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.
Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them. I have been stating this for a couple years, as many people I know have also stated and written about. You may or may not agree with this, as it has seemed like a bit of a political debate, without some really solid data to back-up either perspective. IBM recently published the result of 2010 study, which revealed some interesting data points. I will be cautious, as data can be interpreted differently from person to person, but this study is grounded in primary research, published by the IBM Institute for Business Value and my analysis of the report suggests that it is worth considering.
Consumers were asked what they do when then interact with businesses or brands via social media. I am not sure which is more surprising to me, that being part of a community and feeling connected are near the bottom, or that purchase and discount are at the top. To back up a little bit, results also published in the same report found that only 23% of consumers, who go to social media sites, go to interact with brands. They go to interact with family and friends (70%). Another interesting point is that while 23% are interested in interacting with brands 22% actually go to write a blog, that is a finding which I am going to need to think on for a bit. Finally,
“just over half of consumers surveyed say they do not engage with brands via social media at all (55 percent).”
The Business Side Gap
The business perspective is more interesting, and frankly more valuable to anyone who happens across this post. The simple reason is that a business needs to care about what the customers are saying and doing, not what they ‘think’ is right or worse, portrayed by someone else who told them the ‘right’ thing to do. OK businesses, take a look at the listing your peers gave when asked the why they thought customers were following their companies on social sites. The data clearly states that businesses believe much more strongly that consumers interact with them to feel part of the community – guess what, they really don’t. The consumer wants something more.
“Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting. Interactions with businesses are not the same as interactions with friends.”
The gap is pretty wide, almost as wide as the current NFL players versus owners. But, in this case it is not a matter of compromise and working to get both sides to see the other perspective. The only real opinion that matters is what your customers think, correct?
What about Advocacy?
I am not sure about you, but I have seen a lot of Senior Executives talk about “getting closer” to their customers, partners, ecosystem, prospects (IBM 2010 Global CEO Study – 88% want to get closer to the customer). In order to answer the war cry from the C-suite, marketers and executives (from this survey) believe the answer is social media engagement. However, the data from the consumer side suggests otherwise – or best it is inconclusive. The issue seems to be that you (company) are already close to your advocates; 64% of stated that passion for a brand needs to exists prior to interacting with that brand.
“In other words, consumers who engage already have an affinity for that brand or company, and mere participation via social media may not necessarily result in increased loyalty or spending. But a recommendation from a friend or family member could make a difference.”
The answer to the riddle seems to be to encourage consumers to share their experiences with friends and family. Make that easy and you now have a better chance of encouraging those at the tipping point to become advocates for your brand. I am not going to go retro and start defining Social CRM, been there, done that! I am going to suggest that you need to start thinking like a customer, outside-in, not inside out. It is not about control of the conversation, it is about mutually beneficial value. A fair exchange. Social media is part of something we call the customer engagement continuum, aka consistency of interactions and touch points independent of the channel used. A friend shared a term with me early this week which seems to fit “Reverse Logistics” – to me, it fits here because the perspective that matters is the customers.
Mea Culpa (March 24th, 2011 – Update)
There are great comments on multiple locations on this topic. I am most appreciative for all the comments. If you would like to see what others are saying, elsewhere, here are few links:
Twitter is an interesting beast, that is for sure. I am sure a few (or more) will suggest that it is none of the above. Or, better, that it is a monumental waste of time.
The nature of Twitter is that everything is open for the world to see, that does beg the question of how best does Twitter fit into your Customer Service processes? Some of the challenges are actually a bit technical in nature; Twitter is actually a Service Platform*, which acts like a Protocol, and should be treated like a Channel. In order to get there, maybe a little bit of review is in order. My review is timed for an event, close to home, where JetBlue and Comcast are planning to present to a small group here in Burlington, VT. The interest lies in the fact that by one measure, JetBlue is considered tops in Loyalty, yet are almost 3 times as likely (as the baseline) to see a negative experience show up on Twitter.
