Regular readers of my blog know that being a customer experience specialist does not protect me from encountering lacklustre, frustrating and sometimes embarrassing experiences as a customer of the organisations I interact with. I regularly blog about my suffering with various airlines, restaurants, retailers and care hire businesses in the sincere hope that those organisations are listening!
The post you are about to read has been more than 12-months in the making, and concerns a journey which relatively few of us will ever experience. The ‘self-publishing’ journey, as seen through the eyes of a first time author.
The journey started with great excitement and anticipation, and ended in the best way possible, with my first book Customer What? being published in April. But the path of customer experience did not always run smoothly. In this blog post, I am joined by my editor, Beth Richardson, to reflect on our experiences as B2B customers while bringing Customer What? to life.
Ian: Looking back over the journey, if I was to choose three words to describe the experience of self-publishing they would be scary (a little like being launched into a parallel universe where unless you have visited it before, survival is touch and go!), confusing (for a lay person, it really is not obvious what needs to be done and with whom), unknown (it really is an unknown world to anyone who has not entered it before)
Beth: Mine would be exhilarating, intense, exhausting. On the positive side, once we’d made the decision to go it alone it meant we could get cracking, and there was this wonderful sense of freedom. And there were freelancers and organisations who could help us through every stage of the publishing journey. But with freedom came this huge sense of responsibility, which did consume my every waking moment (and more) for an entire year.
Ian: And the exhausting bit?
Beth: The effort involved in co-ordinating the different pieces. Converting a manuscript into a book is full on. A real wakeup call, which comes just when you think the hard work of writing is finished. I agree that it’s like a parallel universe, and hats off to people who do this for a living.
Ian: The upside of self-publishing for me was having complete control over every aspect of my work, and receiving far more of the benefit. But the downside is that you feel you really are on your own, reliant on so called ‘experts’ to see you through the process. If they get it wrong, there is not really anywhere to turn.
Beth: I agree. There was a definite shortage of proactive and expert hand-holding. I often felt out of my depth. But also you were quite understandably off the scale in terms of excitement – like 15 out of 10! Hugely emotionally invested in the journey. So as well as the expertise, I think we were also looking for interest, care and enthusiasm from the experts.
Ian: These are not words which spring to mind, sadly. It felt like we were doing a lot of the running. It’s all too common that organisations are encouraging their people to be task focused. If a human focuses on doing tasks, then it is very likely they will do so without thinking. In other words, they will perform a task whether or not it makes sense to do so. You could see it happening when our questions or queries were repeatedly responded to with answers that did not correlate to the question or query being asked! I certainly didn’t sense much enthusiasm.
Beth: We’ve dealt with at least ten different types of specialist along this journey. Two of them – both freelancers – were amazing and gave us exactly what we needed, and more. Including some great advice. But the others were very passive. The onus was on us to ask the right questions, follow up or chase them for deliverables, and check for errors.
Ian: Very uncomfortable for us as first time customers. And wasteful for those organisations.
Beth: It exposed the inner workings of their business too. As a customer, you should never be told that there’s an issue with your book because a member of staff left the business and nobody else knew how they did their job! And isn’t it made just that little bit worse by the subject matter of the book? A terrible irony. But it meant we couldn’t (and didn’t) compromise on anything, and I’m really proud of that.
Ian: We even offered to help this particular organisation map their journey, but unfortunately they did not take up the offer. I remain hopeful they will at least read the book! On a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend the people we worked with?
Beth: I have already recommended the two freelancers several times over. Kickstarter were great too. When I am asked about the others I have to say ‘proceed with caution’. Working with them felt very unstructured and haphazard and I didn’t feel confident.
But the worst offender is Amazon. The conversation we’re having with them to try and resolve an issue with the book listing, is somewhere in the region of 100 separate communications, and counting. The digital journey just doesn’t work, and the service response compounds the issue. My expectations of them were high, and they have completely fallen off their perch. Sorry, I know you are a fan.
Ian: I am a huge supporter of Amazon, yes. They have transformed experiences for consumers more than any other retailer in the world. However, their sheer size, scale and power has led to them making it VERY difficult for those who choose NOT to use their complete publishing service. Choosing to self-publish independently, rather than through Amazon, has made it feel as though we are second class, with hurdle after hurdle put in our way. If Amazon want to improve, they should focus on understanding the supplier journey, as much as they do the customer!
Beth: We’re David to their Goliath. But I still recommend the route we took, without hesitation! You just need to know what you are letting yourself in for. We’ve been able to produce a great quality book, in colour, which just wasn’t viable through Amazon publishing. And I was lucky enough to be working with an author whose sense of humour remained intact throughout, even when mine deserted me. What about you?
Ian: On a scale of 0-10 I’m an 8. It’s the way to go, but being able to lean on someone who has done it before would have been a huge advantage. But it definitely hasn’t put me off book number two – when I will get the inclination to do it is another matter!!!
If you have experienced the ‘joy’ of self-publishing, we’d love to hear from you. And if you are about to make the journey yourself, we’d be delighted to talk to you and share our learning.
My book, ‘Customer What? – the honest and practical guide to customer experience’ – is now available to purchase! You can do so on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. If Amazon does not ship to your part of the world, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will arrange an alternative method to ship a book to you. Enjoy the read!!