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Can you Leave Work at the Office?

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

I previously talked about Device Explosion, where I highlighted the need to allow employees to point personalize their experiences just as we are trying to do for our customers.  Friend Mark Tamis commented on the post:

“Getting a new iPad from work is just as exciting as getting a good PC ‘back-in-the-day’. Now it make you more mobile, but these are still only access devices – the question is now what are they accessing and what is presented which helps the employee’s job-to-be-done. The ‘back-end’ is still more important than the ‘shiny new object’ device”

My answer to Mark is an answer he has probably heard me give a hundred times in the past few years: “Yes, but…” Here is my reasoning, there are secondary benefits to the device being owned by the employee. The benefits are that if it is a work device, then IT can control it, for one. Additionally, when I look at the device I think ‘ah, that is work’ and I turn it off. If the device is mine, then I might take it with me on the weekend, or late into the evening. Wait, who gets the benefit here? Maybe some expectation setting is in order.

Where is Work, Who is Personal?

The Mirror Image of bringing my device to work is that I never really leave the office, is this a good experience or bad. The other growing trend is that if I work at home, I really never leave the office. It is not even something the office is asking me to do either. If I use my device at work, there are bound to be work related items on the device, or in my personal cloud (Box, DropBox). Where is the work life balance? For me, I have a decent balance (not optimal, to be fair, but I am working on it), because I enjoy what I do, thus it does not feel like work (except meetings, they feel like work).

If work wants me to be more social at the office, does that mean I need to be less social at home? Yes, my tongue is squarely in my cheek with that comment, but it is something we need to consider. My peers are used to me send notes or publishing content at off hours, because when the mood strikes, I write – On my device. I do have a bit of a rebellious streak, I admit it. My first reaction to being told to do something is not a cheery as it probably should be in most cases.

Fast Company posted an interesting article, regarding work life balance and “keeping the lines of communication open” an interesting phrase to use.

“Decide what you really expect in terms of response and connection. Part of the problem is that leaders are so busy using technology to manage their own work/life balance that they haven’t thought about what they actually expect from their team. The leader who emailed from the bus at 5:00 a.m. told everyone that if he really needed them he’d call their mobile phones. If an email was priority, he’d identify it. Otherwise feel free to respond whenever they can.”

Just because you write an email at 5am, do you want to be expected to respond to an email at 5am? Does your team know your expectations? (As mentioned in the FC article) You might be comfortable with your own work life balance, but is this true for your direct reports or others in the organization? These topics might not immediately seem tightly coupled, but they are. The work life balance, what is work and what is personal is becoming grey at best. As organizations of all sizes work to ‘get more social’ this is going to increasingly be a bigger and bigger concern.

Take the time to turn off, unwind, put the device away – #justsayin

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Passion is Contagious

January 30, 2012 Leave a comment

This is a Guest Post by one Rachel Tait. I have the pleasure of working Rachel at Sword Ciboodle and her passion is contagious. Considering my previous post this seemed a natural to share with a wider audience (the Steelers part was almost a nonstarter🙂. It is also interesting to note that we did ust open up new offices in Chicago, with nice view and Rachel made a side comment about the new view and feeling a bit inspired to finish this post – it can be the little things.

Steelers fans

Passion: “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate” (Dictionary.com).

So, if that’s passion then what comes with it? In my opinion: focus, learning, interest and continuous improvement. Passionate individuals and organizations never stop learning, and in terms of customers, your passionate ones are often those that are most loyal, most valuable and importantly most vocal across all communication channels.

I’ve got a long list of things that I’m passionate about. I don’t want to bore you but on there would be chocolate, wagamama (delicious noodle house in the UK… unfortunately not available in Chicago. Sad face), Scotland, NFL Football and of course marketing. On marketing, I’ve always been passionate about it and I like to think I always will be. I did it for 4 years at university, have worked in this field since graduation and everyday know that this is the job for me. I’m not saying there are days when marketing isn’t the top of my fav list – ask some of my colleagues in the Sword Ciboodle office, the stories they could tell! But to this day, I’ve never got home and started looking into how I change careers to become a dentist, carpenter or Shetland Pony Breeder. In fact, with my passion comes an interest in advancing my knowledge in marketing and supporting disciplines.

