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September 25, 2006

Customer Relationship Mis-management: A Cautionary Tale

I haven't done one of these in a while and it pains me to do this one. And because it's about a person that I highly respect for the great job they have done in creating a nice website with all kinds of interesting, fresh and relevant content updated several times during the course of a day. They are interested in driving more traffic to the site and one of the ways they are looking to do this is to use RSS to syndicate and easily distribute their content all over the web. Anyone reading my post on how I think RSS will eventually be more important than email will know I think this is a great idea. So far so good, but....

As I relayed my positive feelings on this move to using RSS and how I think it will really help drive more traffic as people will see headlines and summaries and then click to get to the page, things went a little off course. A question was asked if instead of being directed to the page the full article is on, could people who click on the link be directed to their homepage. I said technically you could do that, but I asked why would you want to? Because they want people to see all of the content available on their site and not just stop at reading the information that drew them to the site. I think that's what happened to them in the past when sending out direct links to articles in emails. When I said that people are clicking on the link because they want to see that specific information and not a generic homepage, I believe my words probably fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, the need of the site owner to get more eyes to the homepage is outweighing the reader's desire to read the article they expected to see after clicking on the link created by the RSS feed. This is basically a bait and switch tactic which may not seem like a big deal to the owners of the site, but it really is as it will probably be seen as confusing, irritating and even alienating to people who are used to clicking on links to get to specific pages. It's just not good policy to put your needs and desires in front of your customers, and that is exactly what would be done here by "tweaking" an RSS feed in this manner. I can understand wanting to get more people to view other content and extend their stay on the site, but it shouldn't be done this way. It should be done by designing pages that include "related articles lists" or "most read lists" and any other "value adds" that will make people want to see more. This empowers the customer by giving them what they need to decide what they want to do instead of companies trying to dictate the action. It's really the difference in traditional CRM thinking and what's now being called CMR: customer-managed relationships. One has the control in the hands of the company where the other hands "the con" to the real bosses - customers. With more and more information sources piling onto the Internet, it's really important to look at how sites like Digg, Reddit, Delicious and others have grown their traffic to unbelievably high levels by using a CMR approach and giving readers the power to vote what stories make the front page, not forcing them to read the front page. 

In the end it would definitely be for the best to give more options to the site's visitors than to try and force them to do what you want them to.


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