Monday, June 15, 2009

Twitter Time-Out or Mom, I’m really not Call/Email/IM Screening You

I was put in Twitter/Email/Blackberry/IM/ etc. time-out this weekend both due to some slow connectivity issues and preparation for a trip to Peru (more on that on another blog J). As I reentered the 24/7 world to which I am rabidly addicted this morning, I was musing about the evolution of technology over my lifespan and how it has molded my expectations of my ability to instantly connect with those around me or vice versa. I did not have to walk three miles in the snow to get to school, though I did walk, and I did not carry a cell phone with me in case something happened along the way. Our home phone did not even have an answering machine, much less voice mail. If I called one of my friends, and the phone was busy, I called back later. This was the norm. At the time, it did not seem unusual at all to have to wait for a response to a question, more pointedly, to have to wait to even ask the question. In a relatively short (I'm am NOT going to tell you my age but let's say that it's less than five and more than three decades), I have come to demand instant gratification in terms of my ability to communicate, respond, have questions answered and problems solved. In turn, I have set up an expectation, both professionally and personally, that I can be reached pretty much 24/7. I believe the first time I responded to a work email at 7:00 pm on a Friday, I place one virtual foot on the slippery slope toward disappointing my friends and colleagues when I do not/cannot answer their queries or assist them immediately at any time. Friends, this is the world in which we live today. I'm sure that soc-anthrop majors of the future and psychologists of today will dine out on this for years, but the internet and its accompanying social media and networking applications have led a majority of us to share the unwritten mutual agreement that we are ONLINE NOW! I am working on the ramifications of this in my personal/professional life, but in keeping with the theme of this blog, I'd like to share some thoughts for this reality in the B2B customer relationship world. Again, as companies are making the decision to join the Twitterverse (e al), host online customer service chats, and respond to comments on blogs, a majority of their assessment should be devoted to the infrastructure, messaging and preparation necessary for their participation to be effective and not backfire. The rapidity with which our failure to answer the expectations of our audience will be repeated is virtually unrecoverable in today's world. Whether we like it or not, when we join our customers in the social media and networking world, we have signed on to some terms in an implicit, universal, and new culture SLA:

The Terms:

  1. We are here when you are: Joining social media and networking applications and groups seems to imply that we are all conversing at the same time. We need to carefully consider the phrasing in our profiles regarding our intent for participating and responding to Tweets, comments, and queries.
  2. We will respond when you reach out to us: Our hours of customer service and turn-around time cannot be explicit enough. Fair or not, if we decide to participate in certain networks that are designed to facilitate 24/7 conversation and information exchange, we should be prepared to respond 24/7
  3. We will update our content and our information regularly: the social media and networking world is defined by refreshed, updated, responsorial content, not by static .pdf files.
  4. If your server/connection/pc is not down ours isn't/aren't either: Our network issues are NOT shared by our customers. If our email, server connection, etc. goes down, and we have chosen to participate in the SMN world, our back-up infrastructure must reflect the culture of that world.
  5. We are always in the same time zone as you are: 24/7 participation and membership means across all time zones. If I am a global business, then I necessarily must build a support infrastructure that reflects this.
  6. We are who we say we are: I am increasingly running across B2B social media and networking participants who seem to have jumped on the bandwagon rather haphazardly. The links and profiles point to third-party service providers or content host sites rather than any real place to exchange information, thoughts, questions, or customer service problems.

As a last thought, I'll share a story about my current attempt to locate an external hard drive that I ordered early this month. For the time being, I will keep the company name anonymous, as those of you who have been reading my Tweets, blog posts, etc., know how quickly I believe our current 24/7 virtual culture can negatively impact a company's reputation and I am reluctant to do that….yet. I became concerned about not receiving the new hard drive on Thursday of last week. I pulled up my internet receipt, only to find that the email message did not include any customer service contact information or instructions about what to do in case of a problem. I went to the company's website and found an 800 number. I called the 800 number and found no customer service options in their tree. After pressing "1" for support, I left a message in "Nicole's" voice mail. I called back and pressed "2" for sales, and got "Nicole's" voice mail. I sent an email to the alias on the receipt. I did not receive an email back. I filled out a form on the website via the "contact us" option. I received an auto-generated email saying that my information had been received. I DM'd the Twitter profile, and have received no response.

Without belaboring the point any longer, my "implied" SLA with this vendor is that since they are internet-order only, I should receive a response to at least one of these attempts to contact them. And yes, the charge for the new toy has been run……


As always, my best.




Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Social Media Applications for Internal Communications?!? – Absolutely!

I had the pleasure of having coffee this morning with a friend of mine who is a Director for Insights, a global leadership and team development resource. As the conversation wound its way through the dynamics and puzzles of social media and networking use models in the B2B world, she asked me to help her understand how customer references and SMN applications could be used for internal communications purposes. Kathy, my apologies for my profuse and enthusiastic response to your queries, but as I shared with you, I think that there are many internal communications processes that could absolutely benefit from adopting the emerging models in customer reference and relationship management as they relate to the social media and networking trends that are proliferating in the B2B world.