The question I began to think about a long time ago is whether by making a channel such as Twitter readily available, companies were ‘creating a monster’ or ‘letting the genie out of the bottle’ and wishing that they had not. This is very Inside Out thinking, and non-customer centric. I first published a post in October 2009 titled “Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?” (link). Some parts of the article were a bit tongue in cheek, as Twitter in the support arena was quite new. In that article I suggested the following statement to be a truth:
The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would be solved timely and to their satisfaction.
Almost a year and a half later, I am revisiting the same issue, to see if things have changed, or not. I also suggested that using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Customer do not have confidence that their issues will be addressed when they contact a company or register a complaint. There was some good discussions regarding the post. No, not everyone was in full agreement either. There have been a lot really smart people (smarter than me) thinking about this issue, now 18 months further along. That said, while people have been thinking about it, data to support or to counter the arguments is hard to find. I am not convinced anyway. Looking at this problem from the more important customer perspective, if your customers are there, then you need to be there to, right? the comment from Parature hits the mark:
Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored.
Core to this discussion is trying to figure out exactly; what is Twitter? During the recent history that is modern customer service, the channels of communication have been controlled by the organization (for the most part, of course there are exceptions); In-Person, Phone, Letter, Fax, IVR, Email, Website, Chat. These are protocols/channels, which a company decided to offer, or not. Unless something went really wrong, and it made the news, or trade press of some sort, the results of communication were ‘contained’. With that in mind, Esteban Kolsky had the following to say on the previous post:
Any channel a customer chooses to contact an organization is a channel the organization should be listening on – or have a clearly stated and well-known reason not to (example: you cannot contact your broker about a trade via email due to latencies)…. Despite the novelty behind it Twitter remains a simple channel you add to your lineup of channels to serve customers. If you understand the basic rules of engagement for the channel, and how to deliver value best (e.g. tweeting the answer in 14-consecutive-tweets versus posting a link to somewhere) to your customers, then you should be able to deliver against those expectations – after you set them at the right level.
We have not Answered the Question
As noted above, Twitter is not a Customer Service Platform – it is only part of a Customer Service Platform, maybe. That does not mean people do not use it as such. Coca-Cola is not billed as a rust removal system either, just saying. Some believe that Twitter should be an open protocol, but that is not likely to happen either. Therefore, a channel of communications is what is left, that is what Twitter is, and how it should be treated. This does not take anything away from it, just calling it like I see it. Your customers are there, and therefore you need to be there as well. Some old rules are broken though, unless I am missing something important. For example, if JetBlue has that many negative issues, then their loyalty number could not be that high if it takes “12 good things for every bad”.
The follow-up question is how well is this (or any) channel is integrated into the rest of your customer service processes? According to some recent research (Brent Leary analysis), 35% of companies surveyed said “Yes” when asked “Is your social media/social networking fully integrated into traditional customer service problem-resolution processes?” I need to be direct and question that particular statistic, as I have yet to run into many (any?) companies at all where the processes are truly integrated from end to end. The simple point is about a technical challenge or limitation, your customers will know if they systems are integrated, or not. Even so, 65% of companies recognize that social is not integrated, therefore each is an island of process and of information. Your customers deserve better than this, no? I spend a lot of time thinking rhough these types of issues for Sword Ciboodle and our customers.
(*For the technical minded in the group, Twitter seems to be tending towards a service, offered by a private company, as a 3rd parties can typically build on top of a platform, but those rules seemed to be changing as well (who can and will make changes)).
I wanted to see if I could write an entire post using an iPhone, for some reason, it seemed an interesting way to think about SMS, (the protocol behind text messaging) as a channel communication. I did get the first 250 words ‘penned’ on the device, but failed to complete the task. I wanted to learn more about SMS, both technically and culturally. SMS/texting is a bit Jekyll and Hyde, as it seems to be among the most private form of communication available, yet, at the same time it is extremely social (ask a teenager), there in lies the intrigue. During my journey, the most consistent thing I found, was inconsistency! In my current role with Sword Ciboodle, spending time thinking about intelligence in the contact center consumes a lot of my time – Where does SMS fit? Do you have the answer?
