Surviving in an age of customers with voices

Assuming that having millions of people with weblogs isn’t just a fad that will all be over soon, I’m quite looking forward to seeing what it takes for a company to survive having its customers much more able to talk about them, and having anyone who can google knowing what they say.

For instance, I’ve been sort of casually considering giving yTunes! a try, even though I’m not that into music which is sold in mass markets these days. But this morning, Charles Arthur linked to Tim Anderson’s post saying that Yahoo! Music is as intrusive as Real Player, spewing toolbar and home page offers around and shoving Yahoo! Messenger into the Startup folder. Oops, game over, no need for me to even try it. That sort of thing was survivable, barely, back when you could be the only player for most of the audio around. Now, when you are competing with dozens of other players and stores for the fairly small non-file-sharing part of the market? I’m sure there’s still some market for that sort of thing, but to me, it’s nothing. There is no Yahoo! Music.

Even though there wasn’t much chance I’d buy a copy of the new Dave Matthews CD (on RCA? don’t they sue their customers?), after reading about it crashing Matt’s computer, there’s absolutely no chance I would: I don’t buy CDs to get a lot of unstable crapware installed on my computer, I buy them to rip the music so I can play it where I do most of my music listening, which is also where I have most of my life installed. Not worth the risk: Dave Matthews? Dead to me.

So, how do you survive in a world where any one of your customers might be talking to a dozen, or a hundred, or several thousand of their friends? The obvious answer is “don’t suck,” but beyond that? I don’t want to get too Scoble-icious, but all I can think of is to be quick and flexible, and to have your own voice. If Matt’s post linked to something on either RCA’s site or DMB’s site saying “Hey, be careful when you stick Stand Up in your computer, since it’s going to want to install a program. If you’ve got your nearly-done dissertation open, save it first, and if a crash would really end the world right now, turn off autoplay and just listen to the music. We’re working with the vendor to figure out why one of the extra features might be a crash, and we’ll do whatever we can to make it right. Sorry.” then my take on it, and on them, would be completely different.

Take the non-sucky Yahoo! property, Flickr: they got talked about a fair bit in not entirely complimentary terms because of Lickr, the Greasemonkey script that took the bloody annoying awful unwebby Flash out of Flickr. And now, a hair over a month later, they’ve taken it out themselves. Greasemonkey probably isn’t a big enough lever to shift everything that annoys us (Neil says 10,000+ inbound links translated to 2700 downloads of the script, and most scripts won’t get near the interest it did), but it’s certainly nice to have at least one example of someone saying “Sheesh, you’re willing to do all that to fix us up? We better fix ourselves, then, hadn’t we?”

Or, on the one year anniversary of the day when everything changed for Movable Type, take them: although I constantly poke at them (exactly like I would at any blogger who wasn’t posting enough for me that I thought I could prod into giving me more) to say more, they survived The Day of the Long Trackbacks by talking their way out. It certainly doesn’t always work, and doesn’t always work the way you expect, but it has to be better than ignoring your customers’ problems until they ignore you, too.


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