Wednesday 29 February 2012

The concerns of Social Business

[Image by Diego Cupolo]

This post is the fourth in a series of six that deals with Social Business and Social Enterprise. The goal of the series: to explore the pros and cons of Social Business and Social Enterprise, given the current odds, and fast-forwarding to business opportunities now and in the near future

This post is about the concerns of Social Business. While yesterday's was all about the benefits of Social Enterprise, this one will take concerns and apply them to Social Business

The day before yesterday, I wrote about the benefits of Social Business. It was largely about closing the gap between buyers and sellers in order to re-establish intimacy, and automagically bring back the trust that we're so used to in our more close circles: friends and families

1. Where is Social Business used most or best?

I'm pointing to point no. 5 in that post:

Social is strongest where it's closest to people: either reaching out to consumers in order to try to convert them into (paying!) customers, or reaching out to existing customers whose image of the product has been "damaged" - in plain English, those with customer complaints.
That pinpoints the best usage for Social at this very moment: in aftersales (customer service, providing that via communities and help forums) and presales (marketing and sales, providing that via communities and product reviews).

Call that Social Marketing or Social Sales on the one hand, and Social Customer Service on the other. How could this hurt our current business?
I once again go back to sing my song:

2. The mismatch between Social Business and regular Business

  • We're settling into the infrastructural machine layer all the things that we take for granted: the simple, static stuff that doesn't change, is highly structured, rigid even. The data, the smallest building blocks, bits and bytes. Order reigns here, where everything is subjected to business rules, and automation can thrive. It's boring and it should be: it's the foundation to our "homes"
  • Facing the very end, humans, the opposite takes place: we encounter complex, dynamic stuff that changes all the time, unstructured, flexible itself and requiring the greatest flexibility at the same time. It's where knowledge and information flows freely, uncapturable. Chaos thrives here, exceptions are the rule, and automation usually is impossible. It's where Social sees the light

3. The crucial task: turning unstructured data into structured (information)

Machines enable us to scale our businesses - without automation, no one can run a business these days. Well you might walk it, or stroll it even - unable to keep up with the competition.
So we need to take that unstructured Social data, turn it into structured data, information, and feed that to the machines - and only humans can do that

You have sat in a circle of 5-10 and listened to the story the person on your left told, and repeated in whispers that to the person to your right, no? And at the end, you'd hear the story from the first person, and the very last in the circle?
And laughed so hard that it hurt? There, that's a danger of Social: previously Social and now structured data will be a reflection of the perception of the person who hand-fed it in

Then again, that's nothing new: data entry is a profession, and the biggest PITA of a Business, Purchase Order to Invoice matching, is all about turning unstructured data into structured ones. An average help desk does the same: listen to the people, enter data into the machines

While Social will cover the entire pie in stead of only a part, I'm confident we'll get the hang of this. So no real threat here

4. The biggest threat: people acting like their current selves

We're not used to Social 24/7. We're used to being confined to small departments, and if you're unlucky, to 1.5 square metre cubicles in the US. Interaction? Reading or sending one email at the time, taking one telephone call. Yes we do meetings and conference calls and sometimes even video calls, but the vast majority of people "just does one on one".
We are strongly affected by our environment, and we change slowly. No need to mention examples of how a direct reaction of a single employee got amplified into a company's take on the situation

No need to get upset over that, we learn by failing. Although failure is not a goal, it is the means to success.
The great thing about Social? Only one of us needs to fail, and most every one else will learn the lesson

5. Social is only proving your current services wrong

An old one by me, being highly successful in Social pre- or aftersales "just proves your current approach to that is highly flawed".
Can't argue with that, and it's inevitable: if you offer the same services in a very new way, you're basically cannibalising your own business - and brand. You'll need new people to do the new thing, and prove the old people don't do their job well; hiring the new costs money, firing the old does as well - oh my that will be a long way to actually get some profit out of the new New, won't it?

A bit of black and white, I'll admit it, and lots of greyscale in between. Yet, look at advertising: we've accepted this (de)feat(ure) for decades in the ever-so-boring liquid detergents commercials, and also e.g. every new car out there is better than the old one. Can't innovate and become worse, can you? Well you can, but that's not the goal...

6. Social Business will only add a new or thicker management layer

The Social Customer Crush, is what I called it.
It is basically the same argument as the 1-on-1 one, but different: imagine an airport with not one control tower, but a few dozen? Or none? Plane A will be told to land on runway X by tower 1, then hear he has to wait from tower 3, then ... etcetera. The customer is also not used to anything else than one-on-one

In my FedEx case I had contact with two different persons, who were equally unhelpful but sent me slightly different information, though not at the same time. But helping the same customer more than once at the same time can have nasty side-effects of course.
What does bite here is the fact that you have to keep track of both identities: the Social Consumer, and your Customer. They only become one once you've identifed them, and upon doing so data quality comes into play at the old records' store that your company systems are...

Still, again, it might take a little bit of practice but I don't see any real issues here either. You might get conned on purpose by the odd customer but then again I love to hang up and redial the number to a help desk if my gut feeling tells me to do so. So...

That sums it up for me. As much as I tried to wear the benefit hat, I now wore the concern hat. Maybe I was too practical, too precise, too mellow, too nuanced? I'm not in this for being right or wrong or winning a debate, I'm in this and out here for dialogues, and will put my money on whatever makes most sense.

Today, I'll (and I'd) put a fair amount of money on Social Business. It won't cure diseases, yet nor will it inflict mortal wounds. Focus on pre- and aftersales, train your people, monitor closely, evaluate frequently, adjust and adapt quickly - it's just another business opportunity

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