I started my exploration with a query on Twitter. My simple question was “If someone hands you a business card, there is implied permission to call/email. What about texting? Why?” As some responses began to come in, my curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder about the broader SMS topic as well as where this peculiar channel fits into the customer service as well as the Social CRM realm. I then began to think about forms (requests for data online and off) and wondered if by giving a mobile number, there is an implied permission to use SMS. I expanded my research to the usual places (Google and Wikipedia) as well as to request the assistance of a few good friends.
SMS is often like ‘phoning from under the table’. Were you ever in a meeting and it was running over time, and you had to SMS your next meeting, or SMS the person chairing the meeting so you could get out? That’s the sort of back channel, back door to the main conversation that SMS enabled. It’s not the main conversation, it augments the main conversation. Kids do this all the time. Five kids in a huddle are talking to one another face to face, and another ten people via SMS, at the same time, and they are often in the same conversation. – Paul Sweeney, Friend and Head of Innovation VoiceSage
Paul’s comments really struck a nerve, mostly on the wide and varied use of SMS. His point on ‘augmenting’ the main conversation is a good and important one. In this case, it is like a back channel, with urgency and immediacy attached. I am not sure about your phone, but SMS seems to take priority, popping up and interrupting everything else. That said, I fear that we are no closer to defining how exactly SMS fits into a channel, social or communication strategy. Still struggling, I decided to reach out to another friend, Barry Dalton, Senior Vice President of Technology, for Telerx. Barry hit on a couple of excellent points, and finally I can being to see how the pieces fit together:
When I call you, whether you’re a business acquaintance or dear friend, you have the option of picking up or letting the call go to vm [voice mail]. SMS does not afford the receiver the same control. Have you ever sent a text and not gotten a response? What was your feeling? The sender knows the text went through. The expectation is that it will be responded to, pretty immediately. Whereas a voice mail left has a lesser expectation of immediate, or any, response. So, in that sense, with that expectation from the sender, I think it is viewed as more invasive and thus more personal. As for the person to company, its not so much the intimacy as it is the expectation of immediate response.
One particular point struck me, and that is that SMS is more invasive, it is not only push, but it is push NOW! As Barry highlights, there is a bit of uncertainty associated with not receiving a reply to a text. With family, the order is; Are they ok? Is the phone off? Am I being ignored, how rude! With business associates, it is the same list, just in reverse. As Paul stated “It retains those characteristics of being “of the moment”, thus the etiquette that has evolved.” Though I am not quite sure what the etiquette has evolved to, that is the question. Barry added some great and important points. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did spend some time on a Skype call with Graham Hill on this topic and Graham was of like mind here – “When you give out your mobile number, there is not an expectation that people will initiate the conversation via text”.
A bit of background and some data
According to Wikipedia, SMS / text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, with 2.4 billion active users, or 74% of all mobile phone subscribers. Yes, that is both bigger than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined and more far reaching. The popularity is greater in emerging markets as well.
Starting with a little compare and contrast:
- For India: Mobile phone usage is (752 Million as of Feb 2011, with a 65% penetration) larger than the Internet usage which is (100 Million as of December 2010, 8.5% penetration). Various sources suggest that SMS usage in India is about 60% **.
- For the United States: Mobile phone usage sits at about 293 Million mobile phone users, with a 93% penetration. The number of Internet users is about 240 Million, with about a 77% penetration. Percentage of US subscribers who use SMS (versus number of messages) is unclear to me at this time.
- Both countries have about 40% Internet usage from their mobile devices, but the raw numbers are obviously quite different.
Getting back to SMS, while mobile phone talk usage use increased 1.8x between June 2005 to June 2010, the number of text messages sent in the US increased 37x in the same time period (CTIA). As I alluded to above, I believe SMS usage is skewed, especially in the US and hard to put percentages around, unless you slice and dice the data across many variables (age, gender, education, location, business…) SMS has an interesting history as well. SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower, which is the basis of the 163 character limitation. “SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower. This is a channel that the telecom operators need to have, its sine qua non – an inescapable cost thats already written off.” (Prem Kumar) The control channel is something that is needed, existed already, is underutilized bandwidth and did not cost the carriers anything extra – think about that when you consider your bill.
