Category: crm (page 3 of 7)

Let’s turn Do Not Track into a dialog

Do Not Track (DNT), by resembling Do Not Call in name, sounds like a form of prophylaxis.  It isn’t. Instead it’s a request by an individual with a browser not to be tracked by a website or its third parties. As a request, DNT also presents an interesting opportunity for dialogue between user and site, shopper and retailer, or anybody and anything. I laid out one possibility recently in my Inkwell conversation at The Well. Here’s a link to the page, and here’s the text of the post:

The future I expect is one in which buyers have many more tools than they have now, that the tools will be theirs, and that these will enable buyers to work with many different sellers in the same way.

One primitive tool now coming together is “Do Not Track” (or DNT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_Not_Track It’s an HTTP header in a user’s browser that signals intention to a website. Browser add-ons or extensions for blocking tracking, and blocking ads, are also tools, but neither constitute a social protocol, because they are user-side only. The website in most cases doesn’t know ad or tracking blocking being used, or why. On the other hand, DNT is a social gesture. It also isn’t hostile. It just expresses a reasonable intention (defaulted to “on” in the physical world) not to be followed around.

But DNT opens the door to much more. Think of it as the opening to dialog:

User: Don’t track me.
Site: Okay, what would you like us to do?
User: Share the data I shed here back to me in a standard form, specified here (names a source).
Site: Okay. Anything else?
User: Here are my other preferences and policies, and means for matching them up with yours to see where we can agree.
Site: Good. Here are ours.
User: Good. Here is where they match up and we can move forward.
Site: Here are the interfaces to our CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, so your VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) system can interact with it.
User: Good. From now on my browser will tell me we have a working relationship when I’m at your site, and I can look at what’s happening on both sides of it.

None of this can be contemplated in relationships defined entirely by the sellers, all of which are silo’d and different from each other, which is what we’ve had on the commercial Web since 1995. But it can be contemplated in the brick & mortar world, which we’ve had since Ur. What we’re proposing with VRM is nothing more than bringing conversation-based relationships that are well understood in the brick-and-mortar world into the commercial Web world, and weaving better marketplaces in the process.

A bit more about how the above might work:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/23/how-about-using-the-no-track-button-we-already-have/

And a bit more about what’s wrong with the commercial Web (so far, and it’s not hard to fix) here:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/vrm/2012/02/21/stop-making-cows-stop-being-calves /

So, to move forward, consider this post a shout-out to VRM developers, to the Tracking Protection Working Group at the W3C, to browser developers, to colleagues at Berkman (where Chris Soghoian was a fellow, about at the time he helped think up DNT) — and to everybody with the will and the ways to move forward on this thing.

And hey: it’s also our good luck that the next IIW is coming up at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, from October 23rd to 25th. IIW is the perfect place to meet and start hashing out DNT-D (I just made that up: DNT-Dialog) directions. IIW is an unconference: no keynotes, panelists or vendor booths. Participants vet and choose their own topics and break out into meeting rooms and tables. It’s an ideal venue for getting stuff done, which always happens, and why this is the 15th of them.

Meanwhile, let’s get in touch with each other and start making it happen.

Can we each be our own Amazon?

The most far-out chapter in  is one set in a future when free customers are known to be more valuable than captive ones. It’s called “The Promised Market,” and describes the imagined activities of a family traveling to a wedding in San Diego. Among the graces their lives enjoy are these (in the order the chapter presents them):