Kathy and I used Human Resources as a metaphor for our discussion and I will continue that mental thread here.

In the customer relationship and reference world, we are beginning to contemplate all of our client assets as potential collateral for shortening sales cycles, deepening and broadening our relationship with prospects, analyst, and other external communities. Many vendors, including References-Online, are beginning to not only offer methods by which sales and marketing teams can present assets to constituencies through email invitations, spotlights, etc., but are grasping the importance of the ability to present materials via communities of interest and social media discussion applications. In previous posts, I have indicated that conversations in these media are happening regardless of our attentiveness or participation, so it certainly behooves us to perform a social media audit/assessment on our own organizations to understand what the dialogue is outside of our traditionally unilaterally fed processes. I believe that the dynamic is identical when we are referring to an internal department such as Human Resources, conveying new policies and procedures, documents, changes in benefits, etc. to its internal constituency. Whether we like it or not, when we release a major change in health insurance and announce it using the standard corporate email memo, the "water cooler" chat that has always happened has now extended to the immediate and much farther reaching world of Twitter, blogs, Facebook status updates, etc. Not only should we be aware and open to this dialogue, but as a participant, an H.R. representative could very quickly gauge the temperature of employee response to policy change, answer questions, provide additional detail, and do this all in a more "social" "human" fashion. Certainly the methodology will vary corporate culture to corporate culture, but bear with me as I carry this idea out.

Hypothetical H.R. Situation that does not resemble any company for which I have ever worked J:

  • Once a week, the CEO of a large organization issues a corporate email (or blog post) to the intranet.
  • He/She announces exciting news, upcoming product releases, and the new enrollment period of the benefits package that will no longer include dental care for dependents.
  • Everybody ignores the exciting new client relationships, feature release for the premier product, etc. because they are furious about the exclusion of the dental package.
  • Some people send emails to the CEO; some call the H.R. department; some stew about it over their cubicle walls….
  • Today, most people get on Facebook, Twitter, their personal blogs, or 'unauthorized' corporate communities and rant and rave.

What would be a better alternative?

Hypothetical H.R. Situation that does not resemble any company for which I have ever worked (really this time) J

  • The Human Resources department has access to a "customer relationship" database in which they catalogue and link to a plethora of benefits, employment, assistance information, including templates for "spotlighting" changes in packages, advice for tricky work situations, even guidelines about telecommuting and swine flu.
  • As often as they feel compelled to, H.R. personnel can search for collateral that answers employee questions, send it to individuals with an email invitation or blast a piece to the corporate distribution list. Vendors such as RO will immediately provide tracking information about clicks on the emails AND individual pieces of collateral so that H.R. can begin to assess its reach and response rates.
  • Better yet, the H.R. team can select critical announcements of benefits assets from their database search and Tweet them under the H.R. Twitter profile, which of course all good corporate citizens follow. If they have the right system in place, the tiny URL that they have included in their Tweet is tracked similarly to content issued in the invitation email. A number of associated applications to the social media and networking tools like Twitter provide them with even more thorough analytics about their followers AND their retweets, in this case, or comments in general.
  • Though still unhappy about the exclusion of dental benefits for dependents, employees feel as if they have abundant information about the changes, multiple access points to share their concerns without retaliation (see post about responses to negative tweets) and may very well engage more effectively with the Human Resource department, reducing strain on them and reduced use of the Employee Assistance Plan.

Bottom line is: Yes, Kathy, I think internal communications processes can greatly benefit from customer relationship and reference modeling and social media and networking applications overall. I've used the H.R. department as a metaphor, but I think the concept applies to all types of internal and external dialogue.

To the rest of you, I, as always, welcome your feedback and comments

Until next lightning bolt strikes, my very warmest regards,


Copyright 2009, Lisa M. Hoesel


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Very Influential Asset™ Part I Introducing the Concept

Customer relationship and reference programs have always been challenged with maximizing the contribution of our key client assets on budgets that seem constantly at-risk, with sporadic executive support, wide variance in effective technology, and a confusing array of measurement and success metrics. For the last seven years, I have had the pleasure of working with clients who are at wildly different stages in the maturity of their customer reference programs. Although our answers to the fundamental questions about customer "referenceability", loyalty, rewards, recruitment, etc. are very different, all customer relationship and reference professionals share the same laundry list of objectives: to identify, recruit and produce the most credible and valuable assets for their programs; to protect that collateral from overuse and fatigue; and maximize their contribution across their organizations. Wikipedia's definition of customer reference management and its focus on advocacy elucidate this common theme:

