Social Business Builds Brand Equity

27 06 2012

Social business has mainly been discussed in terms of what it can do for the company in terms of efficiency of Knowledge Management and Sharing and the impact it has on the organization and culture. One of the aspects of Social Business that so far is under-exposed is the positive (or negative…) impact on the way customers perceive the brand and thus the influence it has on their buying behavior. In this post I will briefly outline how Social Business and Brand Equity are related and help to reframe your thinking about Social Business and why it can be a sound market approach for your organization.

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Go With The Customer Flow

21 02 2012

An interesting statistic caught my attention about customer interaction through  Social Media; these interactions represent only 1% of company-customer interactions, and are expected to grow to 4% in five year’s time in France (Les Echos). In other words, 99% of interaction take place outside of Social Media! This to me leads to a very fundamental question about whether we are suffering from the Shiny Object Syndrome with regards to Social Media and customer engagement. Because we now have access to customers and prospects through these new channels, there is a real temptation to focus only on these without looking at why and how people are using these media in the first place, and where they fit into what I call the overall flow of getting to their desired outcomes.

We get distracted from the bigger picture and go off in tangents – “you need to increase your Likes on FaceBook”, “customers expect answers on Twitter” – whilst at the same time neglecting the Contact Center experience or the in-store and post-sales ones (think Twelpforce and IRL stories). The bigger picture in this case is the Customer Journey, which from your point of extends beyond the lead-up to the sale to post-sales activity that closes the loop in the next round of the buying cycle.

There are many touchpoints on that Journey – some where you are involved and that you can influence, and others where peers are preponderant and where at most you can only facilitate. You need to identify where those touchpoints are – and they could be on many different channels and customers will merrily hop from one to another) – and where it makes sense for you to create or help create the desired outcomes. And this should be linked to how much you’re willing or able to invest at each to have the optimum impact – so it’s back to pure CRM and also CLV calculations, folks :).

This is how I like to picture  Customer Engagement – how you’ve created/co-created value along the Customer Journey to help them (and yourself!) get to the desired outcomes (HT Mike Boysen). For this you need to map your customers’ journeys, identify the touchpoints and find out what customers need and expect at each of them to determine your service blueprint (Design Thinking and JTBD), whilst at the same time prioritizing your own resource allocation based on Customer Lifetime Value, and not just on whether someone will like your brand on FaceBook if you give them a coupon.

To conclude, “going with the Customer Flow” entails reducing the frictions in the flows that leads to the confluence of your business’s and your customers’ desired outcomes. That means getting the big picture of the customer journey, understanding how they ‘hire’ the different tools at the various touchpoints such as social media, opinions from friends, their peers, your Salespeople, Marketing and Customer Service and how you can organize your internal flows to optimize the outcomes at the various touchpoints. We should certainly not lose sight of the fact that there is a whole world out there beyond Social Media that impact the Customer Experience!

Business Transformation, social CRM, E2.0 & ACM

22 11 2011

Forget all this talk about “Social Business”, “Social Enterprise”, “Social Organization”, “Social XYZ” – your business already is “Social” because by its very nature it consists of people interacting with each to get work done. Collaboration is already happening within your ecosystem – between employees, different departments, suppliers, channels, buyers, customers without the need to add the “Social” prefix. Adding the word by itself does bring attention to the idea that we need to change, but it is overly used (and has been hijacked) by certain vendors to mean the toolset rather than the mindset and thus risks diluting the message.

Being Social is human nature, even though decades of Taylorism and Business School Teaching would have us believe there is little place for this in our organizations… but we are reaching its limits because in the pursuit of efficiency  we are losing in effectiveness in understanding and helping customers in their jobs-to-be-done.

We are experiencing a Communications Revolution – what has changed is the way technology is used to communicate, to find and connect with likeminded individuals and groups regardless of distance, together with an evolution of expectations on how, when, where and why and with whom we choose to do so. As the “Social Customer” wakes up and becomes aware of the pressure he can bring to bear individually or through collective action, companies need to adapt their approach to ensure the sustainability of their business.

Customers are voicing their opinions and ideas  hrough Social Media and turning to their peers for information, feedback and support – and are also starting to expect that companies treat them as business partners rather than the subjects of a sale who are pushed through a funnel to the close of the deal. You know – like they’re human beings whose opinions and expectations are taken into consideration.

When I first started looking at social CRM a couple of years ago, I stated in my Twitter Bio that I was excited the potential of Social CRM as an organizational change agent. My level of excitement has grown ever since (although the dark cloud on the horizon is that many believe it is limited to Social Media + CRM).