The Task at hand, Where Does SMS Fit?
I am not talking about ‘Social’ everthing , I am talking about communications, protocol and etiquette. When someone hands you a business card, the current standard is phone and email. Often, there are two or more phone numbers, office, mobile and maybe fax. More sophisticated folks may use Google voice, or some such technology, giving only one number. When a business has your mobile number they need explicit permission to use it for marketing purposes. According to Graham, businesses have not fully grasped the potential of SMS. My perspective, is that they are focusing on all of the other applications which sit higher on the stack of the mobile device. SMS is a perfect medium to drive a call to action. The character limitation is a perfect ‘excuse’ not to include details, because you cannot actually do it.
Where and how should SMS fit into the overall customer experience? SMS seems like a powerful yet simplistic communication protocol, which everyone with a mobile device has access to (though in the US there is an extra charge). It is fast, and works through walls (you know, those building where phones barely work, yes SMS works). There are some fantastic uses of SMS:
- Your car is ready, please come by and pick it up, thank you for your business
- You are nearing the limit on your <insert many things>, would you like to add to the balance now?
- We are running a special on double mocha lattes, please stop by, show the attached code
- Here is your boarding card sir/madam, just use the attached QR code to board your flight.
Notice that the main use is outbound, SMS, in the context of business to consumer does not appear to be (not in the US anyway) a synchronous, by directional form of customer communications. I would like to hear a good example of a customer using an inbound SMS to take action. Send ’em if you got ’em! What are the boundaries of your mobile number? Would you expect a new acquaintance to send you a text message? What if an online form asks for a mobile number? Say for your kids school, the cable company, the electric company? Is the answer the same?
Yes, I am asking a lot questions in this particular post. Some friends made some interesting comments when I asked the question on Twitter the other night. Barry suggested that Customer Service has skipped SMS, which I’m some industries is true. But, there is value. A special thanks for friends listed below as well as those through Twitter who offered feedback during my exploration. I would like hear your thoughts!
My apologies for the delay in this post, I meant to get it done sooner. As I said in my previous post after the RightNow user conference, I was able to spend some time with customers, end-users and practitioners in order to understand a bit more not only about the specifics of their success, but how and why. In speaking with different folks, I decided to take a different approach in the discussion, wanting to probe a bit on the changing culture of the call center during the past 15 years. This proved to be a very interesting tact, as the culture has changed. Specifically, 15 years ago, knowledge workers within the call center (or contact center if you prefer), had good verbal communication skills, but lacked computer savvy. Now, things are basically reversed. That might be an over-simplification, but it is basically true. While a fair number of things have in fact changed, some are not so different than when I first prototyped a customer self-help system in 1998 – If you can enable customers to help themselves, they will.
As Social engagement practices mature, which they absolutely need to do, because Social behavior is going to drive how customers communicate their needs to your organization. Customers are going to communicate with you via social media, so we all have to be ready. It is not ‘if’, but ‘when’ and ‘how’. In addition to the obvious benefits to your customers, the benefits to you and your organization by enabling, supporting and even promoting social media for customer service, will allow for insight to more easily find its way back into the core business to help improve core functions. From a cultural perspective, one trend that is certainly ripe for change is how front line employees are compensated. Social Media channels not only allow you contact center agents to help your customers, but allow them to do it in a way that adds the human element back to the equation. These critical teams players, your contact center agents, within your organization need to be trained and treated with the respect they deserve. As your organization works to become “more social” please think about who will be on the front lines.