For organizations that want to make waves in their industry, and stand out as the best, one of the secrets is to get passionate about your customers, and make them get passionate about you. Care about how they get treated, learn about what they want, and then go out of your way to deliver it! Don’t just find out why they like you, find out why they love you. And when you know why they love you – make sure you’re delivering these products/services/traits to them, and others like them, in spades. It’s important that you don’t just run through the motions in a predefined script or process (yes Abercrombie and Fitch I’m looking at you…. the fact your sales associates follow me around asking if they can help me because they were told to do so whenever they see a customer is more than a little creepy, and annoying). Go beyond what is expected or required, show off your passion and theirs will follow.

If you can grow this passion within a small customer base, you will often find it grows exponentially as beyond anything passion is infectious. Just look at sports fans! As a proud supporter of the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m never more passionate, loud and proud than when surrounded by my other Black and Gold brethren. And when I say surrounded, that’s not only when watch games but also in groups online. I recently joined www.32loud.com which is a website which welcomes fans from all of the NFL’s 32 teams, and I joined because they are targeting those that are vocal to be part of their online community. They got to me via a facebook group for Steelers fans based in Chicago, which has 400+ fans who post on the ups and downs of the Steelers on a daily if not hourly basis. So what made me join? They locked into my passion. They have a leaderboard on the website, which ranks the teams in terms of number of members, number of posts, number of likes etc. Can’t have the Bengals or Ravens out doing my boys so I got onboard and ‘got loud’.

Like 32loud, find passionate voices out there, and let them know you’re not only listening to them but taking on their comments. Log into your company facebook, hold interactive focus groups, hey stand outside with a sandwich board speaking to people if that works for you! Just do something, as passion isn’t something you can just say you are and that’s that. It requires action, and not just one off action, but continuous action. Anything less is just lip service.

I know it’s not as simple as just getting it done, and many ‘ducks need to be in a row’ for this to happen – including people, technology, budgets etc. However, without a vision, and a commitment to achieving that vision, the norm will remain just that – normal, beige, ‘just ok’. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many examples of cutting edge companies that are ‘just ok’….. and for Rachel Tait.com, marketing extraordinaire to the stars, just ok isn’t an option….

Mirror Images – Customer Experience versus Employee Experience

January 21, 2012 2 comments

In my first Mirror Images post, I referred to Social CRM as a “A complex overlay” on top of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes. If we can accept this, that Social CRM is an overlay, then we should be able to agree that it does mirror Social business (or Enterprise 2.0), as Social Business is also an overlay on top of many standard business practices and concepts. Diving deeper to a more definitive concept; is employee experience the mirror of customer experience? Unfortunately, most people who talk/write on the topic of ‘experience’ focus on the customer aspect and neglect the employee experience; the literature therefore is not as extensive.  In this area, topics typically include empowerment, engagement, and satisfaction. There is very little that directly talks to employee experience, after all it is just a job, right – no, wrong. Moving forward, this is going to have to change.

Your own Marketing team is working very hard to enhance the customer experience, hoping to take advantage of what mobile and tablet devices have to offer (Cool UI) to build stronger relationships with people (customers and prospective customers). But, let’s not forget that before you drove into work this morning, you were a consumer, using these devices and you were the target of these efforts, by some other company. The number of connected TV sales is expected to double in 2012, these same people are highly likely to have an Xbox, an iPod, Kindle, KindleFire or some other next generation device. Now, you are sitting in front of screen, your team is sitting in front of an even bigger screen, maybe with a headset connected and they are using circa 1990’s technology to help your customers. What gives?

Think about it, all of this effort which is customer facing and your internal teams are frankly having a lousy experience. Can we gamify work a bit, to make it more fun? Or is that pandering to misaligned expectations of a certain employee type or demographic? As a did in my previous post,  I turned to friend for some help and insight. I asked the question to Mark Tamis and we had a bit of an electronic conversation or Socratic debate. My going in position is the better employee experience will lead to a better customer experience, as this is the logical answer. But, as Mark points out, it is not that simple.

Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?

MT: First of all, I believe the question leads to trying to compare apples to pears.

ML: That is better than apples to oranges, no?

MT: French expression badly translated

MT: The customer has gone through a journey and his experience has been shaped by interactions at every touch point (dealing with your company, in-store experience, exchanging with friends, family and peers and so on), whereas the employee experience is shaped the interactions with colleagues, suppliers, systems and – only at very precise touch points – clients. So although the customer and the employee are intimately linked, they are not on the same journey.

