people with megaphonesToday you’re a part of something special thanks to Keith McArthur who created the cluetrainplus10 project, celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto.

I’m one of 95 bloggers around the world who has volunteered to write about one of the 95 theses in the manifesto. The 95 theses examine the impact of the Internet on markets and organizations.

Why is this special for you? By leaving a comment, you will be adding your voice to the cluetrainplus10 project too.
This post is about thesis #78: You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention. It goes without saying it will focus on the relationship between customers and retailers, in true Bargainista style.

Customers have always wanted businesses to pay attention to them. It’s nothing new. Word of mouth has always given customers the ability to drive or destroy sales. What is new is how customers can spread the word faster than ever before and how our expectations have changed.

When Cluetrain was first published, the authors probably had platforms like bulletin boards, forums and other online communities in mind. Google was in its infancy. I wonder if the authors had envisioned anything like blogs, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook or YouTube? What about being friended by your grandma?

Shopping has always been a social activity, just look at any shopping mall. However, social shopping has taken on a whole new meaning in the age of social media. People aren’t just checking company websites; they’re searching Google, reading blogs and consulting friends on Twitter, to name a few. (I’m convinced the popularity of the iPhone and iPhone apps can be traced back to tweets.)

So, what really has changed today?

Today, not only do we have more channels to discuss our complaints and concerns, we seem to have less fear about doing so.

Consumers are far less inhibited and in tough economic times, they are more careful about spending their hard-earned dollars.

The Internet has provided a channel to vent and we expect companies we’re doing business with to listen.
More than ever, it’s become abundantly clear that we want to know the companies we’re doing business with us care about us and they are listening to what we are saying. If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t be in business.
Do you ever wonder if quiet companies are actually listening, taking our feedback into account and doing something to produce a better product or improve customer service? I do.

I’ve blogged about countless brands since 2006. Yet, I can probably count the number of companies that have commented in a transparent manner on one hand (anonymous comments don’t count). I’ve received email feedback from a handful of others. I know some more are listening because I can see their IP addresses and email subscriptions, yet they remain silent. At least they are paying attention, but where are all the others?

Many of us spend hours being fans of a brand without any acknowledgement. (Apple, do you hear me?) We know they can hear us; or, at least we know they should be listening and have access countless online monitoring tools.
Although Twitter isn’t right for everyone or every brand, brands that embraced it have earned big points in the eye of the customer. Those companies using it effectively are listening and having conversations with consumers and trying to improve the overall customer service experience. The one caveat is we hope customers not on Twitter will receive the same level of service offline or using other online channels.

Perhaps before cluetrainplus20, business schools will be studying how Ford survived the recession in part by its use of Twitter (and other social media tactics) as part of it’s overall marketing communications strategy.

Well that’s my rant. What do you think? What will it take for you to part with your money? How important is it for you to know a company is listening to your concerns?

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