Asocial Mania

September 22nd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Thinking have I been, young Jedi, of NetFlix, FaceBook, and Google+, yes.

Perhaps the new mocumentary on them will be Clumsiness of the Geeks. Each has innovated spectacularly, innovated in figuratively spitting on and literally in pissing off customers.

Logo Note: I claim fair use for the satirical bastardizations of the accompanying art.

nfEach has recently, heavy-handedly overreached and offended large segments of their loyal bases with paternalism. As arrogant as the corporations have acted, it’s likely that the machers at each look at the other two and think how happy they are they are not as stupid. Well, they are. Each has been playing the troll under the bridge and each has been amazed when it finds that it has more bluster than savvy.

Briefly and for the worst of each:

  • NetFlix jacked prices way up, simultaneously breaking the beloved stream/mailer package.
  • FaceBook had puerile reaction (credit for quick, if stupid, moves) to Google+ innovations. Its response was to play daddy, telling the kids what games they could play, the rules, what clothes they’d wear, and how they had to arrange their desks and rooms. FB is still suddenly imposing scrolling news feeds, arbitrary lists of contacts and more, totally altering the interface and experience with neither warning nor option.
  • Google+ surely has more tricks it will spring, but the worst has been declaring that it has made a moral judgment of what users’ names can be. Even those who legally have a single name can’t use that. Nothing that smacks of what the children in charge think is a nefarious pseudonym can use its service. It is the nym edict.

Predictably people are upset. Those who dislike change are unhappy at each. Those who dislike people who dislike change are scolding like magpies at anyone who dares complain. NetFlix has lost at least 600,000 customers.

fkAmusingly enough though, management at each has maintained its arrogance. NetFlix’ CEO did kinda, sorta say sorry, in the we-did-the-right-thing-too-bad-you-don’t-like-it way. FB and Google both blow the freebie whistle — You don’t pay for the damned service. Like it or lump it.

The ties to these are:

  1. All three acted and continued to act with great arrogance and disregard for their customers
  2. Pleasing customers is easy and they have worked really, really hard to annoy and anger theirs

I came from business journalism, management, and technical writing spheres. A recurring truth set in each is that there are no secrets, no magic to pleasing customers. There are basic guidelines and rules that work though.

gpFirst and most important is to find out what your customers want. You can ask them and you may or may not get useful and insightful and applicable information. You can back that up with observations, whether it’s focus groups or usability testing or any of dozens of methods.

Where you want to arrive is the mystical, maybe mythical, state of thinking like a customer. This is where you grok your user. You know intrinsically what customers want. It’s damned hard.

Over my long technical writing career, I came to realize as a team member, a doc manager, and as head of the area technical society that the vast majority of tech writers can’t do that. They are literal, as in Emerson’s foolish consistency literal. That makes them great proofreaders and wonderful at avoiding spelling errors and inconsistencies. It makes them sucky innovators and writers.

This is why most software manuals infuriate users. The manual and particularly help (especially Microsoft products) may be complete and technically accurate, but they do not reflect human thinking or reasonable expectations. Instead as a doc manager and writer, I taught my peers and underlings to do as I did. I worked with the support staff and spoke directly to customers to learn how they used the products and what the expected problems were. When a user presses the F1 key for help in Windows, they definitely do not want to see a page about what the menu choices are. They want solutions to problems they have on that screen, GD it. What I told my direct reports is that a customer want us to make them smart, fast.

Think like a customer. Don’t use your insider knowledge to write a smug manual that restates the obvious. Likewise, make the help or manual index useful by including the concepts, not just the software-unique lingo. Think like a customer.

We can end that rant except to note that none of these three clumsy companies has been thinking like a customer. The paid company, NetFlix, figured to make more money by splitting its offerings and hiking prices for both. That was fair in a patronizing, paternalistic, capitalist sense of doing that abruptly with no warning and no option. Honk. Thanks for playing. You lose this round.

Google+ can pretend that being in an extended beta gave it some sort of immunity from customer consideration. Instead, the big shots in Mountain View come across like Puritans. They decreed that those with a single legal name are immoral and not worthy. Honk. You wear the SCHMUCK badge until further notice.

FaceBook is the less excusable. The youngsters there behave like 19th Century patriarchs. We decide what you will see, so, and say. They have gone from asocial to antisocial.

All three are allegedly technology leaders. All three are allegedly youth oriented. All three are allegedly modern companies. All three need stern lectures. They are too dumb to get it on their own.


5 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    Amenn, brother! Note the name, by the way 😉

  2. Uncle says:

    Oh, don’t forget that if you try to leave FB, or even give the site a rest for a few days, Marky will chase after you and demand to know what you think you’ve been doing. That’s already happened to me once, before the dust-up.

  3. Win says:

    I think you fundamentally misunderstand who the real customers of Facebook and G+ are, and why their shenanigans have less consequence for them than the price increase at NetFlix had on its business. While we like to think that we are the customers of Facebook and G+, we really are not. The customers of Facebook and G+ are the marketers who are buying the information we so willing provide to those services. Far from being the customers of Facebook and G+, we, and the information we provide, are the commodity. These services exist to entice us to share our information with them, so they can repackage and sell it to the marketers. And a business has no real incentive to treat it’s commodity in a humane, respectful way. Indeed, they have an incentive, as has been pointed out, to hound us and chivvy us to keep providing the information that is the lifeblood of their business.

    That’s why Facebook makes it so difficult to quit, and nags you to come back when you try. They’re not trying to save a customer. They’re trying to preserve your flow of information, so they can continue to sell it to their real customers.

    So long as we continue to willingly provide this information, in spite of their shenanigans, they will not change. Indeed, their business model requires them to treat us this way. And as long as you mistakenly think you are the real customer of these services, you will be disappointed and frustrated when they treat you like the commodity you actually are to them.

  4. Harrumpher says:

    Well, Win, I don’t think we differ here, other than your thinking that I assume FB and G+ have the key goal of keeping customers by keeping them happy. If they turn out to have large defections or users cutting way back on input (marketable data as you note), they may change.

    I feel another rant coming on, this one about the pending generational divide that will finally assert itself, particularly with the timeline silliness.


  1. FB TMI - Harrumph!

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