In our current state of constant communication and sharing of information we take for granted the fact that we can say pretty much whatever, whenever we want. Because of this, it’s fairly easy for us to let our guard down now and say what we really feel – at least the moment we say it – without thinking too hard about who might be listening.

Sure, there’s a lot of talk about making sure that you’re Google-search-safe and “OMG what if my prospective employer looks me up on Facebook” – but for the most part we’re fairly secure of anonymity. Or maybe we’re just understanding of the fact that the world is changing, and that we all might have some warts and that that’s okay.

Regardless of the reason, we definitely live in a time where it’s okay to say what we think or feel, and to share our experiences with friends or strangers. In a time when a person can have thousands of Twitter followers and not really know who most of them are, but still share their innermost thoughts, it can be assumed that for those who take part in this culture, they’re a fairly understanding and accepting group.

So, when we feel this safe and secure, it’s tempting to use the media at our disposal as an opportunity to lash out or to give praise – or in instances where we’re extremely bored, to comment on mediocrity. It’s an era of truth, at least truth of the moment – and it’s why I’m grateful for living when I do.

As the guy in charge of watching over both the design and marketing of one of the top 500 retail websites (at least according to Internet Retailer Magazine) I have a pretty vested interest in making sure that we succeed in our mission. I’ve been at for just about nine years now, and for most of that time I’ve been fairly involved in the direction we take (I started out as a marketing assistant, but that was a LONG time ago) – and the main deciding factor behind pretty much everything I ever pushed for (and continue to push for) is for what we call the “customer experience.”

Yeah, it sounds pretty generic when you hear it, but it’s really what we’re always looking at.  Our goal at Musicnotes is pretty simple – to help people (quickly and easily) find sheet music for songs they want to learn, buy it at a reasonable price (while we pay the songwriters a respectable royalty), print the sheet music and get over to the piano (or guitar or whatever instrument you might play) and play the song.

That’s it. You want to play a song? We want to help you.

So, over the years we’ve been focusing on trying to make that easier and easier.  We watch web analytics, we get feedback from customer service, we go through the process ourselves again and again and try to find the spots where thinks get a bit wonky – and then we try to make them better.

But lately it’s a lot different – there are tools at our disposal that let us be silent observers of our customers, as well as those who abandon us well before becoming customers.  There are systems like Google blog search or Technorati or Whostalkin or Twitter search or any of the other ways to keep a gauge on what people are saying about – and they are indisposable tools.  They let us see what people love about us, as well as what people hate about us – and this kind of uncensored but explicit feedback is extraordinarily valuable to us.

My personal goal at Musicnotes is to make it so that you never have to go anywhere else for sheet music.  It’s a pretty straightforward goal, and pretty narrowly focused – but that’s what it is. I want to give our visitors the best possible experience they can have, while still making sure the company and the songwriters and publishers are fairly compensated as well. To hear from people when they have a great experience at Musicnotes brings a smile to my face, especially when it’s related to something one of my teams has recently done – but to hear when we’re doing something wrong is much more helpful.  Of course we don’t want to do anything wrong, but sometimes we do – and we can always improve – and the kind of feedback that’s out there today really helps us do so.

But this is where problems arise.  Today there is such openness about experiences, but there’s also little awareness that those we’re talking about might be listening in. I have to.  I can’t help but listen. I need to hear about the joyous experiences, as well as the frustrating ones – and I need to engage pretty much everyone who’s taken the time to say something about us.  After all, to say something positive really deserves thanks – and to take the time to say something negative means that we have a problem we need to address.

I’m sure it freaks people out sometimes, to get a twitter response from our team trying to help resolve what might have been a negative experience.  As Twitter becomes more mainstream these kinds of unsolicited responses might feel even stalkerish, but honestly, it’s part of the tool.  To let someone cry out in frustration or pain, and to hear them, but do nothing about it frankly would break my heart.

I love our customers, including those who aren’t customers – and even though a response from a “corporation” might seem a bit impersonal, there really is a person behind it.  There are a lot of people, really – and they respond because they care and because they want you to be happy.  They want you to get off our site as soon as possible and play some music – because that’s what you came here for.

Remember that if you’re out there working for or running a company today.  Show some love, even if it appears corporate – as long as it’s honest. Because, as Nat King Cole sang in his song “Nature Boy,” “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love – and be loved in return.”

Corporate Love

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