In an odd twist of irony, I'm about to have a chat with Mark Asquith from Rebel Base Media entitled “Creating Experiences that Inspire Loyal Communities”. It’s one of the first sessions happening at PHX Startup Week, and it's going to be very hard for me not to use Apple Podcasts botched Apple Podcast Subscription rollout as a negative example.
Though perhaps I should, as it’s getting harder for companies to survive customer experience debacles like that. That means podcasters and podcast companies too.
Here’s the description I wrote for our talk:
Now more than ever, customers are judging the experience they have with companies. Not just within a particular industry, but across all industries! Customers have discovered that switching costs are actually quite low, and loyalty can get stretched thin. In this session, Mark and Evo will demonstrate how a relentless focus on the customer experience will build the most loyal of communities.
“Now more than ever…”
Long-time podcasters—and I’ve been at this since 2004, so I qualify—understand that the mindset of the podcast consumer has changed since 2006. But what we often fail to understand is how much expectations of podcast consumers have changed since 2018, just three short years ago.
In early 2018, there were a few hundred thousand podcasts available. Today there are millions. It was in early 2018 when low-effort podcasts started pouring into listening apps, dominating podcast directories and assaulting listeners’ ears.
If you’re still basing your assumptions on podcasting experiences before this, your assumptions are terribly antiquated. And not in a good way.
“... judging experiences… across all industries!”
Surprise! People are judgy. And they’re pretty fast-and-loose with their judgmentalism, using experiences from one aspect of an industry as a litmus test for the entire industry. Or it goes wider in the other direction, causing them to assume that if one industry can nail a solid customer experience, all industries should!
Those same assumptions apply to podcasting. We’re not immune.
When I talk about the experiences of podcast consumers, please understand I'm not just talking about their experiences with the audio they listen to. Yes, that’s highly important to get right, and it’s critical to provide a good in-ear listener experience. But you also have to pay attention to the full podcast consumption experience!
Podcast discovery is a problem, but it’s your problem, podcaster. Listeners are judging how you’ve chosen to display your show in podcast directories, comparing how your show and episodes display to how every other podcast displays. When they see your content shared on social, they judge the quality of that share against other content they see shared socially. When they visit your website, they judge the experience you provide not just against other podcast websites, but against every other website they’ve ever visited.
If you push a particular listening app on them, they’ll judge you based on the quality of the experience they have within that app. Yes, that goes for every app you have listed on your website. If you list a service, you’re endorsing that service. You can’t blame a listener when the poor experience you endorsed gives them a rotten experience and they blame you for that. You might blunt some of that blow-back by pushing a well-known and widely-used service like Spotify. But if they’ve never used the service and the experience sucks, some of that is going to get on you.
Sadly, bad experiences with other podcasts make a mess of everything. This is a reality that has plagued podcasting since the beginning. I recall a meeting I had with a large client way back in 2005. We were talking about digital trends, so I obviously mentioned podcasting. His response? “I've listened to podcasts. Why aren’t more of them better?” Though actually, I think he was less kind than that.
Generally speaking, it’s hard for customers to get past a bad experience and try again. It takes an “inflection point” for them to assume that things might be different. Podcasting is going through another inflection point right now, and that means all of us in podcasting—podcasters and service providers—have an awesome responsibility not to cock it up. Again.
“...switching costs are… low, and loyalty... stretched thin.”
Though it’s still too damned hard, everything about listening to podcasts is a lot easier than it was at the beginning. Which means that switching costs are super low. Not just switching hosting companies, but switching what podcasts you listen to when one show pays too little attention to the customer experience.
At the risk of offending your life coach; it is unlikely that your podcast is irreplaceable, regardless of how hot your take. Seriously. Search on your topic in PodcastIndex.org and see how many other shows look and feel similar to yours. And probably sound similar too. Undifferentiated, perhaps, in the listeners’ minds.
Apple Podcasts is currently living through this idea of stretched-thin loyalty. And yes, it's going to cost them. See ”low switching costs”. But they're Apple and they're probably going to survive. At what cost to overall podcasting, I’m unsure. So other than assuming you can get away with the same laissez-faire attitude, let’s use their current debacle as an example of not what to do.
The good news (?) is that it’s just us, the working podcasters, who Apple is choosing to ignore. Generally speaking, listeners who use Apple Podcasts to consume our episodes haven’t been impacted. But I’m not at all confident that’ll be the case when iOS 14.5 is released. I mean, if the back-end of podcasting is this broken… yeesh.
For what it’s worth, I feel bad for my friends who work at Apple who have to be having a very rough time of it. I’m sure they’d all like for me to stop nagging and publicly shaming their employer… but here we are.
How To Relentless Focus On Podcast Listening Experiences
It starts with focusing on the listener experience of the sounds that go into the ears of your listeners, but it doesn’t stop there.
You must be relentlessly focused on the listener experience when they interact with your show’s episodes in the app that they’ve chosen to consume your content with.
You must be relentlessly focused on the listener experience when—not if—they visit your website, either to get more information or because that’s how they discover you even have a podcast.
You must be relentlessly focused on the listener experience when they encounter socially shared content about your podcast or episodes. It doesn’t matter if you shared it or not; it’s your content being shared! So design it to be shared.
You must be relentlessly focused on the listener experience when engaging with your online community, your emails… and when we can once again go to in-person events, you must be relentlessly focused on the listener experience your listeners have with you in person. And you better bring stickers!
It’s hard to be objective about the listener experience of your own show. I get that. So consider collaborating with one or more of your podcasting peers. Share this article with them in an email where you offer to do some reciprocal auditing of one another. Normally I’d say “go ahead and do your audit first”, but this is highly subjective and possibly ego-bruising, so tread lightly and get buy-in first.
And if you love that idea or any of the ideas I bring to you four days a week on Podcast Pontifications, please go to BuyMeACoffee.com/evoterra and buy me a virtual coffee. That's always nice.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.