ML: Valid point, but at that critical point where the journeys intersect will define many things and likely be more impactful to the customer. We have both been known to say that the experience perceived is more important than the intended design. Like most of life we spend most of the time learning and preparing for those moments where we have to act. While not on the same journey, the journey’s are linked and aligned.

MT: By the very nature of company-customer relations, the employee journey is sub altered to the customer journey which leads to the chicken and the egg problem of when a negative customer experience is taken out on an employee who is not able to or not empowered to do anything about it, which in turn leads to a negative employee experience that negatively influences the way the employee deals with the following customer et cetera.

ML: Very interesting, and I agree that the employee experience impacted by the customer experience and journey. I will suggest that the employee would only partially hold his own organization accountable for the treatment by the customer, unless it is a trend, and they are not empowered to do anything about it. While valid, employees should be able move beyond this type of reaction.

MT: Partially, but up to which point? Either stop trying to fight it and become demotivated, go on a crusade and risk being shot down, or simply…leave.

MT: Breaking this vicious circle consists of first by understanding the customer’s journey and coordinating efforts to improve it and second by providing the employees with the infrastructure (data, insight, tools and processes) and conditions (work conditions, a company culture that facilitates collaboration) to do so. Ultimately it comes down to reducing frictions (for the customer and for employees) to help the customer in his job to be done and reach the desired outcomes.

ML: Who is responsible and accountable for removing the fractions? It must be on the employee side, management etcetera, driving for a positive employee experience.

Mark, great stuff and I do appreciate your time and thoughts. I believe we are mostly aligned, though I will admit it is bigger and more complex than I had originally thought. The two journeys are different but it is those all important intersections where things happen. The key question is what will the state of mind (on each side) be at those points? Business units and IT departments will need to invest more in the design of services, for the internal customer. The expectations by everyone; not just the younger or Millenial crowd, are higher, and need to align with customer expectations. In order for a true person to person relationship to be established, experience must be aligned on both sides of the firewall. This is clearly not all about technology (yes, I do work for a technology vendor) but at the same time, technology is a huge part of the equation, there is no getting past that point. For contact center agents, their experience is critically important, and I believe there is a connection to customer experience – a big one.

Mirror Images

January 17, 2012 1 comment

For a some time, I have been watching, reading, discussing and doing my best to understand the very broad field of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes which go along with each discipline. Along the way, Social CRM – a complex overlay on all of the above, has become everything from a hot topic to nothing more than part of buzzword bingo and back again. At the same time I have also been trying to keep tabs on Enterprise 2.0, Social Business and Collaboration (not Emergent). Going back and reading my own early thoughts here I can see that in some ways my own thinking has changed, but in many ways it has simply matured. I have been saying for a fairly long time that Social CRM and Entperprise 2.0 are closely linked. In September 2009 I said it here and here. I am not patting myself on the back here, more being self critical. I said this 2.5 years ago and frankly we have not come very far.

This line of thinking have caused the following questions to nag at me a bit:

  • Does better agent (employee) engagement lead to better customer engagement?
  • Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction?
  • Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?
  • Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

Taking a bit of a leap from where my own thinking was a couple years ago to now considering how many elements need to be, or are essentially mirror images between inside and outside the organization. I am not going to be able to tackle all the questions in a single post. As any good learner does, I asked a few friends for some help.

Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction? Mark Walton-Hayfield of CSC had this to say (BTW – congrats to Mark and all of CSC on the Paul G Watchlist Review!):

“In summary YES! However, you need to make sure that people are empowered and that businesses deliver on their promises to customers too.

People who are encouraged to make decisions by themselves at work and who have the authority to solve problems with the outcome of keeping customers happy are generally more satisfied with their job than employees who need to seek out a manager for approval. Business owners who empower their employees tend to have both a lower staff turnover and higher customer satisfaction levels too.

A core tenant of modern leadership thinking is that you need to make people (at all levels) understand why they are being asked to do something and the part that they play in the bigger picture. By leading people through great communications which encourage motivation and with empowerment designed into the operating model you are creating an environment within which people can be proud and satisfied in the work that they do. For those people who are customer facing (and even those who are not) this will most likely translate and spill over into better relationships with customers. These customers will perceive that the representatives of the company are going the extra mile (and they probably are) and so over time this will improve customer satisfaction.

