Social business process: tying your teams together

When reading and hearing about social business, what is your image of what its ‘ambassadors’ want? My impression is that they want change before anything else. Unfortunately, ‘tearing down silos’ in large organizations like many innovative minds want isn’t popular with the people who will be doing the answering if things go wrong.

I agree with the ambassadors’ plea to get a good number of people involved in social media for business – and train them properly: in possibilities AND in risks. But how do you avoid getting yourself into a complete mess?

The case for a unified social media approach

I’ve talked before about the way marketing may well be up to the ‘social challenge’ but that it doesn’t help much if your customers get stuck elsewhere in your organization. Getting one team onto a level that shouts ‘social business!’ and neglecting the others can be worse than… Well I might say “doing nothing” but let’s settle for …starting quietly and watching what happens. Let me give you an example.

Social Business Process

Social business process: where do you lead your customer?

Andrew Grill recently had a dismal experience in the world of ‘4G’. In a post this week he gave the issue some thought in terms of social business. He refers to his earlier post “Mind the social media gap” in which Dave Evans tells us:

“Marketing sells the expectation, marketing creates demand, … Operations delivers.”

The social media gap is the gap between expectation and delivery. Any kind of gap between the two drives conversation. The good part is it works whenever you do better than you promised (unless you promised way too little). But the reverse is also true.

In the case Andrew describes, marketing was clearly so far ahead of the game in terms of social media that this led him to expect a great (social customer) experience on every level. But operations wasn’t half ‘social’ enough. Andrew lists all the things that went wrong in the ‘support’ phase, thus giving an excellent to-do for anyone who seriously wants to go social.*

It might have been less of a problem if Andrew had not been a social media ‘native’, or if support had been able to get hold of someone who could actually manage the support process via social media. The way things went, the whole company looked bad.

The conclusion has got to be that you can’t limit yourself to training just the marketing team.

Tying teams together: sales to support

Perhaps you don’t get many questions via social media right now, at least from customer services.** What you could do to get a clear picture of customer feedback is contact a few people from different teams:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • After sales
  • Customer service

Now I won’t go all ‘agile business’ on you – classic Prince II project management tells you to “manage transitions”. It’s your job to find out where valuable customer information falls into the cracks of your organization, and then seal the cracks. If the only viable way to seal the cracks is to redesign the whole process, fine, that’s your next step.

First you can check:

  1. If marketing or sales are actually taking care of part of customer feedback via social media – because they have established a presence there.
  2. Whether all feedback is addressed efficiently.
  3. If anything is referred from one team to the other.

The least you can expect is to get some idea of what everyone is doing, and whether or not different parts of your organization are showing the same ‘face’ to your customers.

Extending the ol’ sales funnel

Information from any customer-focused team should be accessible both ways: up and down the customer process. The ‘normal’ way would be for customers to get ‘handed down’ the process from marketing through sales to after sales. In case of issues, customers are then handed into the care of customer service.

But anything which comes in after sales should be added to the existing customer account, and any kind of feedback – positive or negative – on the sales process should travel back up and get serious attention and follow-up. Don’t let complaints just sit in your customer database – or worse, a separate customer service database. Check a number of complaints for clues that point toward underlying issues, and address those.

Working your way toward a social business process

What I would like you to consider is this:

  1. give teams a reason for working together,
  2. add a structure like regular meetings and calls to exchange information.
  3. enhance a starting cross-teams trend by providing any common support (unit) you can think of.

Even if you have a clear picture of where you want to go, you need to look for transitional stages that ‘work’ every step of the way.

One last addition: today’s interview with Frank Eliason of Citibank reminds us that customers don’t want “social services” – they want you to get things right the first time. If your cross-team session hints at problems, use that knowledge to make sure no customer will ever need your customer services.

Literature:

* Andrew Grill, Had EE Been a Social Business They Might Have Survived Launch Issues – Socialmediatoday, November 5.

** EMarketer, Social is still a small part of customer services. November 7

Further reading:

  • Amanda Nelson, 60 smart social media marketing tips, Radian6/Salesforce Marketing Cloud Blog, November 6. Amanda serves up a long list devided into aspects of social media marketing you need if you’re to call yourself a social business. One aspect is Workflow and Automation, where you’ll find some of the things I mention in this post.
  • In case you are a Microsoft/Yammer user: Yammer Announces Deeper Microsoft Dynamics CRM Integration – Microsoft.com, October 29.

Feel free to share your thoughts about what a social business process could look like in your organization!

Social business people: a grass-roots movement

In the past few years social media have become so commonplace you could say they’re boring if we didn’t find something of value in them: our networks. Our access to heaps of information and more friends, acquaintances and complete strangers on another continent than we ever had contact with before has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way we view our lives and our jobs.*

A grassroots movement

This new perception is trickling into the fabric of every organization – through us – through all the individuals who show up for work every day. We’re oozing global networks from every pore. One side-effect may be that employees who’re not allowed to be on social media check their Facebook updates when they visit the bathroom, and get notably upset if they drop their smartphone into the toilet.

