Learnable Services, CRM, and Social Business Design

March 29, 2010

“Presenting a consistent face to customers improves their comfort and satisfaction.”

R “Ray Wang” and Jeremiah Owyang Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management

Marketing, especially social media marketing, and learning, including organizational learning, are both essential components of a dialogue strategy for customer experience design and management. A dialogue strategy builds on the assumption that companies learn more from customers when customers learn from them, and doing so benefits both. I increasingly think it provides a basic framework to think about, and consider as part of your experience design strategy, when relating to customers. Thought leaders increasingly refer to the challenge as social business design.

Given the maturity and diffusion of social media, a dialogue strategy provides a framework to discuss communication as an ecosystem, whether addressing collaboration, innovation, segmentation, sales, customer service, or brands. The key to the process is understanding customers, attracting them, engaging them with sales in mindempowering them to solve your product and service problems, and learning from them to improve products and services, thereby strengthening your brand. It is not simply segmenting them, targeting them, driving them through interactions, and transacting with them through sales.

Over time, people buy things they need from you rather than someone else because they want what you offer, and because they feel an empathic connection, i.e. that you understand them. From my reading, Wim Rampen’s contention that we need to use segmentation the customer’s way gets to the heart of the point. The challenge of learning how to make an empathic connection increases to the extent that CRM (customer relationship management) aims to align customer engagement directly with business transactions.

Those looking for a direct, sustained connection between customer engagement and sales from Social CRM are expecting too much in my opinion. The key question is whether you know that Jane Smith who called for support tonight also chatted with one of your people earlier, or posted (or tweeted) something positive or negative about you on her blog, or posted something about your product/service to a how-to community forum. Knowing any of those things about Jane’s activities and experiences with your brand increases the potential for empathic connection between your people and Jane, meaning your understanding of what Jane needs from your products/services increases.

It would be nice if a monitoring platform could listen for you and, just automatically, determine how influential Jane Smith really is in the scheme of things. It might be nice to have a social media management system that just took care of everything, gauged the influence of anyone commenting about you online, ranked their value relative to your brand, and prioritized the level of response needed. However, in the near term, regardless of how much we want that panacea, your employees, or outsource partners, are going to need to engage with your customers as though their problems are your own

Nestle’ can speak to that issue recently. It is important to note that the Nestle’ example is not the first time a company’s supply chain management, rather than a product or service per se, came under organized criticism. Nike and Shell, among others, found their own supply chain relationships under fire over the past decade. Indeed, Shell’s early experiment in 1998 with a blog called Tell Shell came under such negative commentary from the public that the company shut it down. Nike, on the other hand, engaged the debate and incorporated the criticisms into its business model, I’ll leave it to you to decide which brand strategy makes the most sense for customer relationships.

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Customer Competencies, Co-Creation, and Brand Communities

October 20, 2009
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

Word of mouth communities and networks using social software are increasingly spread over regional, national, and international borders, making them much more important to those who market branded products and services, online and off. The recent buzz around the concept of social business points to the growing importance of social networks and communities to the evolution of business practice. Whether companies are in fact closing the community gap or the engagement gap remains an open question though.

As Rachael Happe of the Community Roundtable notes in commentary on the Community Maturity Model:

in the stages before a company becomes truly networked, metrics are isolated to supporting one business process vs. in a networked business the whole business becomes social and the communities are set up to support cross-functional goals.

In other words, customer communities approaching maturity produce value for the business, or organizational enterprise, rather than only a specific functional area — such as research and development, product management, customer support, or marketing. Rachel’s overall point receives validation in a recent article in the September (2009) issue of the Journal of Marketing that reports on long term ethnographic research on brand communities by Professors Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, “How Brand Community Practices Create Value .”  The most interesting thought in the article for me is their point that customer competencies are a valuable resource for building co-creation opportunities in brand communities.

Unlike earlier discussions of customer competence, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould contend trying to co-opt customer competencies is the wrong strategy. Rather, their research findings suggest community management benefits from developing opportunities for customers to grow their competencies with the brand. They make it clear that their research indicates,

Companies wishing to encourage co-creation should foster a broad array of practices, not merely customization.” In other words, don’t try to keep the community focus only on what benefits the brand as you define it. The important point to keep in mind when discussing value in brand communities is that members create value for themselves through producing cultural capital distinguishing their status relative to the community, aside from the ROI and business value gained by the company owning the brand. Making sure members are provided opportunities to grow their competencies encourages them to reinvest their cultural capital in the brand community.

I discussed co-creation in several posts this past year in relation to eLearning 2.0 generally as well as Nokia and, back in 2005, its overall importance to the challenge of creating successful innovation, including the relevance of customer communities to innovation outcomes. The concept of customer competencies captures the overall significance of co-creation for efforts to produce value through engaging customers. However, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould offer the additional insight that the competencies critical to brand communities are developed through community practices. By practice they mean the linked, implicit way people understand, say, and do things. The term is further used to refer to the activities, performances, and representations (video, graphics, etc.) or talk of community members.  

Experience designers can use the concept of customer competencies  to inform choices about how to manage practices in customer communities.
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Deep Metaphor: Exploring the Say-Mean Gap in Design Research

December 1, 2008

In recent posts I discussed different gaps, from the community gap in particular to the encompassing engagement gap. Each of those discussions attempted to size up a disparity between the attention currently given to the importance of community and social media by companies and the reality of the commitment of resources to them based on recent research in the United States and Europe.

We hear a lot of discussion these days about Web 2.0 and social media, especially on whether adoption is driven by demographics, lifestyle, or something else. Recently, while reading Marketing Metaphoria by Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman, it struck me that regardless of the patterns of Web 2.0 and social media adoption, the applications tap into basic sensibilities for connection that we all share, regardless of age and lifestyle. As I note below, a sense of connection is an example of a deep metaphor that the Zaltmans discuss in relation to people, products, and brands.

Deep metaphors underlie the way people understand the context of problems they face in their everyday lives. Though the concept of deep metaphor was initially outlined in Lakoff and Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By, Marketing Metaphoria takes it a step further by developing useful techniques for exploring how deep metaphors affect the perception of brands and products and, by implication, how to approach the say-mean gap in design research.

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Closing the Engagement Gap and Customer Experience

August 29, 2008

A few weeks ago, we drew from the 2008 Tribalization of Business Study, sponsored by Beeline Labs, Deloitte, and the Society for New Communications Research, to discuss the gap between the importance many enterprises attribute to the development of communities and the accompanying investment in that engagement strategy, whether focused on internal stakeholders, or externally on customers.

We noted that the findings of the Tribalization study point to a Community Gap. Yet, drawing from Rachel Happe, we also pointed out the differences between the conversations characterizing social media and the conversations of a community. The distinction is important to keep in mind when considering an overall strategy for connecting with and engaging people online, whether they are employees, suppliers, or customers. After reading two recent research efforts, one from Fleishman-Hillard and the other from Forrester Research, it is clear that the Community Gap is one manifestation of a larger gap, the Engagement Gap.
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Engagement and Curiosity

March 21, 2008

Johnnie Moore offers an interesting insight into the way curiosity and playfulness lead to engagement and learning. The insight comes from a story told by Donald Winnicott on how mothers and babies relate.

He [Winnicott] noticed that if a mother placed a spatula near the child, and waited, it was very likely the child would become curious about this new object and play with it. If, however, the mother tried to get the child to play with the spatula, the child was likely either to reluctantly play along, developing a passive kind of engagement. Alternatively, the child would react against this intrusion and become healthily defensive. …For myself, I’d like to experiment a lot more with the careful placing of spatulas than shoving them in people’s faces and expecting them to play.