I’d like to tell you a story. I was a major bank’s customer for a few years, but had to switch to another bank as I moved to California. I left the account open with just enough money to carry me until I could close it. One day, I looked at my account and saw that I had been getting charged a monthly service charge because an unauthorized transaction had made me dip below the limit without me knowing. I called the bank’s 800 number and asked to be credited, with no result, even after speaking to a manager. I asked to close my account and was told to “Call this other 800 number.”

The following month, I got dinged again, because the problem was compounding with every service charge. And the next month... And the month after that... There I was looking at my pathetically small account, driven down to a mere $50 after at least 6 months of service charges. As a last resort, I sent a tweet. Within hours, an amazing thing happened, as it usually does when you enter the realm of “social service.” I received a call from the office of the president, and a few days later my account was closed at my request, and all the money was refunded.

Social on the Inside Comes First

I’ve seen this play out in one way or another many times in the past few years. As happy as it makes me getting such good results with minimal friction (sending a tweet vs. the excruciating pain of 800 numbers), it concerns me how far apart the social customer experience is from its traditional equivalent.

There are many reasons for this, which deserve a separate post, but I can say with a high degree of confidence that the public nature of social media is a leading reason in and of itself. Companies are afraid of being “slammed” publicly and are more likely to move when that danger exists. Social support thus tends to be more empowered to take action and is more adept at exception handling, as a result of availability of better resources.

It’s easy to do social media; it’s considerably harder to be a social business because it stands for transformation of culture, process and people. A social business doesn’t just manifest itself in quick resolution over Twitter; a social business is excellent in handling all customer scenarios (sales, marketing, service, etc.) in every channel that it occurs.

A social business knows that if you have a subpar experience on the phone or in a store, you may tweet about it, or you may just tell your friends. It doesn’t matter how high your Klout score is, because to our friends and family, we are all influencers. A social business knows that its best asset is its employees and treats them accordingly, compelling them to be your biggest brand champions. An externally social business is thus social on the inside, first and foremost.

A Rapidly Changing World

As we move toward being social businesses, we have to start shedding old processes and norms. The command-and-control process won’t work when you have to make decisions quickly; decision-making has to be decentralized, and employees need to have the latitude and access to information to get their jobs done. Here are some reasons why our world is changing so rapidly:

  • Innovation happens at an unprecedented rate; technology has made innovation possible not only in high-tech products, but also in consumer products, pharma, automotive, energy and a countless number of other sectors.
  • It’s harder and harder to get consumers’ attention as they see more and more messages from you and your competitors across an increasing number of channels, and trust vendors less and less.
  • The social customer is empowered and wants things done on her terms. Customers want individual attention, which makes your ability to handle exceptions increasingly important. Oh yeah… she also wants that response faster.
  • Not only are your competitors doing more, but you also have more competitors as technology lowers barriers to entry.
  • There are more channels for people to interact with you, thus consistency across these channels becomes more important. There’s nothing that can kill a business faster than discrepancy in the brand experience. Just ask McDonald’s; they have consistency down to a science: you get the same experience everywhere.

Social exposes bad processes, putting them under a microscope; and to compete, you need to be ready to change. Just imagine if the bank representatives from my story were able to take action beyond their script. Imagine if they could log onto a system like Yammer (disclaimer: I work there) and connect with other reps who faced the same problem. Imagine if they could get the attention of their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors, who could approve their action. Imagine if my problem could’ve been solved months earlier, avoiding my angry tweets.

Steps to Ensure You’re Ready for Social

Here are some steps that you need to take to ensure you are ready to be social internally and externally:

  • Hire the right employees who can take the initiative to find the right solutions for their problems, as well as help other employees in their efforts.
  • Train and develop employees properly; give them room to grow and shape their careers. Create an environment where innovation, problem solving and accountability matter more than “face time.”
  • Allow flexible work environments where employees can work where and when they feel most productive.
  • Move away from command-and-control environments, and toward more collaborative ones.
  • Get people talking to each other to share key information, ask and answer each other’s questions. Get all levels talking to each other, flattening the organization.
  • Increase serendipity by delivering key updates and business data to the right people at the right time.
  • Get business systems talking to each other; integrate your social data with your internal systems of record. This way, no matter how fast things move, you won’t miss a beat.
  • Make sure that social becomes part of existing processes -- otherwise, you risk creating another silo. Build in escalation and fail-over into your social business processes; don’t hang your social success on any one particular person. Sure, there needs to be a person accountable, but to succeed, you need to involve the stakeholders from across the organization.
  • Create a process to listen to your customers and non-customers, move insight to action and provide the feedback loop back to the customer.

If you do the above and start collaborating internally, you will improve customer experience, compress response times and speed up the innovation process. You will make better decisions faster, retain employees and customers, and as a result optimize your revenue and reduce expenses.

Your Feedback

Now, your turn! Tell us in the comments how you’ve been able to move your business toward being more social in a holistic way. What are the challenges that you face? What are some successes you’ve had?

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