You don’t want that sort of thing. It’s bad for productivity, and it doesn’t smell pleasant either. By now, most businesses have a social media policy. The level of strictness varies widely.

How do people turn into social business people?

Social Business People
Social (Business) People [OCAL image]

Our present-day collective experiences don’t translate directly into employees being ambassadors for their own company. Not even the ones who are actually proud of working for or with you.

It didn’t work that way offline, and it doesn’t do so online.

So how can you help people adjust to a social business role that comes more or less naturally to them?

How to make social media ‘work’ for you

This may either sound completely silly, or so obvious you can’t believe I’m bothering to say it. I’ll risk it anyway. Have you considered:

  • taking inventory to see what types of people work for your organization;
  • thinking up ways to ‘market’ the uses of social media for business to each group? How would you approach someone from accounting, or in HR?

I’m talking classical market research and segmentation here. My next paragraph is for you if you lack time, resources, knowledge, or interest to get involved in ‘real’ market research.

Your people in the picture: cutting a few corners

Sit down with a few colleagues. List all your teams or departments. Then jot down every conceivable prejudice you could have about each team. I’ll help you get started with two unresearched examples 🙂

Accounting:

  1. maniacs for details. Never challenge them on details, unless you value emails longer than this post 😉
  2. cautious types: will always come up with rules we might be breaking. Share half a profile on social media – if they’re there.
  3. allergic to marketing talk which seems all promise and no accountability, unless they actually know responsible-sounding marketing people (what are the odds?)

Human Resources:

  1. will talk all day just for the sake of communicating.
  2. tech dummies. If a printer breaks down in HR the mechanic will find half a dozen people discussing how they have no idea what to do about it.
  3. allergic to technical explanations.

Don’t forget your own team, if only for the fun of it – or to avoid being unfair to others. Establish a rule of no rules and you should have an amusing and productive session 😉

Next up would be to find out what’s true of all the stuff you’ve collected, or you skip that step and work out an approach for every group. What characteristics and natural affinities in each group can you use? What issues do you need to address?**

Use your people’s strengths

Anyone who wants to turn a company into a social business by influencing the employees should assess people’s strengths and ambitions and build on those:

  • Support people who want to help others by making room for peer2peer support;
  • Train people who want to represent your company to guide online conversations.
  • Help people with a passion for reading and writing find subjects to write about, and train their writing skills.***

I’d like to conclude with a few tips for conversations in an advisory role:

  1. Make sure you know what you want from the conversation: are you checking your assumptions (or prejudices), or finding out what skills and ambitions people have that you could use in a future ‘social business’?
  2. Clarify what you want to achieve by asking questions, and why. Especially if you’re in a company that has prohibited social media use in the past, you had better come up with a good and honest reason.
  3. Practice serious listening.
  4. Don’t offer to fix anything – this tip is aimed at tool-selling specimens 🙂

Good luck, and let me know what else you’d like me to talk about!

Further reading:

* In case you missed the introduction to my ‘social business’ writing project, here’s my post from last Friday.

** There is any number of books about personality types and communication styles. One I’m familiar with is Management Drives (scroll down for the English text). Knowing a little about the subject may help you in conversations.

***Lou Hoffman wrote about writing skills, Experimentation in Content Marketing Offers Promise of Competitive Advantage, November 4, Business2community.

Please share this post if you found it interesting, or leave your thoughts about social business people and must-read articles in a comment below – I will reply to any (non-spammy) comment!

Social business organization: elements of change

Since I started to write about social business and agile business, I’ve had some feedback (thank you Twitter) that said something on the line of “useful stuff – like to read more”. Lucky me – I’ve discovered I have a lot more to say. So much in fact that it’s never going to fit in one post.

In this post I’ll go into a bit of organization history and the present-day trends and I’ll tell you how I propose to deal with the topic of social business.

Business organization in theory

History is a wonderful thing so long as you don’t have to live it. If you don’t believe me, imagine life without toothpaste. But here’s the thing: we do live history. At least many of us do – we work in organizations that are too big for us. How’d that happen?

Social Business Organization - Elements of Change

What’s your view of change?

In any group of people it will soon be obvious that some people have different affinities and skills than others.

In larger-scale businesses (let’s say in the Industrial Age) it made perfect sense for successful, growing organizations to form teams and departments that could function relatively independently from each other.

In management literature the term ‘span of control’ is used for the number of people any manager (or whatever he/she is called) can manage effectively. Managers were given a group of people they could actually oversee, and the ‘managees’ didn’t have to deal with 200 colleagues every hour of the day – just people in their team, and their manager. In terms of organization theory that must have seemed very efficient.*

Unfortunately, these silos have some major drawbacks, like a lack of communication between teams and valuable information falling into a crack somewhere. We’ve learned over time to deal with the status quo by using work-arounds of every description and ignoring the bits we can’t solve.

But in our current, information-overloaded society these negative side-effects of the nature of our organizations are no longer something we can safely ignore. And we don’t have to.

