Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

A Critical Path for Customer Relevance, Part 2

With all of the momentum social media has earned over the years, the reality is that still today, it is very much siloed in marketing.  The aspiration of using social technology to build a social business is not yet within grasp. In many ways, social media is much more about media than it is about opening two-way channels for interaction where information, empathy, and resolution travel inward and outward with all parties walking away with a sense of value and affinity. For what is a relationship without benefit or bond?

The convergence of disruptive technology, brand, business functions, and customer experiences will force today’s social media strategies to think beyond the click. The end-game moving forward will be on completing the customer journey and fortifying experience pre, mid, and post transaction.

Today, businesses are experimenting with engagement as it relates to real-time interaction. The challenge is in how engagement is defined today. Likes, Retweets, comments, impressions, clickthroughs, and other data does not by its very nature connect back to the bottom line of any organization. Nor does it contribute to the definition of desired experiences or outcomes. Additionally, many social media programs place emphasis on growing what I refer to as the 3F’s, Friends, Fans, and Followers with ancillary value placed on registered content views or downloads. This isn’t without merit. But, this type of focus equates to social branding or social marketing than that of true business transformation.

Often referred to these days as a social business or a social enterprise, the impact and opportunity presented by social and mobile media in addition to other disruptive technologies is to look at each through the lens of experiences.

An example of social branding vs. social business is evident in the report recently published by Jeremiah Owyang, my colleague at Altimeter Group. On average, Owyang’s research found that only 43% of businesses claimed to run social media initiatives under a formalized strategy roadmap to meet specific business goals. In my work over the years with enterprise organizations, I found that the true number of business tracking social media outcomes towards leadership-stated business objectives to be much lower. Equally important, Owyang’s previous research report also documented  the state of the social media silo with the top 2 functions claiming ownership were, and still are, marketing and marketing communications. Most notably of course, in a time when executives are investing in technology to improve customer relationships and experiences, customer service was at the bottom of the list.

This sets a dangerous precedent, one that is already well in play. As the rest of the organization begins to experiment with social media, the initial consequence is that of brand dilution and the fragmentation of desired experiences. For example, in Owyang’s report, he found that businesses on average, those with over 1,000 employees, could account for on average of 178 branded accounts across 10 or more social networks. In my work over the years, I’ve found that number to be in the 1000s, having to examine, refocus, and sunset hundreds of accounts to get back on a bath toward brand integrity. Everything begins with the end in mind and these exercises force thoughtful discussions about intentions, experiences, outcomes, and how to develop an infrastructure that supports the customer journey, as stated earlier, pre-, mid, and post transaction. The experience is not finite, it is an ongoing quest to define.

The Customer Experience Happens With or Without Your Preparedness

Without a top-down social media strategy, presences on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, et al, are by design disjointed. They do not tract to business objectives and more importantly, each entity does not deliver a unified experience that delivers against customer expectations or needs. The answer is simple really. Much of what we see today in terms of social media is not designed to perform against business objectives or customer obligations. Rather, they’re designed to promote real-time interaction and sharing measured by resulting engagement. What if engagement were measured by the resulting sentiment and corresponding actions that followed each exchange? What if those experiences were carefully designed and managed?

In a recent American Express study, customers stated that they are willing to spend more for products from companies that have a history of good customer service or that deliver outstanding experiences. In the same study, we also learned that customers will gladly shift alliances to those companies who will offer better services and experiences. And, more importantly, customers want direct engagement, a human touch, rather than self-guided automated systems that force the customer through a maze of resolution. Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Yet, too often, it is…

The voice of the customer has spoken. They want an efficient, personalized, and engaged experience. For the connected customer, they want your service team and all corresponding methods for delivering resolution to come to them in their channel of preference. But how are companies leveraging social media today to help? This is where we once again see a gap between social branding and social media.

In a study published by Maritz Research and evolve24 in September 2011, 1,300 consumers were asked about the importance  Twitter plays in customer service. The most notable finding as it relates to this discussion is that social customers, unsurprisingly, expect a response if they Tweet to a company for help. As the respondents’ ages increased, so did their expectations that companies would read and respond to their experiences.

Yes as unsurprising as this information is, companies are still faced with the gap between social media and customer service. Of those who did Tweet to their company, only 29% received a response. And when asked how they “felt” following the exchange, 32% and 51.5% either loved it or liked it respectively. Of course they did!

Let’s think about today’s customer experience for a moment. When a customer expresses the need for help in a social channel, who responds? What happens? If indeed social is run by the marketing department, the customer is likely to engage with a community manager, the marketing person on point during that particular time, or perhaps, someone from the agency.

This is the social customer gap as best depicted by a horseshoe .The gap at the top of the image signifies that chasm between social media and customer engagement as it is designed today. On the front line of social is where the biggest gap exists, representing the impractical and inefficient route for which information and resolution must travel between both functions if a customer is to truly walk away with proper closure and positive sentiment in social networks – if at all.

Let’s explore one of the most likely scenarios we see in social media today. A brand manages multiple presences on Facebook and/or Twitter, with one clearly operating as the flagship profile in each network. If these accounts are managed by the marketing department or quasi-governed by it, what happens when a customer has a problem and uses the social network profile as a window to seek direction or resolution? And, on that train of thought, who is on point, what is the workflow, what is the decision tree, and how does this instance get recorded for future engagement and learning? I can’t stress enough the importance of also thinking through not only the engagement process, but also the technology repository and management system. You must capture each engagement, the records, insights, social presences etc., so that marketing, service, sales et al. possesses an absolute and critical view of the social customer across touch points.

