Social Media has emphasised the importance of the customer’s voice to businesses of all sizes. The study of the sales & marketing impact of customer comments and ratings has advanced to a more involved debate concerning the presence of the customer within the business’ entire operation.
Much has been written on this topic recently by social strategists, but for the vast majority of businesses it has been nothing more than lip service. Sure there is the well-worn example of the Starbuck’s My Idea initiative but how many others can you reference that have embraced the customer at the corporation’s boardroom table?
Some businesses such as Ben & Jerry (“Do the World a Flavor”) or Vitaminwater (“Flavor Creator”) are jumping on the crowdsourcing bandwagon with mixed results. Most are isolated marketing campaigns rather than corporate-wide shifts in thinking. Moreover such experiments seem limited to retail and consumer packaged goods manufacturers and not seen wide-spread acceptance among other industries.
Not until customers are elevated to the boardroom table will we being to see the true impact of Social Business. As long as customer engagement is relegated to “customer service issues” or “marketing campaigns”, businesses will never truly benefit from customer insights. Customers being promoted to the boardroom table will signal the start of a shift from the business as a product developer to a facilitator of customer needs.
Facilitator of customer needs
Today, most businesses are providers of internally-designed products and services; dictatorships of sorts that create the products their in-house R&D or marketing teams believe customers want or will want in the near future.
Businesses understand the value of open market trading on stock exchanges, etc. so why have more not applied those proven principles to their internal operations? Organizations must forge paths for their customers to participate in internal “product markets”, which will dictate the “supply and demand” of future products.
Most businesses spend countless hours and dollars on establishing the value proposition of their business or products and then spend countless more hours and dollars convincing their customers that those values are – or should be – valued.
Social technologies and channels have freed customers from what might be considered a tyrannical business practice by CX strategists. Customers have tasted the sweetness that comes from dictating their experiences and are addicted. Continuing to exclude the customer from product and brand development cycles will only fuel a customer revolt. Put down the draw bridge and freely welcome their involvement and your kingdom will be richer for it.
Make no mistake about it; this is not an easy transition for businesses. The larger the business the larger the struggle because it requires a rethinking of corporate culture, which is more difficult than changes to operational practices.
Operationally, technology can be purchased to facilitate the brand-employee dialogue. Customers won’t need to be hired; they willing volunteer their time and insights if they believe they’ll impact the product and brands they love.
Culturally however, businesses will struggle with:
- The premise of putting trust in their customers
- Setting aside their egos
- Letting go of processes that were once considered proprietary and a competitive advantage
Making this culture-shift will breathe new life into your product development. Some have argued that it is step one in the evolution of a social business. SalesForce.com, Apple and IBM have proven that opening the door to greater customer involvement in their businesses, even after some initial hesitation, reaps rewards previously thought impossible.
What say you? Is greater customer involvement in your business just a fad perpetuated by bloggers and social scientists? Or is truly the evolution of business? Add your point of view to the discussion by posting in the comment section below.
Sam Fiorella – Sensei
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego
Join us Wed, May 9th, 2012 at 8 PM EST for the #bizforum Twitter debate where we’ll explore the realities of customer involvement in the business. Follow along on TweetChat or your favorite Twitter application.