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 dingedagain, because the problem was compounding with every service charge.And the next month... And the month after that... There I was looking atmy pathetically small account, driven down to a mere $50 after at least6 months of service charges. As a last resort, I sent a tweet. Withinhours, an amazing thing happened, as it usually does when you enter therealm of “social service.” I received a call from the office of thepresident, and a few days later my account was closed at my request, andall the money was refunded.

Social on the Inside Comes First

I’veseen this play out in one way or another many times in the past fewyears. As happy as it makes me getting such good results with minimalfriction (sending a tweet vs. the excruciating pain of 800 numbers), itconcerns me how far apart the social customer experience is from itstraditional equivalent.

There are many reasons for this, whichdeserve a separate post, but I can say with a high degree of confidencethat the public nature of social media is a leading reason in and ofitself. Companies are afraid of being “slammed” publicly and are morelikely to move when that danger exists. Social support thus tends to bemore 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 bea social business because it stands for transformation of culture,process and people. A social business doesn’t just manifest itself inquick resolution over Twitter; a social business is excellent inhandling all customer scenarios (sales, marketing, service, etc.) inevery channel that it occurs.

A social business knows that if youhave a subpar experience on the phone or in a store, you may tweet aboutit, or you may just tell your friends. It doesn’t matter how high yourKlout score is, because to our friends and family, we are allinfluencers. A social business knows that its best asset is itsemployees and treats them accordingly, compelling them to be yourbiggest brand champions. An externally social business is thus social onthe inside, first and foremost.

A Rapidly Changing World

Aswe move toward being social businesses, we have to start shedding oldprocesses and norms. The command-and-control process won’t work when youhave to make decisions quickly; decision-making has to bedecentralized, and employees need to have the latitude and access toinformation to get their jobs done. Here are some reasons why our worldis changing so rapidly:

  • Innovation happens at anunprecedented rate; technology has made innovation possible not only inhigh-tech products, but also in consumer products, pharma, automotive,energy and a countless number of other sectors.
  • It’s harder andharder to get consumers’ attention as they see more and more messagesfrom you and your competitors across an increasing number of channels,and trust vendors less and less.
  • The social customer isempowered and wants things done on her terms. Customers want individualattention, which makes your ability to handle exceptions increasinglyimportant. 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.
  • Thereare more channels for people to interact with you, thus consistencyacross these channels becomes more important. There’s nothing that cankill a business faster than discrepancy in the brand experience. Justask McDonald’s; they have consistency down to a science: you get thesame experience everywhere.

Social exposes bad processes,putting them under a microscope; and to compete, you need to be ready tochange. Just imagine if the bank representatives from my story wereable to take action beyond their script. Imagine if they could log onto asystem like Yammer (disclaimer: I work there) and connect with otherreps who faced the same problem. Imagine if they could get the attentionof their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors, who couldapprove their action. Imagine if my problem could’ve been solved monthsearlier, avoiding my angry tweets.

Learning Opportunities

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:

  • Hirethe right employees who can take the initiative to find the rightsolutions for their problems, as well as help other employees in theirefforts.
  • Train and develop employees properly; give them room togrow 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.
  • Getpeople talking to each other to share key information, ask and answereach other’s questions. Get all levels talking to each other, flatteningthe organization.
  • Increase serendipity by delivering key updates and business data to the right people at the right time.
  • Getbusiness systems talking to each other; integrate your social data withyour internal systems of record. This way, no matter how fast thingsmove, you won’t miss a beat.
  • Make sure that social becomes partof 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, thereneeds to be a person accountable, but to succeed, you need to involvethe stakeholders from across the organization.
  • Create a processto listen to your customers and non-customers, move insight to actionand provide the feedback loop back to the customer.

If youdo the above and start collaborating internally, you will improvecustomer experience, compress response times and speed up the innovationprocess. You will make better decisions faster, retain employees andcustomers, 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 yourbusiness toward being more social in a holistic way. What are thechallenges that you face? What are some successes you’ve had?

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