As technologists and engineers we love shiny new objects. I'll be the first to admit it's fun to dive right under the covers and see how all the moving parts look and fit together. But it's easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. This is business, not consumer technology; focusing on the technology too often means losing sight of business outcomes.

So it's always a good idea to regularly return to basics. And what's more basic than a return to business fundamentals. An analysis of where CMS and social fit into your organization doesn't have to be a huge, multi-year, strategic project (although it can be). It can be as simple as a departmental “skunkworks” project.

Here are 6 simple, but important steps to get the most out of your technology:

  1. Align with business objectives “It's about the task, not the tool”. Prioritize your initiatives based on what your business needs most.
  2. Pick a Project Once you've settled on a project that has merit, form a small group with the right cross-section of participants. Not so big that the management becomes unwieldy ("too many cooks"), but not so few that the project is starved of resources.
  3. Short-list your requirements If you could redesign the process to take advantage of newer technologies, what would it look like?
  4. Set measurable goals Don't measure without an objective. Ensure the project has a set of goals, and those goals are measurable in some way, before starting the next step.
  5. Rapidly iterate Build a sandbox. Test it out. See what works and doesn't. Quickly iterate and repeat.
  6. Measure and Communicate How are you actually doing? What is going well? What's holding you back? And who should know about it and when?

Alignment with Business Objectives

We at IBM have identified the top 5 business processes that are most positively impacted by social capabilities and content. Which processes are most important to your business?

  • Human Resources: improving the effectiveness of people by enabling the right talent and content to come together at the right time
  • Sales and Customer Engagement: Increasing sales by connecting sellers to the insights and expertise they need to better serve their customers
  • Risk Management: Reducing risk exposure by increasing transparency and strengthening operational controls
  • Marketing and Customer Service: Building customer advocacy by reaching, attracting and retaining more customers through engaging experiences
  • Product and Service Innovation: Bringing successful new products to market more quickly by understanding and aligning to customer needs.

As an example: out of these priorities, let's say your company's top priority over the next 3 years is improving customer service.

Pick a Project

To pick a project, think about where CMS and social technologies can have the most immediate impacts. At IBM, we found it useful to organize those impacts in 4 different categories:

  1. Reach: Reach people where they live and work; connect through identities on consumer, b2b and corporate social networks; and communicate on the associated channels.
  2. Engage: Enable people to engage productively in a business context; develop personal insights and social intelligence; and facilitate emergent processes.
  3. Discover: Monitor and analyze social data to discover new business insights; analyze identities, social graphs, communication channels and social content; and identify opportunities, problems, solutions, valuations, etc.
  4. Act: Act on insights for business advantage; integrate social capabilities into the enterprise in order to act on new opportunities; and make better decisions, optimize processes in real time and govern and manage risk.

Continuing with our example, you may find that your customer service call center representatives are having problems finding the right expert in a timely way to solve customer problems over the phone.

Requirements

Time to ask the actual end users what would help them. Ask them to be creative. Think about their day-to-day jobs, and ask two questions, one for brainstorming and one for "leading the witness":

  1. If you could recreate your average work day, and resources were no object, what would it look like?
  2. If you could do X, how useful would you find that vs. Y? (A/B testing works well here, but you need to have a good list of ideas ready before you start)

In our example, one of our call center representatives said: “I can never find experts in time to help a customer when they're on the phone with me. I almost always have to call them back if their problem doesn't exactly fit the script. I wish I could, right from my CSR application, quickly find an expert on the topic and hot-swap them into my call.”

The project team, in turn, decides based on this and other feedback that some kind of expert content management add-on to the CSR application is a good place to start. To keep the project small and to quickly learn from it, the team will limit the project only to the Albuquerque Call Center, with 1/2 of the reps using the new system, and 1/2 using the old system, to be able to compare results.

Set Goals

My experience has been that it's far better to set the goal BEFORE you start, rather than afterwards. Otherwise I'll not be able to measure the right things at the right time, or worse, declare "success" without ever really understanding whether I was really successful or not. So it's important to clearly articulate, up front, what constitutes "success" and how it will be measured.

In our example, our Albuquerque Call Center defines as successful a project that increases by 3 points the percentage of Severity 2 problem tickets closed with a customer rating of “satisfied” or “very satisfied.”

Rapid Iteration

Now it's time to actually build. Which means, now, and only now, are you ready to investigate specific technology vendors and solutions, compare them against your goals and requirements, and pick a technology to test.

It's also a good idea to "workshop" the solution first through multiple iterations, like a Proof of Concept or Proof of Technology, to test how the technology actually measures up to your specific environment, goals and requirements.

Once the prototype is ready, apply and learn how it's actually being used. Collect fixes and improvements, prioritize them and don't forget to measure!

Measure and Communicate

Because you ran a test group and a pilot group together, you can measure changes resulting from the new solution compared with business-as-usual. In our example, the representatives who were able to find experts and content right from inside their CSR application were able to successfully close customer calls 3 minutes faster with one less call-back, and improved the satisfaction rating those customers gave from 79% to 81%, compared to the reps using the previous system. That tells the project team they're on the right track (positive improvement), that more improvement is needed to reach goals (only 2 points, not 3), and that something unexpected needs to be considered (call duration dropped while satisfaction increased!).

Just as important, communicate those results far and wide:

  • to users -- users want to know what their peers are doing better, so they can improve as well. Without that feedback loop, adoption lags ("why should I use this new system? I like the old one just fine...").
  • to management -- is the project on track? Is it going to make them look good? Is it going to make ME look good?
  • to peer business units -- are there lessons learned here they can apply to their business processes?

...and so on.

Continuing the Conversation

What do you think? What are some of the ways you're getting beyond the technology and back to business basics?

I know I'll be watching the CMSWire Back to Basics Social BusinessTweet Jam on Wed Feb 22 (10am PT), so I look forward to continuing the conversation there, or in the comments to this post.

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