Why do I believe it is exciting? Because it will generate many new data points that we can use to motivate and pilot our organizations. These data points need to be converted into actionable insights for that to happen – not onlyabout what groups of customers and prospective buyers expect in order to do business with us, but also what they expect from the whole ecosystem, including competitors.  This will require altered or new capabilities to make the organization more agile and pro-active towards their customers.  And that means moving from Fear of Change to creating Value with Customers.

Various frameworks and guidelines exist to help deal with change and which identify the success factors (such as this one by Dr Graham Hill) but here I’d like to refer to this HBR article from1995 by John P. Kotter in which he identified eight stages in the transformation process:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
  6. Plan for and create short-term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce more change
  8. Institutionalize new approaches

Without going into the details of each step, I believe that social CRM is ideally suited  for kick-starting the first step, which is the sense of urgency by creating awareness about customer needs and expectations – and givedata  the organization straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. This, together with an understanding of how competitors are faring with their customers can be used to motivate and really drive the organization down the path of change. It starts by creating better customer listening capabilities, which can be thru Social Media because the reach is just incredible, but more more traditional methods such as surveys and focus groups should not be neglected.  And following that a move to deeper interactions which are opportunities to learn more about the expectations of your customer segments as well as individuals in increasing detail, so that you can then better identify the capabilities you need to perform better.

In the same way as technology is giving customers the tools to make themselves heard, not only by the company but also by their peers, employees are bringing their own devices to the workplace to connect with others inside and outside of the company in order to get their work done.Whereas before the company vision would be communicated top-down through email or newsletters, the tools and methods from Enterprise 2.0 can be put to good use to promote the appropriation of the vision by employees and keep it vivid between them (and at the same give it with an extra layer of purpose for it to gain more traction…).

As a last item in this post, I’d like to mention Adaptive Case Management. The relationships with the Social Customer  is putting strain on established processes and procedures as more scenari arise in which the nature of work is becoming less predictable and wherein more agility is required within the context and experience expectation of the customer. Such flexibility and agility can be achieved by empowering Knowledge Workers to decide on and carry out tasks in line with the desired outcomes of both the customer and the company, and ACM has the potential to support this. These decisions are supported with access to other employee expertise,and  data and insights that we have gathered through digital capabilties (from our CRM systems, ERP, BI etc. which I won’t elaborate on here).

To conclude – changes in market conditions, especially concerning how new forms of communications and interaction habits are reshaping customer expectations on how they want do business with you, are putting pressure on companies to align closely with these expectations. Dissociated efforts can lead to departmental gains, but without a coordination effort the results will be sub-optimal. To fully realize the potential the organisation will have identify and work on the capabilities it needs and procede through a transformation process to meet the challenges of doing business with the Social Customer.The digital capabilities that are now available are a crucial impetus and then a support tool to drive a business transformation that aligns the company with the various jobs-to-be-done and making it a more attractive business partner to customers.

Photo credit: Salvatore Vuono

Vote For Your Favourite #CRMIdol!

23 10 2011

We’ve entered the final phase of this wild and lovely ride to choose the best up and coming CRM company – the one to keep and eye on both now and in the future! We now need YOUR help in deciding which company should be the 2011 CRM Idol and which will receive prizes ranging from “influencer consulting” to an opportunity to present to a Tier 1 Venture Capital Firm for possible investment.

So I suggest you go thru the videos one by one, read the company reviews and presentations, take notes and then cast your vote! The voting is open from October 24 through October 31, don’t for get to vote for both your favourite Amercia’s contestant as well as your EMEA one!

The Americas

(in alphabetical order)

Assistly CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

Links to CRM Idol data:

Contestant page:

Judges Review:

Crowd Factory

Crowd Factory CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

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Contestant page:

Judges review:

Get Satisfaction

Get Satisfaction CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

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Contestant page:

Judges Review:

Stone Cobra

Stone Cobra CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

Links to CRM Idol data:

Contestant page:

Judges Review:


(in alphabetical order)


BPMonline CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

Links to CRM Idol data:

Contestant page:

Judges Review: CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

Links to CRM Idol data:

Contestant page:

Judges Review:

Zestia (Capsule CRM)

Zestia (Capsule CRM) CRM Idol 2011 Finalist Video

The URL to the video on YouTube:

Links to CRM Idol data:

Contestant page:

Judges Review:

Vote Here!!


Remember one for the Americas and one for EMEA.

Changing How We Manage Change

19 09 2011

Implementing programmes that could potentially bring about profound changes in the way a company does business also entails that we need to deal with people issues such of putting a lot of strain and stress on those involved and lack of motivation – or risk the programme failing. In order for the programme to be successfully carried through and arrive at the results that we seek, we also need to ensure that everyone involved understands the need for change and adapts to a different way of working. In the following post Dr Graham Hill looks at what the drivers are that we can leverage to obtain the optimal outcome.