"… to improve and enhance the level of "advocacy" a set of customers displays related to a vendor's products & services. Specifically, a vendor's objective is to gain referrals and positive "word of mouth" from this advocacy…"

The broadness of this definition both as it relates to the assets that are influential in our practices and its agnosticism as it relates to the delivery of assets to various audiences. As innovative and ground-breaking as the customer reference programs with which I have had the honor of working, are, I think that the ability of customer relationship and reference technology solutions and the emergence of social media and networking as agnostic, multi-threaded customer and vendor playgrounds, demand that we take the next steps in the evaluation of our customer advocates and the content that we deliver to them. Customer reference programs have traditionally focused on very tightly controlling the communication amongst our clients and prospects. The advent of Twitter, Linkedin, etc. etc etc, as credible customer conversation forums have rendered this task nearly impossible, but somewhat paradoxically, afford us with an opportunity to identify and leverage the most influential customer participants in these communities. This thought leads me to believe that a new methodology for approaching the challenge of supporting and enhancing our customer conversations is necessary and appropriate. I have developed a concept that I believe will help tune our programs to accommodate and embrace these trends . With no further ado, I introduce the Very Influential Asset ™ or VIA ™ metaphor.

The VIA™ concept, process and methodology is designed to help customer reference and relationshp professionals target those customers, advocates, and materials that have the deepest and broadest ability to elevate and promote our brands and solutions. My definition of "asset" in this context includes any person or piece of collateral that advances our goals of educating, selling, and communicating our products or mission. By the way, although I am primarily interested in the B2B conversations, I think this concept applies to the B2C, non-profit, and even interpersonal dialogues. When we can identify and spotlight those assets that are most influential for us, our customer reference paradigm shifts from mass production of content to very specific messaging.

In previous posts to this blog, I have written about my research and exposure to the importance of identifying clients who participate in the social media and networking space and for a variety of reaosns, influence by a power of x, more prospects and observers of our brands and companies than others. Jim Watson of Razorsfish, kicked off this brainstorm for me when he spoke to the Social Media Club of Seattle and shared this thought:

"The old 'If we build it they will come' strategy is being replaced by reliance on consumer ambassadors, and finding opportunities to augment dialogue. If you have a good product and good service, even negative comments add to your credibility because they prompt other people jump to your defense."

Customer reference managers have always struggled with defending the value of collateral that they produce and present. We all believe that case studies and press releases are key ingredients in our customer reference recipes, but we have only recently begun to measure not just their effectiveness in sales cycles but their perceived value both by our internal constituencies and external recipients. Quite frankly, I think many of us are still succumbing to the belief that sheer numbers are still evidence of a successful customer reference/relationship program. Even as we have tuned our approach so that it contemplates a variety of customer experience and content, we still measure our efforts in terms of totals rather than ability to influence and contribute. We have carried this B2B myth into our participation in the social media and networking world; note the number of tools available to add followers to Twitter, as an example and the difficulty of determining which of our followers has followers of their own that meet our demographic and interest target goals.

Shifting to an emphasis on Influence, accomplishes several things:

  1. Our customer reference resources are strained. In previous white papers and posts, I have argued that social media and networking are not strategies in and of themselves, they are tools. Our customer reference programs are already constrained by budget cuts and the availability of support personnel and infrastructure, if we focus on the number of followers that we have or the amount of content that we post, we are only perpetuating this problem. Concentrating on the customer advocates and content that are most influential for us, alleviates this strain and, has an exponential power to elevate our message.
  2. We suffer from "dusty shelf" syndrome. Because we have focused on volume rather than value, a number of our customer assets are sitting on our virtual shelves, unused and unloved. By identifying what messages and individuals are most influential for our message and brand, not only can we avoid this perpetual archive, but we may very well be able to re-purpose content that up to now has not seemed relevant.
  3. $. If our analysis demonstrates that particular customer advocates and certain themes in our business case, audio/video interview, etc content are more influential than others, we will be able to allocate our shrinking budgets to the VIA ™ materials that are most compelling. As obvious as this sounds, I think that we can all "get" the value of spending the majority of our time cultivating indivudals in our customer reference programs that are better connected to their peers than others. If a survey of our sales team finds that they always use one particular busienss case and that when they use it, they close the most and largest deals, wouldn't we be inclined to produce more documetns that are similar to this most influential one?

We, as customer reference and relatinship professionals, are bombarded with statistics about our customers' participation in social media and networking (see previous posts) and the absolute truth that conversation and information sharing among our constituents is overwhelmingly more important in their decision-making process than demonstrations by our sales teams. It is clear to me that the more astutely we can identify those participants who are most influential for us in these arenas, the more finely we may tune our message and concentrate our resources. In the next several of months, I will be publishing a white paper that delineates the process steps for identifying, soliciting and promoting your Very Influential Assets™. I am looking forward to your feedback on this concept and approach!

As always, warmetst regards,


Copyright 2009, Lisa M Hoesel