’ world – and I just don’t get it.

Part of it feels like people in a job they’d rather not be in.

Part of it feels like the marketer’s resistance to committing to themselves into their customers’ lives and perspectives, i.e. a meaningful relationship.
Too often, it feels like marketers want to throw a grenade into a crowd of customers chatting comfortably.

Speaking of chatting. I spent an hour this afternoon talking with my insurance agent. We had a great time. Laughed a bunch, crunched some numbers, made some changes. She’s one of my favorite people. We wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for insurance (she was selling, I was buying). She knows quite a bit about me, my family, and my business – she needs to. I want her to.

If I got the slightest impression she resented doing business with me, I’d be pissed.

A Use Case for Identity XML – Demographic Surveys

Stowe Boyd’s running a reader survey. I’ve followed Stowe from Get Real to /Message and thought I’d check out the survey.

Standard demographic stuff; age, gender, household income, zip code, employment status, profession, internet usage, etc. Those common questions attempting to build an anonymous picture of people without actually getting involved with them.

Reading through the questions, the myth of blogs-as-conversation fell away. Stowe doesn’t know who I am – or you are – at all.

If he did, he wouldn’t need to ask these questions – because we’ve already answered them. All of us. Somewhere – if only at the BackBeat Media survey, or in our

I’d don’t mind giving this info. It’s just annoying to answer the same question twice. I’d much rather just point a URL at the survey.

In the same way I’d prefer to point a URL at my current photo than upload it _again_ to another website (43things, Stikipad, Eventful, or Amazon, Technorati etc).

I’m wondering if there’s an XML specification (or something like it) for the basic identity info all these surveys (read marketers) want. For example:


I could spin a file with this info, host it, maintain it, and provide brief glimpses into for the right price (so could you).

Yes, this is the Customer as Silo idea, feels like there’s some intention economy connection as well. No, I didn’t complete the survey.

We Are All Silos

Another day, another MacLeod (the word I’m using to describe my heavy-handed, Hugh MacLeod-inspired imagery).

How many login/password combinations are you (or your browsers) remembering?

Aside from the security issues inherent in having multiple keys around the web, each login/pass is another barrier to adoption, integration, usability, and usefulness.

Customers are the silo, not publishers – application or otherwise.

Great conversation with J Wynia on this topic this morning. The point is, we all have the ability right now to hold, serve, and control our own data. Fifteen minutes into the future, we won’t be adding information to services – we’ll be pointing our own urls to them.

Trackbacks & tags, trackbacks & tags. This is where EdgeIO is pointing to the future. Aggregators and other services pulling in distinct tags, basically taking ownership of a word. While authors still own their original posts. The opposite of Technorati.

Two Tips for Cingular to Improve Customer Service

I caught Matt Ritchel’s Suddenly, an Industry Is All Ears bit in NYT on how Cingular is trying to improve their customer service.

On page two of the article, Ritchel identifies two small, yet high impact changes Cingular could make to dramatically improve their customer service experience:

“There is also a timer that tells the representatives how long the call is taking — the goal is to average less than 500 seconds a call, or about eight minutes.

The databases also instruct representatives how to address hundreds of billing and technical questions for a hundred different phones and multifunction devices.

To gauge the success of its new efforts, Cingular has deployed an automated questionnaire that gives a third of callers a chance to rate their customer service experience.”

First, drop the timer. Or if you must keep it, don’t show it to the representatives. Removing it will keep them focused on solving the customer’s issue rather than racing the clock. The representatives can’t serve both masters equally. Replace it with a metric more reflective of the business; subscriber counts, churn rates, or the stock price.

Second, send the questionnaire to every caller via email immediately after the call ends. A third might return with useful responses. That’s OK. Offering it to everyone means you care about every customer – not just some random third.

Save Your Customers A 39 Cent Annoyance

Ironically, since the USPS raised the postage for a first-class letter to 39 cents, I’ve found myself with more outgoing mail.

Both Netflix and my bank provide postage paid envelopes for my correspondence with them. So, it surprises and annoys me when I have to hunt down a stamp for things far more important than my latest DVD rental.

39 cents.

A trivial amount to bring a little joy to your customers and better guarantee timely replies.

Distribution is Marketing

When we podcast the 2005 MIMA Summit – someone suggested we restrict access to the recordings. They’d be correct if the value of the conference was in the sessions. It’s not.

The value is in the hallway conversations, the handshakes, business card exchanges, and direct personal interactions. The sessions themselves are strictly the focal point, the common conversation piece, the marketing.

Every session ITConversations distributes is marketing for them, the conference, and the speaker.

Mark Cuban talks about the same phenomenon in the movies and television:

“It wasn’t that long ago that some people in the sports business thought that having games on TV would reduce attendance. After all, why go to the game when you can watch it for free on TV? Then someone decided to do some research and as it turns out, the more games you broadcast on TV, the more people who go to your games.”

This is also why the most effective use of ad dollars is in product development.

Update 21 January 2006:

“…a downloaded file is not a lost sale it’s a gained fan…” – Joichi Ito

We Need to Build More Parks Not More Prisons

Smarter people than I can debate the title of this post literally, I’m using it as a metaphor for web development and customer relationships overall.

