Marketplace: it’s not only the tempo, Rod, it’s time for practical steps

On the Promise of Communications

Meanwhile, and elsewhere, a (somewhat fractious) thread has been growing relating to a call for a meeting between merchants and the Commerce Team / Rod Humble, to which Rod has replied:

Hey folks, just dropping a note to let you know I have read the thread.  The team reads the boards every day so they asked me to pop in to acknowledge that they read the boards and I have also read this thread. I appreciate the feature requests and bug notifications in particular.

For sure we can up the tempo of communication in blog posts and notifications to upcoming changes & fixes. We remain committed to our merchant community and I appreciate you taking the time to write down what you would like to see in the future for SL.

Again, it is good that Rod Humble is aware of mounting issues and is willing to step up and reply – and also to reply to a number of individual posts in the thread. However, as many have pointed out, it’s not just the frequency of blog posts and notifications which is the problem, it is the entire relationship between the Commerce Team and merchants – a relationship which could perhaps be best summed up as “non-existent”, and at worse little short of adversarial.

Being totally fair, the reasons for this do not totally lay with the Commerce Team. As I’ve said previously, the Lab aren’t always solely responsible when communications go bad; we users can be pretty aggressive and unforgiving (if not downright unreasonable) when we want to be. But – and there is a rather large “but” here – it cannot be denied that much of the tension in and around matters relating to the Marketplace comes as a direct result of the Commerce Team’s behaviour over an extended period of time. Behaviour which includes:

  • Withdrawing from in-world meetings
  • Claiming the forums are a better means for engagement, yet rarely engaging in actual dialogue
  • Reducing all outward communications to little more than the status of repeated monologues with only slight variations in content
  • Failing to openly inform merchants ahead of time of changes to the Marketplace or seek to engage in discussion of said changes, even when the changes are liable to have impact on the merchants.

Rod, if there is to be real détente in the Marketplace situation, you need to do more than just promise an upping in tempo with blog and forum posts. With respect, you’ve promised similar in the past where LL is concerned, and it is fair to say little actually changed.

If there is to be any form of restoration of trust and dialogue where the Marketplace is concerned, you need to get the Commerce Team out of their foxholes and off of the defensive, and get them working proactively to ensure merchants are kept properly informed and have reasonable and appropriate input. For example:

  • Provide some form of roadmap of intent for the Marketplace. Allow it to cover issues, proposed enhancements, needed changes
    • Give insight into what is being tackled, how it is being tackled and why things are being tackled in the given order
    • Provide broad-based time scale estimates (yes, I know that is somewhat against the normal behaviour within LL, but the state of the Marketplace does warrant it). These do not have to be tablets of stone, a simple, “We are estimating X weeks of effort to complete Y”, with routine updates as these time frames change due to emergency issues, changes in priority, and so on
    • Make this the mainstay of communications through the merchant forum, blog posts, in-world meetings, etc., and ensure it is routinely updated, perhaps on a weekly basis (although this could lengthen as matters are dealt with and people become more informed as to what is going on)
  • Resume in-world meetings
    • These may not be to everyone’s liking, but they do score an important goal: they help build rapport and reduce the level of “us and them” that can otherwise pervade matters – this is good for both sides of the equation, Commerce Team and merchants
    • Allow the schedule for meetings to be flexible. Perhaps two a week to suit different time zones or different times on alternate weeks to encourage wider attendance, then in time perhaps schedule them as necessary based on longer-term attendance and response
    • Publish meeting transcripts on the wiki so those unable to attend can read, and accept and engaging in any discussions which arise on the forum as a result
    • Don’t avoid meetings because “not every merchant wants them”, allow for choice as to how people receive information and updates
  • Get the Commerce Team to encourage feedback from merchants, seek advice where appropriate and ask questions. This doesn’t have to be a widespread effort – select merchants who have a track record of pointing out potential issues & solutions, etc.
  • Use this as an opportunity to help inform and educate. When people are left in the dark and see things going on that seem to defy rational explanation, they will naturally assume the worse; keeping them informed is the most positive way of preventing this
  • Commit to this approach for at least six months without backing away from it or putting it for internal review.

This is going to require effort and time, and not a little hand-holding. There may well be some hostilities to face down (on both sides of the equation), but on the whole, it is hard to see how, time and effort notwithstanding, moving in this or a similar direction cannot help but improve company / customer relationships where the Marketplace is concerned, for the benefit of both.

