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Shelfari’s Breach Of Trust And What They Can Do

Connected to my last post, I thought I’d share a comment I made at O’Reilly Radar about the Shelfari pile-on currently taking place in the blogosphere. For those not keeping score at home, Shelfari screwed up in numerous ways lately by violating the trust of its users. And there have been countless blogposts documenting what happened (Google shelfari, astroturfing, and spam). The problem I have now is how cut-throat the bloggerati (or maybe a better term is blogarazzi) are in their attacks using words such as evil, sleazy, and rapist. It’s almost enough to make you believe that civil discourse is officially in the toilet.

Here’s the comment I left:

First off, let me just say that I don’t work for Shelfari and have no true stake in their success. I have used Shelfari for a few months and personally found little to complain about with them. Actually even met some new folks who share similar interests in books. But I am troubled by all of the hoopla lately. Okay, now on to my main point…

I work for a small and quickly growing company that’s unrelated to Shelfari, LibraryThing, and others. However, I see similarities here…and they largely come from the bloggerati who jump on companies looking for blood wherever they can find it. Did Shelfari screw up? Hell yes they did. Did they make some extremely stupid decisions? Hell yes again. Are they “evil” and “sleazy”? C’mon…let’s leave these words to the folks who truly deserve them.

But Josh has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust in a company that’s all about trustworthiness. Bet he didn’t appreciate that a few months ago and now is the time to watch and see what happens. For his and Shelfari’s sake, let’s hope they’re quick learners who understand the value of transparency and their customers’ social capital.

Maybe I’m a little more quick to forgive than I should be…I just know that few outside of Shelfari truly know these folks who work there and their character. It’s too easy to assume the worst and far too easy to engage in character assassination. Josh, if you’re really serious about making things right you’ll start by making TRUST your #1 company commitment. Everything will flow from there…either back up to your user’s good graces or straight down to the latest corporate funeral. We’ll all be watching.

I truly am watching. I want the folks like Josh and Dave to get it and succeed. But now it’s up to them to learn from their mistakes. Perhaps it means they need to assemble a user group to help them vet ideas based on whether they build or erode trust. It’s not too late, but there’s definite work to be done if Shelfari hopes to avoid digging its own grave.

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Being A Good Customer Is Good For Your Own Work

Now that I’m out of the non-profit world and in the corporate world, I’m more conscious of public perception of companies. In particular, the perceptions of the bloggerati who can sometimes be unforgiving in their attitudes. As a customer, I will openly admit that I’ve grown less patient with companies over the years. If I feel screwed over just one time, that’s the end of that “relationship”. Is this what we’ve come to expect? Companies need to meet our own sense of perfection or else?

And then we wonder why our own work is a less-than-fantastic experience. It’s actually a vicious cycle. The customer demands their own personally perfect interaction which puts pressure on the company to respond. Then, those of us inside the company or non-profit have to work harder than ever to meet these ever-escalating customer expectations. All of this may indeed explain the long hours, intense competitive pressure, and lack of fulfillment that makes our work a joyless pursuit.

Want to change this dynamic? Good…it’s simple (I’ll leave whether it’s easy up to you).

First, stop being an overly demanding and unfair customer. Since when has the one strike you’re out rule applied in baseball or one foul you’re out in basketball? Never. So, if a company screws up don’t give up on them. Same thing applies to a restaurant, a shop, an online service. Talk to someone who can make things happen and let them know that you’ve been disappointed and then…

Second, start being a coaching customer. If that company screws up, let them know what they did and how they can make it better. If your restaurant server’s service isn’t up to your expectations, let them know…don’t just tell the manager after the meal is over.

Third, and finally, make each transaction about more than just money. Within that financial trade is the opportunity for greater value. Be the kind of customer you want to work with in your own work. Be respectful and reasonable and caring. Remember that you get what you give.

I know some companies aren’t going to get this. They may shrug off your attempts at being a good customer, but I’d argue that these companies are actually few in number. Trust me…within each company there is at least one person who gives a damn as to the organization succeeds or fails. Find them and help them. And in the process, you might just be coaching your next customer.

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