At Human Scale

The door to my favorite coffee shop had a note on it the other day about unusual hours during the upcoming holiday. It was playfully written with markers and even included a few doodles.

Once I stepped inside, I had a funny thought. What if the sign on the door had been: “Welcome! Please sign up for our newsletter for information about lattes, scones, and special deals.”? Before you could enter, before you could see a menu or smell the coffee beans, you had to either sign up or press a small x on the corner of the sign.

What if when you opened the door, a person stepped in front of you and asked, “Would you like to install our mobile app?”

A friendly store that loves its customers (and wants more), is unlikely to do that in real life. How strange is that we encounter similar things on the web over and over again? Would anyone do that in real life?

In a different realm, imagine if we walked around carrying scorecards showing how many friends we have and how many enjoyed our last comment?

We who build things online are disconnected from how people experience what we create. That a technique is sometimes successful and makes the funnel look better justifies its use.

Brad calls Uncommon “a human place for internet people.” I’ve always loved that phrase and the emphasis on human.

Uncommon memberships have been available for more than a year, so it’s time for our first group of subscription renewals. This raised a few questions.

There are well-established ways to handle recurring memberships, particularly cases where the charge fails (credit cards are fickle things). Warnings are slowly escalated and then access is blocked. The color red and an exclamation point is usually involved.

None of that felt right, though. We kept asking ourselves, “How would you handle this in person? Would you stop someone at the door?” Of course not. Members would be welcome anytime and when there was a friendly opportunity, reminded to renew. We decided that it was much better to welcome people back and remind them at an opportune time until they specifically asked to cancel their membership.

It’s also important to know something will renew before it happens, so we should send a reminder in advance. At a small scale, things that would normally be automated can be done by hand. In other words, I’ve been sending these messages one by one. It’s an eye-opening experience.

Uncommon is a community, not a website, app, or product, so I have the priviledge of knowing many of the members. I have some idea who started a job recently or welcomed a new addition to the family. And sometimes, a member has talked about a difficult season or uncertainties they are facing.

So, when I start to send a “Your membership is about to renew” email, there’s quite a bit of ambient knowledge. An email that makes perfect sense when it’s automated is strange when sent to someone personally. Despite our best intentions, we do things differently when we’re indirectly involved instead of sitting across the table from someone.

It’s hard to prattle on about successes, milestones, and features when you know the receiver is going through significant events.

That knowledge changed my perspective on the reminders. If an email is too long for how busy this person is, it’s probably too long for a lot of other people. If I hesitate because a friend might take something wrong, what type of situations am I not thinking about?

I struggle with these choices like everyone. In my work life, I’ve had a hand in some of the very things that seem so incongruous within Uncommon.

It’s worth figuring out, though. How do we treat people with empathy, respect, and kindness in a wide variety of situations and circumstances? How do we behave as if we're sitting across from someone even though we're separated by bits and pixels? How do we create things at human scale?