Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

via The Buzz Bin by Geoff Livingston on 6/30/09
Note: this is somewhat of a guest post by Geoff Livingston. I saved it to my Posterous page with the intent of bookmarking it; evidently, it resulted in a posting to my blog here. Full credit goes to Geoff.

3658269481_f5fc101e5f.jpgIf social is but a channel, then the real issue for companies lies in embracing feedback from their most important stakeholders: Their customers.
That was the focus of the Forrester Customer Experience Forum last week in New York City (photos here).

Organizations struggle with corporate barriers to moving towards their customers. Controlling the experience has long been the domain of various departments from product marketing to customer service. Giving stakeholders a voice in that process — via phones, email, mail, participation and yes, social media — has been the antithesis of many corporate cultures for decades. Yet according to Forrester, by failing to embrace their customers and bulwarking their experience, companies are denying themselves serious benefits:

  • 14.4% of customers would purchase more
  • 15.8% of customers would be less likely to switch brands
  • 16.6% of customers would refer the brand more often

Yet in spite of these beneficial numbers, progress seems daunting. During the Chief Customer Officer panel (yes, this is apparently a title), two panelists indicated they were making progress, meeting with company executives as often as once a month or more… Once a month? That’s it?

But for every ten companies haltingly talking to and listening to their customers, there is a Virgin America. The entire company seems to be built around creating the ultimate, enjoyable (gulp) airline experience. As CEO David Cush went through his session, you couldn’t help but smile and admire the audacious brilliance of Richard Branson as he turns the American airline industry on its ear. This is how companies should be built.


Barriers to Adoption

We’ve discussed this before here on the Buzz Bin. There are serious cultural barriers to adopting social media, and in general, customer feedback (find a link to a white paper here). Siloed corporate structures prevent companies from listening to and embracing their customers.

Forrester outlined a five stage process that organizations need to go through to foster the evolutionary change towards a customer-centric organization:

1) Interest - Discuss that there may be a problem with customer interaction and that the company may need to research its stakeholders

2) Invest - Upon realizing that there is a lack of understanding about customer needs, get the company to invest in a “voice of the customer” program

3) Commit - This is where getting C-Suite buy-in is absolutely necessary for success. The company must commit to responding to customer feedback.

4) Engage - Take the feedback from customers, and apply it across the line. Change the experience.

5) Embed - Make the customer experience feedback loop and product innovation part of the actual cultural lifeblood of the organization.

According to Forrester, most American companies are either in stage one or two of the five stages. I think part of the failure to adapt has to do with the tendency to use old ways to affect change. Consider the siloesque idea of a customer department or initiative, rather than realizing customer centric behavior affects a company across the line.


Consider how David Armano and the team at Dachis are starting to address the challenges of cultural barriers to customer interaction (pictured above). They see multiple nodes touching hubs throughout an organization. Similarly, Charlene Li’s latest research is focusing on how companies embrace their customers to become socialprises.

The challenge to becoming a customer-centric organization is not as easy as simply listening. It involves reinventing many an organization’s actual structure and workflow. Cultural barriers to success cannot be underestimated.

The Social Backlash

Throughout the conference there was a very clear and present resistance to social media hype. Every single discussion around our new media certainly recognized its value as a great way to converse with customers. Every successful company featured at the Forum had some kind of social component, even if it was just listening to feedback.

But more and more, you heard executives rejecting social media as a panacea for customer ills and feedback. In fact, there were discussions about the viability of Twitter in the long term as a scaleable tool, and whether it really could supplant news organizations for information.

While companies recognize social media for its value as a toolset, they don’t see it as the cure all for an actual experience, and don’t see it as the alpha and omega for customer contact points. Instead it is one of several ways customers discuss their experiences from calls, web site chats, email, etc. There was a huge emphasis on multichannel integration of customer voices throughout the conference.

This backlash seems to me be a result of overhype. A smart communicator can see this. Customers don’t touch a company in one, singular channel. They have many touches from ads, news, web sites (standard and mobile) and packaging all the way through to the actual product experience. To think that social media is it for a company is a horrific error. And the implication of the current hype cycle would only have companies communicating in 140 character sound bytes. Thus the very natural backlash.

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