This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!

Thesis #3: Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

So far,  listening has been a theme. In order to be an effective listener it helps to know what you are listening to.

The crux of this thesis (and coincidentally, the two that follow it) is that in order for conversational marketing to work, it must take place between human beings speaking the same language. The problem is that companies, while made up of human beings, are traditionally dehumanized. Dehumanization removes all traces of the human voice, the language that customers are speaking in. Makes it kinda tough to be a part of that conversation, dont’cha think?

Things like “the royal we”, using a we that doesn’t clearly identify who (or how many) people it represents, is a common mistake. If you’re a single person company, own that. If you’re one of one hundred employees, say who you are and what part of the company you represent. This boils down to transparency and even more basic, honesty.

Automated responses and legalese are other common mistakes. They are usually designed to confuse the customer into forgetting what they were there for in the first place.

These are examples of misplaced voices in customers’ social dialogues with one another.

The socializing that happens in the marketplaces outlined in Cluetrain is between customers, not vendors. Unfortunately for both parties, the languages they speak are not the same.

Travel tips from the Cluetrain

I admittedly haven’t traveled extensively to non-English speaking countries. It’s not out of ignorance that I don’t speak more than two and a half languages (1. English, 2. geek, and 2.5. enough French to navigate Montreal), it’s that I don’t do it enough for it to stick. One of the most common tips I have received while traveling is to learn enough of the native language to ask if they speak English in their native language. It’s not universal, but many popular travel destinations are inhabited by people who know a little bit of English, and if they do, they will appreciate the gesture of asking in their language. If they do not, knowing what “no” sounds like and how to say “thank you” is also worthwhile.

The lesson here applies to Cluetrain: If you are intending to participate in your customers’ conversations, you’re going to need to use enough of their language to not be percieved as rude. Much like world travel, languages and dialects vary across different communities. Even if you’re not 100% versed in “customer speak”, learn at least enough to not be rude. If you’re lucky, and you’re authentic in the gesture) they will appreciate it and quite likely welcome you.

Once you’ve made first contact without having the door slammed in your face, you’re going to need more than pleasantries to sustain a conversation.

Lucky for you, speaking “customer” isn’t as difficult as you might think.