Andrew has been writing Anti Buzz for 4 years resulting in almost 200 articles. For the next several weeks we will revisit some of these just in case you missed it.
When I’m thinking about modern technology but I’m not waxing philosophic about it here, I’m usually thinking about digital products – music, movies, photos, games, software – and the economic reality behind them. Occasional soapbox moments aside, I don’t delve into these topics much here because it has seemed to me that the subject wasn’t relevant to my audience. I also avoid the topic because arguing about intellectual property rights and effective business models in the digital age is pretty much Internet Arguments 101. There is a whole universe of discussion on the matter of piracy and the impending paradigm shift in notions of intellectual property, and talking about that stuff is pretty much the easiest way to make an adult look like an idealistic college kid. When I sit down to write these articles I make a good faith effort to say things that nobody else is saying.
But really, the reason I don’t talk about piracy much is because I know you aren’t worried about it. People don’t pirate dentistry. You perform an expert service, and that can’t be faked or copied. On the surface one expects your tech interests to lie mostly with how your day-to-day operations can be changed for the better, and secondarily, the subtleties of what those new technologies mean, (such as how less time needed to manage your appointment book means that your receptionist takes on new responsibilities … or fewer hours).
And all this build up isn’t to justify some rant about how I feel the 21st-century-should-work and what-you-should-think-about-digital-goods. Far from it. It’s rather that I realized recently that my opinions about all that stuff behind the curtain is more applicable to you than I thought it was. Without engaging in college-kid diatribes, here are two bits of advice from the piracy battlefield:
Don’t Make it Hard to be a Customer
My favorite thing about Steve Jobs, (and understand that while I lionized him here, I am not without criticism of the man), was that he didn’t treat his customers like a bunch of selfish thieves. We live in a world were it seems every large company invests in some large infrastructure that is meant to make sure you can’t possibly steal their digital product ever. In an idealistic crucible, Apple is hardly innocent of this, but I do remember Steve Jobs explaining the decision to make iTunes with, “People don’t want to break the law.” He made iTunes in the face of Napster because he knew that the convenience of downloading music was more important than whether or not it was free. Again, iTunes itself isn’t above reproach, but Apple’s popularity over the past decade can be explained by its commitment to making the customer’s life easy. Microsoft makes you feel like a thief. Apple doesn’t.
A common mistake in the fight against piracy is that companies make it more difficult to be a legitimate customer. Don’t do this. Ask yourself, how easy is it to be one of your patients? How easy is it to find you online? How easy is it to make an appointment? Can appointments only be made over the phone? If so you are losing new patients to every dental office that let’s you make them online. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself how excited your are to be on the phone with a stranger right now. Ask yourself how a practice that only takes new appointments in person competes with a practice that takes new appointments over the phone.
Ask yourself how long customers spend in your office outside of actual treatment. How long do they spend filling out paperwork? How long does it take to schedule their next appointment? How long do they wait? /Don’t/ make it hard to be a customer. A lesson from the piracy battlefield is that people will choose what is more convenient over what costs less money. Trust me. Be convenient.
Another way I like to put this is: Don’t put yourself between your product and your customer. If you are politically minded, you can equate this to [not putting a bureaucrat between you and your doctor] or [not putting a bureaucrat between scientists and their science], whichever line you are willing to listen to.
Don’t be a Jerk
Which is the politest I can put it. Another audience gets crasser words. An extension of the previous bit of advice is that being likeable is more important than being secure, (I think there was even a movie about this). People give money to things they like. If 20th century advertising taught us one thing, that’s it. Counterpoint to large companies making sure you can’t not spend money, is small companies, (observation: you are a small company), ensuring that you want to spend money, which is arguably more important. Again, I’ll spare you the college-kid anecdotes, just take the advice to heart; and again consider Apple, who wins by convincing people to like them.
But what are you doing to be unlikeable? That’s hard to say. There is a fine line between being lenient and easy with customers, and indulging them beyond feasibility. A good many entrepreneurs makes of point of pleasing the customer, but eventually you draw a line that protects your own interests, and where that line is is not obvious.
So consider this instead. Why should you care about being likeable?
I said you weren’t worried about piracy. I was right only in a literal sense. Where digitals goods providers are “freaked out” by piracy, you are “freaked out” by something else.
You know what it is.
Where the music industry is concerned that somebody, somewhere, might download an mp3 without paying for it, you are worried that somebody, somewhere, might bad mouth your business for no good reason. You can’t stop all of the pirates any more than you can stop all of the cranks complaining about your business. But you can minimize. You can discourage negative behavior by being positive. I don’t have concise advice for how to be likeable, but at the very least, don’t be a jerk.
The metaphor is Judo; using your enemy’s momentum to your advantage. You can put effort in leveraging social media directly, but more importantly, you just don’t want to get crushed by its weight. The highly connected opinion-of-everybody is a tremendous force you can’t stop. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t give it anything to complain about.