Lisa Larson – Director of Customer Care at Drugstore.com
Both drugstore.com and beauty.com fall under Lisa’s watchful eye, a new generation of contact center, which include more channels than ever before. They include Websites, FAQs, Chat, Email and oh almost forgot, phone. Yes, Lisa and team are on Twitter was well; Directors Desk for Drugstore.com and Beauty Advisor for beauty.com The idea? To use the tools and technology available to her to improve the quality of customer service, making sure each customer interaction is meaningful to the most important person – the customer. Lisa and team are keeping pace with where their customers are and where they need help. Lisa and team are using Chat very successfully for high value products, increasing the conversation rates for these products by almost 40% when compared with not using Chat.
Lisa has a team of about 150 people across the board to make sure her customers are happy. They are there to solve problems, and make the experience as close as possible to the beauty consultant you might work with at the local store. In order to provide that experience to the customer, the employee – knowledge worker needs to be given the tools and resources (and love) so that they can pass it on. Lisa spends a lot of time making her team gets what they need. With regards to the culture question, it is important to Lisa to bring on team members who have actual people skills. Many people come into the call center these days with great technical skills, but talking on the phone and interacting at a personal level, with a business proper bent is something that is not as common as it was 15 years ago.
“When you put a face out there, or you put people out there and they get to know who you are, they treat you differently. Our goal is to serve them and to solve their problems, and do it well.”
Maryellen Abreu – Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot
From a certain vantage point, iRobot is pioneering a new market, which has unique challenges. iRobot needs to quickly find out what customers want, and adapt accordingly. From another vantage point, customers are customers, and iRobot needs to deliver great service and support, because this is just what smart companies do! A very successful part of the initiative is the Web self-service, which has been very successful from both sides – customers are able to help themselves more often than not and this keeps the operation expenses of the contact center in check.
“iRobot designs and build robots that make a difference”
Maryellen also shared the following tidbits, which I found very valuable:
“In regards to our call center culture, we ask our reps to Think like a customer. If the customer is not happy, let us know. Call Center feedback is absolutely critical to our success.”
It was important for me to dig into the culture and objectives by which Maryellen manages her center, and directs her team. In the information RightNow shared with me, iRobot was able to see a “30% reduction in call volume”. Now, call volume is an interesting statistic, because it only tells part of the story. When I worked with a few large insurance companies, we were able to see a similar drop in volume, but the calls that remained were all the tough kind (long, complex and did not follow a standard path). This was before the age of Social, so I wanted to see what had changed. I will add that for certain customers with specific problems, iRobot does not have any issues with bringing the users into their private communities and asking the customers to give detailed input into the products and experience.
“Our calls went down 30% in volume but the average call length did not change significantly. When we added Targus Info to populate/verify the customer’s address, we were able to shave approximately 1 minute off each incident that required a shipment. As I mentioned, we do not focus on reducing talk time, we focus on customer satisfaction. Typically long calls result in a low CSAT and we calibrate accordingly.”
Both Maryellen and Lisa are taking similar approaches:
- For Customer Interaction – Where, When and How their customers want to communicate
- For Measurement – Do what it takes to get the job done, talk if you need to talk AHT looked at, but does not drive the center
- For Employees – Allow them to feel and act empowered, give them flexibility, not scripts; guidance, not rules
(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do!)
This post is a collaborative effort, not interview style, nor highlighting individual perspectives. While attending the VRM+CRM conference, we decided that if we were really going to build a bridge, it needed to be done together. Lauren Vargas and Mitch Lieberman
There has been a lot of talk, ‘he said she said’ unproductive sort of talk with respect to the different perspectives people take when talking about new technologies, buzzwords or business themes. There have even been some attempts to try and show people the other side, their perspective, the dark side (nope, not saying which is which!). We had the opportunity to spend a few days in Boston, at the VRM + CRM summit and decided we would try and do our part. The image below speaks so well to the issue at hand. The Flipper Bridge (part of the in-construction Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, link below) connects Hong Kong; where they drive on the left, with mainland China; where they drive on the right. Our goal here is not to talk about the differences, left or right, right or wrong, but what it will take to reach business harmony. We are not expecting people to join hands and join in singing a rendition of kumbaya, but different departments (sales, marketing, support) along with vendors, consultants and partners working together to understand each other and place the needs of the customers above petty in-fighting.