Graham Hill Implementing a new CRM, or other business system – even one with similar functionality to one it is replacing – is fraught with dangers. Experience suggests that without pro-actively managing change, a significant number of CRM system projects fail to deliver the expected benefits and in a significant number of cases, are abandoned within only a few months of going live.
Managing change is not the same as just implementing the new system, training staff how to use it, telling staff all about it and then expecting change to occur. That path almost invariably leads to failure. As the old change management saying goes:

Old Organization + New Technology = Expensive Old Organization.

Effective change management is a structured process that changes how individuals staff do their work, how teams work together to do their work, how management supports the change over the longer-term and how the organization as a whole benefits from emerging changes.
The Principles of Effective Change

Over the years, I have identified six key principles that drive effective change:

  • What’s In It For Me?

The prime motivator for individuals to change is ‘what’s in it for me?’. Individual staff must benefit from the change in ways that are important to them. That may mean financial reward, but it is much more likely to mean other non-financial rewards. Just having better tools to do the job can be a surprising motivator. Effective change matches the right rewards to individual staff.

  • Involve & Engage Staff

People do not resist change per se, but they do resist being changed by others. If undue resistance is to be avoided staff whose work will be affected by the changes should be involved as much as possible in its redesign. And as front-line staff are usually those with the best understanding of what will work and what won’t, getting them involved improves the chances that the change programme will work too.

  • Work Networks Work

Individuals have to see the benefits of the change before they will accept it. But so do their work colleagues. An individual member of staff who sees the benefits of a change, surrounded by a team that doesn’t, will quickly abandon the change. In addition to individuals, an effective program of change should address how work teams and the organisational social networks in which they operate change too.

  • Lead From the Front

Change is difficult. If individuals and work teams are to turn the change into a new way of working and then into business-as-usual, they will need to practice their new knowledge and skills. As individuals start to apply what they have learned back in the workplace, they will need help from colleagues, experts and management to develop their experience with the new work. This requires permission from senior management to be less effective at the new work until they master its details. Senior management must be seen to not only talk the new way of working, but also to live it by supporting stuff during the change process too.

  • Stay the Course

Many otherwise effective programs of change fail at the last minute. The change is effectively implemented then management moves onto the next big thing. Months later, staff have reverted to the old ways of working, the new system has been abandoned and nothing of the change is left. If change is to stick, it requires long-term support by management, for anything up to 18-36 months after the change has been implemented.

  • Don’t Command Change, Let it Emerge

Although a program of change can be planned down to the last detail, that is not how change actually happens. As the old military saying goes,

no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Change cannot be commanded from above. Instead, it emerges from all the interactions of individual staff, their work team colleagues, their direct managers and others. Effective managers of change are like orchestra conductors; they direct the program of change in ways that the right changes emerge.

These principles apply to any process of change, not just to CRM systems-driven change. Making change happen and making change stick requires a structured, phased  approach to change management.
The Five Phases of Managed Change

The approach to change that I have found works best is based upon five sequential phases:

  • Phase 1: Assess Change Capability

This phase looks at the background to the change, assesses the ability of staff to make the required change and identifies the key people who need to become involved as change agents in driving the change. It provides a solid fact-base upon which to build all the subsequent phases.

  • Phase 2: Prepare for Change

This phase builds the foundation for the rest of the change programme. It recruits the change team and mentors from within the business and prepares them for their roles leading the change programme. It also plans and launches the first 100-day project of the programme. A longer programme might have a number of overlapping 100-day projects. By breaking longer programmes into a series of 100-day projects the programme can get started quicker, new capabilities can be built earlier and more benefits can be harvested, all of which help the case for change.

  • Phase 3: Build Momentum for Change

This phase continues the work started in the Prepare for Change phase. Change is not something that is easy to plan with any security a long time in advance. The changes to be promoted during each overlapping 100-day project will be planned in detail and implemented, depending upon what has already been done previously, the actual situation and the change goals. Effective change is as much about sensing emerging opportunities to drive change and responding to them, as it is about planning change.

  • Phase 4: Go Live

This phase is very short. It celebrates the hard work done so far in successfully taking the CRM or other system live. Celebrating success is important for all those who have worked hard to make it happen. It also marks the boundary between the implementation of the system and the upheaval that causes, and the extended period of post-go live support as the new way of working is turned into daily business.

  • Phase 5: Maintain the Change

This phase is critical if the change is to become embedded as business-as-usual. It hands over responsibility for change to the change team and change agents. It also supports them as they take on responsibility for consolidating the change. The phase lasts as long as is required to embed the changes in the organization. It may be anything from 18-36 months after the system has been implemented until the changes are truly embedded in daily business.

