Here is a quick business-related post here that may help you in your woodworking (or nematode lingerie) business.
In any transaction there are only three roles: the seller, the customer and the product. As one of the owners of Lost Art Press, I might occupy any of those roles at different times. And if I don’t understand my role in the transaction, I can make a fatal error. For example:
When I post on Instagram or Twitter, I am the product. This is a sometimes-startling realization for people. But if you aren’t the seller (Instagram) or the buyer (advertisers) then you are the product. (Cue the theme to “Soylent Green.”)
When we sell books to you, Lost Art Press is the seller, you are the buyer and the product is the ideas of a third person – the author.
However, when we are negotiating with an author about whether to publish their book, the roles change. Lost Art Press is the customer, the author is the seller and the product is the unpublished manuscript (aka the author’s ideas).
During the last 32 years of working in publishing, I have watched a lot of smart people completely forget how this works. One frequent problem at Popular Woodworking magazine occurred when an author would propose a story for us to publish. If we declined, the author might berate us, call us names, throw a fit (sometimes online) and generally be an ass.
You can get away with that sort of behavior when you are the customer (such as when you are a subscriber to the magazine, and we cocked up your subscription). That’s because in our service-oriented culture, the customer is always right (even when they’re not).
But a seller belittling a potential customer is not cool. And that abuse can be fatal for the seller’s business.
At the magazine, authors who abused us were sometimes confused when we stopped returning their calls or considering their proposals.
Whenever I step into a weird financial situation (publishing rights purchased through an agent from a foreign publisher? Ugh), I draw a little triangle on a sheet of paper. I label the points: “Me,” “Other Dude” and “Thingy.” Then I draw arrows that show who the money goes to. At the beginning of the arrow is the customer. At the end of the arrow is the seller.
Then I know how to behave.
How does this blog entry help a small woodworking business? It is a reminder about how to deal with institutions. It’s easy to treat companies like they are always the seller and you are the customer. But that’s not always the case.
Draw the triangle. Draw the arrows. (Or get used to the indifference.)
— Christopher Schwarz
21 thoughts on “Question: Who is the Customer?”
I’ve thought a lot about this in the context of “free” web services like gmail, evite, and the like. As with instagram, the seller is a big tech company, the customer is an advertiser, and the product is…us. Or our data and mental attention, anyway. I dislike being a widget in someone else’s transaction, so I use a paid email service. But there’s no way out of social media, which is a professional obligation for many of us. It’s a frustrating reality for any aspiring anarchist.
I think the vast majority of people who use social media don’t realize they’re the product.
I’m thinking about how your triangle works when I listen to a podcast with ads. Obviously I’m the product since money goes from the advertiser to the podcast host (with potential intermediaries taking a cut). But my podcast player makes it easy to skip ads so I never hear them. I guess I’m a faulty product.
Precisely why I am not on any social media, if it is “free” than I am the product. I also go to a lot of trouble to avoid things like having to have a Google account to comment on a blog. My phone is Android and I stick with open source (FOSS) apps not from Google Playstore… No point helping an organization that wants to know everything about everyone. But I really like that point that you aren’t always the “customer” even an internal one, having in the past had to clean up the messes of a coworker who didn’t get it. For some strange reason when I made a request of someone the colleague ticked off I always got an immediate positive response 😉
I’m not sure who, or what brought this thought to the surface, but thanks! The simple things in life are the most meaningful.
In counseling therapy there is a triangle concept of “Hero, Victim, Villian”, and like a Shadow play, the roles can change without notice.
Or in a line from Tropic Thunder “I’m a Dude, playing a Dude, disguised as another Dude”
If my comment is not germane to the topic I apologize. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your wonderful products but most of all your integrity. I received my corrected copy of Mechaniks Exercises today. I probably wouldn’t have noticed the omitted pages in as much as they weren’t related to woodworking.
This kind of honesty will keep me in the triangle with LAP.
I would make the world’s worst businessman. So I have great respect for those who do it well.
But I don’t think of which part of a relationship I’m in when deciding how to treat people. My mind just doesn’t work that way. But every day I start out planning that “I’m not going to be an asshole to anyone today.” Then the next day I do it again.
It doesn’t always work. But it’s the best I can do.
The Golden Rule is probably the best rule in the world.
There are times when you need to complain. Or at least point out wrongdoing. So follow the Golden Rule. And remember your role in the relationship.
I agree about the Golden rule but knowing when to say something. I have a T-Shirt with a modified version of the Hippocratic oath printed on it. It says: Do no harm, take no shit.
A sentiment that can apply to any situation, really.
‘As one of the owners of Lost Art Press, I might occupy any of those roles at different times.’ Wait a sec, Chris as a product? is LAP going to venture is Chris themed explicit material?
Or become Philippe Dufour
Why’d you have to go all “nematode” on us? Had to dig deep in my ever fading memory banks. That hurt.
This reads like a break-up post on facebook, i.e. “All men are pigs!”.
Who hurt you Chris?
Who knows? I wrote this last year and forgot to post it until Megan mentioned that it was still in the “drafts” queue.
I hope you write “The Anarchist’s Small Business” someday.
I would add, regarding this, “…the product is the ideas of a third person – the author.”, that LAP is part of the product because of the outstanding quality of the physical books you produce. Arguably, the IP is purely the product with the PDF. However, your physical books are treasures.
And this is the reason Chris, I think you should consider publishing a small business startup manual. That “simple’ advice above is worth a Harvard MBA course alone. It is shocking how many “smart” people do not get that simple equation. More than your books or tools, I have found your journey from Popular Woodworking days to today to be fascinating, insightful and inspirational. Wishing you continued Success. Cheers.
Why not treat people with respect no matter which end of the arrow they are on?
Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have done to themselves.” Not biblical, but its been invaluable to me in thirty-plus years of international business. It takes “me” from the center and requires me to better understand “you.” The better I know and understand you, the more effectively I can deliver what you, not I want. Some people are naturally empathetic, others, too macho to care.
Spin off a vanity press division (LAVP).
Interesting. It makes me realise that being ‘the product’ does not leave much room, you have to please both the seller and the customer, which is something impossible if they did not understand each other correctly. Social networking is one instance, but being ‘the product’ can happen in real life when giving a class, for example.
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