We need better ways to deal with all the companies we pay monthly or yearly for services. So do those companies.
Count the number of companies you pay monthly or yearly, for whatever. Then count all your logins and passwords to websites and app-based services. Every one of those companies has what they call “solutions” to the problem of dealing with you—along with all their other customers.
As customers, however, we don’t have solutions that go back the other way, giving us our own systems for dealing with lots of companies. And we should—both for ourselves and for all those companies. Because there are lots of business problems that can only be solved from the customer’s side.
Here are a few examples, each of which are huge pains for both customers and companies, and that companies can’t solve on their own, because every business handles the work differently:
- Subscriptions. Nearly all subscriptions are pains in the butt, for many reasons. “Deals” can be deceiving, full of conditions and change without warning. New customers often get better deals than loyal customers. And there are no standard ways for you to keep track of when subscriptions run out, need renewal, or change.
- Loyalty. All loyalty programs are gimmicks, and coercive. True loyalty is worth far more.
- Terms and conditions. Nearly all of these are ones companies proffer, and we have little or no choice about agreeing to them. Worse, in nearly all cases, the record of agreement is on the company’s side. Oh, and since the GDPR came along in Europe and the CCPA in California, entering a website has turned into an ordeal usually requiring “consent” to privacy violations the laws were meant to stop.
- Privacy. We’ve had privacy tech in the physical world since forever, starting with clothing, shelter, locks, doors, and ways to signal others what’s okay and what’s not. We don’t have any of that yet online, and corporate promises to try not watching our naked selves isn’t working out.
- Identity. Logins and passwords are burdensome leftovers from the last millennium. And yes, there are better ways.
- Customer service. There are no standard ways to call for service yet, or to get it. And there should be.
- Things on the Internet. The “Internet of Things” so far is just the Google, Apple and Amazon of things. We need our own ways of owning things in the networked world. But we won’t get them from platforms that trap us.
None of those things can be fixed from the companies’ side. They can only be fixed from our side: the customers’ side.
For that we need scale: lift across whole markets, and whole categories:
We also need it in aggregate. But the aggregation needs to be one of individuals empowered through solutions that work for each and all of them.
We already have examples of personal scale with the Internet, the Web and email. Each provides single and simple ways any of us can deal the same way with any organization on Earth. And they work those same ways for all of us.
Other solutions, however, are missing—such as ones that solve the seven problems listed above. This is mostly because we’re all still new to the digital world and simply haven’t developed them yet. But it’s also because we—meaning suppliers to business, including investors—tend to think that all solutions to business problems are business solutions.
We’re not going to solve all these problems at once. But we will solve them eventually. Our challenge with Customer Commons is to make that future happen sooner.
The modified image above is a Doctor Who TARDIS console, photographed by Chris Sampson, offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license, published here, and obtained via Wikimedia Commons, here. We thank her for making it available.