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No Beginning, No Middle and No End

June 24, 2013 3 comments

When I was growing up, my dad got up, went to the office and worked, came home put his brief case near the door, where he picked it up on the way to office the next day.  I work from home,  I never leave work and I do not have a brief case. My workday does not have a beginning, middle, nor end – this is not a complaint, nor is this a work life balance post. Work and life are “integrated” (thank you Paul G for the epiphany). Relationships are integrated, friendships are integrated, nothing is just one thing anymore, connection points just keep increasing – That is my way of thinking about the ‘Internet of things’.

My conversations on Social Networks channel hop; from Twitter to Blogs, Linkedin, Facebook, Skype, Phone, Text, Email and Real-life and back again. They can start and stop on one channel and simply move on to the next. Conversations no longer have a beginning, a middle nor an end. I take part in many conversations, with many people and the diversity of topics is awesome. Some people are part of 3, 4 or 10 different conversations. That said, I need something (aka software) to help refresh me in regards to a particular conversation with a specific person. This is my Internet of things.

Buying Cycle; Sorry, no Beginning, Middle or End

On the consumer side, I am in the market for a car the moment I drive off the lot with a new car. Why don’t car dealers realize this fact? I am the same way with Computers, Phones, Cameras and Watches – I admit it. Do I always act upon the ‘urge’ – no! I have my first new car (not minvan or family SUV) in 25 years. I get a new phone more often than most, not as frequently as some. On the camera side, should my wife be reading this, I will pass on this part of the conversation (hint: she probably wishes it had an end).

It is very hard to figure out exactly where in the buying cycle a person, prospect, buyer might be, why is that? Likely, because they do not know! As buyers know a whole lot more about you than they used to in years past, I am not so sure they know any more about themselves. Buyers are really well informed on what you can do, but I am less convinced that they equally aware of what they need. Their needs are driven by what you can do, until they really think about it. Because, this is backwards and it is a vicious cycle.

A byproduct of the consumerization of IT is that IT are starting to act like consumers!

(The best image for this post would be Esteban Kolsky’s‘s infinity loop / continuum, but too many others have borrowed it without giving credit. I will just give credit and not use it)

Enterprise Customer Experience, A Convergence

January 22, 2013 5 comments

Customer Experience is the superset of sensations, emotions and perceptions felt by your customers before, during and after product or service use. Enterprise Customer Experience represents the people, internal processes and technology required to listen, guide and engage your customers in the digital world; all towards creating better and enhanced experiences. Designing positive experiences begins with understanding needs and wants. Seems logical right? How else can you understand what your customer’s wants and needs, if you do not listen first?

The very next part is to prove that you are listening, if actions do not result, then it is not really listening at all. Yes, in this day and age, you do need to provide proof. For, example, if you do not plan to take any actions based on what you hear, are you really listening? That said, there are many ways to show that you are listening. The first is transparency, allowing people to see inside the organization where they can witness what you are doing, often at their bequest. The second, more interesting way is to specifically give people what they are looking for, as in information, service or a product enhancement.

To customers, being open means more than simply looking through the window, but being able to walk through the front door and participate. An engaging conversation is one where all voices are heard and respected and no one is simply listening, waiting to talk. In order to improve customer experience, you, your team and the whole organization needs to convert the listening to information that can be used to collaborate, co-create and engage at a personal level with your customers. This will take analyzing the data, providing relevant, consistent content, where and when your customers want it, need it and are expecting it.

It is time to move beyond what needs to be done and why it needs to be done.  Some parts of your organization are more advanced than others, some are ready and some are not.  The starting point should be clear. What is less clear is exactly HOW to progress in a uniform fashion from understanding what needs to be done, to actually doing it.  It is time to progress from departmental Social Media initiatives to organizational digital communication programs. These programs should have defined and coordinated objectives. As the team and understanding of the technology mature, Social CRM is next logical step, with both business and technical integration and a digitally aware customer data model.  Internally, CRM will have certain objectives, but it is time to add customer centricity, directed individual engagement and customer collaboration to those objectives. Finally, the end-game, Enterprise Customer Experience. Just my name for it, I suppose, but it seems to fit.