  1. Customer freedom and intentions are not restrained by one-sided “agreements” provided only by sellers and service providers.
  2. — service organizations working as agents for the customer — are a major breed among user driven services.
  3. The competencies of nearly all companies are exposed through interactive that customers and others can engage in real time. These will be fundamental to what calls .
  4. s (now also called intentcasts), will be common and widespread means for demand finding and driving supply in the marketplace.
  5. Augmented reality views of the marketplace will be normative, as will mobile payments through virtual wallets on mobile devices.
  6. Loyalty will be defined by customers as well as sellers, in ways that do far more for both than today’s one-sided and coercive loyalty programs.
  7. Relationships between customers and vendors will be genuine, two-way, and defined cooperatively by both sides, which will each possess the technical means to carry appropriate relationship burdens. In other words, VRM and CRM will work together, at many touch-points.
  8. Customers will be able to proffer prices on their own, independently of intermediaries (though those, as fourth parties, can be involved). Something like EmanciPay will facilitate the process.
  9. Supply chains will become “empathic” as well as mechanical. That is, supply chains will be sensitive to the demand chain: signals of demand, in the context of genuine relationships, from customers and fourth parties.
  10. The advertising bubble of today has burst, because the economic benefits of knowing actual customer intention — and relating to customers as independent and powerful economic actors, worthy of genuine relationships rather than coercive — bob will have became obvious and operative. Advertising will continue to do what it does best, but not more.
  11. Search has evolved to become far more user-driven and interactive, involving agents other than search engines.
  12. ‘s will be taken for granted. There will still be businesses that provide connections, but nobody will be trapped into any one provider’s “plan” that excludes connection through other providers. This will open vast new opportunities for economic activity in the marketplace.

In , Sheila Bounford provides the first in-depth volley on that chapter, focusing on #4: personal RFPs. I’ll try to condense her case:

I’ve written recently of a certain frustration with the seemingly endless futurology discussions going on in the publishing world, and it’s probably for this reason that I had to fight my way through the hypothesis in this chapter. However on subsequent reflection I’ve found that thinking about the way in which Amazon currently behaves as a customer through its Advantage programme sheds light on Searls’ suggestions and projections…

What Searls describes as the future for individual consumers is in fact very close to the empowered relationship that Amazon currently enjoys with its many suppliers via Amazon Advantage…  Amazon is the customer – and a highly empowered one at that.

Any supplier trading with Amazon via Advantage (and that includes most UK publishing houses and a significant portion of American publishers) has to meet all of the criteria specified by Amazon in order to be accepted into Advantage and must communicate online through formats and channels entirely prescribed and controlled by Amazon…

Alone, an individual customer is never going to be able to exert the same kind of leverage over vendors in the market place as a giant like Amazon. However individual customers online are greater than the sum of their parts: making up a crucial market for retailers and service providers. Online, customers have a much louder voice, and a much greater ability to collect, organise and mobilise than offline. Searls posits that as online customers become more attuned to their lack of privacy and control – in particular of data that they consider personal – in current normative contracts of adhesion, they will require and elect to participate in VRM programmes that empower them as individual customers and not leave them as faceless, impotent consumers.

So? So Amazon provides us with a neat example of what it might look like if we, as individuals, could control our suppliers and set our terms of engagement. That’s going to be a very different online world to the one we trade in now.  Although I confess to frustration with the hot air generated by publishing futurology, it seems to me that the potential for the emergence VRM and online customer empowerment is one aspect of the future we’d all do well to work towards and plan for.

From the start of ProjectVRM, Iain Henderson (now of The Customer’s Voice) has been pointing to B2B as the future model for B2C. Not only are B2B relationships rich, complex and rewarding in ways that B2C are not today (with their simplifications through customer captivity and disempowerment), he says, but they also provide helpful modeling for B2C as customers obtain more freedom and empowerment, outside the systems built to capture and milk them.

Amazon Advantage indeed does provide an helpful example of where we should be headed as VRM-enabled customers. Since writing the book (which, except for a few late tweaks, was finished last December) I have become more aware than ever of Amazon’s near-monopoly power in the book marketplace, and possibly in other categories as well. I have heard many retailers complain about “scan and scram” customers who treat brick-and-mortar stores as showrooms for Amazon. But perhaps the modeling isn’t bad in the sense that we ought to have monopoly power over our selves. Today the norm in B2C is to disregard that need by customers. In the future I expect that need to be respected, simply because it produces more for everybody in the marketplace.

It is highly astute of Sheila to look toward Amazon as a model for individual customers. I love it when others think of stuff I haven’t, and add to shared understanding — especially of a subject as protean as this one. So I look forward to the follow-up posts this week on her blog.

VRM/CX + CRM/CX

I’ve been in conversations lately about VRM+CRM. Will they help each other out or crash into each other? It’s an open question. But I think we can find an answer in a current CRM vector: toward what the CRM folks have been calling CX, for Customer eXperience. I first read about it in this column by Mitch Lieberman in October 2010. That was when he met with RightNow, which was later acquired by Oracle. You can see and read the results in this list, which is roughly in chronological order:

Experience is a personal thing. When two parties are engaging with each other, it’s something both create. That’s the challenge here.

