May 10, 2009

10 Rules for Today's Consumers In the New World of Real-Time

The world of communication and product delivery is changing as the Web evolves and new services are introduced, enabling us to gain faster access to information, download richer media more quickly, and rapidly voice our opinions and feedback near and far in a wide variety of methods, including text, voice, video and imagery. As customers become more savvy and in tune with these new tools, we are also expecting those offering products and services to adapt, and as such, I thought it made sense to put forth what I believe are key tenets of a new consumer manifesto for today's real-time world.

1. We Want Access to Your Product As Quickly As Possible

We have become an "instant gratification" society. Our short attention spans are being rewarded with ubiquitous access to fast food, the rollout of ever-faster download speeds, near elimination of commercials, thanks to DVRs, and the ability to replace activities that were once limited to venues outside the home with in-home equivalents, including on-demand programming and simulated bowling on our Wiis.

When we order your products, or sign up for your service, we want access to them immediately. We don't want to wait for an approval period, and if the product is physical, we want it shipped quickly at the first possible convenience.

2. We Expect the Product to Work On Any Platform In Any Location

Many of us spend more time in the Web browser and our e-mail than we do in our Operating System software these days. We rapidly grow frustrated with any Web sites or applications that operate differently if you utilize different operating systems or Web browsers, and we expect to have access to your product, or a mobile equivalent, when we are away from our desktops.

3. We Want to See That You Allow for Feedback, Positive and Negative

The time of a siloed product experience is gone. We want to see that you provide a forum or link to a third party site that discusses your business and your products, and connects us with peers, where we can learn from one another in a venue that reaches you as well. And if you do provide a forum or bulletin for us to provide feedback, we will not look kindly on your deleting threads or comments of substance.

4. We Expect That You Respond to Your Customers, Quickly

Customers are talking about your products on their blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook and other aggregation sites. They may send you e-mail or post in public forums. While we can't expect CEOs of the largest companies to respond to every mention, we do expect company representatives to be listening, and for the smallest companies, we do expect founders and entrepreneurs to be accessible.

5. We Expect That You Join and Lead the Conversation

In the absence of communication from you, rumors and negative feedback can snowball. And while you might be coached in handling crisis PR in case something gets out of hand on blogs or Twitter, the best way to get ahead of potential issues is to have a presence in these social areas before problems occur, so that your customers have a place to engage you, and you them, helping to redirect the conversation and react. Additionally, you can use your communication outlets to show thought leadership and teach us better ways to use your product in ways we may not have considered.

6. We Want to See That You Continually Improve Your Product

Thanks to the now assumed two-way conversation with your customers, we expect you will be making incremental updates and improvements that both meet your corporate objectives and satisfy user expectations - beyond fixing bugs. Not only do we now expect instant access and near real-time responses, but we hope for rapid iterations that add to our satisfaction. A stale product will lead to cranky users, and breed disloyalty, as we may migrate to alternatives that appear to be updating more frequently with more agility.

7. We Expect You to Use Your Product and Be Visible

One of the greatest endorsements of your own product is that you use it and make it a part of your own visible activity - making you appear as a peer with a shared experience in parallel to that of your customers. For the smallest companies, including startups with 1-10 employees, we expect to likely see your CEO and founders visibly consuming their own dog food, both exulting in its benefits and suffering through its disappointments. And if you do put up a central example of your employees or founder using your products, don't do it once and never update again, because we'll know about it, and it will a stark reminder of your pandering.

8. We Expect That You Will Embrace or Lead Standards

As we are helping you create a business by selecting your product instead of that of the competition, we expect you will help us, and the ecosystem as a whole, by either embracing existing standards that are agreed upon, or by forging new standards and releasing them to the community for the benefit of all. We reject proprietary methods that don't deliver significant differentiation, or aren't forced by antiquated legalities.

9. We Expect You Are Driven By More than Money Alone

As consumers, we are eager to be seen as your partner, and to contribute to improving the next iteration of your product, or in helping to grow the information base around it, through consistent feedback, formation of user groups, or in creating content related to your product. As such, we do not expect to be seen as blank checks, there to support your bottom line when quarters draw thin. Instead, we want to see that you share a passion for your products and your market, and know that you, as we are, are driven by the potential of what your product can enable us to accomplish. We want to know the story of what you are trying to solve, and how it can help the community, more than we want to hear about your margins and your EPS.

10. We Want You To Treat Us As Informed Consumers and Partners

We have real-time access to news and many of us are rabid information sponges who are experts about you and your product. We don't want to be talked down to, and often have significant history with your organization. We despise the tendency to architect service, support and marketing to the lowest common denominator, and greatly appreciate your expecting that we have a baseline of understanding that includes recent headlines on you and the industry.

While books including the Cluetrain Manifesto and Naked Conversations have chronicled the move by consumers and businesses to e-commerce and a new world of online communications, continued advancements toward real-time news and exchanges of ideas lay the platform for a revamped approach to consumer relations with business. We are finding out more about you than you ever believed possible, and we are more than willing to share it just as quickly - both the good and the bad. Embrace the change and embrace us as partners and we can be your greatest ally. Be truthful, transparent and trusted, and you can help us cross the chasm from customers to fans.

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