Designing for the social customer

Last night I wrote, in the context of customers:

  • They want to be treated like human beings, not account numbers.
  • They want to know they can trust the people they do business with.
  • They want to know that the people they give their business to actually value their business.
  • They want products and services that are fit for purpose, made available at a reasonable price.
  • If and when something goes wrong, they want to know the facts. Quickly. Without window-dressing.
  • They’d like to know what is best for them, so they’d like to talk to their friends and relatives about it.
  • They’d like to know what their friends recommend, and they’d like to recommend things to their friends.
  • They’d like help when something turns out more complicated than they’d expected, or when they’re trying to do something different.
  • And they’d like to know that they’re being treated fairly.
  • In exchange for all this, they are willing to give their custom regularly and loyally. As part of a trusted relationship. Where people buy from people and people sell to people.
  • In exchange for all this, they are willing to become customers.

Today I want to spend a little time looking at each of these things, seeing how companies can make it easy for customers to do all this. But before that I want to remind you of the question I repeated before these points, on building trust.

Trust. The lynchpin of any relationship between customer and company.

Whenever you’re designing products and services for the customer, start with the question:

Will this help build trust between the customer and the company?

If the answer to that question is No, then everything else doesn’t really matter. Just icing on a cake that no customer wants to eat. No customer, no business.

That’s Social Customer Rule 1. Whatever you do, it must not weaken the trust relationship between the customer and the company.

[An aside. I am trying to frame this in such a way that we no longer have to worry about terms like B2B and B2C and large-cap and enterprise and SMB and SME. These principles should work in the limit case of a single-person “company” dealing with a single person. And then we should be able to scale those principles up.]

For now, let us assume that the answer to the question is yes. I will come back to this overriding question, this “envelope” of trust, later on in this post.

So let us now look at some of the detail in what a social customer wants to be able to do. In order to do that, I’d like to work with a simple model of the customer.

There’s been a lot of research into why people buy. It’s written by people a lot smarter than me. This blog is not where you should come for that research. What I’m trying to do here is to build a simple from-first-principles model of what makes a customer buy, and then to explain what a “social”customer would want as a result.

So let me start with an impetus to buy, formed by one or more of many possible stimuli (a perceived need, a whipped-up need, a slice out of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a want, a wish to keep up with the Joneses, a drive to acquire a la the Nohria and Lawrence 4-driver model, a lonely impulse of delight, environmental psychological design a la Paco Underhill, “retail therapy“, Christmas, the consequence of this appalling modern tendency to build obsolescent products, children, TV, advertisements, excess credit, pure unadulterated greed, whatever).

Someone wants to buy something. Which is made easier by the existence of an inventory of all the things that can be bought. That inventory needs to have some classification, some labels, some tags, an ontology and a taxonomy. If you want an understanding of this, you should read David Weinberger’s Small Pieces Loosely Joined as a starting point. Customers need to know what’s available, in a simple and convenient way. The problem is, there’s a forest of things out there and it’s not easy to see the trees. So the labels and classification and search tools and find tools matter. This by itself is not a “social” thing. What makes it social is the support for folksonomies, citizen tagging, above and beyond the chosen ontology and taxonomy.

Which brings us to Social Customer Rule 2. Inventory should be taggable. Your inventory of products and services, besides being easily discoverable, must support some form of tagging, some way to harness collective intelligence in solving the you-say-tomahto-I-say-tomayto problem.

So now the customer’s found something, which may or may not be suitable. There are lots of questions that need to be answered, in terms of quality, price, reliability, future-proofness, whatever. Here, “social” really comes into its own. In many cases, collaborative filtering techniques will come in useful. People who looked at this also looked at. People who bought this also bought. X% of people who looked at this bought it. The customer wants to know that the seller is reliable. Which means that seller ratings become worthwhile. In the same way, information about the product can be gleaned socially, via reviews and suchlike.

And so we have Social Customer Rule 3. Product and Seller information should be made social by allowing for reviews and ratings to be shared; price comparisons and collaborative filtering should be supported.