When you go to a meeting to state your position about a product, are you carefully listening your own words from the perspective audience? Are you considering what others could bring to the table, how they might approach the situation, problem, objective? What is great about the picture above, is that it not only needs to help drivers get across; pragmatism, but the bridge needs to put the drivers on the correct side of the road, safety. If the architects and designers did not consider the perspective of the drivers on the other side, this project would have failed. We know that seems obvious, but we believe in your daily work lives, the issues are equally obvious.
VRM + CRM Taught Us a Few Things
We each had the opportunity to attend the VRM+CRM conference hosted by Doc Searls and a few others at the Berkman Center. Our attendance was an explicit gesture by the VRM leaders to reach out to the CRM side of the house and implicitly state ‘we can try to solve this on our own, or we can do it together.’ CRM is Customer Relationship Management, while VRM is Vendor Relationship Management. To some, they are mirror images, to others, they are hand-in-glove. One thing became clear, to move forward they need eachother.
VRM + CRM illustrated that this is not a problem unique to CRMers, marketers, PR folks and technologists. Having the opportunity to be a part of the work that is happening in the social business space is extremely invigorating. However, as hard and as much we push for faster development and evolution, we need to juggle the hats of a historian and an anthropologist. It is important to know where we have been, the mistakes made and lessons learned that have occurred over time, before we can progress to successful future. And in this future, it is essential we progress with caution and learn about the new developments and behaviors that have become reality in this online dimension. Bottom line, we need to understand the basics of history and current business functions before we can rush full speed ahead. Without such perspective, we risk jumping the shark and the maturity growth of our own industry and customers.
Can you put yourself in their shoes? Are the buzzwords, acronyms and terms helping or getting in the way? Acronyms and industry lingo were established to define processes within our specific business functions, but when carried to the extreme, such terms box us in and limit growth. We become so caught up in the term we have coined, we are oblivious to the walls we have build up around us and exclude others from experiencing the term as we do or exploring it in depths we could not. Throughout history there has not been one word or function that all people have agreed upon or experienced the same way. Diversity in thought and definition is how we evolve. This should be no different in business evolution. We are not advocating the extreme abolishment of acronyms and industry lingo, but encouraging all to be open and accepting of other interpretations, as well as, stepping outside our own comfort zone and learning the terminology and context surrounding other business functions within the organization and industry.
Let’s Lead By Example
We are all trying to accomplish the same thing. Goals and Objectives are the same (or they should be). You (company) cannot solve this problem in the best way possible without help and input from all sides. Your customers come in all shapes, sizes, gender. They have different needs, and they offer different perspectives, shouldn’t you do the same? We need to keep in mind each department within our organization, just as our customers, will adopt social business functions at different speeds. Sniping at each other about definitions and roles of responsibility will not replace the need to put theory into practice. A culture shift is evident, but it does not occur overnight. It is essential we each support the discovery process of our sister departments or industries. It is only in this collaborative approach we can truly see what will succeed and fail without being at the expense of our customers or community.
I could not help myself, apologies to Dion and the rest of the folks at Dachis, you do great work, the title just sort of came to me. The driver for the title, and for this post, is Dion’s post The 2010 Social Business Landscape. I do want to thank Dion and the rest of his team, you came really close to getting it right (I am not going to be so bold as to call it wrong). I am not really a purist, but I am sticking to Paul Greenberg’s definition for Social CRM and Andrew McAfee’s definition for Enterprise 2.0. For Social Media itself, I am sticking to “Social Media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate”.
In the post, Dion references his previous thoughts to help redefine Enterprise 2.0 (just a little). Here, he shares with the readers, that Enterprise 2.0 as the freeform social tools in the workplace, with a concentration on developing solutions to achieve specific business objectives. Great, I am all about achieving business objectives. Wait, what freeform tools are we talking about? Dion also warns the readers, suggesting that we focus way too much on the tools, organizational change and new collaborative approaches, instead of focusing on the business problems.
