Customers taking control

"Call centres give poor service", says the BBC. Hardly a surprise. Could it be that people are realising that customers don't appreciate the increasing distance between them and the people with the knowledge? Are we learning yet that a headset, £5.50/hr and a CMS doesn't replace real expertise?

Customers want honesty and openness. With honesty and openness comes trust, probably the key determinant in any B2C relationship, particularly over the web (see the excellent Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility for more).

So let's give them what they want!

I think it's time to loosen the reins a bit. Yes, give out your direct line number! Yes, let your staff blog about your products and services! Sure, maintaining the brand is important, but think of the brand value in letting the experts in your company talk directly to the world!

The first hurdle for many will probably be reworking the communications modus operandi. The 'rules of engagement' can be tricky for corporate bloggers and management alike. Most businesses use a communcations channel so tightly controlled that it could almost be called censorship. Opening this up is a brave step and will understandably unnerve some marketers and senior managers.

It's all about finding the right balance of control and supervision. Hold on too tight and you end up with an environment where employees feel patronised and scared to post lest they incur the wrath of management. Too little control, and you slip into the quagmire of unprofessionalism, gossip and even libel.

I think Sun's blogging policy has it about right. It doesn't insult the intelligence of employees, but it still establishes what can and can't be done in clear terms.

Let's hope businesses see past short-term jitters and begin opening up to these increasingly disenfranchised customers. Is talking to them really such a risk?

Cennydd Bowles