I put together a few slides where I tried to visualize some of my thoughts. The copy is taken from a white paper we just released as well. If you would like a copy of the white paper, please just send me an email mitch.lieberman – at – dri-global.com and I am happy to forward it along.

Social Media Initiatives are too often:

  • Departmental and Uncoordinated,
  • Loosely defined and with soft qualitative objectives,
  • Lacking strong guidance that aligns with corporate vision
  • Have little or no Governance or Oversight
  • Driven by metrics with unproven value (like, follow, +)

Now to progress from disjointed efforts to coordinated and structured efforts,

Social Communication Programs that are characterized by:

  • Multiple, linked digital initiatives,
  • Defined and Coordinated goals (across departments),
  • Agreed to processes for Content,
  • Modestly Mature Governance,
  • Data Capture and Burgeoning Analytics,
  • Tighter agility to act upon lessons learned.

It takes maturation of the organization to make this progression. It is important to not that up until now the discussion is much less about technology than it is about people and process.  Once the organization has matured, it is then possible to reach enhanced customer experience through Social CRM by further integrating more baseline technology, carefully and methodically.

Social CRM sets the course for creating better Customer Experiences, through:

  • Coordinated Customer Facing Communication Programs,
  • Both Technical and Business Level Integration,
  • Advanced Analytics that Improve Customer Insights,
  • Mature, Modern, Customer Data Model,
  • Personal, Customer level Interactions and Engagement.

Now things start to get very interesting. Just when everyone was comfortable with the buzzwords, we are now ready to dump the term ‘Social’. The team realizes that social is a characteristic of people. The term is dispensed with and for the purposes of Customer Experience, the CRM platform is now in charge of the digital data and used for specific purposes.

It is time to execute CRM, across the Enterprise:

  • Data, information and knowledge is universally accessible,
  • Content and digital assets are consistent and shared,
  • Back-office to front-office Collaboration creates efficiency,
  • Customer facing processes are repeatable and embedded,
  • Community and Customer Collaboration are part of the platform.

Finally, it is time to complete the

Enterprise Customer Experience vision:

  • Customer centricity is a reality,
  • Directed engagement at the level of the individual
  • Analytics are predictive,
  • Customer expectations are understood and met,
  • Communications are conversational and collaborative,
  • The organization is highly collaborative,
  • Organizational culture is mature and ready.

The Space Between

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Graphic credit to the excellent designers at DRI

In reviewing the Gartner Magic Quadrant a few weeks ago (A review I would not call ‘positive’), I started thinking about the ‘hard to articulate’ components of Social CRM. In techno-speak, we would call this integration, but, integration of what exactly? Many of you might know that I am a bit of an academic, so I dug a bit deeper to see how I might make some sense of where the CRM space is going. What I am getting at is that the hard part, the part in need of evaluation and work is the people and process part. Tell someone to “engage” and what exactly do you mean? It is the part of the process that happens in between the technology, the decision to engage and the conversation. In the real world, we have all spoken first and did the thinking second. With technology, we can do the same, only faster and more efficiently.

Every good space must be filled

As humans, we hate to think of a void, or a vacuum, there must be something there, right? When there is silence, we must talk (anyone with kids understands this!!). Artists absolutely know the value of white space, most of the rest of us do not. In technology, the cool thing about ‘the space between’ is that this is where innovation happens.  We do not consider a process to be cumbersome until it takes a lot of energy and effort to get it done. It does not take a lot of energy and effort to get it done until there are lots of steps and manual processes. Techies then try to create an application or a process to make the manual steps easier, automation, efficiency and process control. The problem is that certain things still take a human to do.

