Mainstream tech companies are notorious for their unwillingness to listen to users. The giants of our modern digital landscape — from Amazon to Facebook to Uber — have all made headlines in recent months for failing to attend to needs of their expanding user base. Sure, there are hotlines and feedback forms; there are customer service reps ready to refund a missing package or refund a cancellation fee. But are any of these companies actually making proactive changes to positively impact user experience? The Facebooks and the Twitters of the world may institute policies that listen to the Voice of the Customer (VoC), but it’s too often done after the fact, leading to short-term solutions and long-term complications. Looking to the future, there are many lessons that can be learned from the blockchain industry — a network comprised of promising projects with VoC and governance functions embedded into their platforms. Blockchain is not just an emerging industry transforming the way we interact digitally; it’s also transforming the way we listen and respond to the people that matter most: the users.
Ever since Satoshi Nakamoto set off a Cambrian explosion in crypto by creating bitcoin in 2009, community has been a central focus of blockchain projects. Nakamoto recognized the inherent flaws with VoC infrastructures in traditional companies and sought to institute decentralized mechanisms to put control back in the hands of the people. Most blockchain projects follow Nakamoto’s blueprint: Users are given a portion of authority based on their stake in the network, which allows them to participate in crucial decisions about the way that the project operates. Should an update be proposed, either because of a change in platform functionality or because of an enforcement of standard practices, users are then given an opportunity to vote on the proposal; If a majority approves, the initiative is implemented on a grand scale.
In a post-Cambridge Analytica world, where many are already wary of centralized companies with access to personal data, governance structures like these are crucial to installing checks and balances on centralized authorities. Too often have companies exercised control over our data to an unfair advantage. Especially for major multinationals, it’s nearly impossible for VoC policies — at least in their current iterations — to feel actionable given their sheer size and scale. Decisions are made from a select few in a top-down centralized hierarchy that’s not representative of a true democracy. Blockchain platforms, however, seek to provide users with complete control over the trajectory of the platforms they use. So long as they remain active participants in the network, they have voting rights that can be used to coordinate key platform changes — ranging from small incentives to completely rewriting the ledger history.
Some may argue that taking control away from centralized intermediaries leaves users exposed to vulnerabilities that make prime targets for data breaches and large-scale hacking events. An important example of this is what many call a 51% hack, which consists of a group of miners who gain control of more than 51% of the network’s hashrate. If, hypothetically, a group or individual were to temporarily gain control of a blockchain protocol, they would have the power to edit, add, or remove transactions altogether, preventing the fair and equitable process that governance infrastructures aim to create in the first place. Herein lies the problem: Because users can essentially stake their involvement in a given platform, finding the line between not enough and too much VoC control is a challenge: not enough and you open yourself up to exploitation from centralized authorities; too much and you expose yourself to exploitation from bad actors.
Still, blockchain governance structures that account for the VoC are certainly a step in the right direction. As British writer and theologian C.S. Lewis once said, “progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be.” There may still be kinks in the road to ensuring that blockchain governance is as secure as it is empowering, but it’s undoubtedly more advanced than the VoC provided by today’s leading tech companies. The general public is growing increasingly frustrated with the current state of customer service relations — one where users are heard, but not listened to. With blockchain, this changes. No longer will a select few executives be able to make unilateral decisions for an entire community, because you’ll be able to do it all on your own. Speak up, speak out. Your opinion matters.