At this point I want to return to the question of trust. Reviews can be gamed. Ratings can be gamed. Those of unscrupulous bent have mastered the act of “shilling” the web. [Incidentally, a paper on Collaborative Filtering with Temporal Dynamics won the KDD 09 Best Research Paper award, and is worth a read if you’re interested in such things. Filters can be useful, but they can also be insidious if selected by others. Eli Pariser makes this point well in The Filter Bubble. You need to be able to switch filters on and off at the subscriber level; to be able to look at collaboratively filtered information at a general level (people who did A did B) or at your network level (people in your network who did A also did B). Support for all this needs a sensible approach to identity at a minimum.

Which brings us to Social Customer Rule 4. A sensible identity framework, supporting federation, should be in place.

Of course it doesn’t stop at identity. Because attached to that identity can be a whole slew of information to do with behaviour, preferences, activity, friends, purchases, rentals, status, location. From a social viewpoint, two things matter in this context. Who can see that information. Who decides. And the simplest answer is that the customer is the sole decision-maker of who can see what, when it comes to personal information.  If the company wants to be in the business of sharing that information, it has to be done on the basis of informed consent.

One key point to remember is that this is not just a company issue. Individuals may choose to share their transactions, their activities and their intentions with their network of friends, and even beyond that network. The customer is also in the sharing business. Customers will want to share the price at which they bought the airline seat, the hotel room, the album or the car.

And that gets us on to Social Customer Rule 5. Customers should be able to share their preferences, their profiles, their actions, transactions, activities and intentions with others if they want to. They must be able to decide what they share and who they share with. Sharing of this sort does not happen with the publish side alone, there has to be a subscribe part to it as well. A customer should be able to “tune in” to the general populace in terms of what they’re buying/selling/eating/reading/making/shaking; to be able to restrict the listening area to a location or a level of personal network, to filter the population as needed.

Underpinning all this we would need what I’m visualising as an “envelope of trust”, embodied in a set of rights”. The right to change your mind when you buy or rent something. The right to take your business elsewhere. The right to take your data elsewhere. The right to know what data is held about you, and who has access to that data, and for what purpose. The right to know how long that data is held, and why. The right to know when and where the whole enchilada has been breached, either through government agency or by “bad actor”. The right to know the status of all online services. The way old rights disappear and new rights emerge. The right of appeal.

Instead of listing a whole series of rights, I could just have said “behave with openness and transparency”.

These are just my thoughts. None of this is going to happen overnight, and there are many reasons why companies won’t invest in all this anyway. Many companies have been of the belief that customers are like children, preferably not seen, definitely not heard. So they concentrate on “managing” products, since products tend not to complain or ask for their money back.

But it’s changing. Some companies are providing tools that allow customers to become social. To share their activities, to be able to give and receive recommendations, to rate and review participants and products and services.

To put it another way, some companies are investing in real relationships with their customers. And customers are responding by being frequent and regular in their custom.

This has been happening for a while now, in some cases for over a decade. None of this is new. None of this is rocket science.

Customers are social by nature. They enjoy being with their friends, sharing their thoughts and beliefs and experiences and preferences. They will continue to do all this.

When they decide which companies they will give their custom to, they will look for companies that make it easy for them to share all this.

That’s what designing for the social customer is about.

Time to quote Drucker again. In an interview about a decade ago, he said:

No financial man will ever understand business because financial people think a company makes money. A company makes shoes, and no financial man understands that. They think money is real. Shoes are real. Money is an end result.

That’s pretty harsh about financial men, and probably unfair. I have known many good financial men, men who understand that “shoes are real”. But then I don’t know the context in which Drucker stated it.

What I do know is that the principle is sound. That we should all concentrate on making shoes well, openly, transparently, to the spec that the customer wants. And if we’re good at it, the money will come.

More in a week or two, once I see the responses to this post. No responses, no follow-up post. The market decides…..



29 thoughts on “Designing for the social customer”

  1. @howard, agree completely. I think the money has begun to come now. Many of these things were happening in isolation and in fragmented form a decade ago. What we’re seeing with modern platforms like Kickstarter or Etsy or even Facebook and Amazon is that it’s now happening in a more integrated and consistent way. and progress has been made on many fronts in terms of standards and protocols and for that matter even regulation and legislation. Sometimes we see retrograde movements like SOPA, PIPA and ACTA. But on the whole I think the timing is if not now, very close to now/ I would not dream of engaging in a new business relationship as a customer unless that business invested in the relationship by making it attractive for me to do so.