How can we make the most of both serial and parallel activities and virtues in customer-vendor relationships? I invite our friends from the CRM/CX world to weigh in here.

And come to this:

It’s on 7-8 August in Minneapolis. I’ll be there. So will a bunch of VRM companies and projects, plus other parties interested in that subtitle there: new directions for personal data.

[This was the second half of Scaling business in parallel, but I decided to break it in two and move the second part here.]

Scaling business in parallel

Companies and customers need to be able to deal with each other in two ways: as individuals and as groups.

As of today companies can deal with customers both ways. They can get personal with customers, and they can deal with customers en masse. Without the latter capability, mass marketing would not be possible.

Customers, on the other hand, can only deal with companies as individuals, one at a time. Dealing with companies as groups is still a challenge. Consider the way you engage companies in the marketplace, both online and off. Your dealings with companies, on the whole, are separate and sequential. Nothing wrong with that, but it lacks scale. Hence: opportunity.

We can arrive at that opportunity space by looking at company and personal dealings, each with two kinds of engagement circuits: serial and parallel.

Start with a small company, say a store with customers who line up at the counter. That store  deals with customers in a serial way:

business, serial

The customers come to the counter, one after another, in a series. Energy in the form of goods goes out, and money comes back.

As companies scale up in size, however, they’d rather deal with many customers in parallel rather than in series. A parallel circuit looks like this:

business, parallel

Here customers are dealt with as a group: many at once, and in the same way. This, in an extremely simplified form, is a diagram of mass marketing. While it is still possible for a company to deal with customers individually, the idea is to deal with as many customers as possible at once and in the same ways.

I use electronic symbols in those circuits because resistance (the zig-zag symbol) adds up in series, while it goes down in parallel. This too is a virtue of mass marketing. Thus one-to-many works very well, and has proven so ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Over on the customers’ side, the marketplace on the whole looks like this:

customer, serial

The customer goes from one company to the next. This is not a problem on the vendors’ side, except to the degree that vendors would rather customers not shop elsewhere. This is why vendors come up with loyalty programs and other schemes to increase “switching costs” and to otherwise extract as much money and commitment as possible out of the customer.

But, from the customer’s side, it would also be cool if they could enjoy scale in parallel across many companies, like this:

In the physical world this is all but unthinkable. But the Internet makes it very thinkable, because the Net reduces nearly to zero the functional distance between any two entities, and presents an open space across which many connections can be made, at once if necessary, with few limits on the number or scope of possibilities. There is also no limit to the new forms of interaction that can happen here.

For example, a customer could scale in parallel by expressing demand to multiple vendors at the same time, or could change her contact information at once with many companies. In fact this is basically what VRM projects are about: scaling in parallel across many other entites. (Not just vendors, but also elected officials, government agencies, churches, clubs, and so on.)

It is easy to see how companies can feel threatened by this. For a century and a half we in business have made a virtue of “targeting,” “acquiring,” “capturing,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers. But think about the free market for a minute. Shouldn’t free customers be more valuable than captive ones? Wouldn’t it be better if customers and prospects could send many more, and better, signals to the marketplace, and to vendors as well, if they were capable of having their own native ways of dealing, consistently, across multiple vendors?

We have that now with email and other forms of messaging. But why stop there?

Naturally, it’s easy to ask, Could social media such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter provide some of what we need here? Maybe, but the problem is that they are not ours, and they don’t work for us — in the sense that they are accountable to us. They work for advertisers. Email, IM and browsing aren’t owned by anybody. They are also substitutable. For example, you can move your mail from Gmail to your own server or elsewhere if you like. Google doesn’t own email’s protocols. No browser company owns HTTP, HTML or any of the Web’s protocols.

The other problem with social solutions is that they’re not personal. And that’s the scale we’re talking about here: adding parallel capabilities to individuals. Sure, aggregation is possible, and a good thing. (And a number of VRM projects are of the aggregating-demand sort.) But the fallow ground is under our own feet. That’s where the biggest market opportunity is located. Also where, still, it is most ignored. Except, of course, here.

[Continued in VRM/CX + CRM/CX.]

