So I got an email today from Forbes, with the subject “You are Important to Us”. It says this:
Forbes values you as a customer and your opinions are very important to us. We are conducting a study and would like to include your opinions.
The survey will take about 10 minutes to complete and we think you’ll find it interesting and enjoyable. Your responses will be used for research purposes only and will be held in the strictest confidence.
Simply click on the link below to visit our survey.
Click here to take the survey [The link goes to a long address that begins http://forbes.puresendmail.com/print.]
Again, we thank you so much for participation.
Bruce Rogers, Chief Brand Officer – Forbes
You are receiving this email because you registered at Forbes.com LLC. and signed up to receive third party emails To manage your preferences or change your delivery address, please click here.
You may also email your opt-out request to email@example.com or send your request in the mail directly to:
Attn: Privacy Administrator
90 5th Ave. 6th Floor
New York, NY 10011
Copyright 2008 Forbes.com LLC TM
I thought, “Hey, I’m busy, but I like Forbes, and I’m inclined to cooperate, even if I hate most surveys and would rather relate to Forbes in a less one-sided and impersonal way. So I punched on “Click here to take the survey”.
The first step was one that asked me what my title was. I have several, but none of them are from the lexicon of corporate hierarchies. So, next to “other” I wrote “fellow”. Because that’s what I am, here at the Berkman Center. (I’m also Senior Editor of Linux Journal and President of my own small company, but I went with “fellow” because I get Forbes where I live near Berkman and not at my home office in California.)
The first survey page told me the thing would take about ten minutes. That’s a lot, but I thought, “Okay, I’m still game. Let’s see how fast we can make this.”
It was over in one second. Or however long it took for the survey server to send me to a page with the title “Thank You – InsightExpress.com”. Its entire contents were this:
I hit the back button and it went nowhere. Then I clicked on the address in the email. That timed out. So did I.
This is the point at which one might be tempted to write to Bruce Rogers or the nameless Privacy Administrator, but Forbes has gone out of its way here to avoid human contact (no email address for Bruce, a surface mail address for ATT:Privacy Administrator — both of which scream “WE ARE AVOIDING YOU. PLEASE COOPERATE.) But that would be weak and supplicating, and I have no interest in being either. I’d rather be the good Forbes subscriber that I’ve been for years and attempt to make constructive human contact instead.
I’ll do that three ways. First is with the headline above, plus links and other bait that might get the attention of Bruce Rogers or one of his factota. [Note: I posted this at 1:12pm, and Bruce responded personally at 1:56. Well done!] Second is with an email to some folks I know at Forbes. Third, and most importantly, I’ll try to explain the VRM angle on this.
VRM is Vendor Relationship Management. It’s how customers manage relationships with vendors. (Or with other individuals, or with organizations of any kind — such as churches or governments.)
Most vendors are familiar with CRM, for Customer Relationship Management. I can’t tell if a CRM system was involved in this little exchange, but a failure of this kind is certainly within the scope of CRM’s concerns. (To visit those, check out the CRM sites for SAP, Oracle, SalesForce, Amdocs and Microsoft, which are the top four companies in an $8+ billion business.)
Right now VRM is a $0 billion business. But in the long run it’ll be big, and it’ll improve the CRM business along with it, because it’ll give CRM something more substantial than mailing addresses to relate to.
A number of development communities are working on VRM solutions right now, but rather than talk about those I’ll just say what I’d like here. Not from Forbes, but from VRM developers. If Forbes or any CRM companies want to help with that, cool.
I would like a simple dashboard that tells me what I’m subscribed to and what I’m not — both for print publications such as Forbes and for email subscriptions of every kind. I would like to have global preferences that would govern how I relate to each of those publishers, and how they relate to me. For example, I would like to throw a switch that says “No” to all third party mailings, both to my font door and to my email addresses. When I establish a relationship with a new publisher, or publication, or supplier of any kind, I would like them all to know, as a matter of policy, that I don’t want them to waste their time, money and server cycles by sending me junk mail of any kind. And that I don’t appreciate having my own bandwidth, cycles, disk space, rods, cones and time wasted dealing with any of it. I might give a global or selective thumbs up to surveys, provided I also have a standard way to send error messages and other feedback to survey sources.
On the positive side, I would also like to open conduits through which productive interaction could take place with the publishers, authors and circulation officials whose “content” I pay to get. (And even those that I don’t pay.) I would like a simple, straightforward, universally understandable way to do this, across all “content providers”, so I don’t have to relate only inside each provider’s silo. (By the way, we’re already working on change-of-address, to pick just one subcategory of subscriber-publisher interaction that can be a pain in the butt for everybody. That last link is a working draft, by the way. More work is happening off-wiki.)
That’s just one part of what we’re doing at ProjectVRM. But it’s one I’d like the “content providers” and CRM folks out there to know about. Because it’s going to happen anyway, and I’d suggest getting interested, and perhaps also involved, sooner rather than later.