Improving Operations, with a Social Twist

Earlier this month I had the good fortune to post on the Harvard Business Review blog network.

In an article titled “Using Social Networks to Improve Operations” my colleague Mike Amos and I discuss how the programs for soliciting customer feedback have evolved from mystery shopping, to early customer experience management programs, through today’s more sophisticated experience management programs we’ve dubbed “Social CEM”. Social CEM programs go beyond simply measuring satisfaction and focus on turning delighted customers into active brand advocates on social media channels.

As I reflect on the implications of the cycle of innovation we’re in, I become increasingly excited about the opportunity that lies ahead. Not simply for the world of CEM but for the intersection of businesses and consumers as a whole.

There was a time when business owners were on a first name basis with all their best customers. As businesses grew ever larger with more sources for distribution (many enterprises have 100s of store units) successful scale became an impediment to those relationships. Today, the convergence of social media and customer experience management bridges much of that divide. We are at a crossroads where the old business ideal of “knowing every customer” can be made possible through technology, enabling large corporations a level of agility that matches that of the time when our grandparents shopped at their local general store.

Nobody needs to be reminded of the growth of social media. Some believe that social networks are the most significant advance in communication since the birth of the internet itself. While the value of social communication is clearly understood from the consumer side, it can still remain muddy from a business point of view.

The initial focus of social media use from businesses has been to leverage its growing audience as a channel for the ‘same old’ advertising. That is, viewing social media users as consumers rather than creators of brand content. This is ironic since social media is in fact defined as the collaborative consumption AND creation of content. As the social media user base continues to grow so does the opportunity for mobilizing brand content creators or active advocates.

Rarely have I worked with a brand that scored less than 80% satisfaction amongst its customer base. Being involved in hundreds of customer experience programs over the last 10 years has taught me that the vast majority of customers are happy. Focusing on active advocacy is a huge opportunity for brands to tap in to this happy (but silent) majority to solicit genuine recommendations to be shared amongst peers.

The advocate process is proving far more powerful than regular social network advertising. The key is authenticity: we listen to our friends and colleagues for advice and recommendations. So while retailers and restaurant owners can buy social media advertising, the real place to drive growth is on the consumer newsfeeds. Not only are those kinds of click throughs more numerous. They are also more powerful. Beyond simple word of mouth advertising, poor-performing outlets get suggestions for improvement, which they use to guide better operational performance.

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