However, this comes with a warning – ensure that you have delivered upon your original promises to your customers and that you are responding to them in an effective manner on those occasions when you are not”

Mark Walton-Hayfield | Social Business Strategist | CSC | MarkW_H

I happen to agree with Mark’s thoughts, it makes logical sense, but why does it seem so difficult to carry out in practice? For commoditized products and services, where low cost is the differentiator, this might be very difficult to carry out, no? This is not a disagreement with Mark, more of an expansion of his thoughts.
Moving on to some other tough question, I posed the following to Laurence Buchanan of CapGemini (Also a CRM Watchlist winner): “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?” In hindsight, this was a bit of a leading question, isn’t it? In a way it is playing with buzzwords.

“Customers have always been social. For as long as trade and commerce has been around, customers have spoken to each other about good deals and warned each other of rip-off scams. But when we think of a social customer today we use the term to describe a customer who is a) connected to people and information via digital channels and social networks and b) someone who leverages that connectivity and information in their relationships with vendors and other consumers. For example, a customer who is connected to a network like Tripadvisor might use information from that social network to influence their choice of holiday as well to influence others in their network through their own contributions. The motivation of a social customer will vary greatly and may include simply getting a better deal, building up trust and respect from peers, or naming and shaming a poor product or service.

Employees have always been collaborative. Ok, perhaps not as collaborative as they could be (!), but we have always had to work with others to get the job done. The collaborative employee mirrors some of the traits above. Although the networks might be different, the collaborative employee is certainly connected to people (e.g. other employees, suppliers, customers…) and to information. In addition, the collaborative employee leverages that connectivity to help them work more effectively (e.g. breaking down internal silos), to build relationships or to build their profile within the enterprise.

However, the boundaries between the social customer and the collaborative employee are increasingly blurred and increasingly irrelevant. People play multiple roles in their daily lives (consumer, employee, supplier), information (and transparency) now flows much faster inside and outside an organisation and networks are increasingly interlinked. More and more it will be harder to separate the social customer from the collaborative employee.”

Laurence Buchanan | Principal, Digital Transformation | CapGemini | buchanla

Sharing the wealth a bit, I asked Prem Kumar of Cognizant the same question as Laurence, “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

“If you recollect the concepts in the book reorganizing for a resilient organization, orgs (organizations) need to have people with specializations, areas where they have high efficiencies, areas which could be highly routine and monotonous. There is not much need to take decisions, and even if any, they would happen with in a predefined scope, options. This is what brings the scalability, the industrial scale. Collaboration happens at a minimum in these organizations, especially between people who need to make decisions on non routine issues. These are the people who have been empowered to take decisions.

One of the reasons for this collaboration that Ranjay mentions in his book is innovation, to meet the demands of the evolving customer. I do not remember if he talks about customer support, but here is again an area where you need to take decisions as well as collaborate with various dungeons in the org. ‘Responsiveness’ is the key reason for collaboration I guess. That means responding, at speed.

Now cut to the era of the social customer as he is right now. What he asks is public knowledge, so add the PR angle if there was not enough pressure on being responsive already. No wonder you need to be even more connected, at speed. Collaboration has been clamoring for attention for a few decades now, but now it has become inimitable, unignorable.

Collaboration is no longer a motivating factor to do better, it is now a hygiene factor; you stay healthy if you do it, else you fall sick. It is not doing pilates, it is eating good healthy food. Which means, it’s not about putting extra efforts, it’s about changing our habits, or mind frame for the better.”

Prem Kumar | Strategist | Cognizant | Prem_k

I really like that last point by Prem, collaboration is now a hygiene factor, it is a requirement to doing business. This is actually one difference, where the characteristics are not mirrored. Customers do not need to be social in order to be customers. But, social customers do require the internal organizations to be collaborative. All that is left to tackle are the remaining two simple questions.

Links provided from Mark W-H

Engagement, Intent Driven Involvement

January 8, 2012 5 comments

Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one.  The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective.  I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.

What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually.  Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.

A Bit of Research

Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.

First the Customer side:

“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”

Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally.  Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well –  Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.

What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.

“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”

Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience

There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:

“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”

Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.

In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.

A Healthy Diet of Email

January 5, 2012 1 comment

Here is the question: How does Email communication fit into your 2012 corporate diet? Specifically, is there such a thing as a healthy diet of Email? Within your organization do you encourage email use, discourage it or leave well enough alone and go with the flow?