Close but no Cigar #1: How can Enterprise 2.0 be the furthest element to the right, if none of the supporting technical elements (along the Enterprise axis) are close to the same level of adoption?
Looking at the charts is interesting, it might even valuable to some. But how does understanding this chart help ‘Me’? Not me, as in Mitch, me as in a business. We all have jobs to do, how does understanding this chart, even with the description help me to get my job done? As I was writing this post, at this spot, Jon Ferrara referenced, via twitter, this post on Forbes
“Just developing tools doesn’t mean everyone will use them, and certainly not always for the intended purpose. When Edison invented the magnetic recording disk he thought the main use would be for business dictation rather than music recording.”
The point it makes to me is that in order for customers to make sense of how we plan to put these tools to use, we better tell them the value of the tool. It matters to some that others have adopted them, but why and how are much more important.
Close but no Cigar #2: Putting concepts like Crowdsourcing, Social Location and Social ECM on a picture without really (sorry the ‘blurbs’ do not cut it) describing the business problem each is solving adds confusion, not clarity.
Just a quick note before I hit my last topic – I just do not understand the Cloud/SaaS v On-Premise Overlay at all. I will post that particular one on the base post. Seems artificial and unnecessary, IMHO.
The Social CRM Afterthought
Saving the best for last, the miss here gets the rest of the box (of Cigars). As I noted above, I am sticking to Paul’s definition of Social CRM. If we can get past the slight of Social CRM being the only topic on the image without a ‘blurb’ in the post, then we can really dive into the topic.
Social Media Monitoring, Social Media Marketing, Customer Communities, Crowdsourcing, Mobile Social, Crisis Management are all extensions of standard CRM – why, because the help businesses go from inside-out to outside-in and focus on the needs of their customers. We need to listen, learn and engage our customers, we are not just managing them anymore (as if we ever did). I would agree that many of these disciplines are well into the adoption phase, as they have matured enough to actually solve business problems. If the companies actually have a business use for all of these technologies, then they in essence have begun to adopt Social CRM.
Further, as Paul mentions in another great post today, it does not matter what I call it, what matters is that I can help my customers solve a problem. We could (and should) take every core point of his post and exchange Social CRM with Social Business and re-post the entire article (yes, some of the facts and figures might just need some tweaking). I find it difficult to believe that the level of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 is as high as the picture suggests.
Customer Enablement Technology
If we really want to help people to figure this out, then we should pay attention to this recent post by Mark Tamis – Customer Enablement Technology. Here is my favorite part of the post:
“Although these approaches give us new ways to get to the Voice of Customer, In the age of scarcity we need to find new ways of creating value that go beyond creating value for the company alone, as Wim Rampen states here. The issue with VoC is that you are still looking through the lens of your company that has a particular colour. Rather than nurturing a collaborative relationship with customers, employees, and partners that feeds on itself and leads to the closest approximation of the desired outcome for all parties involved, there is a fair chance that idea&s and insights just get bounced around the walls of the company to either get lost in its meanders or come out looking quite different from what was actually needed.”
Friend and colleague Paul Sweeney commented on Mark’s post, which adds something that the Social Business folks really should focus on:
“What I really like is that customers need tools-methods-processes by which they can define how they wish to interact with your organisation. We are some way down that line, but its still very enterprise centric isn’t it? (In our company we refer to this approach as generating “edge processes” i.e. processes that don’t want to “look into the enterprise data/ systems” but which can enable / empower the customer by placing the processing, tools, and methodologies into the hands of the customer AND the enterprise user”.
I will leave with the final thought. The entire goal here are for business to create sustainable organizations. Ones where people like to work and customers like, value and appreciate the products and services offered. I will suggest that we spend more time helping companies to isolate the tools and components they need to accomplish their goals and less on definitions and generalities. If we focus on what our customers need to get done, and efficient methods to accomplish that, we will be good!
I am off now to take a nap, enjoy your day.
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