  2. Seroously, I wish you’d write smaller (or rather, more fine-grained) posts because there is always SO MUCH MEAT here that it’s hard to comment sometimes, especially when I agree with some — but not all — of what you’ve written (or at least what I *perceive* about it… I’ve learned that you are probably thinking of things on a more meaningful level than I am ;)

    I’m not at all convinced that your bullet points are generalizable. I think there are very different forces in play *even within things you might call social business* depending on the nature of the business. I believe you and I have had some of this discussion before… How I feel about a bank or utility company is VERY different from what I need from, say, the company that makes my snowboarding clothes.

    The degree to which I even CARE who they are, and whether I even trust them, does not always matter or ONLY matters when there is TROUBLE. Many of my most beloved purchases — the ones I would never regret and will recommend — are from companies I know nothing about and see this as a benefit: there was no reason for me to.

    If a company (or product/ service) has no compelling obvious benefit over their competitors, THEN these things might play an important distinguishing role. But if a choice is clear — if these speakers are CLEARLY superior to my ears than those others, and I am an audiophile, I am going with the better speakers — even at a higher cost — and no matter HOW Non-transparent and unsocial they are. And if I LOVE those speakers enough, like so much that I want to show them off — I will talk about them no matter how little the company did to support my ability to share. And in fact, it is more meaningful to me — and to those I share with — that I DID go to his extra trouble, in the same way a birthday card in the mail feels much better than knowing someone pushed a button on Facebook.

    That does not mean that I think anything you said is not dead on, only that it is HIGHLY dependent on the context, and without specifying the context, I do not believes these are all meaningful rules, and could actually lead companies to continue focusing on the wrong things — or at least focusing on their social/trust when the thing I want them to throw ALL their resources on is actually making the product I really, truly, deeply need to solve a problem or help me kick ass. :)

    But there is so much here, I need to think more and come back. Thanks so much as always for such thoughtful — and thought-provoking — posts. Helps me figure things out…

  3. I habitually run an instance of SeaMonkey in the background. When an item is so salient that bookmarking would be “faint praise”, when tweeting and G+ still seems slight treatment, I load that page into a new tab. Here’s one that’s been sitting there for a few days now.

    Anatomy of a successful consulting engagement | TechRepublic

    I got three points from [this response to RFP]. First, TopDown knew the problem domain and could demonstrate that knowledge in their RFP response. Second, it sounds like they went beyond simply answering the questions posed in the RFP to outline the proposed progress of the project. That shows that TopDown had been down this road before, and already understood what it would take to stage a project of this magnitude. Third, they kept their focus on solving the prospect’s problem.”

    Despite the slightly cynical tone of my my most recent tweet to you, I truly do believe that there are still some individuals out there who are drawn to excellence, and that those few respond to excellece. And I think that’s a Good Thing.

  4. As you say, this is an ongoing and slow revolution and I’m interested in your views on two areas that might help to speed things up.

    Firstly, whether there is any hierarchy to your rules and if that might lead to the recommendation of “baby steps” for those companies who don’t yet see the advantages and inevitability of the revolution?

    Secondly, how do we approach the “education” of customers so that they can fully understand and maximise the personal benefits of these developments and how to avoid the scams? Will education be enough or will third party intermediaries be inevitable?

  5. @kathy thanks! I agree with you, I am not convinced that all my bullet points are generalisable. I also agree completely that focus on building excellent product is critical. That’s what I was trying (and failed!) to emphasise by returning to the People Make Shoes, not Money, theme at the end. But beyond that, I wanted social to be thought of as an attitude, a state of mind, a philosophy. We had it in the analog world. We spoke to each other about all these things, when the world was your village. Now I want to see if we can replicate some of the social niceties when the world is in your village.

    My intent in writing this was to set forth some arguments that “social” only had meaning when it created value for the customer. There will always be markets and products and services where this is not true; but strangely, from insurance companies to funeral homes, I have not been able to find those limits. And social does not always mean “recommendation”….

    As you can see all this is “provisional”. I blame Doc Searls. He encouraged me to share my ideas even when they were not fully formed….especially when they were not fully formed!

    Please come back with comments (including those of the form “you are talking absolute bosh JP”)… that’s how I learn and why I blog.

  6. @Ben I guess I must have been tired, I did not sense the slight cynicism; now that I “know” you, I tend to take all conversations with you as “unloaded”. How did you come across the TechRepublic post? I’m trying to understand the role of SeaMonkey in surfacing it.

