When it comes to my personal email address, I’m constantly oscillating between two conflicting notions. One part of me wants to sign up willy-nilly for every beta product that comes across my screen, completely disregarding the tidal wave of notifications and email marketing that will ensue as a result. I tend to sign up for new services, sites, and products not only because I’m eager to try them, but also as a grateful nod to all those who’ve struggled (like me) to acquire early users.
The other part of me cowers at the thought of overpopulating the web with my email address, making it too conspicuous, too insecure, and too likely to be a target for hacking. At least once or twice a week I receive the notorious one line email, with no subject and only an incoherent URL in the body, notifying that one of my contacts has been hacked. Not only do I not want to be the one sending out the embarrassing but mandatory “Sorry I got hacked” email, I also cringe at the exponentially worse damage that could be done after someone got a hold of my personal information.
Even more frightening is that individuals and organizations with seemingly high tech IQs have been hit as well. One of the best examples can be found in last year’s “Epic Hacking” piece by Wired (magazine)writer Mathew Honan, whose major online accounts (Apple Inc.,Amazon, Twitter) were all compromised with some simple security mismatches between the services. His story ends well, considering, but goes to show that even someone knowledgeable about the services can be an easy victim.
Like Mat, I do my best to steer clear of trouble. I use a variety of different email addresses and passwords depending on the particular reason I’m signing up for a site. I set up 2-step authentication where possible and I’ve found that I really like a Google Chrome extension called PwdHash, suggested by Chris Dixon, that creates and remembers unique, complex passwords for the different sites that I visit. And, of course, I try to stay up-to-date on new trends or features that help with privacy and security. So the question is: How scared should I be?
I think the answer is “just enough.” Scared enough to take precautions that make it difficult, hopefully dissuading anyone from an easy score. The likelihood is that most people who get hacked fall into two categories: 1) high profile figures or organizations that get hacked for notoriety or valuable data in volume (see: South Carolina taxpayer server hacked and ), or 2) easy easy low internet IQ victims (see: People who post photos of their debit cards on Twitter). Thankfully these people are serving as a sort of buffer zone for the rest of us.
I’m afraid that the incredible breadth and depth of free resources on the internet is gradually killing our collective sense of gratitude and appreciation. From Wikipedia to Craiglist, I can’t help feeling that we (and I’m including myself) are practically demanding that all internet products and services be free, while maintaining incredibly high expectations of quality. Of course, in many cases, the “free for consumers” works out well for businesses. Facebook and Twitter succeed through advertising, Linkedin and Evernote through a freemium subscription model, Spotify through a combination of both. But nothing lasts without revenue; even Wikipedia needs donations.
It feels incredibly obvious to say this, but on a fairly regular basis people seem to ignore that this is how businesses function.
For example, every few months, when a new Facebook or Twitter revenue-generating product feature is launched, millions of people proclaim their moral outrage that these free services would attempt to make money at users’ expense. Ironically, they often use Twitter and Facebook as the means for commiserating with their friends about the abominable new features. From time to time, I’ve also seen bitter comments and posts about other, much less successful companies, when they’ve been forced to reckon with the real necessity for income. Sometimes free just isn’t good enough.
Since I work with a startup, I think I may be more sensitive to this issue than others. When I find a new free product or service that I love, I try to do three things to show my “startup appreciation”:
- I tell the team why I like their product. Everyone likes to hear that people enjoy and appreciate their product.
- I try to be patient and offer feedback. Unlike new products you buy at the store, brand new web products aren’t perfect and pristine out of the box. And, especially when a service is free, it doesn’t help the founding team to berate them about their product.
- If it’s a great product that I highly value, I pay for it. I’ve never understood why someone would burn (steal) their favorite band’s album from a friend, when ultimately it hurts the band they love. If it helps a company (or a band, for that matter) keep producing something that I love, I’m more than willing to pay.