Let’s fix the car rental business

Lately  (@ronlieber), the Your Money editor and columnist for the New York Times, has been posting pieces that expose a dysfunction in the car rental marketplace — one that is punishing innovators that take the sides of customers. The story is still unfolding, which gives us the opportunity to visit and think through some VRM approaches to the problem.

Ron’s first piece is a column titled “A Rate Sleuth Making Rental Car Companies Squirm,” on February 17, and his second is a follow-up column, “Swatting Down Start-Ups That Help Consumers,” on April 6. Both stories are about , a start-up that constantly researches and re-books car rentals for you, until you get the lowest possible price from one of them. That company wins the business, at a maximized discount. The others all lose. This is good for the customer, if all the customer cares about is price. It’s bad for the agencies, since the winner is the one that makes the least amount of money on the rental.

In the second piece, Ron explains,

The customer paid nothing for the service, and AutoSlash got a commission from Travelocity, whose booking engine it rented. This was so delightful that it felt as if it might not last, and I raised the possibility that participating companies like Hertz and Dollar Thrifty would bail out, as Enterprise and the company that owns Avis and Budget already had. I encouraged readers to patronize the participants in the meantime to reward them for playing along. Well, they’ve stopped playing. In the last couple of weeks, Hertz and the company that owns both Dollar and Thrifty have turned their backs on AutoSlash — and for good reason, according to Hertz: AutoSlash seems to have been using discount codes that its customers were not technically eligible for.

On its site, AutoSlash put things this way (at that last link):

We’re disappointed that these companies have now chosen to reverse course and adopt this anti-consumer position, after having participated in this site since its launch in mid-2010. Apparently, with more customers booking reservations through our service, they felt they could no longer support our consumer-friendly model of automatically finding the best discount codes and re-booking when rates drop. AutoSlash will not waver in our objective to help people get a great deal on their rentals. We have exciting product plans on the horizon to make our site even more useful to you..

On the same day as his second column, Ron ran a blog post titled “AutoSlash, AwardWallet, MileWise and the Travel Bullies,” in which he points to airlines as another business with the same problems — and the same negative responses to rate-sleuths:

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines have made it clear that they do not want any third party Web site taking customers’ AAdvantage or Rapid Rewards frequent flier balances and putting them on a different site where people can view them alongside those from other loyalty programs. This comes at a loss of convenience to customers, and the airlines make all sorts of specious arguments about why this is necessary. Meanwhile, sites like  and  are less useful than they would be otherwise without a full lineup of airline account information available. But there’s a the bigger question here: Why can’t the big travel players simply fix their archaic business models and add these nifty features to their Web sites and stop spending energy ganging up on start-ups who unmask their flaws?

The answer comes from , of Dilbert fame. By Scott’s definition, the big travel players are a “confusopoly.” They see what Ron calls a “flaw” — burying the customer in a snowstorm of discounts intended both to entice and to confuse — as a feature, rather than a bug. Here’s Scott:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value. That way every company gets a fair share of the confused customers and the industry doesn’t need to compete on price. The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

Car rental agencies are clearly confusopolies. So are airlines. Dave Barry explains how it is that no two passengers on one airplane pay the same price for a seat:

Q. So the airlines use these cost factors to calculate a rational price for my ticket?
A. No. That is determined by Rudy the Fare Chicken, who decides the price of each ticket individually by pecking on a computer keyboard sprinkled with corn. If an airline agent tells you that they’re having “computer problems, ” this means that Rudy is sick, and technicians are trying to activate the backup system, Conrad the Fare Hamster.

There are a few exceptions. One is , which competes through relatively simple seat pricing and unconfusing policies (e.g. no seat assignments and “bags fly free”). But even Southwest plays confusing games. For example, I just went to Southwest to make sure the URL was right (it used to be iflyswa.com, as I recall), and got intercepted by a promo offer, for a gift card. So, for research purposes, I filled it out. That got me to this page here:

Note that there is no place to take the last step. The “Your Info Below” space is blank. Everywhere I click, nothing happens. Fun. (Is it possible this isn’t from Southwest at all? Maybe somebody from Southwest can weigh in on that.)

So, a confusopoly.

What can we do? Governments fix monopolies by breaking them up. But confusopolies come pre-broken. That’s how they work. There is no collusion between Hertz and Budget, or between United and American. They are confusing on purpose, and independently so. No doubt they have their confusing systems fully rationalized, but that doesn’t make the confusion less real for the customer, or less purposeful for the company.

