Social bypass

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It’s hard to imagine any significant customer-facing organisation that has not had social media [for customer engagement] on their management agenda at least once in the past 12 months.

The question is, how credible are the initiatives that come out of these boardroom discussions?

Do these organisations truly embrace the principles of the social enterprise – and mesh them with their existing business models?

Or are they simply dabbling at this stage? Keeping them as risk-free pilots – barely funded and easily abandoned – without really addressing the fundamentals?

I continue to believe that without truly embracing this way of doing business – this way of serving customers – this way of co-creating value, incumbent businesses will quickly become obsolete – and may already be being called out as fakes by their customers.

I’ve been thinking deeply about the concept of the façade of ‘social’.

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This definition is telling – either/both the principal front of a building [or business/enterprise]; but also potentially deceptive outward appearance.

Façades are easily shattered.

Customers can be alert, motivated and very focussed. Focussed on their needs and expectations – generally not interested in your business model and acquisition pathways.

You offer your ‘principal front’ as an invitation for them to test your business. If, when tested, your façade reveals an underlying organisation not true to your new social promise, you lose control of the relationship in the most public way possible.

Trust grows at the rate of a coconut tree, but falls as fast as the coconut.

“Doing” social means far more than having workstreams bounce back and forth between Marketing and Comms departments to add layers on top of your existing business without addressing the existing customer engagement protocols.

No. If customer service – enabled by social – is key to your business model, then doing social means raising the level of service to where your social channels promise it – throughout your entire organisation and across timezones.

Matt Ballantine today published a searching blog asking what is so wrong with your existing customer service channels that your customers seek to bypass them using social media?

It’s another very useful way to look at this.

What social channels should be prompting in organisations is a discussion about how serious they are about using customer service as a competitive differentiator. Unless it is at the core of company strategy, and invested accordingly, customer service is a support activity to be streamlined and made efficient.

The very teams that you trust to run these customer engagement pilots using social channels are likely passionate and capable of using the tools available to them to do the best of their abilities.

But if the pilots and initiatives are merely a thin layer built on top of an entrenched and intractable organisation,  there is a great risk. If the underlying business doesn’t want (or isn’t allowed or expected) to change and adapt to this new normal, the social initiative puts the whole brand at risk of being called out as a fake. The originally well-intended customer engagement initiative may actually destroy, rather than create, customer value. With the destruction playing out on a very public stage indeed.

Customers aren’t expressing a preference for social networks as a communications channel with brands today – they’re expressing a preference for getting their issues resolved.

Your customers deserve the very best you are willing to offer.

Think about this the next time you are discussing social (or digital) with your Board.

If social and digital are on separate slides in a different part of the deck from your existing business, maybe you’re not yet doing it right.


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