Monday, June 16, 2014

Week of 06/16/2014

We Are Not The Customers, We Are Product
I recently came to a revelation concerning business activities and a certain axiom that annoys me to no end.
“The customer is always right.”
I’ve worked customer service, and I know that this saying is not always true.  But it’s considered to be absolutely true, because even if the customer is as wrong as Joe McCarthy and can be proven to be so with facts, they’re still the ones paying for the service; so if they’re not happy, they will take their business elsewhere.  And for greedy self-centered corporate executives that consider profit the end-all-be-all in the universe, that possibility is an unforgiveable sin if they allow it to happen.
So “The Customer” may or may not be “right”, but the business world supposedly assumes that they are at all times, even if they are not.  Because to operate like “The Customer” is not right means potentially losing money, which is a bad thing if your whole purpose of existence involves getting every single penny that you can from “The Customer”.
Got it?
So why does it seem like the business world is now ignoring this axiom?
Social media websites like Facebook are hell-bent on getting every single piece of information they can from you about you and your family and your friends and everything connected to you.  I am continually asked to provide a phone number, where I was born, where I ever worked, anyone that I ever knew, what my favorite foods are, what movies I’ve seen, what books I’ve read… And I wouldn’t mind sharing some of those things on my own terms, but it seems like the social media administrators don’t want to wait.  They demand that I give up this information and harass me with messages to comply.
And of course there are the ads.  And the little encouragements to “like” and visit certain threads.  I’ve actually gone over some of the more annoying elements of social media, and some of those could have been prevented through more attentive management.
Not exactly what “the customer” wants, is it?
Well there is a very simple reason for that.
It is because you are not “the customer” in the equation.
You are the product.
Think about it.  How do social media companies like Facebook make their money?  They make their money through advertising placed on your activities.  You’re not paying them!  You’re not giving them one single penny directly.  Only the advertisers and the companies they are partnering with are doing that.
If you’re not paying them, then you cannot be “the customer” in the equation.  And since social media companies like Facebook only make their money by being able to market stuff off the content being posted, and you are the ones posting the content, then you are really the product.
That’s why they want all the information they can get off you.  That’s why they want to track every action you take and every purchase you make.  That’s why they want access to your email address book and your instant messaging buddy lists.  Because then they can make their money by marketing all of that stuff to advertisers.
And it’s not just Facebook.  It’s YouTube and DailyMotion and the other video hosting services.  It’s Blogger and WordPress and the other blog posting services.  It’s all of the email and instant messaging services.  It’s why they can provide “free” things for you… because you are not “the customer”.  You never were.
You are the product!
And as the product, they don’t have to care about what you want.  They don’t have to care about how you are being treated.  They don’t have to care about advertisers using your images in their ads and making money off them.  That’s why you’re there as far as they are concerned.  Oh, that was your smiling face that you posted on Facebook that is now on some teeth-whitening pop-up ad?  That’s your bikini-clad body on some travel website banner ad?  Thanks for donating the material!  Nice camera work!
And it’s not just online businesses adopting this model of you as the product instead of you as the consumer.
Have you noticed that movie theaters are wasting more and more of your time showing ads before they show their scheduled movie? 
Case in point: I went to see “X-Men: Days of Future Past” on its opening weekend.  The movie was supposed to start at 1pm.  I got there at 12:30pm and was given a half-hour of commercials and fluff promotions.  And that was fine, because it helped pass the time away.  Then it was 1pm, the scheduled show-time, and they started in on still more commercials.  We’re not even talking about trailers of other movies!  We’re talking full-on TV-style commercials!  By the time the movie itself started, a whole thirty minutes had passed.  (And, yes, I was looking at my watch to see when that happened.)
It was bad enough that I paid an obscene amount of money for popcorn and soda, but to have to sit there in the theater for an extra half-hour before I could see a movie that I had already paid for, that’s insult on top of injury.
But, then again, the theater doesn’t really make too much money off you through the box office.  They need to get it elsewhere.  And if they can’t get you for the refreshments, then they need to get it from advertising.  So they don’t see you as the customer anymore.  They see you as the product.
Look at radio and television.  Programming executives have long had very little regard for what you want to see because, for the most part, you are not the ones paying for the programming.  The sponsors are.  That’s why the subscription movie channels like Home Box Office and Showtime and Cinemax and Starz are able to provide quality original programming.  Because we, the viewers, are actually paying for them!  We’re the ones paying for “Game of Thrones”, with the nudity and violence intact.  We’re the ones paying for “Shameless” with the language and the nudity and the drug use and the overall weirdness intact.
Now look at what CBS and ABC and NBC are offering.  “Hell’s Kitchen” and “MasterChef” and “Survivor” and “American Idol” and “Big Brother” and “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are all repeats of the same formula with just the occasional twist here and there.  The sitcoms are all pretty much the same.  The Sunday Animation shows on Fox are pretty much all the same.  It’s all lather-rinse-repeat.
Even the cable channels like AMC and Arts & Entertainment take huge risks trying to be like the subscription movie channels, because the money they bring in is not from the people that actually watch their shows.  It’s from the cable and satellite providers themselves.
In fact, look at the disputes from channels like AMC and The Weather Channel with providers like DirecTV.  They are all about money.  And it doesn’t matter what the people want, because they’re not the ones that pay AMC or TWC.  It’s DirecTV and Dish and the cable companies.  And they get a good portion of their money from advertisers.
This why a certain megalomaniacal cable giant is seen by some as callous and oblivious to customer service.  It’s because they know that you, the viewers, are not really “the consumers” as far as they are concerned.  You are product.  That is how they see you, and that is how they treat you.
And, yes, this idea that you are the product instead of the customer is especially seen in politics.
Do you know why politicians listen to special interest groups and K-Street lobbyists more than the voters?  It’s because they’re the ones giving the big bucks, and also because they’re the ones that are promising to actually bring the voters to do their bidding.
In other words, the lobbyists and special interest groups are seen as the customers… with you quite literally as the product.
Hey, you’re not the ones paying for the super-expensive political ads.  You’re not the ones footing the bill for the career politician’s campaign.  All you’re doing is what they tell you to do.  You’re the ones buying into their scripts, regurgitating their talking points, and voting exactly the way they tell you to vote.
How many of you keep saying you want a different candidate?  That you want a third party?  But you don’t vote for them, do you?  Why?  Because the special interest groups tell you that they can’t win.  No other reason than because they tell you so.
Like I said, you’re nothing more than just product to them.
Let’s get brutally honest here... we’re all screwed when we’re treated as product, and it’s becoming way too comfortable for businesses and government entities to see us as being nothing but product.
This idea that we are nothing but product for others is really nothing new.  We just called it different names back then.  Serfdom.  Fiefdom.  Indentured servitude.  Slavery.  But the concept is still the same.  One person or one group owning other people.  Reducing whole segments of the populace to sub-human items of ownership to be manipulated, controlled… used for their advantage, and for their advantage alone.  And no matter how many “perks” or “freebies” or “value-added services” that are given, a slave by any other name is still just that.
The idea that “the customer is always right” implies a sense of obligation for the business world, as well as a sense of equilibrium.  The customer supposedly has all the power in the business world.  They can supposedly choose to go elsewhere if they’re not satisfied.
The problem, however, is it presumes that they have a choice.  If there are alternatives.  If they know that there are alternatives.  And if they really are “the customer”.
Here’s a good tip… if you’re not paying money for the service, then you really are not “the customer”.  And then it doesn’t matter if you’re in the right.

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