  7. @john the only attempt at any hierarchy or prioritisation I have managed to come up with is the focus on trust…. if it breaks trust then don’t do it… the rest will probably vary from market to market, from product to product, from service to service.

  8. @JP – re: cynicism “Don’t be lucid and ironic. People will turn this against you saying, “You see?! I told you he wasn’t a nice person.”” –Albert Camus That’s the world I live in. ;-)

    I could perhaps/possibly track-back the TR article, but not likely. Perhaps via my “geeks” list; perhaps via email.

    I’m perpetually swamped by good information. I gave up on such as Delicio years ago. Google b’marks and others … I’ve found them useless. Most recently I’ve taken to posting slabs of bookmarks on Medium-term buffer is a separate browser with independent browsing history i.e. SeaMonkey. (I use Safari for NetVibes. FWIW: publically accessible view of a sub-set.)

    My point really is that there’s no reason to think that most people are thinking strategically “in the moment”. #AttentionEconomy is all about exploiting ADHD. As a consultant best ROI is always from the trivial, the trite, and the superficial. (see @RBReich‘s statements a decade ago on “the absence of patient capital”) Is why I stepped aside to attend Dal and do cog-psych: the industry I’d nurtured for decades was streaming towards “Angry Birds” and such. (I was on top of WordPress and others; SalesForce didn’t come onto my radar til far later. Alas!)

  9. “I also agree completely that focus on building excellent product is critical.”
    Well… I no longer believe THAT should be a focus either. Or rather, it should be the focus ONLY if the Venn Diagram of “Excellent Product” and “Excellent Customer Result As Defined By Customer” are in complete overlap. The world is full of “excellent products” that make awesome museum pieces but that nobody actually found useful for making THEM (users) “excellent”.

    This is part of why I am torn when discussions of Service Excellence or Social Business or even Excellence come up… While they all are potential paths to truly helping the customer, they are not actually user (I still love that word, by the way, since this is about being useful, usable, etc.) centric. Product excellence may have little to do with User Excellence (or excellence-of-user-result). Customer Service Excellence can be a trap, too… It is still all about the company (behold our awesome and excellent service!) rather than CUSTOMER excellent.

    I am still waiting for the company that says — “behold our customers that kick ass” and when their source of pride is NOT how amazing and wonderful and excellent their product or service or social is, but simply how amazing and wonderful their users/customers are *as a result*. The companies that buiild things or offer things that help me be more of whatever I truly want… they win. And I really don’t care if they’ve never heard of Twitter or take forever to answer my email. I might resent them eventually if the product keeps breaking and they offer no help, but then those are a reflection of the product NOT contributing to my getting a better result.

    So, yeah, I still see Social as not that different from all the other things everyone is trying to compete on today, and STILL missing the point. Though I do agree that having strong social strategies in place can be an excellent path to getting at the heart of what really WILL help customers. But wow, too many companies are using social to “engage” me to inspire “loyalty” for their own benefit, and meanwhile ever moment I spend engaging with a brand is a moment spent NOT doing what I actually deeply want to do. The exception for that — and where I am in strong favor of social and even marketing — is when these are used as tools to help me — the user — become even more kick ass at the thing the company’s product or service is enabling me to do.

    My typical example: if a camera company puts up tutorials and inspiration and even forums that are designed to help me become better at photography, that’s a win. If they use it for anything else, including “engagement”, games, Aspirational messages (which promote buying as opposed to INspirational message that promote my actively DOING something meaningful), then they are hurting me. They are taking precious time and cognitive resources away from something ELSE I could be doing.

    Companies are already in a social arms race, or even social-washing to make it appear that they have a lovely user-centric social layer to build trust, etc. but it is still often one more way to exploit psychological brain bugs to gain the thing you mentioned: loyalty. There is only one deep way to build TRUE loyalty (as opposed to simply repeat customers which can happen for a variety of reasons), and that is to accept that we are most loyal to ourselves and those we care about, NOT the company, product, brand. I buy from you not because I am loyal to you, but because I am loyal to *myself* and you are the one who helped ME the most. In the end, I still don’t really give a damn about *you* :).

