"The consensus was that brands are out of our hands to a certain extent anyhow, so it is better to engage on your own terms and start a conversation with consumers. And listening was seen as a critical starting point to the dialogue."
In a similar conversation with Anne Bartlett-Bragg yesterday, I was reminded of an old business book from 1992 by Karl Albrecht called The Only Thing That Matters. Reflective of the time it was written, this is a book about adopting a Total Quality Service approach to business. However, it it prefaced with an attitude that resonates with Kate's comments:
"We're learning to understand what goes on in the minds of our customers, and not to substitute our own arrogant hypotheses about what the customer presumably want"
But what is even more interesting is that later in the book it introduces some ideas for aligning quality objectives, measurement approach and employee empowerment... think about that for a moment. At its most sophisticated level, Albrecht's approach calls for a combination of:
- A business focus on managing customer perceptions;
- Using customer sensing to listen to customers ("There is no way you can accurately gauge the mental, emotional, or subjective reactions of customers over a period of time without asking them to express themselves to you"); and
- Employee empowerment through well-formed and well-oriented discretion to take action.
This suggests to me that it isn't enough just to listen to customers.
In fact you need to back up the listening process with employees who are empowered to respond - but this isn't just about being able to respond back into social networks when someone says something bad, it actually means empowering them to take action beyond just building relationships with customers that include:
- Adding to the customer experience;
- Breaking down communication silos;
- Problem solving;
- Continuous product and service improvement; and
- Product and service innovation.
And this in my mind calls for engaging and empowering staff with social computing tools inside the firewall too, not just listening to social media chatter on the outside.
Some might suggest that you don't need to build that social computing infrastructure internally as this is the role for a community manager. But I suspect if a community manager represents the end of the line for engagement with customers then, well, we might see a lot of talk but not a lot of action from the rest of the organisation... which will ultimately bite you in that external social media space.
I wonder what Albrecht would think about applying new social computing technology to his old ideas? How about you?