Managing effective change is difficult, but not as difficult as its reputation deserves. With the principles and practical phases outlines here you should look at your next big change programme in a different light. Use the principles to look at how your manage change. And the practical phases to plan each step on the change journey. Good luck.
Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

What’s Your Platform for Value Co-Creation?

20 07 2011

Dr Graham Hill, of Optima Partners enlightens us on why companies should shift their focus from producing for to creating value with customers – which is to optimize the value for all parties!

Graham HillDr Graham Hill:  A couple of years back I wrote a speculative blog post at CustomerThink entitled ‘How Customer Co-Creation is the Future of Business’. In many ways my prediction was right, Customer Co-Creation IS the future of business, but not exactly in the way I had imagined.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has been around for over 20 years. It is built around using customer analytics to improve marketing, sales and service touchpoints. And it works very well. Or at least it does for companies. But it doesn’t offer much of any value to their customers. And as a result, its effectiveness has started to fall.

Customer Experience Management (CExM) was created about 10 years ago as an antidote to the blatant one-sidedness of CRM. It still uses the same customer analytics, but it applies the insights generated to improve all the touchpoints in the end-to-end customer experience. It is still mostly about companies’ branded experiences, but it does offer more value to customers than CRM.

Both CRM and CExM are designed around passive customers who consume whatever the company offers them. That might work for more traditional customers, but it doesn’t work for today’s informed, empowered, social customer. Social customers want to be involved in co-creating their own experiences. Indeed, they expect companies to actively engage with them during the design, delivery and consumption of the experiences. The social customer knows exactly what they want. Their friends told them so. Woe betides any company that treats them as passive consumers.

Just as CExM was created as an antidote to CRM’s one-sidedness, so Customer Co-Creation was created as an antidote to CRM and CExM’s lack of engagement with customers. In it’s simplest form, it actively engages with customer during the Co-Design of products. In co-design, customers typically contribute product ideas, vote on the best ones and may even be involved in reviewing prototypes.

Companies as diverse as Lego, Ford and Best Buy have used crowdsourcing to co-design new products, marketing communications and even customer service.
Having involved customers in the co-design of products, the next step is involving them in their Co-Production. In co-production, customers take over the production, delivery and installation activities of the company. It’s a bit like self-service, only on a much larger scale. This has wide-appeal to both companies and governments. Although IKEA does it’s own product design, it expects customers to transport them home, and build them from the components provided. And governments in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands are actively engaging citizens in co-producing their own services.

Involving customers in co-design and co-production is a great start, but they both suffer from the same fundamental problems as CRM and CExM. Despite the active involvement of customers, they are still mostly about the company. The customer may receive some personal satisfaction in seeing their co-designed idea implemented, but it is the company that gets all the profit from incremental sales. And the customer may even get a marginally lower price for building their own furniture, but it is the company that reaps all the savings from not having to manufacture and distribute finished products.

If co-design and co-production are just post-modern equivalents of CRM and CExM, created to take advantage of social customers, is that all there is to co-creation? Fortunately there is more. Much more!

Value Co-Creation takes a radically different approach to co-creation. Rather than just involving customers in co-designing or co-producing products for the company, value co-creation creates a platform over which customers and companies can co-create whatever they value together. By understanding who their customers are, what they value and how they interact with the company to get it, the company can create a platform which brings together all the right resources, at the right time, so that customers can co-create more value from the interactions. The company bears the cost of providing the platform, but it creates much more value from increased sales revenues, reduced service costs, increased loyalty of customers and ultimately, increased referrals of new customers.

A good example is British Airways’ introduction of check-in kiosks at Heathrow in the 1980s. When they were first introduced, customers struggled with them. They would try them out, find them too complicated and abandon them for the check-in queue. The skills gap was just too great. So British Airways placed check-in staff next to the kiosks to show customers how to use them. Armed with this new skill, the customer could quickly check-in, avoiding the long queues and leaving them with more time to relax before their flight.
Although British Airways had to initially provide additional staff, they quickly paid for themselves in smaller check-in queues, fewer check-in staff, higher customer loyalty and higher retail sales once customers had gone airside.

By designing a platform-based business model to create more value for customers, a company can create even more value for itself. And it can use the platform to attract other partners too. Companies like Amazon, EBay and Apple have all gone to great lengths to understand who their customers are, what they value, and which interactions they use to get it, and have developed multi-sided platforms to allow customer to create more value for themselves. Their millions of satisfied customers have attracted thousands of partners to their platforms, only serving to attract yet more customers.

Customer co-creation IS the future of business. But not exactly in the way I had originally imagined. Co-design and co-production are currently much in-vogue, but they are just stepping-stones on the way towards platform-based value co-creation. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it!”.