Not sure what you think, but I think it is really cool that Google is trying to figure out how to automate driving a car. I would like to see that in New York City, maybe a Yellow Cab, yeah, right, not so fast (I will choose to skip the early adoption phase for that one). OK, how about something simpler, like responding to a person who has a question? A couple weeks ago I went through the help system for a major service provider and I could just tell when the chat responses were canned, it was really annoying. They were not bad responses, nor wrong either, they just felt awkward. In the end, my problem was solved and I did not spend a lot of time on hold. I suppose I should be happy, but I am writing about the awkwardness of the experience, so the jury is still out.

OK, what is the point?

Customer experience is the space between the process you designed and the use of the product or the interactions with the system. Internally, the space between is the efficiency, coordination, collaboration; interactions within the system. Externally, the space between is hard, near impossible to control. It can be guided, lead, but not controlled. The space between is an area of uncertainty, doubt and likely internal arguments. When you begin to measure it, to try to understand it, then it is no longer the space between, it is the end-point, an interaction and something is lost. To understand more about what I am doing these days, please check out DRI.

(No need to cue the Dave Mathews Band)

The Social CRM Non-Revolution

October 29, 2012 1 comment

Organizations big and small are feeling pressure to get everything “right.” Social interactions are public, tweets are scrutinized, Facebook posts are challenged, networks like Pinterest Google + are growing rapidly, evolving daily. In this environment of open and public communications transparency is not really an option, it just is – get used to it. Social CRM is an opportunity, scary and daunting. Social CRM is a bridge to the connected customer.   It is part strategy, part process and yes, technology; all in support of an organizations goals and objectives. Social CRM is an enabler an extension of CRM. it allows companies to truly engage customers, resolve problems, recognize new revenue streams and gather detailed customer behavioral data. Social CRM, as an initiative will fail if it is considered revolutionary. It is transformative, an evolutionary step towards customer centricity. The complexities should not be taken lightly, as joining social media and CRM, is more nuanced than simply more channels, more rules and random best practices.

Part of the confusion comes from looking at social as a new phenomenon, as opposed to what it really is – a way to extend customer communications and interactions across new and diverse channels. Being social is as old as civilization itself. What is really new is that in the information age, in a services based economy, companies now need to listen and pay attention. The consequences to ignoring (ignorance?) will be harsh. The good news is that companies should be able predict how their social media activities will work by looking at how well they incorporated earlier technologies into their CRM discipline. For example, how well a company integrated email into its CRM and marketing channels will provide an indication of how easily Twitter, Chat and other programs will be incorporated. One of the bigger challenges will be who (which department) will “own” the social channels. Here is the answer; IT owns the infrastructure, the process is shared across the company.

What Now?

Looking at social media channels as an extension of existing CRM makes some sense; but it is not the way that many companies are incorporating social media into their daily routines.  More than half of all organizations have adopted the use of some form of social media, intending to use it in some sort of social CRM practice (Customer Service for example): >50% adopted Twitter and nearly 60% adopted Facebook. The success of Social CRM has less to do with the size of the company than with how seasoned the CRM and marketing teams are at extending their processes with newer technologies. Social CRM is about being human and scaling the company personality. Social is different when it is applied to Sales versus Customer Service or Marketing, it has to be different. This is why there is no need for a Social CRM Magic Quadrant!

Recent data suggests that larger companies (more than 1000 employees) have been using social CRM for 2+ years, but smaller companies are quickly catching up. What is really interesting is the finding that there is no “standard” method for social CRM and social CRM lead generation success. Companies with comfort and practice in integrating new media to traditional channels are the most successful, but how to turn a Tweet into a sale varies extensively by company, with other factors, such as target buyer demographics coming into play.

What is clear is that the companies who can successfully extend their CRM practices to include social media channels (in process and execution) will be at the forefront of truly leveraging ‘social’ for business benefit. Being able to tap into user behavior and communicating with them in a smart way, such as offering targeted services or information relating to a customer’s usage patterns, is the end goal of forward looking CRM. However, customers are not expecting this level of service. Customers don’t always expect an answer to their Tweet are leery of  an offer related to their customer profile (or worse, their Facebook profile), so caution is advised. Consumers and buyers will be expecting a high level of service in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years; now is the time to get the channels ready.

