Friday, May 1, 2009

Right Time/Right Place: A "stitch in time" in an SMN World.

As many of you know, I am a huge advocate of integrating an SMN strategy with existing customer relationship and reference business practices. The power of multi-threaded, real-time, credible conversations with existing and prospective clients cannot, in my opinion, be overemphasized. Whether a B2B has initiated and implemented an approach to participation in social media conversations or is just watching them, it is clear that our clients and other interested parties have been very quick to incorporate forums, communities, Tweets, et al into their research and outreach about our services and products. As I have posted previously, however, the more overzealous of us may "forget the oatmeal" or neglect to attend to our fundamental customer philosophy and processes if we shift our focus completely to posting and responding in the WEB 2.0 world. In my classic fashion, let me share a story from this morning.

For a demonstration and discussion, I needed to use the services of a tried and true vendor of ours this morning. I have always been and continue to be an advocate of their solution, customer support and roadmap. I have offered myself as a reference to them and will continue to do so. This morning, however, a glitch in the application prevented me from being able to use them. If my reference comments regarding them had been previously captured via a case study, quote, or audio/video reference interview, this vendor would have the ability to "normalize" experiences such as I had this morning and have a consistent representation of their clients' experiences that they could share with prospects and other audiences. If I had been scheduled to take a direct reference call for them this morning, although I would still be considered a positive reference for them, my usual effusiveness and enthusiasm for their solution would not have been as compelling or on target as it normally would be. Although I have not chosen to Tweet, comment, or blog about this specific vendor or situation, as someone conversant with and a consistent user and contributor to these tools, I would hazard a guess that most customers would have immediately sought answers or worse, negatively commented about the glitch. I know that this particular vendor has implemented a comprehensive and quite elegant triage system for responding to SMN client comments and questions, so this option is not unfamiliar to them. I chose the "old-school" route of reaching out to our account executive and speaking to customer service. As a side note, this method took up far more of my time and perhaps gave me less immediate satisfaction than if I had Tweeted.

So, what is my message? I'll offer just a few brief take-aways from this anecdote and my post-experience musings:

  1. The SMN explosion has made immediate and perhaps knee-jerk very public reactions to minor and expected technical problems extremely easy. Depending upon the situation and the triage plan that we have established for responding to negative Tweets, etc., the possibility for disastrous and unrecoverable customer experiences has achieved phenomenal proportions.
  2. Having said that, the most effective triage plan for responses to WEB 2.0 customer interactions will never obviate the need for consistent, credible, normalized customer reference collateral. I think every technology professional intrinsically knows that applications will have glitches; that downtimes are not indicative of overall solution failure; and that good vendors who respond in a timely, comprehensive fashion to problems are still worthy of our reference commentary. We should capture that reference testimony when it is most compelling, fresh, and enthusiastic.
  3. Once again, our SMN play is NOT a strategy. Creating corporate support Twitter profiles, online discussion groups, and establishing blogs, does not replace the importance of consistent, standardized, comprehensive reference and customer relationship collateral. To reprise a really old cliché and to give you all a hint at my age, "a stitch in time saves nine" OR one comprehensive, on-line, credible reference interview may minimize the impact of nine direct reference calls or a thousand negative Tweets.

Best regards

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