Big Fish, Small Pond

"Does the attitude of the developer affect your decision to shop from them?" This was the question posed by IMVU developer Aislinn on the IMVU forums. To date, 68% of 93 respondents said "yes".

I thought this was an excellent discussion about perception vs. reality, and looking at the dynamics of the way creators and customers interact. Negative qualities attributed to creators have been termed as "arrogant" or "rude" , "snobbish", "disrepectful", and the overall impression that "their shit don't stink". So is it perception or reality?

While it's important for any creator to deal with their customers in a polite, friendly and helpful manner, it was agreed that we are only human after all, and everyone is entitled to have a "bad day" from time to time. After all, many of us do have lives outside of IMVU that can have a profound impact on our ability to be as courteous and helpful as we can. It's no excuse for arrogance or rudeness, but we all have our moments. It's only a problem when it's not just a one-time thing but a pattern of behavior. On the flip side of the coin, some customers are not merely content with a polite and respectful encounter with a creator. So many creators trying to make a successful business here will bend over backwards to help anyone who asks because they know the importance of word of mouth. Most customers are grateful for this, but there are a few who seem to mistake this accomodation as a weakness to be exploited. We've all heard the stories about the customer who walked into a store, berated the help, made unreasonable demands, then threatened to post negative reviews of the business on Yelp because the merchant wouldn't do their bidding. IMVU is no different in this respect, it's a microcosm of the real world we live in where words on a screen have power.

There are usually "six degrees of separation" between most IMVU users. Chances are, someone you know, knows someone else who knows someone you know, and so on. This gives word-of-mouth the power to make or break your business. While a negative impression can arise out of one bad contact with the creator, quite often opinions are formed not based on personal experience, but on what someone you know has told you. It's never a good idea to base your opinions of anything or anyone on hearsay. If you have no personal experience with that creator or have not had a negative one, it's important to consider what your friend may not be telling you. Perhaps there is more to their criticism than meets the eye. Being a successful/popular creator on IMVU is akin to being a big fish in a very small pond. The more familiar your name/brand, the more people will approach you with comments, questions, requests and even criticisms. Occasionally, the answer to a question or request has to be "no", and for some that translates into "arrogance" or "rudeness"; as if being successful means you owe them something. That's where the distinction between appreciation and indebtedness gets blurred.

Successful businesspeople are always grateful for their customer's support and loyalty - to be anything else is a recipe for failure. But that success wasn't a gift that required no effort or sacrifice to achieve, nor does it mean that the business is obligated to accomodate every wish and desire expressed by their customers as a debt to be repaid over and over again. While it's always smart to try to accomodate a customer whenever possible, sometimes that accomodation might conflict with other plans or is so limited in appeal to the market (customs/highly specific items) that the answer needs to be "Sorry, no." Since you can't determine the tone of voice, it's unfair to assume that answer was given with a sneer. Read the answer in the best possible tone until you have a little more information. That being said, Aislinn's thread raised what I consider to be a very important issue to which all creators should be sensitive. You can't control how others perceive you, but you can control how you interact with them. There are no real consequences for unsavory behavior if all you do on IMVU is chat and shop. But there can be real consequences for anyone who aspires to run a successful business. Don't ever assume that your mood/personality/likes/dislikes are somehow separate from your business. Your profile pictures, tag lines, interests, Facebook, are all part of the image you project to the community. However irrelevant they might be to the quality of your work, the average IMVU customer (68% of those surveyed) might consciously hold it against you and avoid your catalog. So "express yourself" at your own peril, you may be alienating potential customers in the process. IMVU is a very small pond. If you're a big fish, you can be proud of what you've accomplished and confident in your ability to swim. Just don't forget that despite your size, you're just a fish like everyone else.

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