This is my goal with launching DRI US – the execution, getting it right and helping others figure out how to do it also.

Regardless of how companies merge social media into CRM and other channels, one point is clear: social media gives customers a stronger voice and way to engage. Companies now have a way to leverage social channels, but they can also make social channels a powerful way for customers, advocates, investors and others to interact with their brand and become ambassadors. The emergence of Google+, Pinterest and others provide an almost hybrid combination of social media and brand visibility that can allow a powerful channel for awareness. Companies should look for ways to include these channels into their marketing, advertising and CRM programs, approaching them from the angle of how customers would first enter and engage. Those companies that are among the first to do this will be innovators in the continued emergence of social channels.

Do Customers Want or Use Social Channels for Service?

May 11, 2012 1 comment

Customer Service using Social Media Channels is a nascent discipline, which is good, because fewer customers than most people think are actually using it – but its time will come.  Just look at the usage from the customers perspective, barely 17%. American Express and ECHO just published some findings that paint an interesting picture. I would also challenge some of the results, or methods, or both. Not because I know better, but because I am confused about what exactly they are asking and how they asked. When these results are compared with some recent research (company perspective) I conducted with  thinkJar, there is a bit of a gap between what companies are spending time and money on, and what their customers are actually using.

OK, I am going to dissect the above a bit, and ask others to tell me I am wrong. My take on the data is that while 17% said “yes”, only 1/2 of those used social to “seek a response from [the] company to help [you] with a service issue”. It is obvious that is was not a ‘select one choice’ question, more likely a ‘select all that apply’, which makes piecing it together that much more complex. Even then, these are certainly not all customer service issues. For example, ‘praise’ is certainly not an ‘issue’, but could be tracked, possibly recognized. My point here is that no matter how you look at this data, it is 17% or lower, who are using social channels for something most people would call “customer support”.

A secondary issue I am having – it is all about me, sorry – is the stated methodology. I am hoping someone can help me out: “Research was completed online among a random sample of 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18+. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between February 22-29, 2012.” If this was truly an “online” survey, then the results are skewed. Meaning, when you ask people who are online if they use a digital channel you will get different results than if you stand on the street or call on the phone. But ECHO are smart folks, so I must be missing something. Any ideas?

Preferred Channel depends upon Complexity

Yes, Yes, Yes – Absolutely! It is beyond complexity too, it also includes the level of personal data involved. The complexity part makes sense, more on that in a moment. From a data perspective, at one end of the spectrum is ‘none’ the other end is that there is a social security number involved. It could be the simplest of issues, but if a customer needs to provide very private data, they will use the phone. According to the research, for a simple inquiry, ‘website or email’ was the top choice, at 38%. Now, I am going to pick on ECHO again, just a bit. There is a pretty big difference between a website view (aka; self-service) and email (please help me), but who am I to criticize? The major point to note here is that ‘Social Networking Site’ at 7% was tied for least preferred channel – even for simple!

As an inquiry becomes more complex, the preferred channel transitions to the higher touch, synchronous choices, such as face to face; 24%, up from 11%, and phone; 38%, up from 16% and (“speaking with a ‘real’ person” – love that). In the ‘more’ complex range, ‘website or email’ drops to 15%. No surprise, ‘Social Networking Site’ was tied for least preferred; 3%. Finally, for “difficult” inquiries, phone jumps to 46%, face to face up to 30%; Social finally has sole position as least preferred, at 3%. This is probably not a surprise. Is it?

