Month: June 2009

Privacy and VRM

In Privacy is Relative my column in May’s Linux Journal, I wrote,

there are essentially two forms of privacy. One is the kind where you hide out. You minimize exposure by confining it to yourself. The other is where you trust somebody with your information.

In order to trust somebody, you need a relationship with them. You’re their spouse, friend, client or patient.

This isn’t so easy if you’re just a customer, or worse, a “consumer”. There the obligation is minimized, usually through call centers and other customer-avoidance mechanisms that get only worse as technology improves. Today, the call center wants to scrape you off onto a Web site or a chat system.

Minimizing human contact isolates your private information inside machines that have little interest in relating to you as a human being or in putting you in contact with a human being inside the company. Hence, your data is indeed safe—from you. It’s also safe from the assumption that this data might in any way also belong to you—meaning, under your control. It’s still private, but only on the company’s terms. Not on yours.

This mess can’t be fixed just by humanizing call centers. It can be fixed only by humanizing companies. This has to be done from both inside and out.

There isn’t enough room in a column like that to unpack that last statement. But there is in a thread like this one, if you’re game.

Off base but still kinda relevant

I suppose you’ve succeeded when people start making fun of what you’re up to. That might be what’s going on with The Vendor-Client Relationship, a YouTube video I found via markfonteijn. In this video the clients — diners at a restaurant, a customer at a hairdresser — bargain over costs. I suppose this is to point out the oddities of doing the same kind of thing in a B2B world.

It’s not about VRM at all, but it does bring up an occasional misunderstanding about VRM: that it’s about negotiating on price. It’s not. It’s about relationship; or more precisely, about relating. If price negotiation isn’t on the table, or shouldn’t (or can’t) be on the table — as would be the case at a restaurant, a hairdresser, or most retail establishments — it’s outside VRM’s scope. VRM is about enlarging the table, not turning it over.

EmanciPay does put the pricing gun in the hands of the customer, but only for goods that cost nothing and are worth more than that. Which is why our likely first deployments are with public radio.

It helps organize our understanding to divide market activities there into three categories: transaction, conversation and relationship. Of those three, the least developed in our “developed” economy is relationship. (And it’s the most developed in the less-developed world.) The most developed in our familiar settings is transaction. With VRM we are trying to create more balance between the three by concentrating on relationship, even when the relating required is minimal. We’re doing that by better equipping the buyers’ side with tools that will serve both sides.

The kind of interaction we see in that video is about as far from VRM as you’ll get.

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