Graham Hill

Customer-centric Innovator


Customer Support and Customer Capabilities

19 07 2011

When it comes to providing customer support, service is in general provided at the lowest common denominator level regardless of whether the customer is a Rocket Scientist or a Poodle Walker. Segmentation and service differentiation based on customer capabilities could potentially help your organisation reach resolution faster and improve the customer experience at the same time.

During the last weekend of June, about four weeks ago, my home ADSL modem started dropping the connection intermittently. The following day I called into my ISP’s (Free Telecom) Customer Support, some basic questions were asked and an appointment was made for a technician to come by and look at the issue. Three weeks later a technician came to the house, did a couple of tests and said the modem was faulty and would be replaced the next week.

This sounds like a perfect Customer Service scenario, right? So I should be a satisfied customer, right?

Well,.. no actually.

On first contact I felt I was being taken for a fool, with questions like ‘did you check that the modem was plugged in correctly?’. I tried to provide auxiliary information such as “sudden drops in the upstream noise margin” which should have given the Customer Service Representative a better idea as to what was the issue, but the CSR gave me the impression that that was way over her head.

Because I had three weeks to wait, I had time to do some research such as in online communities using my Smartphone. I was also able to see the service ticket on the ISP’s support site, but other than read that the ticket had been opened, there was no way to add my own information and or feedback. When the technician finally did come, he confirmed what I suspected and I basically felt that that the last three weeks had been wasted. A week later, no replacement, and the web interface shows that the ticket had been closed. I called the Hotline who told me that the replacement request was ‘still being processed’, and when I requested they help me set up me set up an alternative modem, they were unable to help – “What’s RFC 1483 Routed VC MUX?” the CSR asked me… I am still waiting, one month after the initial call. If only I could have checked up on what was going on and provided input from what I had found…frustrations galore!

So what in their eyes is good Customer Service by the book, to me is a poor customer experience in need of some serious service recovery! A cold call I got yesterday from another ISP is starting to look more and enticing – I’ve been with my ISP for the last 13 years so why do they make it so difficult to stay loyal to them?…

This frustration has given me the food for thought for this post. Customer Service and Contact Centers are organized to contain costs – which basically means calls are kept as short as possible with low to moderately skilled staff, often in low wage countries. It also means that the service provided assumes a the lowest common denominator of what the company thinks its customers are capable of and then provides scripts or workflows to guide both the customer and the agent along the path to resolution. The customer is happy because the issue is resolved, the agent is happy because she can move on to the next call and meet her objectives, and the company is happy because it efficiently limited the impact of providing service to the customer (cost).

So what could we be doing to achieve this state. Below are some of my thoughts:

Identification of skill level Just like in Video Games, there should be an option to choose your level, such as “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, “Advanced”, or even “Insane!” so that you get a different interaction and resolution path based on your capabilities. The risk here  is that self-assessment may be erroneous. Another approach would be to use interaction history to gain a better estimate, or use social media monitoring to construct a profile of the customer on which to base the estimate.

Alternative scripts per identified capability segment Customer service scripts are great tools to guide the agent when helping the customer, but at the same time these scripts are generic, aimed at the resolving common issues. The chances are that the customer is more savvy than the script has accounted for, and would prefer to go straight into the ‘meat of the issue’ because they have already done the basic steps, searched the internet and consulted their peers before reaching out to support. Here as well, it could be interesting to not only monitor socila media, but actually to track what a particular customer has been browsing on your support site.

Agent matching Rather assign an agent to a customer service rep based on whoever is available in a pool, thru identification such as by their telephone number, twitter handle or whatever ID the customer prefers to use to reach out and previous interaction history, we can do enhanced matching based on agent segmentation (personality type, skill level) so as to facilitate the next interaction and to align the customer capabilities with the agent ones.

Agile processes and transparency Being able to adapt to the context as information is discovered will be key to improving the outcome, as well as potentially reduce the time necessary for reaching a resolution. If the resolution path requires that it takes longer than a phone call or an email to sort it all out, it may make sense to include the customer directly in the collaboration process by letting them contribute their insight, findings and ideas thru for example an update form in a webpage, or a dial-in interface that transcribes their input from speech to text and adds it to the case. Accountability to reach an outcome within limits set by an SLA should not only be to a Line Manager, but also to the customer, with the possibility for her to request an escalation in case of non-adherence. Escalation can effectively extend the grace period during which the customer is willing to tolerate a delay in issue resolution. When things really go awry and there is no sight of resolution, the customer is dissatisfied and the company risks losing her for good.

These are just some ideas of how a customer capabilities could be integrated into Customer Support and the list is not exhaustive. The idea behind it is that service could be improved, costs reduced and positively impact the customer experience at the same time. Please Share your thoughts in the comments below, I am very keen on hearing them!