Let’s look a bit more closely at three problems endemic to the car rental business, and contribute to the confusopoly.

  1. Cars, like airlines and their seats, have become highly generic, and therefore commoditized. Even if there is a difference between a Chevy Cruze and a Ford Focus, the agencies mask it by saying what you’ll get is some model of some maker’s car, “or similar.” (I’ve always thought one of the car makers ought to just go ahead and make a car just for rentals, and brand it the “Similar.”)
  2. The non-price differentiators just aren’t different enough. For example, I noticed that Enterprise lately forces its workers to go out of their way to be extra-personal. They come out from behind the counter, shake your hand, call you by name, ask about your day, and so on. Which is all nice, but not nicer for most of us than a lower price than the next agency.
  3. The agencies’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems don’t have enough to work with. While Enterprise is singled out here and here for having exceptional CRM, all these systems today operate entirely on the vendors’ side. Not on yours or mine. Each of is silo’d. How each of us relates to any one agency doesn’t work with the others. This is an inconvenience for us, but not for the agencies, at least as far as they know. And, outside their own silo’d systems, they can’t know much, except maybe through intelligence they buy from “big data” mills. But that data is also second-hand. No matter how “personalized” that data is, it’s about us, not directly by us or from us, by our own volition, and from systems we control.

A few years ago I began to see these problems as opportunities. I thought, Why not build new tools and systems for individual customers, so they can control their own relationships, in common and standard ways, with multiple vendors?  And, What will we call the result, once we have that control? My first answer to those questions came in a post for in March, 2006, titled The Intention Economy. Here are the money grafs from that one:

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them. The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets. The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that. The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers. In The Intention Economy, a car rental customer should be able to say to the car rental market, “I’ll be skiing in Park City from March 20-25. I want to rent a 4-wheel drive SUV. I belong to Avis Wizard, Budget FastBreak and Hertz 1 Club. I don’t want to pay up front for gas or get any insurance. What can any of you companies do for me?” — and have the sellers compete for the buyer’s business.

Thanks to work by the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) development community, The Intention Economy is now a book, with the subtitle When Customers Take Charge, due out from Harvard Business Review Press on May 1. (You can pre-order it from Amazon, and might get it sooner that way.)

Having sellers compete for a buyer’s business (to serve his or her signaled intent) is what we now call a Personal RFP. (Scott Adams calls it “broadcast shopping.”) What it requires are two things that are now on their way. One is tools. The other is infrastructure. As a result of both, we will see emerge a new class of market participant: the . It’s a role AutoSlash can play, if it’s willing to play a new game rather than just gaming the old one.

The new game is serving as a real agent of customers, rather than just as a lead-generating system for third parties such as Travelocity, or a pest for second parties such as Hertz, Dollar and Thrifty. Fourth parties are businesses that side with customers rather than with vendors or third parties. Think of them as third parties that work for you and me. In this post, of (a VRM developer), represents the four parties graphically: Fourth parties can also serve as agents for improving actual relationships (rather than coercive ones). The two magnets are “r-buttons” (explained most recently here), which represent the buyer and the seller, and (as magnets) depict both attraction and openness to relationship. They are simple symbols one can also type, like this:  ⊂ ⊃. (The ⊂ represents you, or the buy side, while the ⊃ represents vendors and their allied third parties, or the sell side.) Here is another way of laying these out, with some names that have already come up: 4 parties As of today AutoSlash presents itself as an agent of the customer, but business-wise it’s an accessory to a third party, Travelocity. While Travelocity could be a fourth party as well, it is still too tied into the selling systems of the car rental agencies to make the move. (If I’m wrong, tell me how.) Now, what if AutoSlash were to join a growing young ecosystem of VRM companies and projects working on the customer’s side? Here is roughly how that looks today: AutoSlash is over there on the right, on the sell side. On the buy side, in the fourth party quadrant, are , , , MyDex, and . All provide ways for individuals to manage their own data, and (actually in some cases, potentially in others) relationships with second and third parties, on behalf of the customer. If you look at just the right two quadrants, on the ⊃ side, the car rental agencies fired AutoSlash for breaking their system. That’s one more reason for AutoSlash to come over to the ⊂ side and start operating unambiguously as a pure fourth party.