The author Daniel Pink argues that “To Sell is Human,” and, while I haven’t read the book, I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea lately. Any time you ask another person for a favor, you’re selling something. The other person gives time, effort, and other resources essentially in exchange for only the value of your relationship. In arguing that everyone sells, it helps to try removing the negative connotation that accompanies “selling.” Not all selling is dishonest and manipulative; much of it is honest and fair. If everyone sells, then the following principle is important to everyone.
This is the principle: The difficulty of a sale does not depend on the “stakes”–dollar figure, number of people participating, amount of work required, etc.–of the transaction; difficulty of a sale is based on the motivation and ability of the buyer.
Motivation and ability are kind of the standard basis for explanations of behavior. The authors of Influencer and Change Anything (board members of the company I work for) use motivation and ability at the core of their methodology, as does Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg. I assume that many other psychologists and socialists have theories surrounding motivation and ability as well.
I’ve started to use my own variation of BJ Fogg’s model to optimize my likelihood of selling successfully. (Remember, I’m using “sell” very loosely here, to mean “any request that requires acceptance from another person.”) Here’s my model:
To state the obvious, when a person has low motivation and low ability, a sale becomes very difficult. And when motivation and ability are high, the sale is extremely easy. When I’m pitching any idea to another person (from convincing my wife where we should go for dinner to encouraging a client to spend money on our product), I can plug the variables of the situation into the model.
Here’s an example: I want my wife to go to a particular restaurant. Her motivation will depend on how much she likes the food, whether we’ve eaten there recently, who chose last time (me or her), how much she enjoys the atmosphere, etc. Ability will depend on how close the restaurant is, how expensive it will be, whether they have food that our two-year-old can eat, etc. I can do my best to offer (or omit) information to increase her motivation and ability to optimize the chance of a successful sale.
Of course I don’t analyze every dinner decision this way, but I think this is a useful framework for finding ways to optimize the chance of a successful sale when higher stakes are on the line.
Last but not least, I just wanted to offer two lists of variables that are commonly in play that could increase or decrease motivation and ability of a buyer.
Motivation: perceived value of a product or service, social pressure, financial advantages or disadvantages, personal gain, familiarity/relationship with the seller.
Ability: financial means, amount of work required as a result of a purchase, number of people required for approval of a purchase.
One of the most common stereotypes of the teenage years–along with stalwarts acne, poor driving, and relationship drama–is the quest for personal discovery. Some kids change the way they look, with clothing, piercings, and hairstyles like this; others pick up obscure hobbies, start using inane expressions, or find other ways to differentiate. In general, they expend much time and effort experimenting with personalities that they aren’t inherently suited for.
New companies, in many ways, are like teenagers. They explore potential paths to determine what seems to be the best long-term fit. Despite the stereotypes, that’s not all bad: good “teenage” companies eventually grow up. Unfortunately, some companies, like teenagers, become increasingly more obnoxious each time they fail to identify with a particular path. Desperate measures ensue, and we begin to see product features equivalent to teenage rebellious angst. This describes my experience with an app I tried earlier this week.
The holiday season presented a handful of timely “gifting” apps. I’m sure you saw apps that suggest the perfect gift, offer a customized shopping experience, or manage the hundreds of gift cards you plan to haul in over the holidays (obligatory articles, it would seem, were devoted to these apps in all major media sources).
I was most excited about a gift card app. It has two core features: 1) It allows me to store gift cards so I don’t have to carry them around. This would be awesome, if it worked well, since I’m dying for more tools to limit the amount of cards/documentation I need to carry around in excess of my phone. No ideal solution owns this use case for me yet. 2) It allows me to send gift cards to other people. This seems reasonable, considering their core user experience, but hardly a driving feature and will be overlooked except under rare, non-recurring circumstances–most people aren’t proactively buying gifts for others on a daily basis.
The app sign-up required Facebook login, which I don’t mind, since I’m comfortable with the level of security that Facebook offers and the convenience of limiting new usernames and passwords. However, they quickly lost my trust in the way they used my information. Not long after signing up, I got a push notification letting me know that several friends have birthdays coming up–I should buy them presents! First-time notification, so I disregarded it. When the same notification appeared the next day–with all my new friends that had birthdays that day–buy them presents!–I disabled the push notifications. And by the time I received an email suggesting that my friends (who I haven’t spoken to in years, of course) really needed gifts, I didn’t have the patience to stay on their list. I did my best to remove myself from all of their methods of communicating with me.