I know some would like this to be a really simple answer, but it isn’t. With New Years resolutions top of mind (back to the gym, lose weight and all that), if someone asked you to associate Email to a food group, which one would it be? How about: “Email is the carbohydrate of the corporate diet”. We could say that there are good carbs and bad, right? We could easily talk about reducing carbs, but not getting rid of them completely (Atkins anyone?). Many (corporate) citizens are addicted to email (and M&Ms), clutching their mobile devices in cars, meetings and trains, turning them on instantly when their plane lands, wondering (hoping?) if someone sent them something very important.

We could label Email to be Fats (Think Burgers, Fries and Ice Cream). Again, there are some good, necessary, fats as well. We could talk about Email weighing us down and clogging our arteries (disrupting the flow) some even causing our blood pressure to rise. Does Email help or hinder the information flow in the modern corporation? Every once in a while, something awesome comes along in Email, just when you were ready to toss it. Ice Cream, for example; ah now there is something to sink my teeth into! I would love to be blind-copied on a Ben and Jerry’s delivery, wouldn’t you? (Blind copying, by the way, is the devil, never do it, it will come back to haunt you I promise).

Email is definitely not protein – Hard Stop.

As you can tell, I have been doing a fair bit of thinking regarding Email (communications in general really) and the impact on my day-to-day world. Maybe I have been thinking too much about food as well. My conclusion is that for all the power it provides, Email is the single biggest necessary evil that exists in the modern technological world. Try as we might, we are not going to get rid of it, even internally, not for a while, too many people use it, like it and that is that. Our kids will be having the exact same conversation in 20 years – tell me I am wrong.

Email for Companies of all Sizes

The framing of the conversation about email has changed in the past few years and will change some more; email, has split into a channel with multiple purposes, maybe even multiple sub-channels. In other words, the problem will get worse before it gets better. At the moment, here is an incomplete list the different personalities of email:

1 – A messaging / notification channel – Alerts, reminders, very simple, not really 2-way communications; “Honey, pick-up some milk on the way home”

2 – A (mis) communication / conversation channel – This is that multi-person, let’s talk email, with threads hard to decipher.

3 – An information / marketing channel – Here, read all of this great stuff I aggregated just for you!

4 – The best way 90% of the population know how to share a file – Within the corporation, this is getting better – but we are a long way from solving the problem.

5 – The ‘I have lost my password’ recovery channel – With the number of sites we all use, come-on admit it, this is a once a week use case for you.

6 – The ’10 best ways to get the best use of this new all social platform’ message/aggregation

For those of you who have Gmail, this is basically what it is now. The filter allows us to put the important messages up top; those are usually the communication type of messages. These are conversations, usually with people or contacts of some importance. The messaging channel often lives up on top of the heap as well, especially this time of year. These are short notifications; maybe an SMS type message or an order confirmation. The actual length of the message might be a little longer, but the essences is that of a short notification, with supporting data. Finally, it is what people use to share files – there in lies its greatest strength and its greatest weakness – and why we cannot seem to stop using it.

So, What is all the fuss about?

The core issue is that the channel is misused and often abused. Email is a lousy collaboration tool, but the use of email for collaboration is extremely high, much higher than people want to admit and certainly higher than it should be. This is the area where people would like the predictions to come true. Sometime this past week, I sent out a note on Twitter where I challenged myself to reduce my personal use of email by 50%. Some of my network peers challenged me back asking what if a prospect wants to email me; or all prospects want to use email? Well, the answer of course is that will certainly not be a problem, I will use email as the channel that my customers want to use.

Going back to my point above that Email is really going to be further split into multiple channels, no question. Do not confuse the technology with the functional job getting done. Let me ask a question, if I am looking at something in an email client, does that really mean that I am using email? If you read a Twitter DM using the Twitter interface, then it is just that a DM, but what if you read it using Gmail (like I do?) Does that make it an Email. The key point is that for the next number of years, we are each going to find our own balance, we will all be different, and it will change quickly. Many platforms start with email notification, hoping to drop them and keep you within the platform (think Facebook, Twitter). Some of the best, latest and greatest social (CRM) platforms have begun to use email to encourage usage (Nimble, Linkedin).

Why is Email such a challenge?

My point was reinforcedrecently, regarding the complexities of email and the need to consider best use. A long email is like someone talking for 3-5 minutes, going through multiple points, often building upon each other without the opportunity to ask questions and request clarification.  We have all read (or most have anyway) that emotion does not translate in email. What about culture, that is completely lost in many more ways than emotion. The approach someone takes to communication of an idea or concept might simply turn people off (which I have seen). If the email goes on and on and the reader stops – that is a problem, no?