    Ok, I know you JP, so I know that when YOU say these things, you are coming from the most ethical and enlightened place. But I keep hearing these messages from others who are just looking for that next competitive edge in an overcrowded, noisy business space. And where making it easy to SHARE is simply about making it easy to PROMOTE. And now we get companies further cluttering up our already dwindling free attention and time for what matters.

    Every moment you try to engage me is a moment that I might have spent with my daughter, for example, or even a moment spent actually using your product…

  10. @kathy lots to think about there, need time to digest. One place where I find “social” very useful is where it actually saves me time, by allowing my network to act as a filter and a prioritiser. If I am looking for a product, a service, a thing, an answer, I want to be able to use my network to reduce my discovery and search costs. That releases time for me. Of course, there is an implied expectation that I too need to spend time adding value to the community that I received that value from…..

  11. Phew, good blog and good comments folks!
    The company has to be social the right way. Its up to each company to harness the power the best way it suits their customers? I think Kathy has it, – ‘ But wow, too many companies are using social to “engage” me to inspire “loyalty” for their own benefit, and meanwhile ever moment I spend engaging with a brand is a moment spent NOT doing what I actually deeply want to do. The exception for that — and where I am in strong favor of social and even marketing — is when these are used as tools to help me — the user — become even more kick ass at the thing the company’s product or service is enabling me to do.’ – I think if a company did provide kick ass benefits a quick ‘like’ wouldn’t go amiss… and if that linked in to other social media it wouldn’t hurt as long as customers weren’t sucked in to time wasting trivia. (unless they wanted to be?)

  12. @Kathy – Can we Venn without operationalized definitions?

    My point stands; a sophist would greet a strategy of plausible deniability by declaring it “excellent”.
    My still-point? Heidegger on techne. But I’m on the verge of clambering onto my blue ox and disappearing into the setting sun … hardly the mettle the contend these points.

  13. “allowing my network to act as a filter and a prioritizer”


    And of course we have different networks for different things… I would ask my breed-specific horse network when I need to buy the best clippers for my specific type of horse. And I always know where to go for my Java programming framework questions, etc. But as I am new to DSLR HD video, I do not know anyone directly who does this. I go to where the people who are at the front edge of this discuss products in great detail so that I know not only which are best, but which are best *for my specific use*.

    In my (true) case, Canon is not providing the help I need, BUT they helped seed some early adopters who while not sponsored by Canon (and they happily promote competing products when those work better), these guys all happen to be extremely helpful and prolific bloggers. So, indirectly, Canon did provide the social filtering support I need, but I could not get this help from my own network since it is an entirely new domain for me.

    Lots to think about for me in all this. I do not know where there is a net positive for users that outweighs the downsides, especially I things like ease of sharing. Far too many companies are already trying to game this (but then, it is no secret how I feel about gamification that is used to encourage sharing).

  14. @Ben, I have no idea what anything you said actually means, but still enjoyed it :). Way out of my intellectual pay grade, I imagine.

    @chris , I agree on the “like” used this way would be a net positive, and I am grateful when I want to AND the company made it easy. That said, I still would prefer to be the company that makes something people will spend EFFORT talking about… The thing people will “like” regardless of whether the company enables it. But yeah, the companies that make things that make me better in a way I care about, it does not feel exploitive when they save me a bit of time in helping others know I feel that way. But oh, man, if they try to incentivize me to do it — well, those companies need to stop doing that or go away.

  15. @kathy @chris much of this is still in transition, people are trying to figure out so much to do with identity and privacy and signalling and sharing. what I’m trying to do is to get as much of the conversation to be driven from the customer perspective. For sure I will make mistakes along the way, for sure I will have to backtrack and eat my words every now and then. But I hope I will be able to learn as a result, and to share that learning with the community. Even having these conversations publicly should help facilitate that.

  16. Kathy’s second comment is very close to my heart. Brand loyalty is a myth that egotistical executives never question and to all the people who cite Apple fandom at me, I just point to how Apple lost so many fans in the 90s.

    But, I disagree slightly when she says we’re ultimately loyal only to ourselves, We are social animals and, in most cases, what is going on is a demonstration of conscious or unconscious loyalty to one’s peer group (as it relates to the purchase in question). Whether a social business can facilitate that is debateable since we already host our networks in social places of our own choosing and our trust resides therein. And, as Kathy points out, the temptation to leverage it for promotional puposes is very strong.