With this particular app, I realize that I consciously opted-in to what they might endearingly call a “gift giving experience.” I allowed the push notifications, I okayed the Facebook authorization, and, after all, I downloaded the app in the first place. I also realize (having developed an app and worked to build customer adoption) that their team is struggling to find its identity in the way of user interaction and monetization. But it just didn’t fit. The failed engagement came across as immature teenage angst, a product discontent with the reality of its identity. A nice “once a month for special occasions” app was trying to convince me that it needed my attention daily.
Maybe I’m speaking too soon–I’d love to see a full set of incredible new features to support the limited experience the app offers–but I couldn’t help feeling that the app was overreaching its utility. I have 2 or 3 birthday notifications every day, and Facebook won’t let me forget it, but how often do I send gifts to these people? The answer is…uh…never. I literally never have. For the app, the unfortunate reality is that no number of notifications will get me to use it on a daily basis, and they’ll only turn me off to the app’s legitimate advantages in the meantime. So the lesson learned, for this time, is that while we’re going through the growing pains of building new products, we should do our best to find our identity quickly, sparing our customers as much obnoxiousness as possible.
Speed is more than a feature; it’s a requirement.
- Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures (video)
There is a McDonald’s on the corner of a busy intersection not far from my house. I have no idea what the national average is for “order” time at a McDonald’s, but I’m positive that this McDonald’s beats it. Once, when I ordered just a burger in the drive-through, they skipped the second window entirely, handing me my order when I paid at the first window. Healthiness of their food aside, I fully endorse this particular McDonald’s; they’ve won my heart with their speed.
What I find interesting about this McDonald’s is that with speed alone they’ve gained a competitive advantage and a loyal customer. While there are other restaurants in the vicinity–Arby’s, Taco Bell, and Carl’s Jr. are within a block–I almost always choose McDonald’s not because I prefer the food, but because I know it will be the fastest. Since all of the restaurants have the same general location, quality of food (in my opinion), and price range, speed of customer service is one of the few advantages to be had. Even more interesting is that, to my knowledge, there is no “secret sauce” that this McDonald’s uses to achieve its speed. Most fast-food places, even other McDonald’s locations, are much slower. Which leads me to believe that the management in this location recognizes that speed of customer service is a key advantage, giving it priority in their work culture with training, incentives, etc. The competing fast-food places locations could do the same; I might occasionally stop for a taco if I knew I could get it as quickly as a McDouble.
Shifting this lesson more broadly to all products and services, I’ve observed that it’s easy to win customer satisfaction with speed. I’ve answered thousands of customer support emails; when I answer within just a few minutes of receiving one, customers are almost always surprised and grateful. Speed is a precious advantage that really isn’t that difficult to obtain. I think there are loosely 3 areas a business can leverage speed:
1) Speed of people: Training employees to react quickly and creating a culture that impresses customers with timely response. A nice example here is Charles Schwab, which gives me a direct line to access a live person any time I have questions about my account. Not having to navigate a dial-tone messaging system is priceless (and much quicker).
2) Speed of processes: Using efficient processes and logistics to meet customer expectations. The optimal example here is Amazon’s inventory and fulfillment; millions of people have come to rely on Amazon because they know they can have products shipped to them in just 2 days.
3) Speed of technology: Making sure that the best technology is used to improve the speed of delivery for products and services. We all know how important page load time is. Especially for web services, if the fastest, most recent technology isn’t being used, customers won’t stick around.
While I think all 3 areas are important for businesses in creating a speed advantage, there is absolutely no excuse for ignoring the first. Any company, in any industry, can find ways to help employees prioritize customer interactions, and that can serve as a low cost competitive advantage. And, if a business has trouble solving for the other 2 areas, it seems that long-term success would be hard to come by. Speed is essential.