In 1999, the Cluetrain Manifesto was written by Rick Levine, Doc Searls, Christopher Locke and David Wienberger. The authors put forward the idea of the ‘global conversation’:
“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter – and getting smarter faster than most companies.”
In 2007, Wikinomics was written by Dan Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. The authors write about the idea of the ‘shared canvas’:
“The new Web is…a shared canvas where every splash of paint contributed by one user provides a richer tapestry for the next user to modify or build on. Whether people are creating, sharing, or socializing, the new Web is principally about participating rather than about passively receiving information.”
In 2010, Clay Shirky wrote Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. The author writes:
“We are increasingly becoming one another’s infrastructure.”
In 2011, Lyle Fong, CEO and Founder of Lithium Technologies, in an interview with Ray Wang (Constellation Group) says:
“What happens when we treat customers as part of the company?”
In a little over a decade we have passed from the global conversation as an idea to something that we take for granted. Within the context of this daily global conversation we are brought in closer proximity to people, the majority of whom we will never meet in real life. We are increasingly reliant on their knowledge and their help. We seek them out. We trust these people, the majority of whom we will never meet.
We are living in a time of change in which technology is no longer the end game. Technology has become the facilitator of the myriad of global conversations that take place every day. Technology allows us to create and curate the global conversations that we take part in. We no longer just read or watch, we write and publish. But we do so in the knowledge that whoever chooses to participate in our conversation can take what we have created and turn it into something more useful, more beautiful, more accessible, more intimate, more personal, simply more.
In the first quote, a divide is apparent between the organisation and its customers. Two separate systems exist alongside each other. That of the customer is all that the organisation is not. The customer’s world is about discovery and invention, sharing and speed of delivery.
As we read the other quotes, the divide between organisation and customer blurs. By the time we have reached the final quote, the division has seemingly disappeared, or at least the possibility of it doing so is raised. Whether the customer has moved from the outside to the inside, or whether the organisation has moved from the inside to the outside, indeed which is inside and which outside, we are unsure. Either way, the two have moved closer together than ever before.
This is a global conversation that customer service is now taking part in. A conversation that is 24/7, amongst equals, open to anyone willing to participate in, receptive to help from whoever can provide it, willing to seek out information wherever it resides. A customer service that is no longer technology-driven, but recognises impulsiveness and spontaneity. A customer service that responds to customer behaviour, but is not a slave to its every whim.
It points to a customer service that is of necessity increasingly more adaptive, more agile, more participative, more intimate and humane, potentially more personalisable, perhaps more open to being put together ‘on the fly’. This is the global conversation that customer service is taking part in today. The global conversation that it will participate in, in ten year’s time may well be a different one.