Putting Social Messaging in Context

30 06 2011

During his keynote at the Social Business Forum Milan where I participated in a panel, Keith Swenson made the following very interesting observation: in business, the paradigm is moving from a Newtonian model (external observability, smoothness, simple rules, predictability) towards a Quantum model (limited precision, turbulence, relationship-based, unpredictability).

Currently we’re in a phase where we are trying to adapt to this new paradigm, and most notably we are looking at how IT tools can help us adapt to improve the way we interact with out collegues, supplier, partners and yes, our customers(!) in order to optimize business outcomes. Pioneers such as Yammer, Socialcast and Newsgator have found inspiration in the user-friendly interfaces of Facebook and then Twitter and are helping to move the needle from document-centric organisation towards more people-centric. Activity Streams for example are rapidly finding their place in business by facilitating sharing and the exchange of information and ideas. As the next step in the evolution, vendors are now adding features such as letting applications send out messages into these streams, such as a notification that a payment has been processed or from a machine needs servicing.
With it come a host of related technologies deemed necessary to make them fit for working behind the firewall, such as integration with Enterprise Directories, security layering and encryption of sensitive data.

Social Messaging is helping change the way we work, enabling new ways of collaboration, but at the same time it is adding a lot of overhead rather than simplifying communication and facilitating ‘serendipity’. Messages have certainly become shorter and more effective (though it does take quite a bit of skill to decypher the 140 character messages sometimes), but I believe that as these platform gain in popularity, there is a real risk of information overload. Just think back to the Will & Kate Royal Wedding – at one moment there were over 4,000 tweets per second flying around the internet. It is impossible for anyone to follow these snippets of information, other than get a general idea thru engines such as Radian 6 or Attensity that pull out trends and sentiments.

Now I am not saying that this comparable to what happens within businesses (not quite yet…), but we’re slowly displacing the email overload issue to social event messaging overload, whilst losing the advantage of email – namely its asynchronous nature – in the process. You could go for a coffee break or a morning management meeting and miss out on information of capital importance to your business. Your Desktop’s Home Screen or your Mobile Device will show you the events in real time, but what happens when there are so many events that they scroll away and out of sight (which means out of mind…)? This issue will only worsen when you bear in mind that adoption of social messaging is not ubiquitous yet. Currently general uptake is still relatively limited, so imagine what will happen when the trickle of events becomes a river…

Moreover, what will happen when we start collaborating with external parties through your Enterprise Social Messaging system? What will happen when Customers add information to your online community platform or request assistance through a tweet or a Facebook message or whatever Social Messaging system we’ll have in the future? Or what to do with Fedex update about delivery of the goods that were ordered? Or how to manage information collected through an automated interactive scheduler to confirm when you’ll most likely be home to receive the goods? How do you manage security (who can do what, when where and how) and keep track of the context (why)?

Various Knowledge Management strategies have seen the light – again borrowed from the consumer space – such as filtering thru content tagging (adding meta data, hashtagging…), subscriptions to who and what you follow (publish/subscribe model), or group-based selection. What I believe will be he next ‘level up’ will be ‘intelligent’ filtering thru message analysis that uses social graphs, expertise tracking, and context information to rank and prioritize what is shown to whom and how, what is pushed to an asynchronous stream and what is left to gently fade into the flow, and what is flagged as requiring follow-up actions if no resultant activity is detected. Gamification has the potential to play a role here to ensure that we do capture the interactions and the expertise of the employees and construct an effective representation of the social networks that is beneficial to our Knowledge Workers. Rather than have gamification only promote and drive certain desired behaviours, analytics can feed itself on that data to make suggestions regarding who should be collaborating and within which context in order to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

What is currently lacking from my point of view in the tools currently proposed by Enterprise Software Vendors is the ability to get the right message to the right person(s) at the right time, whilst at the same time providing them with sufficient context to allow them to make informed decisions. Hence my fondness of Adaptive Case Management and its potential to be used as a collaboration framework and system of record for context whilst at the same time laying a foundation for the Quantum model that will build on the strengths of Knowledge Workers.

ACM is – among other things – used as the glue to maintain the ‘paper trail’ so as to guarantee visibility, traceability and accountability whilst leaving sufficient flexibility to for people to deal with unpredictable and unforeseen events. I believe it also has great potential to incorporate Social Messaging events as part of this ‘paper trail’ and thus provide an elaborate context for more effective collaboration which can then serve as the basis for expertise discovery and context for gamification. The key issue to solve how to route and associate these Social Messages efficiently with the right context – which is where the aforementioned tagging and analytics can play their part.

Social Messaging is currently still very much in its infancy in terms of it being used in a business, because there is no real framework yet that allows it to remain effective as the volume increases. Context-enhanced social messaging, with the possibility to drill down and expand on information and to connect with people on-demand who have the right skillset will be the next hurdle to overcome to retain collaboration effectiveness.

