While some form of social in any enterprise setting is now commonplace, just because you add a social feature to your application doesn't mean that you have transformed into a social business and are succeeding in using social to improve the customer experience.
Companies who have started using technologies to socialize work and customer collaboration are already yielding benefits. Sales and marketing can be improved. Employees can get answers to questions that they thought were impossible to answer. Innovation is being driven not by the few, but the many, including customers.
Committing to the Customer as Focal Point of Action
However, the transformation to a social business comes at a cost and it isn't just the cost of technology. The technologies that support the activities of the social business are still young and integration is still being worked out. Getting employees to collaborate as part of the social business to better understand your customers is not just a matter of turning on the technology. The culture of the organization must change to put customer’s first to think about how to encourage collaborative behavior.
Many businesses have already risen to the challenge of starting to understand how they can most effectively use customers. As the benefits become clear and the challenges become greater, being a social business will be ingrained in all business practices and not an afterthought.
Until then, we must first understand what the challenges and opportunities are to approaching and understanding how your business can turn customers into company evangelists to best understand how to remain productive. Staying focused on the customer not only takes time and dedication; in the social business world it also requires a commitment to action and responsiveness.
Unless your approach to social business is improving business processes and the success of your company, social technologies can quickly become a distraction rather than a new way of doing business. For more global dispersed companies it can compete for employees’ attention and if clear policies aren’t in place, engagement can have the reverse intended effect.
The Switch to Social is Inevitable
On the flip side, the opportunity a social business brings is to constantly learn new ways of doing business, to eliminate bad business practices and introduce new and improving business process. By focusing the energy of these conversations on solving business problems versus on mere socialization, the result is a direct channel for real-time customer interaction, product testing and open dialogue.
Doing social for social sake won’t get you anywhere. Organizations must move beyond a social checklist and truly understand how to connect, collaborate and improve customer experiences and then act. We are entering a new social business age where by looking at business processes that touch people who are close to us and processes that affect people that are far away it provides an invaluable awareness and view into what is happening at the front lines of your organization.
Genuine conversation and great technology can make amazing things possible. If only we would let it happen in the business world the way it has happened in the consumer world. These changes have set up new dynamics that make the social business not only possible, but adoption imperative.
The time is right to become a social business. Not just because of competitive pressure, but because it is going to happen anyway. Recognize that your workforce and the people you sell to are already social. There will always be competitive pressures, a need for innovation, globalization and the demand to retain customer knowledge, but look at the parts of your organization that can benefit most from a conversation with the customer.
Honesty, Transparency, Consistency are Keys
Go to where the conversation is happening and listen, then engage without fear. Part of engaging without fear is going into the conversation having already developed policies that are consistent, open and fair to encourage honest expression. Customers appreciate honesty, transparency and it will come back to reward you. Understand what belongs to the enterprise and limit that to the greatest extent you can. Recognizing who is participating, whether they are inside or outside the organization and what role they play in your business to help dictate the right areas to invest for the greatest return.
The proof that social adoption needs to happen within your organization is in whether your business has changed or not. Are your products better as a result of collaboration? Can you retain your employees better? Have your sales measurably increased beyond market trends? Based on a benchmark of other companies in your industry who are not adopting these technologies are you better off before these technologies or not?
You’ll reach true social business nirvana when you can measure social success by the surplus of happy employees and happy customers in a growing business.
Title image courtesy of AlexAranda (Shutterstock)
Editor's Note: To read more of John's thoughts on social, see his Social Business is About Conversations