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Wednesday, Jul. 7, 2004 at 12:39 pm

Justifiable Subscribercide?

By The Grok
July 7th, 2004

shaded_and_pissedHail all and well met! I write GrokDotCom and have been the voice of The Grok since the beginning. Today I got an interesting email that has stirred up something of a hornet’s nest around here. It said:

Your bat essay demonstrates ignorance and seems absurd in this time of instant knowledge via the Web. Why didn’t you search baseball bats on the net? At you’d learn all the things that you found enigmatic.

I’ve got hundreds of letters like this … well, actually, most aren’t this confrontational. Nevertheless, I’ve replied to every one. So I wrote my reply:

Hey there Dude,

Ummm … I did search for baseball bats on the net (Google is the net, right?). In fact, I purposely conducted my “search” exactly as millions of Internet users approach similar problems every day. Why should I have to go to some outside source to get the information that is central to making my decision to buy from you? How would I know, from the 1,730,000 Google results produced in 0.21 seconds where the really useful baseball bat information was?

If you really do sell bats … or rather, if you want to sell bats … then you need to be the font of knowledge that helps me make my decision. Wouldn’t you rather be the authority for the information your customers counted on? Suppose you walked into a store, asked a question about bats, and the clerk told you to go read Baseball for Dummies before you bothered him again?

This indifference to the needs of their visitors is precisely why online businesses turn their noses up at billions of dollars a day. Pity. Thing is, nobody here is suggesting you have to pay attention to this stuff. We merely offer it as advice on the chance you might want to be more successful.

green regards,
The Grok

Sent it off to discover that my publishers had made a preemptive decision. My dude got this reply instead of mine:

Thank you. We have unsubscribed you from the newsletter.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I popped a few of my eyeball stalks when I read this. My stubby fingers flew over the keyboard:

I disagree completely with this course of action. Nobody deserves to be written off without a chance. We have had people come back from a reply like this one thanking us for taking the time to clear something up. This is about education, not whether or not someone agrees with us. I’m not happy that we’ve simply judged him and found him lacking, ergo we’ve ditched him.

He continues to be a jerk, then we dump him. But not before we offer him an opportunity to say, “Hey, I never thought of it quite that way. Gee, thanks.” It happens.

You’d like to think you had the ability to persuade a fish to snow ski – that is, after all, the business we’re in. But I wasn’t very persuasive. My dude remains unsubscribed.

The opposing team in this intellectual debate reminds me that sometimes you have to write somebody off without a chance. And when someone approaches you in an obviously nasty, belligerent way, that’s when you draw the line.

Because, when all’s said and done, it’s really about who holds the purse strings. We produce this newsletter at absolutely no charge to anyone. We don’t flash third-party ads to help underwrite this expense. In fact, we can’t even give you a hard and fast numerical justification for the ROI of what we offer for free.

My debating partners continue: GrokDotCom is our forum … folks read it to learn what we have to say. On top of that, we are genuinely dedicated to helping people understand – we’ve donated tons of our time free. But while we bend over backwards to be nice, that niceness is not a right. Nobody pays us a penny; we don’t have to put up with anybody’s … um … bovine scatological stuff when we find it monumentally offensive. But hey, he can resubscribe under another name if he really wants to … or read us on the Web.

The office is divided today (by what I hasten to characterise as a healthy debate – we may buzz loud, but we’re happy hornets). I’m hangin’ on tight to my assertion. My dude deserved a reply, even if he was less than politic in his phraseology.

What say you?

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Comments (5)

  1. When I get an email like this, I offer the person an opportunity to write an article with his viewpoints. I couldn’t conclude much from the person’s one paragraph response that you shared.

    It’s all too easy to want to write a scathing email in response, but then I remind myself, “Love your enemies, they won’t know what hit them.”

    Can’t say whether the person makes a valid point or not. The information doesn’t provide enough. Keeping Groking.

  2. I’m on your side…if I’m in a good mood. If I’m in a bad mood, he gets cancelled, no reply, forget it, who cares. Mostly I’m in a good mood, so I think giving people another chance is worth it. When I’m in a bad mood (headache, not enough sleep the night before, a meeting I HAVE to attend but don’t WANT to), I do and say bad things. And that’s why people deserve second chances…because sometimes they’re just in a bad mood.

  3. Nobody should be rewarded for being rude, so I’d most likely mention that I didn’t appreciate the tone of the message, and then proceed to educate.

    I’ve had numerous occasions when I’ve turned a rude user getting something for free into a paying customer based on showing them why the product or service in question was what they needed.

  4. Lisa!….I mean Grok!

    Welcome to the blogfest. I was hoping we’d hear from you soon.

    Hey, the bat-dude can always re-subscribe under another email address.

    And since it’s YOUR ball, you can always pick it up and go home if you want.

    Remember Wizard’s First Rule.

  5. Ok … I’m reaching for that can of worms. A few weeks ago, Ira Glass (This American Life) had a provocative show on testosterone. Normally I don’t give this hormone much thought, but anecdotal evidence to date suggests that men overwhelmingly favour termination with extreme prejudice in a situation like this. Every woman I’ve heard from prefers to start out making nice. Hmmmm.

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