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7 thoughts on “Marketplace: it’s not only the tempo, Rod, it’s time for practical steps

  1. Very good post with some excellent suggestions. I suspect, however, the members of the commerce team are not especially good communicators and forcing them out to meetings might do more harm than good. A better idea might be an “ambassador”, reporting directly to Rod. Someone who is good at communication and knowledgeable of the issues involved. Such a person could act as a go-between who would not be bullied by either side and could explain things clearly on both ends. If the commerce team was being uncooperative or the merchants unreasonable that information would go directly to the top instead of being lost in misunderstanding and supposition.

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    1. I’ve been mulling over this idea, and still can’t sort out my own thoughts on it.

      If by “go between”, you mean someone placed before merchants instead of the Commerce Team, then I’m not convinced it would work. For one thing, it could result in some merhcnats simply seeing the “ambassador” as a confuit to Rod Humble, rather than a mechanism for change within the Marketplace. For another, it opens the door within LL for similar politics to be played-out.

      If you mean someone working alongside the Commerce Team, who has the understanding and authority to also set priorities on matters relating to the Marketplace while still following whatever roadmap for the system which may be in place, then the idea does have merit.

      Perhaps the biggest issue with the Commerce Team is that it lacks credibility, and appears to be incapable of handling even what should be the simplest of updates to the Marketplace without having something go wrong. An example of this is came withlast month’s change to the e-mail address used with sales notifications. Not only was this updated with no real warning to merchants (with many of them only discovering the update as a result of rooting through their junk e-mail folders after notifications seemed to suddenly cease appearing in their mail), it was then rolled-back some 48 hours later, again without any real notification to merchants.

      The other problem is that we simply don’t know what is going on internally at the Lab, vis-a-vis the Marketplace, or what internal constraints the Commerce Team is working under, and that dropping a go-between into the equation might be perceived as a possible obfuscation on LL’s part (again, depending upon how it is handled).

      Both of these aspects together mean that the Commerce Team is in a hole. If it is going to get out of that hole, then it needs to be seen to be proacrive in the process of restoring credibility in its ability to manage the Marketplace, handle user concerns and establish a less confrontational relationship with merchants. Whether this requires an “ambassador” or perhaps an interim manager who can both fulfil the role you describe and nuture the Commerce Team into a more mature, communicative and responsible team in the eyes of users, I’ve no idea.

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  2. I think there’s also the question of whether or not the Commerce team is allowed to communicate with users. When I read Rod’s reply on the forum, this imaginary conversation took place in my head:

    “Hey, boss? There’s this stuff on the forums, and…”

    “Yeah, yeah… I’ve seen it. I’ll take care of it. We can’t have anything you say off-the-cuff taken by users as an official statement.”

    In light of their past communication record, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that upper management decided to muzzle them some time ago. But that’s just idle speculation, of course.

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    1. How communications are handled and who can see what and when is tightly controlled. The press and bloggers are sometimes reminded that there are only three “official” channels for outward communications from the Lab (one of whom is Rod Humble, obviously).

      However, the company does continue to run in-world user groups and allows other teams to routinely make forum posts, responsd to user, etc., and all of them – while their views might be regarded as “unoifficial” – have built a strong rapport with interested users. The sim / server teams being a strong case in point. As such, I don’t actually think it is a case of the Commerce Team not being allowed to communicate, but rather have grown increasingly afraid of communicating, because all they ever seem to have is … more bad news.

      Of course, this could also itself have lead to pressure from above for the team to keep their heads down, shut-up and “just get on with crunching the numbers”.

      Either way, it is expressly why I comment to Rod Humble (assuming he still reads the blog) that promising to “up the tempo” in communications isn’t enough. Not only have we heard this (or similar before) only for it to be hollow words, the Marketplace situation is such that it requires much more action on LL’s part if any degree of trust is to be restored.

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  3. Appreciate you keeping us informed, Inara. However, I have to say that personally I see no evidence that much about enhancements was fixed. Some people may have gotten some things fixed, but I got charged for the same ads on the 4th, 7th, 11th, and TWICE on the 12th. (I think I was refunded once, but hard to confirm because when I tried to access my account more than two pages back I got an error.) That is almost $20 for EACH category ad for one week.

    I had already canceled all but a handful of enhancements, but seeing that each ad is being billed at the rate of $80 a month, I decided to set the rest to Not Renew.

    However, I still have 19 enhancements that I cannot cancel because instead of the Edit button there is the warning Charging, Can Not Edit.

    This, mind you, is since the heralding of the enhancement billing fixes in that thread that has now been abandoned.

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    1. I do agree on the matter of WEB-2974. I find it unconscionable that the CT should place the matter “On hold while we work on the other items on this list” (of outstanding JIRA) when it appears that merchants are still being charged against enhancements they no longer need and / or want, but have no opportunity to cancel them.

      Thanks for updating on the continued enhancement billing errors you are getting. I’ll continue to try and highlight whatever I can (for whatever that is worth).

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