I believe that’s what already does. While their service is superficially similar to AutoSlash’s (they book you the lowest prices), they clearly work for you (⊂) as a fourth party and not for the agencies (⊃) as a third party. What makes them unambiguously a fourth party is the fact that you pay them. Here are their rates.

For controlling multiple relationships, however, you still need tools other than straightforward one-category services (such as AutoSlash and RentalCarMagic). One circle around those tools is what KuppingerCole calls Life Management Platforms. Another, from Peter Vander Auwera of SWIFT is The Programmable Me These (among much more) will be the subject of sessions at the European Identity and Cloud Conference (EIC) this week in Munich. (I’ll be flying there shortly from Boston.) I’ll be participating in those. So will Phil Windley of Kynetx, who has detailed a concept called the “Personal Event Network,” aka the “Personal Cloud.” Links, in chronological order:

  1. Ways, Not Places
  2. Protocols and Metaprotocols: What is a Personal Event Network?
  3. KRL, Data and Personal Clouds
  4. Personal Clouds as General Purpose Computers
  5. Personal Clouds Need a Cloud Operating System
  6. The Foundational Role of Identity in Personal Clouds
  7. Data Abstractions for Richer Cloud Experiences
  8. A Programming Model for Personal Clouds
  9. Federating Personal Clouds

This is thinking-in-progress about work-in-progress, by a Ph.D. computer scientist and college professor as well as an entrepreneur and a very creative inventor. (By the way, KRL and its rules engine are open source. That’s cool too.)

If I have time later I’ll unpack some of this, and start knitting the connections between what Phil’s talking about and what others (especially Martin Kuppinger of KuppingerCole, who will be writing and posting more about Life Management Platforms) are also bringing to the table here.

In particular I will bring up the challenge of fixing the car rental agency market. What can we do, not only for the customer and for his or her fourth parties (the ⊂ side) but for everybody on the third and second party (⊃) side?

And what changes will have to take place on the ⊃ side once they find they need to truly differentiate, in distinctive and non-gimmicky ways? What effect will that have on the car makers as well?

When I started down this path, back in 2006, I had a long conversation with a top executive at one of the car rental companies. What sticks with me is that these guys don’t have it easy. Among other things, he told me that the car companies mostly don’t like the car rental business because it turns drivers off to many of the cars they rent, and the car companies don’t make much money on the cars either. Can that be fixed too? I don’t know, but I’d like customers and their fourth parties to help.

How about through true personalization, in response to actual demand by individual customers, such as I suggested in 2006?

How about through new infrastructural approaches, such as the ?

Hertz, Budget’s and Enterprise’s own CRM and loyalty systems are not going to go away. Nor will the ways they all have of identifying us, and authenticating us. How can we embrace those, even as we work to obsolete them?

There are two worlds overlapping here: the one we have, and the one we’re building that will transcend and subsume the one we have.

The one we have is a “free market” with a “your choice of captor” model. It is for violating this model that AutoSlash was fired as a third party by the car rental agencies.

The one we’re building is a truly free market, in which free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. We need to make the pudding that proves that principle.

And we’re doing that. But it’s not a simple, an easy, or even a coordinated process. The good thing is, it’s already underway, and has been for some time.

Looking forward to seeing you at EIC in Munich, and/or at the other events that follow, in London and Mountain View:

Meanwhile, a last word, in respect to what Bart Stevens says below. Clearly the car rental business needs to move out of the confusopoly model, and to differentiate on more than price. To some degree they already do, but price is the primary driver for most customers. (And I’d welcome correction on that, if it’s wrong.) We have a lot to learn from each other.

How about using the ‘No Track’ button we already have?

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones. Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a calf-cow model in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with Lord Acton’s axiom (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by Julia Anguin and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the What They Know series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets. The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. All the above falls into a category we call EmanciTerm. Much has been happening as well around personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers,” “services” and “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… 🙂

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

Oh, and by the way, Mozilla has been offering “do not track” for a long time. Other tools are also available:

VRM and CCOs

In The Rise Of The Chief Customer OfficerPaul Hagen of Forrester begins,

Over the past five years Forrester Research has observed an increase in the number of companies with a single executive leading customer experience efforts across a business unit or an entire company. These individuals often serve as top executives, with the mandate and power to design, orchestrate and improve customer experiences across every customer interaction. And whether firms call them Chief Customer Officers (CCOs) or give them some other label, these leaders sit at high levels of power at companies as diverse as Allstate, Dunkin’ BrandsOracle and USAA.