Another example is something as simple as trying to coordinate a flight and schedules. In my mind I had communicated what needed to be done, and what the potential issues were going to be. The recipient responded with some thoughts and ideas that did not align with the potential issues – they were issues. Who has the problem here? Me, not really a question. In the end, it is the perception of what was communicated not the design (sounds like customer service now). The answer was simply to pick-up the phone, problem solved.

BTW – You cannot answer just one email, you have to go through the whole list, I mean have you ever tried eating just one M&M?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Strategic Ambiguity

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Whether it is intentional or not, given by pundits, professionals or proselytizers ‘advice’ is too often vague, fluffy and/or shallow. Websites, blogs and articles are filled with key words suitable for Google but lost on most humans. In the domain where I read, think and strategize; customer service, this is especially annoying.  To be clear, I am not talking about those who are skilled in the one or two lines of ‘wow’, which can motivate and inject value; those I rather enjoy.

The reality is that being direct is considered rude, harsh words unprofessional and honesty talked about but practiced only by convenience. We tiptoe around issues, more concerned with positioning, politics and positivity over efficiency and progress. When work submitted is unsatisfactory, we spend twice as much time trying to figure out how to say “this is really crap” in 3 paragraphs worth of ‘politeness’ as we should do. With respect to customer service,  the customer is ‘always right’, however there are degrees of correctness. I am not promoting rude behavior, simply raising awareness.

Enter the Euphemism

A Euphemism is the word or phrase chosen when the one you really need might not pass the ‘Mom test’ – you know, the ‘could I say that at the dinner table in front of mom’ word. In the business world the issue is not quite a ‘dinner table’ issue, but it does have a parallel – ‘could I say it in front of my CEO’. These are the terms and discussion topics that you try to avoid because they are too direct or contentious. Instead of saying “The server crashed” we start with “Due to…” and it ends with “…we have confidence the issue will be resolved shortly”. When it would have been awesome if only once, the answer was “I spilled my Double Mocha Super Grande on the power supply”!

As companies and individuals, we are told to be transparent and authentic – which are worthy goals. But, come on, transparency is the portal to the staging environment where the view is scripted and hardly authentic. The gatekeeper is getting caught or being embarrassed into conformity (If I have high confidence I can get away with it, I will try). If we were truly being authentic, we would use the phrase “none of your business” much more often; how is that for ambiguity. When the CMOs are asked why something is done, the answer should simply be “because I want people to buy more of our stuff!” Is there really any other answer? Of course there is, but when we net it out, that is pretty close.

Getting Closer to Your Customer

This single phrase, the mantra of the CEO, is bandied about a lot these days, and it is becoming almost as bad the word ‘social’.  Put the word ‘social’ in front of almost anything and all corporate ills are cured <hyperbole>. What exactly does getting closer to your customers mean? Does it mean listen more, talk more, sell more, Co-create or infatuate? What is the path to getting closer to your customers and the results to the bottom line? Do you want to get closer to your customer or customers? Do not answer too fast, spend a minute thinking about it. All we need to do is be customer centric, right?

Social, as a descriptor, is getting in the way of progress towards actually getting closer.  The reason is that it simply has too many definitions past and present. People will try to make the leap that we are able get closer to our customers by being more social. What do you think? How much about getting closer is about technology? As the size of the organization increases, technology will be involved at some level, of course. The key is to use technology to mediate the communication (or channel), not dis-intermediate the customer. If I pick up the phone or talk to my customers face to face, I will understand them better. In other words, getting closer to your customer will involve a social activity but might not involve a social technology.

In the context of business, social is different from social in the high school café. Social is really about sitting down and having a drink, playing a round of golf, going shopping, being human and listening actively. The meaning of social has not changed, nor should it. Getting closer to your customer takes time, energy and patience; there is no magic bullet. I apologize if I did not give specific instructions, nor a how-to guide. You know your customers better than anyone else, consider that as you build your customer strategy and those who will advise you on how to get it done.

Strategic Ambiguity is really about doing more with less, that really is a win-win. If you are an advice giver, do you have what you need to back up your claims? If you are searching for insights and are the recipient, are the pundits clear enough to pass the sniff test?