What should we think of a business that disdains its products ?

Summary : when one invests in a company, valuing it, it’s normal to have a close look at the customers and the way currents ones could be devlopped and new ones acquired. The world of social networks and its model where the customer is the brand and the user the product changes the conditions because, for the first time, the customer is not the only one who can leave the ship, what is investors’ worse nightmare. Now the product can run away too, when the trust agreement between him and the business is broken. And when produts leave, customers follow.

With the emergence of the “social customer”, this not always objective or in good faith person that can’t be neglected, the question of customer relationship and service strikes back at all the organisation levels. As a matter of fact, since customer relationship drives revenue, everything must contribute to it so it becomes a shared responsibility and not only the matter of those specifically in charge of it.

In short, businesses that neglect their customers and do not make everything to fully align on this concern are quickly fingered at and subjected to trial by the mob (even without reason, let’s admit it).

But what to think of a business that treats its product with as much disdain that others treat their customers ? What would you think of a butcher who leaves meat getting damaged under the sun before he sells it ? Of an airline that neglects the condition of its aircrafts ? Of a wine grower that does not control the quality of the grapes ? Of the HiFi reseller that transports the devices in such conditions that they may arrive broken at the customer’s ? Nothing good. And this may be this late, slow but actual awareness that explains the difficulties of some web rock stars.

As many already learnt and understood, us, as individuals, are not the customers of the services we use on the web. Or at least of most of them. Since the service is free we’re not the customers (those being the brands) but the products. Our time, attention, personal data are sold and in return we are allowed to use the service for free. That may leave some of us unmoved, offend some others, but in some ways our private life has become a currency we use to get access to a service. And it’s up to each of us to decide of the price to pay is fair, worth or not.

But there’s a point where things get much more interesting. As a matter of fact, these companies for whom it’s clear that we are nothing but common marchandise and that the real paying customers are brands, start to treat their product with much less consideration than they treat their customers. Frequent changes of terms of use, barely legal terms of use, unilateral changes that harm a whole ecosystem and cause major discomforts for users… We’ve been spared nothing and criticism toward these companies are more and more audible after a couple of years with a “it’s free, that’s cool and ok” attitude that made people shut up.

And when the product is the user at the same time, he can decide to pack his stuff, close his account, stop sharing things that will be monetizable afterwards, cheat with the rules. And, by doing this, make the service lose a large part of its potential value proposition for its customers.

That does not explain everything but that’s sure of of the reason why some stars of the stock market are suddenly experiencing turbulence, now that the livestock has decided not to be milked that easily anymore.

I don’t know how app.net, this twitter-like paying service, fully respectful of its users and ecosystem will do in the future but there’s no doubt that there’s a market for those who are really fed-up with being products and want to become customers again. Maybe not a mass market but, if selling personal data is not the model, a niche market with engaged paying customers may be profitable. Maybe today, surely tomorrow.

Anyway, when it comes to social networks and like Jeremiah Owyang said,


[When using social networks remember that you can pay now or later –but we always pay]

While many think a new bubble is emerging, a bubble that’s different from the one we experienced in the early 2000s but still a bubble, there might be a lesson to learn from all that. When it comes to fund companies, what matters is not only to see how they operate with their customers and the revenue they can drive from them. It’s also important to assess their relationships with their products/users and to what extent the trust that ties them can collapse. As a matter of fact, like the client, the product can now say “bye-bye” and, in this case, customers will follow the customer, not the service he’s been using. The most sensitive contract between businesses and users is not the terms of use but the tacit trust contract that can be broken anytime when users don’t have the respect and attention they deserve.


Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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