In Episode 67 of The Force Field Podcast I asked techs who work for web-based service platforms if they consider themselves contractors, vendors, commodities or customers. I brought this question up years ago in the now defunct OnForce forums and it was quite an interesting debate.
The platforms have become more established since then and after ten years of web-based entities like OnForce, there is almost a whole new generation of techs using them, so I thought it was a good time to bring up the topic again. I created polls and discussion topics in several social media venues, including one in the Force Field Forums. Once again, the results were, uh, interesting.
I was somewhat frustrated with the responses the first go-around on the old OnForce forums, simply because I was so sure of my convictions that it was almost inconceivable to me that anyone except some less informed employees of the platforms would disagree. I was wrong.
This time would be different, I told myself, based on years of complaints from some current and former platform techs who often found themselves on the short end of the stick when attempting to deal with these companies. These techs were frustrated with the perceived discriminatory policies and practices of the platforms, who seemed to clearly favor the "Buyers" or clients over the techs, particularly in regards to disputes between the two parties. So, I took up the topic again, this time on The Force Field.
I polled the techs and asked the following question: Are you a contractor, a vendor, a commodity or customer? I clearly defined each term, discussed each in detail and drew the seemingly obvious conclusion that techs who worked on service platforms were, indeed, all of the above. After all the complaining from techs about the issue and what I thought was an open-and-shut case, I expected almost unanimous agreement from the platform techs. I was wrong again. According to the polls and responses, a majority of techs only consider themselves contractors. Almost none of them also consider themselves customers!
As I said in the podcast, when you pay a fee on the platform, you are buying something from the platform. The techs pay to play on the platforms. This makes the techs customers of the platforms. As a customer, the tech has a right to be upset and complain when the platform they pay to play on does not treat them the same as they would a client on the other side of the platform. That is perfectly understandable. However, according to the comments and polls, the majority of platform techs don't consider themselves customers. If so, why are they complaining as if they are? That is what floored me.
Either you are a customer or you are not. If you don't think you are customer on the platform, you have no reason to complain about it when you aren't treated like one. It's that simple.
According to the feedback, these platform techs who complain that the IT service platforms don't treat them as well as they do the clients don't consider themselves worthy of such status. So, why do these techs complain at all?
It was all very puzzling. Then something occurred to me. I missed one very important concept and one very important term.
A good business should favor the customer. I stated this in the show. It's just good business. However, there is an important caveat to consider. The type of business we are discussing calls itself a platform.
A platform is defined as a raised, level surface on which someone or something can stand or perform. There are many different types of platforms, but they all do essentially the same thing. They provide a flat, level base or environment from which anyone or anything, or a combination thereof, can operate.
The key word here is level. Platforms are supposed to be level, with equal opportunity and access for everyone and everything that uses them. They aren't supposed to be tilted or skewed in one way or another in order to give everyone equal footing and an equal position on the platform. In business, that means everyone on the platform should be treated the same. However, that's not how the typical IT service platform operates.
It is no secret that many of the online IT service platforms and so-called "marketplaces" treat their clients or "Buyers" very differently than they do their techs. The clients are coddled and given every consideration of courtesy while the techs are generally treated as expendable extras. There is no conjecture on this one; it's a well documented fact. The buyers are well cared for, and the techs, well, except for a few favored fellows (or ladies), not so much. This has been a point of contention since the days of ComputerRepair.com over ten years ago, and one that is often discussed in various platform centric newsgroups and forums across the web, including The Force Field Forums.
When a company calls itself a platform, it sets the expectation that it will be a level playing field with no preference to any party in a transaction, and will have little, if anything to do with the transaction at all. They call themselves platforms, but are they? That is the real argument, and there are many technicians who work them who contend that these platforms are not level at all.
A platform that isn't level isn't really a platform by definition. This is why platform techs do not consider themselves customers, but some techs complain that the platforms treat them differently from the customers who are the clients. Their point? It's not about being treated like a customer, it's about paying to play on a level platform.
We'll discuss this further in a future episode of The Force Field.