Every business buys “solutions” that scale across many customers. But customers don’t have corresponding solutions that scale across many companies. Instead, we have as many different ways to relate to companies as there are companies providing us with their own separate solutions for doing that.
What we need are solutions of our own: ones that scale across all the companies we deal with.
So, for example, we should be able to change personal information (phone number, last name, address, whatever) across all the companies we engage, in one move. That’s what scale means.
Scale for customers also benefits companies, starting with good data. (National post offices lose $billions every year from bad addresses alone.)
In fact there is no shortage of of business problems that can only be solved from the customer’s side. Here are a few examples:
- Identity. Logins and passwords are burdensome leftovers from the last millennium. There should be (and already are) better ways to identify ourselves, and to reveal to others only what we need them to know. Working on this challenge is the SSI—Self-Sovereign Identity—movement. The solution here for individuals is tools of their own that scale.
- Subscriptions. Nearly all subscriptions are pains in the butt. “Deals” can be deceiving, full of conditions and changes that come without warning. New customers often get better deals than loyal customers. And there are no standard ways for customers to keep track of when subscriptions run out, need renewal, or change. The only way this can be normalized is from the customers’ side.
- Terms and conditions. In the world today, 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 typically requiring “consent” to privacy violations the laws were meant to stop. Or worse, agreeing that a site or a service provider spying on us is a “legitimate interest.”
- Payments. For demand and supply to be truly balanced, and for customers to operate at full agency in an open marketplace (which the Internet was designed to be), customers should have their own pricing gun: a way to signal—and actually pay willing sellers—as much as they like, however they like, for whatever they like, on their own terms. There is already a design for that, called Emancipay.
- Intentcasting. Advertising is all guesswork, which involves massive waste. But what if customers could safely and securely advertise to the market they want? This is called intentcasting, and to some degree it already exists. (Here is a list of intentcasting providers on the ProjectVRM Development Work list.)
- Shopping. Why can’t you have your own shopping cart—that you can take from store to store? Because we haven’t invented one yet. But we can. And when we do, all sellers are likely to enjoy more sales than they get with the current system of all-silo’d carts.
- Internet of Things. What we have so far are the Apple of things, the Amazon of things, the Google of things, the Samsung of things, the Sonos of things, and so on—all silo’d in separate systems we don’t control. Things we own on the Internet should be our things. We should be able to control them, as independent customers, as we do with our computers and mobile devices. (Also, by the way, things don’t need to be intelligent or connected to belong to the Internet of Things. They can be, or have, picos.)
- Loyalty. All loyalty programs are gimmicks, and coercive. True loyalty is worth far more to companies than the coerced kind, and only customers are in position to truly and fully express it. We should have our own loyalty programs, to which companies are members, rather than the reverse.
- Privacy. We’ve had privacy tech in the physical world since the inventions of clothing, shelter, locks, doors, shades, shutters, and other ways to limit what others can see or hear—and to signal to others what’s okay and what’s not. Instead, all we have are unenforced promises by others not to watching our naked selves, or to report what they see to others. Or worse, coerced urgings to “accept” spying on us and distributing harvested information about us to parties unknown, with no record of what we’ve agreed to.
- Customer service. There are no standard ways to call for service yet, or to get it. And there should be.
We already have examples of personal solutions working at scale: the Internet, the Web, email and telephony. Each provides single, simple and standards-based ways any of us can scale how we deal with others—across countless companies, organizations and services. And they work for those companies as well.
Other solutions, however, are missing—such as ones that solve the eight problems listed above.
They’re missing for the best of all possible reasons: it’s still early. Digital living is still new—decades old at most. And it’s sure to persist for many decades, centuries or millennia to come.
They’re also missing because businesses typically think all solutions to business problems are ones for them. Thinking about customers solving business problems is outside that box.
But much work is already happening outside that box. And there already exist standards and code for building many customer-side solutions to problems shared with businesses. Yes, there are not yet as many or as good as we need; but there are enough to get started.
Our challenge with Customer Commons is to put existing solutions to use, and to foster development of the rest.
How we approach those challenges is detailed in blog posts tagged solutions. In each of those posts we visit how we solve problems for both customers and companies.