Vendors don’t have full control over their customers. Never did. Best they can do is encourage, support, and remove obstacles impeding their customers’ success. Especially if the vendor wants to build any notion of community among their customers.

This is where the metaphor comes in.

Each business needs to be an ecosystem where customers are free (free to move to a different vendor, free to congregate) rather than locked-in or “allowed to”. The same reason file formats should be plain text, xml, or another standard format, is the same reason DRM is a bad idea – it’s not usable if the vendor disappears.

The next question is whether we build one big park or a system of smaller ones. Personally, I’m a fan of the system (if I wasn’t I wouldn’t publish regularly to multiple blogs). It allows focus and gives you the power to say, “No, We don’t do that here – we do it over there.”

In the end, best we can hope for is customers leave the place better than they found it.

Update 21 January 2006:

“…you don’t try to force a behavior change, you look for a behavior change and try to make products for it…” – Joichi Ito

What if Your Customers Took Over Your Company’s Blog?

The Work Better Weblog is 2 years old this month. To celebrate, I’m starting an experiment in multi-author business blogs, community-building, and transparency – each Working Pathways client gets posting access.

That’s right – if you’ve hired Working Pathways, you automatically receive a login and password to publish whatever you’d like to the Work Better Weblog.

As I stated in the invitation email:

“Post anything you’d like. Yes, anything – your thoughts on the internet, work process, whatever’s on your mind, even about working with me, and this experiment. Everything’s fair game.”

The first batch of invitations has gone out.

There’s a good chance there’ll be some new voices here in the coming months. Keep an eye on the by-line.

The Difference Between Consumers and Customers Part Three

I’ve always found the Cathedral and Bazaar metaphor compelling.

Movie theaters, newspapers, television, radio, magazines are all cathedrals. The publishers place an artificial separation between them and the audience/consumers/eyeballs/gullets for their complete, discrete, highly-produced artifacts. One-size fitting all.

Weblogs, Wikis, Bulletin Boards are bazaars. Down in the dirt. Personal connections, relationships, conversations, building-blocks. Each new topic, event, person, site, the start of a new conversation. Custom, individual interactions.

This weekend I finally watched the Aviator on DVD. I’m sure this was fantastic in the theaters, on my non-HD, non-50″ television – the special effects were obvious and cheap looking. The story itself was good. Though, with the lack of Hughes biographical information and resources on the DVD, it felt like the end of a conversation. Not the start.

Lawyers That Get Niche Publishing and Podcasting

Some of you may remember the 6-part series I did with Parsinen Kaplan Rosberg & Gotlieb P.A. over at the First Crack Podcast. For your convenience, I’ve consolidated all the PKR&G podcast conversations including 2 bonus conversations that didn’t make the original series.

This week PKR&G came out with their annual lifestyle magazine, “Perfectly Legal”. It includes text versions of many of the conversations and – just in time for the holidays – many other recommendations from the firm. There’s also a nice article on how podcasting builds and extends personal relationships written by yours truly.

All the articles in the 32-page issue were written by the someone with a relationship to the firm, all the photos are of people in the firm, and the magazine itself gets sent out to those again – with relationships to the firm.

This isn’t millions of people. It’s the right people. The people that trust and respect PKR&G, the people that will recommend PKR&G to their friends.

You don’t pick a lawyer by scanning a directory, why would you do the same for a podcast?

On Measuring What Matters

I’ve been itching to see Dave Slusher’s reaction to the Audible Wordcast announcement and he didn’t disappoint.

“What matters to me are the number of sensible comments, the other shows that quote me, the number of people that came up to me and talked to me at PME and told me they enjoyed the show. These are not simple numbers, but the simple numbers are flawed and odd and full of fraud.” – Dave Slusher

Earlier this year, I was asked how I’m measuring the success of the First Crack Podcast. With robots and aggregators hitting the feed, people downloading and not listening immediately (or at all), and so many other factors throwing off the simple numbers – I’ve also decided they weren’t good measures.

Instead, I’ve decided on two factors:

  1. Showing up within the top 10 results in searches for the people I talk to.
  2. The number of comments and ratings for the individual conversations.

Both of these factors are driven by people interested in the conversation and have an indefinite time period associated with them. Two things that map very well to podcasting’s inherent characteristics.

UPDATE: Hugh’s got a great comment on metrics

“Metrics don’t really matter. What matters is your network, your readers, the quality of your writing etc etc. It’s an easy thing to forget, once you first start seeing your traffic exploding and the lucrative consulting offers start landing in your inbox.”

A Consumer Moratorium

Today, Doc pointed to Tim Jarrett saying (emphasis mine):

“As I’ve mentioned before, I want a moratorium on the word consumer—both because it is disrespectful and because it builds bad thinking habits in companies that sell to ‘consumers’”.

Smart, clued-in companies can signal they respect people by eradicating the word ‘consumer’ from their vocabulary (and the handful of other words on the Buzzword Blacklist).

Tim’s “I am not a consumer, I am a human being” nails the difference between a customer-oriented marketing effort and a consumer-oriented one.

Thanks Tim.