Posts Tagged ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’

CluetrainManifesto10thAnnivEditionIn April 1999, some brave souls spoke for many when they tacked 95 theses on the Internet at The basic message went like this: “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.”

The phrase “markets are conversations” was central to the message (in fact, that’s the first of the 95 theses), and the warning to businesses is that they need to realize the potential of networked people having conversations to disrupt business as usual, dethroning the stranglehold that controlled communications and marketing efforts by businesses has had on the marketplace for way too long. The theses and subsequent book called for businesses to join the conversation in the marketplace as real people, or those in the marketplace will go elsewhere and gladly engage in doing business with other companies that are willing to have real, human relationships with them. In a sense, markets via networked communications between people have the opportunity to function more like the street bazaars of old than the industrialized, sterilized, distanced supply chains we hear more about today.

To get a good, quick feel for what Cluetrain was (and is still) about, take a few minutes to read the 95 theses on the homepage at The site is intentionally preserved to look like it did in 1999 to capture a piece of history. Read it a couple of times and be amazed that it was written that long ago. Much of it reads like it was written today. The original 95 theses do not attempt to group themselves into subtopics – at least not in a clear, easily outlined way. There are connected theses that assume placement next to each other, though, so you may benefit from the simple categorization of them on the Cluetrain Manifesto Wikipedia page.

The four ringleaders of Cluetrain were Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searles, and David Weinberger. A host of other signers gave their blessing to the ideas presented in the theses.

While I first read the 95 theses a number of years ago, I had never read the book until this week. The first book was published in January, 2001 – The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual. You can read the entirety of that book for free online here if you like. Ten years later, the book I just finished reading was written – The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition. In addition to the full text of the original book, there is a new introduction and additional chapters by the authors including reflections on the relevance of the ideas today and updates describing what has and has not come to pass as predicted in the original text. While not everything predicted has come true (at least not yet), the book is amazingly current and, I think, still prophetic. Prophecy isn’t always about predicting the future. It is as much about proclaiming a message to those in the present about a situation and speaking to the consequences of acting or not acting properly in response. In that sense, the book is still prophetic.

Anyone involved with marketing and communications in businesses should read the book. In fact, as consumers who are doing the very things this book predicted over a decade ago, there are very few for whom the book isn’t relevant. There are far too many companies in 2013 who still haven’t learned the lessons these authors were shouting from the rooftops in 1999. There are too many companies mistakenly believing they can and do control communications about their company, products and services. There are too many refusing to acknowledge – much less participate in – the marketplace conversations. There are still company-erected barriers keeping employees from participating (at least officially) in the public conversations. Walled forts around many businesses seem to do all they can to keep the customer out of the daily workflow and at a safe distance, harming relationships rather than doing the things that would develop relationships and goodwill.

There are probably many people who would be offended in some way (possibly many ways) reading Cluetrain. Fortunately, I have enough of a rebel within me to thoroughly enjoy the ideas of the book throughout as well as the unhindered frankness with which they are presented, if not all the salty language. If you are part of a marketing or communications team in a large business, be sure to put your big girl or big boy pants on when you read it, because this is not your typical business book and it will regularly slap you around a bit. That’s probably a good thing.

There will be others who just don’t buy what Cluetrain is selling. I found it humorous to find John C. Dvorak’s 2002 PC Magazine article about Cluetrain quoted on the Wikipedia page admitting to such, and then imagining far more about the book’s devotees: “I don’t get it… the apparent faith in this odd vision of an idealistic human-oriented internetworked new world/new economy marches forward. I imagine all these folks holding hands in a large circle, rolling back and forth, with some in the middle of the circle, spinning and chanting and hugging, all naked. I’m betting that most of these folks go to Burning Man and all of them write blogs about it and how cool it was. They link to each others’ blogs and read what they say about each other—all highly complimentary.”

That’s funny stuff, John, and I can even imagine the same. Some paragraphs of the book read like the author was as high as a kite while writing it. Still, you have to get past such occasionally awkward moments and style and hone in on the point of it all which was then and still is perfectly valid and important.

Whether you agree or not with the basic premise of Cluetrain, and whether you agree or not with many of the 95 theses, this is at minimum good fodder for an important conversation many businesses still need to have.