    If I were advising a business, I’d tell them that they have to be willing and able to be social at all times, but should only be so when the customer or potential customer asks them to be.

  17. @Kathy – I have a hard time finding something truly warm in “I have no idea what anything you said actually means“.
    Tell me, is ” it should be the focus ONLY if the Venn Diagram of “Excellent Product” and “Excellent Customer Result As Defined By Customer” are in complete overlap.” pellucid? Immediately transparent?
    I wrote “Can we Venn without operationalized definitions?” and that’s … what … Swahili?

    I recognize the social dynamics. And I like none of it.

    p.s. @JP see Camus quote above

  18. @Ben, not warm or cold just *true* — I literally have no idea what you are saying in that comment, but I will clarify — that’s on ME, not you. Also, this I no way implies that any of my comments were clear or obvious. I just know that JP and I have had discussions before, so he is able to make assumptions and leaps about my intentions.

    @John, It is not just to ourselves that we are loyal, but to those we care about. It is possible that in some cases this COULD be a business, but I know you know that most companies use the word “loyalty” when they actually mean either coercion or bribery. I’m deliberately being overly picky about the word “loyal”, which has an entirely different meaning when applied to businesses (most of the time). In my opinion, if there needs to be a strategy, system, or program to “build loyalty”, it’s already screwed. Loyalty — if and where it exists — can only be a side-effect of something more meaningful, not a thing marketers can do.

    Enticing customers to choose A over competing-but-not-differentiated B is certainly a part of many businesses. But I do not equate “repeat business because it was incentivized” as equal to true loyalty, though a business might not care since it means sales either way. At least in the short term. Typical business “loyalty” works only until a competitor out-loyalty-incentivizes that business. With true, lasting, meaningful, NON-incentivized loyalty, a company has to screw up REALLY horribly to lose it. True loyalty is robust, fault-tolerant. Incentivized loyalty is not.

    God, JP, so sorry I have gone off on book-length comments here. That’s what happens when you do not have a blog… you take advantage of someone else’s. But… Thanks for the opportunity!

  19. 5 Social Customer Rules work for horizontal product commerce but not for the deeper enterprise products?

    Kickstarter, Etsy, Facebook and Amazon all focus on marrying up social with customers to create certainty of demand in horizontal product categories. Meanwhile back in salt mines of the enterprise certainly of demand is far more ‘lumpy’ the products are complex and flows vertical. Supply chains create uncertainty of demand and, uncertainty of supply. Ironically social is often the only information creating any glue.

    We may be at a crossover point where the information impedance between direct demand commerce on the ‘Amazons’ (or indirectly on ‘Facebooks’) and the MRP/ERP supply systems has started behaving like a black swan destabilizing the economy into a lower performance until the 5 rules of the social customer can be back-fitted into supply chain.

  20. @Kathy – I appreciate the posturing; you’re a winner, and I’m not.
    You wrote a long sentence involving Venn. It made no sense to me, so I thought. (Thinking is always an option. That’s what I studied when I went back to university in my 40s, after mere phil and CS in the 70s: cog- and social psych, concentration of “formation of opinion”.) My thought produced a question.

    My question was this: ““Can we Venn without operationalized definitions?” Now an innocent at some cocktail party might be swayed / distracted / impressed by your “That makes no sense to me.” But, out of respect for our host, I won’t play those games. (That’s entirely false: I will play those games no time, nowhere.)

    You used “Venn”, did you not? (NB: not optional. Your “it should be the focus ONLY if the Venn Diagram of “Excellent Product” and “Excellent Customer Result As Defined By Customer” are in complete overlap.” is on record.

    And I explicated “operational” sufficiently, did I not? (Oh, please do diss WikiPedia. That was a test. The definition is part of my world. That you avoid it speaks to your motive.)

    @JP – Innovation is social. When you are Khan I will trust you and merely ignore your guests. Until them I will require of them the sort of decency that under-pins democracy itself. I do no indulge psychopath’s attendants; I do no indulge sycophants. I never fell off a turnip truck. Not yesterday; not any other time. I do no indulge contempt.
    That is my reading of I’m not asking for clarification. (I would, of course, as always, be open to discourse.)