Other titles meaning roughly the same thing are Chief Client Officer and Chief Experience Officer. All, Paul writes, “are charged with improving the customer experience.”

From the VRM perspective, that’s all we need to know. We’re the customers, and we’re charged with improving our experience too.

So I dug around a bit, and came up with a few leads and links that I’ll post here as a shout-out to the folks and disciplines involved.

First is the Chief Customer Officer Council, founded and led by Curtis Bingham (whom I see by LinkedIn is, like me, in the Boston area). Next are (via the CCOC),

These are people VRM-equipped customers are going to meet in the new middle. This small post is toward making the acquaintance.

Complaining vs. Buying

Q: “What’s the difference between a tweeter and a customer?”

A: “One complains, the other buys.”

Just had to write that down. The Q and the A came in the midst of a VRM conference call that also touched on CRM, VRM+CRM, sCRM, trust frameworks, identity and other stuff.

Not saying that’s a fair characterization, by the way. Just that it’s an interesting one.

Consumers are social, Customers are personal

Social media are a partial and temporary solution at best to a pair of linked problems that are essentially personal:

  1. dysfunctional customer relationship management on the vendor’s side; and
  2. minimal vendor relationship management on the customer’s side.

In the absence of solutions to both problems, vendors still see customers as consumers, and that too is a problem that hasn’t yet come to a head, because we still don’t fully grok the difference between consumers and customers. As a result, we think social media looks like a the good answer rather than a better question. That question is, How can we get companies and media to stop treating us as consumers and start treating us as real customers?

To see what needs to be done, check out Consumers Punish Companies that Ignore Them, by Eric Sass in MediaPost. In that piece Eric sources a pair of Conversocial studies that contain plenty of grist for social media and marketing mills. Here they are, from the Conversocial blog:

Here are some samplings from Eric’s gleanings:

  • “…more than 60% of complaints and question about retailers posted online on social media are ignored, in part because of the sheer volume of content created on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”
  • “30% of the retail chains surveyed don’t respond to any questions or complaints posted on social media, effectively choosing to ignore issues mentioned in these forums.”
  • “…78% believe that social media platforms will soon replace other means of customer service altogether or at least become one of the top ways to communicate with corporations.”
  • “…among the group which has communicated with companies via social media, 32.5% said they were either neglected or totally ignored; that works out to 16.5% of the total…This included ‘inadequate response times, unanswered queries, and overall unmet expectations.’
  • “What’s more, ‘respondents were also adamant that such corporate behaviors would have some or much effect on their future decision to do business with offending corporations.’
  • “27.3% of respondents said being ignored by companies on social media makes them ‘very angry,’ and 27.1% said they’d stop doing business with the offending company altogether.”
  • “88.3% of respondents said they’d be somewhat or far less likely to do business with a company that has visibly ignored other customers’ questions or complaints on social media. That includes 49.5% who said they would be ‘far less likely, and 38.8% who said they’d be ‘somewhat less likely.'”

Note that the blame here is on offending companies; not on social media, or on the absence of something better.

This is understandable because social media offer radically new and helpful avenues both for customer feedback one one side and customer support on the other. Also, social media is where Conversocial is coming from, and what MediaPost reports on. The problem for both — and for all of us thinking and talking about this stuff inside the social media framework — is that consumers are a statistical category while customers are individual human beings.

Individual human beings are all different. They are not categories, and they cannot be treated with full respect only by templates, which is what vendors — especially those serving mass markets — tend to use.

And, while social media do provide ways to get personal (say, though one’s @-handle on Twitter), they don’t have personal relationships with their users. That’s because social media users are not customers of them, because they don’t pay for them. And if you don’t pay, you’re the product being sold.

The actual customers of Facebook and Twitter are advertisers, not users. Because of this, social media has exactly the same un-visited problem that commercial broadcasting has had for the duration: its consumers and its customers are different populations. Financial accountability is to those that pay, which are advertisers, not users. Yes, there are moral and operational obligations to users, but economically speaking those obligations are lesser ones. They are those of a farmer to crops, not of a store to actual customers.