By the way, the name “Cluetrain” was spawned from a comment about a Fortune 500 business that didn’t get the message of the book: “The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” Here’s hoping that you, dear reader, are part of a business that takes delivery of the many clues The Cluetrain Manifesto has to offer.

Now, put on something tie-dyed, grab your favorite beverage, kick back without your shoes and go read those 95 theses. Then, if you’re willing, either read the original or 10th anniversary edition of the book. It’s worth your time. I promise.

Hammer and NailI’m currently reading the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The first edition came out in 2000, so even this edition is a few years old. For those unfamiliar, it is a classic book that had its genesis in 95 theses posted in 1999 at – a site largely kept as it was then so current readers can have much the same experience and appreciate the beginnings of something remarkable.

The basic premise of the theses and the resulting book is that markets are conversations and if businesses want to remain viable, they will have to get a clue to the impact of the Internet on how those conversations are affecting markets. I’ll write a book review soon and will say much more about it then. For now, I would suggest anyone interested check out the website where you can read the original book for free. You should at least read the 95 theses posted on the home page. The fact that they were written in 1999 may blow your mind. Talk about insightful and ahead of their time! I read them for the first time a few years ago and I am still deeply impressed by them.

That said, the purpose of this post is to relate one story from the book about customer service. All of us are customers of many sellers. We’ve had good and bad customer service experiences. We share those experiences with others and today have incredible potential reach via online social networks to magnify those praises or rants far beyond the walls of our homes.

Enter normally mild-mannered grandmother Mona Shaw. We read about her in the book’s section “Markets are Relationships”:

In August 2007, Mona Shaw took a hammer to her local Comcast office. Literally. First, BAM! She blasted the customer service rep’s keyboard. Then BOOM! She took out a monitor. Then POW! She destroyed a phone. People screamed and ran. When the cops showed up, WHACK! She hammered the phone, one more time. Up to this point, there was nothing exceptional about Mrs. Shaw. She was a retired nurse. A grandmother. She took in stray dogs. She went to church every Sunday, and was the secretary for both her local AARP and a square dance club. What made her snap was something even less exceptional: awful customer service.”

I think I’m in love with Mona Shaw! Who among us hasn’t wanted to do something similar after an infuriating experience of bad customer service?

The chapter goes on to explain the details of what transpired over several days to put Mona past her breaking point. I won’t go into all of those details here, but suffice it to say that numerous things happened, including:

  • service people showing up days late;
  • service people not finishing the job correctly when they did show up;
  • having their phone number of 34 years changed without their knowledge or permission;
  • getting lost in a maze of bad call center phone systems;
  • having services shut off;
  • having to wait outside the Comcast office in August heat in hopes of speaking with a manager, only to be told hours later that the manager had left for the weekend.

The following Monday is when Mona returned with her hammer and sought her revenge.

I’m not advocating violence in response to bad customer service, but I can understand the emotion that leads one to at least think about it. If we have paid our hard-earned money to a company for a product or service, we expect reasonable action if there is an issue with that product or service. We expect a timely response. We expect people to do what they say they will do. We expect things that are wrong to be made right. We expect to be treated with respect and courtesy. We may not necessarily expect to be on the receiving end of the attitude that “the customer is always right,” but we at least expect to be on the receiving end of a genuine effort to help by someone who cares.

This same section of the book begins with a quote from one of the authors, Doc Searls: “When all you’ve got is a hammer, bad service looks like a nail.”

I hear regularly about exceptional customer service experiences with companies like Zappos and Fitbit and maybe a few others. I hear way too often even more stories of bad customer service. I can’t speak for any company – not even my own – regarding matters of customer service because that is not a business area I have ever been assigned to except in a minimal way as it might relate to another role I have.  Therefore, I won’t presume to pontificate about what all other companies ought to do in every customer service circumstance. Those involved know details I do not.

Still, I know that as a customer I have the option of going elsewhere for most types of products and services. If I am disgusted enough with companies I current relate to, or if I am pulled away by better promises and agreements by competitors, I will likely make the move and not look back. I may go quietly, or I may not in this day of social media amplification of an individual’s message.

I don’t expect to grab a hammer and start bashing keyboards, phones and monitors of those who tick me off, but I will take my money and my loyalty elsewhere if needed customer service sucks. I wish more businesses understood that. I wish more businesses cared.

Do you have a story of exceptionally good or bad customer service you’d be willing to share? I’d love to hear it in your comment.