Connecting Salesforce and Radian 6

10 05 2011

It’s been a month since I attended Cloudforce in Paris, followed bythe Radian6 User Conference in Boston – so I thought it would be about time to gather my ideas and impressions and ‘commit them to paper’, so to speak. Especially in the light of the acquisition of the latter by the former just before the events. Salesforce clients in particular will stand to gain through the connection of social customer insights to the Sales and Service Clouds, by identifying new opportunities to engage with customers and to explore the customer’s context in order to facilitate service interactions.

In Paris we were graced with the presence of Marc Benioff – a gifted and convincing public speaker who delivered a well-constructed presentation – let down only by his apparent need to jab his rivals. Marc took us through not only the rapid growth of Salesforce, but also through the entire evolution of business computing. The way it was presented that Cloud Computing is the next level up from mainframe, client/server, personal computing, and the internet. Although I would agree that Cloud Computing has disrupted the way we organize IT by turning it into a utility, changing it from a CapEx to an OpEx that potentially moves the deployment decision from the CIO to the Line of Business – I would challenge that the platform features by themselves correspond with the term ‘disruptive innovation’.

Let me elaborate on that. What we have seen is that the delivery mode may have changed, but what the user sees is still the same contact database and Sales funnel designed primarily to efficiently help management keep tabs on sales activity rather than make the Salesperson more effective. Although tools have been provided to customize the interface (or DIY it thru, there is little room for example to take into account approaches more aligned with customer buying cycles, such as the McKinsey Consumer Decision Journey. You may counter that argument by saying that the Sales Funnel is a method that has proven to be effective in the past – but then again, how would you know whether you’re not losing a lot of business opportunities because you interacted with the prospect at the wrong time? With the Sales funnel, these would fall by the wayside, with the tacit hope that your Marketing or Inside Sales team will pick them up again when they call back in 3-6 months without any nurturing…Furthermore, if all of your competitors are using the same approach, there is no competitive edge to be gained as this effectively levelling the playing field.

This is not something that is specific to Salesforce however: I’d say that CRM Vendors offer systems that in 95% of the cases all have the exact same features. And as such I believe this is where I think the Radian 6 acquisition makes the most sense, beyond just the social media engagement toolset.

It is not just the listening capabilities of the platform, but also the mindset of this dynamic company from New Brunswick (Canada) that can help bring about a new conciousness about other approaches to CRM systems that better cater to the expectations of the Social Customer . This is where the real disruptive innovation can be had in my opinion. As we come to better understand the relationship between customer activity (not only on social media, but also on other channels such as the phone with a CSR, at events, thru geolocation clustering – anywhere that we can get extra datapoints) and their buying and advocacy behaviour, we’ll need to the flexibility and agility to be able to adapt our systems. And Radian 6 is in a position to provide many more datapoints than Salesforce has ever had access to, so all is needed now is some Sensemaking. Easy peasy!

Oversimplification aside, one caveat that I’d like to highlight is that as were still very much in the early days of discovering how monitoring social media activity can improve business, and furthermore there is still very little awareness as to the capabilities of the various listening and monitoring platforms. Radian 6 does a very good job of scraping the various blogs, twitter streams and so on and putting this in reports, but it should not be forgotten that at best, you’ll get some trends that can be used to steer your messaging in quasi real time – or with a bit of luck discover some hitherto hidden needs. Salesforce on the other hand is about managing data about individual customers – which you can then group into segments with similar characteristics (demographics etc.) so as to optimize your marketing spend for example.

Just to make the distinction more clear, there is a gap between trending “customers” and getting specific social activity about an individual customer to get their context, kind of like the difference between having market intelligence versus having customer intelligence. Radian 6 has added features such as the Engagement Console which allows you to apply rules-based filters to extract events that require attention, as well as mechanisms to assign a reaction workflow to the Response Team, or create tickets in Salesforce’s Service Cloud (whether third-party CRM Systems will continue to be supported remains to be seen…).

An interesting development that was presented at the Radian 6 User Conference in this light is the Insights platform. Even before the announcement of the acquisition, they were working to become a pluggable platform, allowing you to add Best-of-Breed second-pass datacrunchers such as Clarabridge for Sentiment and Text Analysis, or Klout to measure influence and thus potential for Advocacy (or nuisance) in order to figure out some level of prioritization – even though I have my reservations about the validity of the algorithms used…

The Insights platform is where Radian 6 and Salesforce will come together – where the linking and analysis will take place to enrich customer profiles with insights derived from social media engagement as well as from other channels in order to better understand customer contexts and provide adequate responses in line with customer expectations.The missing piece of the puzzle (which I talked about in this presentation I gave at the Social CRM 2011 London event) is collaboration to actually optimize how how we organize in order to meet customer expectations and needs. Furthermore, Insights is an essential part of the package as pouring an unfiltered firehose of social media events into Chatter could inundate it with a lot of static, and lead to it becoming impossible to use effectively.