  21. @Ben, my apologies. I can see how what I said could be taken quite differently from how I meant it. What I assumed (incorrectly) was that it would convey what I meant: your comments were over my head, not because they were not clear, but because I was personally, cognitively, *lost*. Again, my weakness. Also, I should never have commented as though I was simply writing back to JP… That is inappropriate for a blog, especially such a well-read one, and I was just writing off the top of my head as though he and I were having a conversation. Again, my apologies.

    What I meant on the Venn diagram was probably not understood or clear to *anyone* (or anyone that has not seen me talk about this, anyway). If one circle includes the attributes of an “excellent product” (as defind by the company and perhaps the press) and another circle includes the attributes of what produces excellent results for customers, the question is how much overlap on those two circles. We continue to see products described by virtually everyone BUT their customers as being “excellent” (or perhaps even the customers agree), yet the customers cannot (or will not) use the product in a way that produces excellent results. So product excellence and customer-result-excellence can be quite different.

    In the world I work in, there is much focus on product excellence, and in many cases the focus on making an excellent PRODUCT leads developers to make different choices from those they would make if the focus was on making excellent CUSTOMERS / customer results. A tech book, for example, that virtually everyone agrees is “excellent” might be basing excellence on criteria that is incompatible with a reader’s ability to understand and learn. An “excellent” book might be comprehensive and concise and leave no corner-case unexplained, but as a result be largely unusable for all but those who already understand the technology…

    This was my long rambling way of saying “only the customer can define what excellence means, and even they may not know until they actually try to DO something useful with it”.
    Once again, Ben, my apologies.

  22. ” I can see how what I said could be taken quite differently from how I meant it. What I assumed (incorrectly) was that it would convey what I meant: your comments were over my head, not because they were not clear, but because I was personally, cognitively, *lost*. Again, my weakness. Also, I should never have commented as though I was simply writing back to JP… That is inappropriate for a blog, especially such a well-read one, and I was just writing off the top of my head as though he and I were having a conversation.”
    And my depiction does not apply. Noted.

    You talked about Venn. I challenged you: we can’t create Venn without operational definitions.
    You (of course) declared what I wrote non-sense.
    That all makes sense to me.

    You have the advantage: you’re playing a crooked hand in a crooked house.
    I’m the barbarian, who declares that 2+2 is the the corner-stone of democracy.

    Why would I imagine that this matters? I don’t imagine. It’s existentially so.

  23. @JP – Once in a while, the wisdom of “The Land of Snow” manifests. (Who fought Genghis Khan to a draw? Why, the ignorant cowboys from the land of Kham, of course.)
    “I should never have commented as though I was simply writing back to JP”

    It”s like working with rock-stars … without trust, there’s no good sound; they’re surrounded by yuppies / groupies. Since timeless times, emperors have created space for mere truth. Until recently.
    So let’s chat about really fine soup. And fuck Egypt / Hamas / Iran.

    $100K /just/ for past service. $50K sweat equity.

  24. @ben you’re usually very blunt and straightforward so you should let me be as blunt and straightforward. You’re a very learned man, but it is not always that easy to understand what you’re saying. I don’t think I’m stupid, yet, as an example, I am still trying to figure out what you meant by your reference to the Camus quote. Being hard to understand is by itself not a problem; the problem manifests itself when you have a short fuse as well, and you consider yourself to have been “slighted” very quickly.

    I have known @kathy for a long time, and we’ve invested enough time in and with each other to have a well-developed sense of mutual respect. We are neither sycophants nor emperors; if you look closely, you will find Kathy saying “JP be careful, some of this is dangerous ground, I don’t like where some of your thoughts could lead, and here’s why”. I learn more from the criticisms and objections of people I trust than from most other routes to learning. If you think Kathy was being sycophantic I don’t have a simple answer for you.

    Your tone, your acerbic comments, your quickness to anger, none of these is something a friend would do to another. And I don’t think they are warranted.

    So please chill out, smell the coffee or the flowers or whatever. We’re just a bunch of friends here trying to learn from each other in conversation about things. We’re not out to get anyone. And we don’t tend to attack each other at the slightest provocation.

    I know I can learn from you, and so can others in this conversation. But that becomes hard if you wander around like a bear with a sore head.

  25. @jp – this post and it’s comment stream are a perfect match. An example of community. A real community. You are holding a greater and greater space all the time with this blog.

    On a side note, any reason you have not added disqus or something to lubricate participation?

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