For now social media are a useful and popular way for customers to send messages to companies — and to route around inadequate customer service systems (or, in the vernacular of the trade, using sCRM routing around or to improve CRM) — the failures listed by Conversocial are not just those of companies ignoring social media, but of social media itself.

There is a structural problem as well, because social media are still only semi-personal. They are a weak substitute for direct contact — meaning that, in a person-to-person sense, even email and telephony are better.

Improving each company’s customer service systems and policies (which the Conversocial studies call for) also isn’t enough, because each company’s system is different, and all of them are silo’d. Thus the way you deal as a customer with Nordsrom, Safeway, Amazon and Apple are all different, and incompatible. If you want, say, to change your address or your phone number with all of them at once, you don’t have a single way to do that. You also don’t have a standard way to publish your own terms and conditions of engagement, to say for example “don’t track me outside of your own store or site” or “any data you collect is mine as well as yours, and should be available to me in the standard way I describe.”

Tools for doing that would have to live on your side of the relationship. Not the vendor’s, not the CRM cloud’s, and not Facebook’s. If you are a real customer, and not just a consumer or a user, you need your own tools. You need VRM — Vendor Relationship Management — tools, to work together with vendors CRM tools, not to replace them. The demand chain and the supply chain will work together.

The only case against VRM is that companies serving mass markets can’t afford to be personal, and just won’t go there. This was also the argument against PCs and the Internet. History and enterprising developers proved both cases wrong.

In fact enterprising developers in the VRM community have been working on personal tools for the last five years or more — tools that make customers both independent of vendors and better able to engage with vendors. It helps that the CRM community is aware of VRM developments, and has been awaiting them for some time. This is the year that wait will pay off. We’ll finally see VRM developments mature and start to become useful, both for customers and for vendors. So, watch the space.

Bonus link: Alan Mitchell’s comment below. I love how he says social media marketing is among “the grandest imperialist invasions of them all. The attempt to occupy day-to-day human interaction and turn it into a profit centre.” Indeed.

Also, to answer questions raised below, I have posted Customers are personal, cont’d.

Say howdy to Insidr and Glome

One is , which is “rewriting the Rules of ” by giving you a way to “connect directly to real people who have worked in big companies and are willing to help when the company can’t or won’t.” You post a question, offer a bounty for an answer, and get an answer from an insider at the company. So far those include (copied and pasted from Insidr’s about/learn page):

I asked a question regarding , with which I’ve flown .82 million miles so far. The question had nothing to do with customer service, but rather with looking for a connection inside the airline, with whom I might talk about publishing a book of aerial photos (such as these) taken from United planes, timed to publish about the time  come into service. It’s a long shot, but a fun one.

I think Insidr qualifies as a fourth party (as described this blog post and this ProjectVRM wiki article). That is, one working primarily for the customer, rather than for the vendor. That Insidr is paid by places it on the side of customers financially, which is significant — and novel, in an age when most new Web-based businesses still look for revenue coming from sellers “targeting” customers rather than customers expressing their own intentions, in their own ways.

about Insidr. (I was given a heads-up that TechCrunch might call to get the VRM angle, but that didn’t happen.)

[Update…] I spoke with Antony Brydon, Insidr’s CEO. He made it clear that the term “Insider” is not limited to people working for the company, and in fact is refers to the collection of experts who are proximal to the company rather than inside the company — though it might include those too. He also begs our indulgence of Insidr’s learning process. They’re just getting started.

The other new VRM entry is .  “Stop being a product” says the main copy on the index page. @glomeinc‘s Twitter page says,

Glome Inc@GlomeInc Helsinki, Finland
Media startup aiming to change the way advertisers connect with customers online. Buzzwords: VRM, User controlled data, online privacy, open API:s

The first and only tweet so far there says,

Glome Inc. is officially founded. Stay tuned for private beta invite instructions. #glomeinc #vrm #privacy #changetheworld

I tweeted back,

@GlomeInc Tell us more about your #VRMwork. DM me if you need to keep it private for now.

We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, it’s good to know that both companies fly the #VRM flag.

Here’s Zemanta‘s list of Related Articles:

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