The question that remains for me is the pricing model. Radian 6 has announced it will continue to function as an independent company, but I am still in the dark as to whether clients will be obliged to go through for example to get access to the data – and thus need to pay access to the intermediate platform as well. If anybody can shed some light on this, please do so in the comments below!

Building a Customer Experience that Creates Value for Customers… And for Companies.

2 05 2011

Today I am honoured to host a guest post by Dr. Graham Hill, Partner, Optima Partners and Associate, DesignThinkers. Take it away Graham!

Graham HillToo many customer experiences (CEx) are created just for the benefit of companies. Customer are either a target or an afterthought. Many customer experience practitioners don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room; the most important touchpoints are not about marketing, sales or service, but about the weeks, months, even years of product usage. Companies need to re-orient the customer experience around what customers’ value, the touchpoints they use to create it and how the company can benefit from co-creating more value together with customers. Doing this opens up new opportunities to earn revenues long after the point of sale.

We tend to see the world in terms of who we are and what we do. It’s a cognitive bias colloqially known as Maslow’s Hammer. So advertising people, who obsess about Brands, talk about the customer experience (CEx) in terms of creating a branded experience. And internet people, who obsess about ecommerce, talk about the CEx in terms of creating a better on-line experience. And CRM people, who obsess about marketing, sales and service, talk about CEx in terms of, yes, you’ve guessed it, more efficient and effective, sales and service.

These are all inside-out versions of CEx. They are only about companies, their consultants and the vendors who service them both. They are NOT about customers. They all pay lip-service to customers, but the customer is not at the heart of their thinking, let alone their doing. They are at best a target, at worst, just an afterthought. It is a lot like waiting on-hold in a customer service queue and hearing a sugary voice intone on the telephone, “your business is important to us”. Sure it is, but not enough to staff the call centre with sufficient people to answer my call in a reasonable time.

Make no mistake, the CEx IS about brands, and the online experience, and marketing, sales and service, but it is about so much more as well. As was recently suggested in an online discussion, “CEx… is the sum total of the interactions a customer has with your company“. That’s close, but not quite close enough. In fact, most of the inside-out versions of CEx are so busy focusing on themselves that they don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room. That for the vast majority of customers, the most frequent and most important touchpoints are with the product during the days, weeks, months, even years of usage. For customers, the CEx is mostly about value-in-use.

If customers care the most about value-in-use, then the CEx should mostly be about enabling customers to get the most out of using the company’s products during usage touchpoints. That starts with helping the customer establish a need for the product, helping them to make the right choices and offering them the right sales terms. All the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers talk about. The ones of most value to the company. But critically, the CEX is also about supporting them when they first use the product, and then over a lifetime of product usage, up to the point where it is disposed of. These are the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers don’t like to talk about. The ones of most value to the customer.

This doesn’t mean bending over backwards just to give customers everything for free. Companies don’t need to become charities. It does mean understanding what customers are trying to do at each touchpoint in the CEx and at what creates value for them during each touchpoint, and then working out how to enable customers to create more value in such a way that the company can create more value too. And value isn’t just hard cash. It can also be knowledge that is used to drive innovation, relationships that reduce the cost of the next sale, even advocacy that drives word of mouth recommendation. The CEx isn’t just about creating value for customers, it’s about value co-creation together with customers.

If companies do this intelligently, it can turn upside-down how they go to market. Rather than just charging customers for outputs at the point of sale then abandoning them to their fate, which is so often what happens, companies can also charge customers for ongoing outcomes during the weeks, months and years of using the product. For example, Rolls Royce Aviation doesn’t sell aero engines any more. Instead, it sells ‘power by the hour’. Customers only pay Rolls Royce when the aero engine is used to fly their airplanes. And the airline may even be paid by Rolls Royce for maintaining the same engines in their own facilities. Its all part of a move towards outcome-based contracting that is sweeping business.

If we want CEx to become more than just another advertising slogan, ‘one touch’ button or marketing cross-sell campaign, we need to start to think about it from the customer’s perspective. And to work out how to co-create more value together with customers. Not convinced? Ask yourself a simple question, “which company would you prefer to do business with? One that is only interested in creating value for itself, or one that wants to co-create value together with YOU!”. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? It should be for companies too.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator

Further Reading:

Merz, He & Vargo
The Evolving Brand Logic: A Service-dominant Logic Perspective

‘Power by the Hour’: Can Paying Only for Performance Redefine How Products Are Sold and Serviced?

Irene Ng
Outcome-Based Contracting: Changing the Boundaries of B2B Customer Relationships