Chances are that the grapevine between marketing and customer service is either non-existent or put together with duct tape. So how information travels within the organization, how questions and challenges are resolved, and how companies adapt to learn and improve products and services over time is inoperative. Closing the gap within the social customer horseshoe is a priority area for investment and why the convergence of the contact center, marketing and public relations is a natural step toward getting closer to customers and improving experiences.

Investing in the Convergence of Technology, People and Processes

As a leader or champion within your organization, the time is now to bring together key stakeholders from each function and line of business that is affected by the behavior and sentiment of employees and customers. Doing so is an investment in customer acquisition and retention and also a competitive advantage. Chances are, your peers are exploring where to prioritize these investments now and in the immediate future. As we can see in Owyang’s report, 59% of companies are employing social media management systems (SMMS) to streamline internal processes.

The convergence of disruptive technology, business processes, corporate objectives, and customer experiences is not a luxury nor is it something that can be relegated to the back-burner. It is an inevitable and crucial path to compete for the moment and for the future. Those companies that develop a process to recognize opportunities, to adapt, and to improve experiences now and over time, will out perform those organizations that continue to explore blindly or those who take a sideline approach. In the end, this isn’t about managing transactions or bolting-on new solutions in an attempt to scale, this is about delivering value, empowering employees and customers, fostering meaningful connections, and measuring and learning from results.

It’s time to push the bar higher for social media to shape and steer meaningful experiences and outcomes…


Read: Part 1 of 2

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17 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “A Critical Path for Customer Relevance, Part 2”

  1. Great post. The gap is huge, I agree. Someone will find that magic formula, but then again, each company will have a different formula for success. Will the foundation be the same for the successful companies? We must wait and see. Thanks

  2. setting up a twitter account (or any social presence) and not staying engaged with the customer is kind of like having a dinner party and ignoring your guests.

  3. Your Virtual Assistants says:

    I must say I completely agree with you post. Today SM is becoming the new tool to vent complaints as well as praises. Companies need to embrace this form customer engagement . Ignoring it, can cost you a ton of money and even your business. Customer service via SM is a wonderful place to start the customers off with engaging them on what they like or dislike about your brand. Yes, you have to address the negative, but at least you can honestly let the customer know that they are being heard and respected for their comments. It is also a brilliant way to have the customer to be a part of the quality control process and even new idea process of your company.

    Companies need to realize that the days of phoning or emailing complaints are almost obsolete, it is much easier and more effective to use the SM channels to express concerns or raves!

  4. Dave Doolin says:

    Brian, spot on again.

    This point especially stood out: “…social media initiatives under a formalized strategy roadmap to meet specific business goals.”

    This seems unworkable to me.

    When people care more about meeting strategy than meeting people, something gets lost.

    I would *love* to read an example of a “duct tape” connection between marketing and customer service, that is, what it would look like in an org chart, how the various people interacted, etc. Even more: is a bad connection better or worse than no connection? What if it was so messed up they needed to be firewalled from each other? (Customers bearing brunt I’m sure.)

    Thanks again, Brian.

  5. This is insanely great.  I love your posts.  I always read them thinking “OMG. This guy really “gets it”.  The reality of getting leadership to insist that we get out of our siloes is challenging, however.  Articles like yours do help.  There’s nothing like sharing an article by an expert for overcoming the “Who is she and what does she know?” mentality.  Thanks!

  6. Hey Brian..another great post. The best example for closing the gap was your video interview with the guys from Yamaha, we really enjoyed that one!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Great post, a compilation of a lot of information here.

    I keep seeing companies looking at social media from the tools first, and then asking how might I implement them? The gaps you point out seem to stem from a lack of definition of the departments… for instance, many companies have outmoded ways of dealing with customer service.

    In my client relations, I talk about function first: what is customer service doing now, and are there better ways of serving your audience? For example, if CS is designed to work only with phone and email, then they are most likely designed to be a passive function of business relations: wait for the customer to contact the company. Maybe we should look at CS taking an active role (reaching out) rather than passive role (waiting to be contacted). If you are designing an active CS department, perhaps you’d want to be reaching out to customers, and listening to what people are saying about your company. Figure out how that model fits your brand mission, and your staff structure, and then design your tools and platform to support this new job role.

    The revelation here with social media is we now have a direct line into “buzz.” Word of mouth has always existed, we just now have a line into those conversations. *That* is what is shaking up business… we can hear you. And that means we should look at every department in that light first.

  8. Eric says:

    I have to disagree with some of the sentiment expressed here. Social Media is definitely a powerful building tool for any brand or business. I have clients who derive income purely from web based social media. Of course, face-to-face interaction is always best, but now people are looking to social; media to form relationships with the company. Reputation management is becoming more critical as a proactive program for this very reason. Hard work can by undermined by bad press very quickly.

  9. I’m hoping to use the business model of what Brian advocates for how social video advertising needs to also be held to a higher standard than just reach and brand awareness (the latter of which I think is even suspect and easily manipulated), and connecting it to genuine customer engagement strategies around meaningful conversations between the brands and consumers. Here’s what I’ve learned to be the problem: outdated incentives by the top-level managers and executives in the Enteprise, who treat “views” (and related initial engagement data) as the means of rewarding the campaign team. This still goes on today with websites and video marketing campaigns, which is why the media agencies are all too willing to be accommodating then educational (and hurt their own bottom line with keeping an account). 

    It’s a shame still that many companies are playing to “business-as-usual” metrics without real-world relevance to the customer, and focusing more of their energies on getting their attention (sometimes in an annoying and manipulative way), than combining genuine patterns of customer engagement with real-world, bottom line business objectives. Yes, it can be done! 

  10. Fares_vip90 says:


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