Conclusion, of sorts

There is some interesting data hidden in the AMEX/ECHO report. There might even be some interesting information and a few insights, but you need to use this along with your own customer data. I wrote recently about trusting data versus your gut, and this certainly applies here. It is also very clear that while customer are increasingly using social channels for different reasons, the traditional channels are not going anywhere any time soon. Forrester data suggests that people often do not start on social channels, they start on traditional channels, switching only when the experience is poor. Are companies driving this initiative? Who let the Genie out of the bottle and who is trying to put it back in?

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?

Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt? You Decide

August 22, 2011 2 comments

Friend Graham Hill (@grahamhill) took the time to share his thoughts regarding the Morton’s Steakhouse ‘ Surprise Airport Delivery’ last week. I will add my $.02 throughout.

There is an interesting true story doing the rounds of customer service blogs at the moment. In it, Peter Shankman a customer service writer, blogger and regular customer at Morton’s Steakhouse jokingly tweeted to Morton’s that he would like a Porterhouse waiting for him upon landing at Newark airport after a long day on the road. Much to his surprise, when he landed that is exactly what was waiting: a uniformed waiter complete with a steak dinner, some side-orders and silver cutlery. Naturally, Peter was delighted and blogged about it immediately. The twitterverse got hold of it and now everybody is talking about Morton’s, about their greatest/worst experiences at Morton’s and more importantly, putting this forward as a great example of customer service.

But is it really customer service? Or is it something entirely different?

Let’s dissect what happened a little and see. Morton’s is a medium-priced steak restaurant (a three course dinner for two costs $110). Peter is a regular customer at Morton’s. He is also a customer service writer with books about ‘outrageous PR stunts that work’ and social customer service, and he has 110,000 twitter followers. He jokingly said he would like a steak upon landing at Newark but didn’t expect it to be delivered. He was clearly delighted when it was. To delight Peter, once Morton’s had decided to respond, it had to monitor Peter’s flight status, time the cooking of a steak dinner to perfection, get it the 35 miles to Newark airport on time and take a waiter out of restaurant duty to do it. Clearly, the cost to Morton’s of providing this delightful experience would probably take tens, if not hundreds of extra visits by Peter, over and above the ones he would normally make, for them to ever have a hope of recouping the money spent.

As Steve Vargo pointed out in a recent exchange about over-delivering to customers, this is a clear case of hugely over delivering against both expectations and desires. Over-delivering against expectations is a good thing as it anchors satisfaction and loyalty, but over-delivering against desires is not. It is costly, economically unsustainable and quickly loses its effect. All in all, as Peter didn’t expect Morton’s to respond at all, let alone to deliver a steak dinner to the airport, I don’t really see this as customer service.

[MJL – It is sometimes extremely valuable to over deliver to customers. The over delivery does need to be able to live a life of its own, particular to that one customer, possibly a little word of mouth, In other words, would Morton’s have done this if Peter was simply a very good customer?]

So if it wasn’t customer service, what was it?

The clue lies in the title of Peter’s book; ‘Can we Do That?! – Outrageous PR Stunts that Work and Why Your Company Needs Them’. Although Morton’s steak stunt failed as an act of customer service, it succeeded magnificently as a PR stunt. For the cost of a steak dinner, a tank of petrol and three hours of a waiter’s time, Morton’s got the kind of positive publicity that marketing budget’s just can’t buy. The story was picked up by the twittersphere, influential blogs like the Huffington Post and even the foreign press

Morton’s clearly scored a coup with their steak stunt. But it only worked because of who Peter is and because of his social influence. Maybe they have been reading Peter’s book and in a delicious (no pun intended) irony decided to respond in this way. Whatever their motivations, even if it was bad customer service, it was brilliant marketing. Hats off to Morton’s for having the guts to try what at the end of the day was a risky PR stunt. It worked spectacularly. Maybe I should read Peter’s book.

[MJL – Like the Social disasters, which have become highly public during the past few years, the secondary question is will this have a long term impact? If yes, will the long term impact be found outside writers and bloggers? If the masses truly believe this is a customer service win, the net impact will be negative, as this is not a sustainable practice.]

What do you think? Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt?