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The 4 C’s of the Conversation Company: still a long road ahead for most companies

Guest post by Steven Van Belleghem (@steven_insites)

One of the key challenges in the social business/conversation world is: how can companies honestly be customer-oriented. In my research, I learned that four pillars help companies to move forward in this challenge. These four dimensions are: Customer experience, Conversation management, Content marketing and Collaboration with clients.

Customer Experience: people love to talk about your service and your products. It is the key driver of consumer conversations.

Conversation: the story of my previous book, The Conversation Manager. It is the goal to converse and not communicate. Listen, ask questions, facilitate the conversations and actively take part in them.

Content: give people stuff to talk about, but do it in an authentic, positive and relevant way.

Collaboration: involve customers in everything your company does. Let them be part of your boardroom and let them be involved in your decision making processes.

By managing these four pillars (4C’s) companies can optimize their conversation potential. However, the impact of these pillars grows if they are implemented within an open, positive and authentic company culture.

In this post, we give a status update on the adoption level of this philosophy in the business world. We executed a survey with top managers who have a commercial function. A total of 1,222 managers were interviewed from companies (+20fte) in the United States, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany. The full research paper is attached at the end of the post.

Low fit with company culture

In our research, we didn’t start with questions about social media usage, but with questions about company culture. We all acknowledge the role corporate culture plays in the adoption of social business. I think it is even difficult to be very successful in social media if the company culture is not clearly embedded in the employees’ heads. We were wondering which corporate values play a role in the adoption of social media and to what extent managers have an emotional relationship with their own corporate values.

Striking conclusion: half the top managers do not identify with their own company’s culture. This conclusion is dramatic to me and also explains why so many companies are having trouble to adapt to the more transparent world. If there is no identification with the culture, it is much harder to be open and authentic.

Many companies are encountering problems with managing the corporate culture. Apart from the fact that half the top managers do not identify with the values, 37% state that the corporate values are not clear to the employees. 40% of the companies have different values internally and externally: how’s that for a schizophrenic culture! Only half the companies take the corporate values into account when hiring new colleagues: this will indeed make it difficult to revive them!

The foundation of a Conversation Company is the culture. Based on the answers we can already clearly state that about half the companies will have quite some problems if they ever want to succeed in changing. And that is evidently a good opportunity for the other half.

High adoption but low integration of social media

The survey shows that the social media channels adoption is rather high: 61% of the companies have a Facebook page, 39% are present on Twitter and 29% on LinkedIn.

However this does not imply that the majority of the companies have embraced social media. The majority of the companies are currently still taking their first steps (27%) or are in an experimental stage (17%). 29% of the companies are not doing anything at all with social media.

Companies invest most in Customer Experience, least in Collaboration

The survey results rapidly show that there is a long way to go before the world will be submerged by Conversation Companies. The foundation (culture) is not right for one half of the companies, but is for the other half. A minority of the companies are currently investing in the four components which optimise the conversations: 39% are investing in customer experience, 24% in conversation management, 19% in content marketing and a mere 16% in collaboration.

These conclusions really got my attention during the analyses:

Focus on the customer? Well, not quite everywhere yet
When problems emerge, 60% of the companies always choose a solution in favour of the client. In other words: 40% do not do that and choose a solution which suits the company. The latter will of course generate negative conversations. 40% of the companies do not allow the client to choose his/her own communication channel, but force them to use the company’s choice. 63% try to adapt their attitude and become open to feedback from the client.

4 out of 10 companies listen to clients
40% of the companies observe the conversations of consumers about their brand and / or their sector. About 2 years ago this was 20%. Unfortunately the insights from these exercises are not always shared with everyone in the company. In a mere 28% of cases people share insights with the rest of the organisation. In other words: in many cases only a small rather isolated team is aware of this.

50% manages the online conversations themselves; the other half outsource the job
The main reasons for outsourcing are, on the one hand the lack of internal competencies and on the other hand avoiding an additional fixed cost. As far as I am concerned this does not really matter, as long as it is done by people who identify with the brand. The best option is of course to choose someone in the company. But the hard reality is that sometimes the people in a branch have been working for a brand longer than some managers.

36% have blogging employees
Apart from a central content team it is very relevant to have a team of blogging employees. Their content will often give clients and prospects an idea of what happens behind the scenes in a company. That is how outsiders can get to know the employees better. The employees will also get closer to the clients. Nonetheless only a minority of the companies are embracing this type of content marketing at this point.

50% are not open to input by the client
I still find these numbers hard to digest. Half the companies do appreciate input from their clients. New ideas, new products and concepts are created solely by the company.

One out of four companies has a client community
A quarter of the companies have a client community, either an open one and / or a closed one. These companies manage to integrate the client’s input into their decision-taking processes. By approaching the clients via a community, you go beyond a one-off action. Via the community you manage to engage people’s interest over a longer time span. These people are, so to speak, the ideal consultants for your company. They become employees that are not on the payroll.

Do we have a ‘digital gap’ in the business world?

As for the future, 40%-50% of the companies indicate they will invest in at least one of the 4 Cs in order to optimize their conversation potential. It is remarkable that the companies who are already doing a lot today are the ones that want to do more in the future. Based on this research I predict that an increasingly large conversation gap will soon emerge in the corporate world. The speed of change will increase in companies which have already started changing. Companies which are lagging behind will find it increasingly difficult to adapt.

The basis of the willingness to be open to changes and to taking the necessary steps lies mainly in the identification with the corporate culture. Managers who identify strongly with their company have already evolved the furthest.

Final conclusion: if you want to turn your company into a Conversation Company, the first question is: ‘Who?’ and only then do you wonder about the ‘What?’. The hard conclusions is that with the wrong leader, change will not occur.

Read and download the entire survey

This article describes only a few of our survey’s key conclusions. All details can be consulted in this presentation:

19 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The 4 C’s of the Conversation Company: still a long road ahead for most companies”

  1. Meagan Dahl says:

    These insights are hard to digest, it’s true. Even company’s who try to mimic the collaborative community spirit fall short because of time and energy demands directed elsewhere. Unless there is a hiring process that promotes all employees as brand evangelists, the culture will have pockets of apathy. You’ve given the statistic that managers and execs can’t identify their own culture, but I want to say it’s just as important for the entry level employees to embrace culture as it is for the top rung executives. That being said, I agree with your assessment that we do have and will continue to have a digital conversation gap that can only be filled by a change of priority to internalize company conversations instead of exporting them.

  2. Marc Neermann says:

    Steven great article! There is a great disconnect with companies and their customers. In part because they fail to understand that they need to take care of their internal customer first. If upper mangement isn’t buying in how can the most important people employees the ones on the front lines be expected to buy in?

  3. These results are staggering to me. I wonder how many of the companies actually believe they are doing
    these things — that maybe 60% of companies believe they are listening
    to customer conversations, but the reality is that only 40% are, and the
    same for the rest of them (the most shocking to me is that only 50% of companies take input from the customers — does that make sense to anyone?).

    Sometimes we have an idea of what we’re doing, and then there’s the reality of what we’re doing. Were you able to differentiate between the two — what companies think they are doing, and the reality?

    it definitely wakes me up and causes me to question what exactly I’m
    doing, and how I can better elicit conversation around my brand and in
    favor of my customers.

    Great research! Thank you!

  4. It certainly sounds like companies could still do more to make an effort to interact with their customers. Not having any outlet for social media whatsoever severely limits advertising to the target audience. In addition, it’s important to include the customer in every way possible so that they can be involved with the company on both a personal and business level. As you said, change is one of the factors that will benefit a business, which requires adopting some types of social media and other new forms of advertising. In PR, customer satisfaction should be high on the priority list; if they are not being listened to, then the company is not doing its job by communicating to the public.

  5. I’m studying Social Media Theory & Practice with @dr4ward at @NewhouseSU and am a subscriber to your blog. Thanks for sharing, the statistics you’ve included are eye-opening. The fact that 50% of companies are not open to input by a client is startling. Companies have a lot of work to do in the future to try and diminish this ‘digital gap’ #NewhouseSM4

  6. SalesPortal says:

    “Half the companies do appreciate input from their clients.”

    Wow. No one likes a pushy client but it’s always good to see how your products/services come across to the people who use them. There can be some really great nuggets in there.

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