I want the person I deal with to work only for me…
Doc Searls insists that the Internet is a place, not a distribution channel. He and the rest of the Cluetrain authors (our clue trainers?) see the Internet as a place, not a content pipe, and specifically, as a marketplace, and he reminds us that markets are conversations. I am Doc’s eager disciple in that assertion, but not all conversations are markets. Only conversations about value are markets.
Doc also cautions us that consumers aren’t customers. Customers are those irritating people whose approval the business lusts for, while consumers are the invisible people whose approval is only incidental to business operations and values. In his current Creative Commons interviewby Lisa Rein, he illustrates how consumers are not the customers of the media business:
That set me to thinking about the many other cases where the people I deal with in a transaction see me as a consumer and not a customer. Who is my contact working for – me or someone else?
Employees work for their boss, not for the customer. Most businesses have so many little transactions that it really doesn’t matter to them if they lose somebody’s business. So if an employee pisses off a ‘customer’ because of a company policy, their boss will invariably honor their decision. If I’m passed up to a supervisor, I may get satisfaction, but I’m more likely to be told that I just need to understand that company policy is immutable. Sound familiar?
Like commercial broadcasters, such an operation has customers, but they aren’t you and me. Their customers are their distributors and, more distantly, retailers or product reps. Often the heart and soul of management is owned by Wall Street Analysts, not the consumers of the products.
The farmer’s customer is the co-op or the meat packer. If that customer needs green tomatoes for easier shipping, that’s what the farmer produces. If livestock must be stoked with hormones and antibiotics because of the way the jobber handles the product, that’s what the farmer does.
A Nation of Shopkeepers
In 1967, I arrived in Taichung which was then a sleepy little town in central Taiwan with no large enterprises, just streets full of tiny shops. To American eyes, it looked like there was not enough commercial critical mass to make it economically viable. Finally, we concluded, it worked just because they sold stuff to each other.
Napolean famously derided the English as “a nation of shopkeepers” – presumably in contrast to the superior French. At Waterloo in 1812, of course, the English canceled Napolean’s franchise.
In a nation of shopkeepers, most interpersonal transactions matter to the participants. Perhaps a nation of shopkeepers has a higher cohesiveness than one where transactions are arbitrary or taken for granted – in short, where purchasers merely consume rather than customize – by conversation – their choices. Certainly, our nation has historically been driven by a culture where conversations in the marketplace mattered to the participants. The evidence is only anecdotal, but certainly it feels like the sellers’ people don’t care as they once did. If they don’t, it’s because their customer is their boss, not the person across the counter or on the support line.
So, if a nation of shopkeepers and their customers confronts a nation of marketers and consumers, do the shopkeepers have an edge?
All Talk and All Action
What’s the most dynamic segment of the computer industry? Open Source!
Holy shit – Open Source is onlya conversation! Is software that no one buys even part of the computer industry? If you need ratification of Cluetrain’s gospel that markets are conversations, just consider that this vital phenomenon is all talk and all action but no money.
We haven’t developed the vocabulary to credit the open source dynamic for what it is rather than a puzzling aberration of hackerdom. Once we have the vocabulary – a way of measuring quality vs. cost – we’ll elevate open source to the pinnacle it deserves: the most productive process in an economy obsessed with productivity.
Is this Internet Place a Market or a User Group?
Internet product conversations rarely involve the producing company, which denies product flaws by not discussing them. The users trade rants and workarounds for those few products good enough to ridicule. Until the producers participate, the marketplace conversation is short circuited – not a market, but an after market. And we’re not customers but a User Group.
So we need to transform this after-the-fact bitch session into that elusive marketplace conversation that our Clue Trainers are exhorting us on to. Einstein once said that we value what we can count but doesn’t matter, instead of valuing what matters but can’t be counted.
Naturally, Xpertweb proposes to add to our counting tools the grades and comments for each transaction, so we can start to value what really does matter. And to always deal with people who work only for the buyer.