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Consumer Empowerment 2.0

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Since the dawn of the Internet, consumers have been experiencing ever greater degrees of empowerment. Nowadays there are are a whole host of tools that allow consumers to share ever more information about products and services.

As the technologies behind the Web and the people who use them get more sophisticated, the tools of customer empowerment are becoming more and more powerful.

The Web is the first place of its kind where visitors could publish discussions about products and services. They could share their experiences with anyone in the world who was interested. This is so commonplace now, that we forget what it was like before. In the old days, companies would issue top down declarations of their products superiority. Word of mouth spread some, but only pretty locally. If Paul had a bad experience with a company, Paul told two friends. And they told two friends. But it pretty much petered out after that. Now, anyone who is curious and knows how to use a search engine will read about Paul’s bad experience. And it will give them pause.

This massive exchange of information between customers resulted in a realistic expectation of what one could expect if they gave their business to one company over another. No longer were consumers left to decide based on the company’s own proclamations. It’s now possible to find out what a person like you, using this product might reasonably expect.

And it doesn’t stop at consumers offering opinions about products and services. They are also suggesting alternatives. The Web has enabled people to 1) find what they’re looking for, 2) discover that there’s a better alternative, and then 3) find and buy the better alternative.

This first generation of consumer empowerment tools were game-changing to say the least.  But the tools that people are using to become more empowered consumers are at whole new level, giving even more control to the consumer.

Google has just launched Google Advisor. Along with sites like Zillow, Google Advisor is turning the financial marketplace into a virtual bazaar where vendors undercut each other to give consumers the best possible deal. Think of sites like this as Ebay in reverse. Instead of a seller displaying what he has to sell and sitting back while competing consumers drive up the price; a buyer announces what he is looking to buy and competing vendors drive down the price.

It didn’t take long for consumers to get the taste for the first set of consumer empowerment tools that cropped on the Internet; search, forums, review sites, blogs, etc…   (Who would consider making a major purchase without researching it on the Internet?) As soon as it became the preferred way for consumers to shop, companies had no choice but to respond by offering better service and when possible, better products. Looking forward, this new way of shopping pioneered by Google Advisor and similar sites will be the kind of consumer empowerment tool that, once consumers get a taste for how it works, will tip the balance further towards consumer empowerment and a better customer experience.

Pass the Beans!

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