Technology-driven changes and your business organization

Technology has reached a point where it can actually help overcome the age-old problem of working in an organization its ‘inhabitants’ and its customers can’t oversee. But these new ‘social’ solutions need a different mindset from all those involved. And at some point some CXO is going to have to decide to ditch some of the old structures, procedures and software to make way for the new social working method.

Most businesses stop short of that, settling instead for add-ons and plug-ins. The thing about plug-ins – as any self-hosted blogger will tell you – is that some of them make your blog run a whole lot slower…

My credentials as a social business or change management pro

Here goes:

  • Affinity with the subject: check
  • Any kind of topic-related study: started with an introduction on organization theory, been interested ever since.
  • Strategic role within a company: nope
  • Strategic change management experience: nope
  • IT implementation: yes, on the user side of the equation (functional requirements).

I basically know what doesn’t work, and I have some ideas about why something will or will not take off the way you’d like it to. Standard procedures for supporting or facilitating online collaboration on any level, of any description don’t lead to adoption by employees of its own accord. A lot of tech stuff has got so many handy options, giving it to your average employee is like handing a Swiss army knife to your granny and telling her to open the door with it. It won’t work in a hurry – unless your granny had an unusual career that is.

Elements of change: proposed subjects

There are many ways to start changing your business, and I’m sure every single one of them has its challenges. To increase my chances of writing sensible information about each aspect, and hopefully add some useful articles for further reading, I will deal with one view in each post:

  1. Bottom up – employees are changing. I’ve written a post that addresses some issues. How do you enhance and direct changes in your workforce?
  2. Top down – strategy talk. I’ll get into it when the time comes.
  3. Manager level – this is actually a part of larger organizations that should not be overlooked. It’s more interesting than it looks from the outside!
  4. Tying your teams together. Buzz has it that you should be tearing down the silos inside your organization. You’ve just read a paragraph or two in which I stated that those silos used to have a function. Like it or not, they’re hard to get rid of. The fact that most articles about social business are focused on marketing led to my writing my “Back to Front” post.

* Literature I’m loosely referring to in this post:

  • The organization classic: Mintzberg on Management
  • Steven van Belleghem: The Conversation Company (which I mentioned in an earlier post before reading it)
  • And there are any number of great titles out there that focus on the role of conversations within the confines of your organization, like Crucial Conversations and Conversations for Change.

The central issue I’d like to ponder is what it takes from all those involved to adapt to the changes which look set to turn your organization into a social business.

Do you have thoughts or must-read literature you’d like to share? How do you view your own organization – and your role in it – in light of the whole social business buzz?

How to turn your business social: Back To Front

If you’ve checked my “social business” Twitter account, you won’t be surprised to hear I’ve been reading quite a lot about social business, social media, content marketing and several other buzzwords.

At this point I’ve come to an important conclusion:

Many articles about content marketing and what it will mean for your company are full of marketing BS.

They are completely focused on marketing and what that team, or the organization as a whole should be doing to get social business right.

Road Narrows in your company?

Are there road narrows in your company?
[OCAL image]

Not a lot of help if your middle name isn’t marketing. Is it?

The main idea of most articles is that you’ll hire them to organize “social business workhops” or to take care of the actual transition. That’s obvious enough.

What I don’t read enough about is what happens if you succeed. Maybe they tell you that after you invite them to talk about your plans. I sure hope so.

The viral nightmare

Suppose you get everything right on the ‘marketing’ side of your business. You get your content sorted, your marketing team is social media savvy, and your campaigns are getting results. Actually it would help if things didn’t go quite thát fast…!

Because suddenly your marketers are up to their ears in questions and complaints coming in through social networks. Your sales people can’t handle demand. The phone at customer service is red-hot.

This is a really bad time to discover you should have trained your customer service team to handle social media for your business… three months ago!

If marketing and sales employees fail to keep up, anyone who is seriously displeased about a purchase is now also annoyed because their complaints via social networks don’t get an answer either… and if you’re really lucky they’ll end up on the phone with your call center.

How to prepare your business for success

You’ve done step 1: reading this article. And if you’ve read more on the subject, please add any must-read articles in the comments section!

Step 2: you need a plan.

  • Plan A: All-is-well if you have the time and resources to prepare thouroughly.
  • Plan B: “Oh… Beep” if you don’t.
  • Plan C (recommended): Combine A and B. You’ll see why.

Plan A: if you have enough time and resources to change your organization

A rough plan A could look like this:

  1. Train your call center/customer service staff for business social media.
  2. Get them onto social media accounts for your business. They are to handle any feedback, positive as well as negative.
  3. Get everyone else involved who will be in touch with customers at any given moment. Marketing – sales – after sales – customer service, the lot.
  4. How do customers get ‘handed down’ the organization? How would this work if you added ‘social’ to the picture?
  5. Get your CRM system hooked up to your social media accounts. It shouldn’t matter who talks to a customer or which channel they use.

Once you feel you’ve got every relevant part of your company connected to the expected information stream…

Time for a trial run.

You have three options to find out if you’re prepared for the big one:

  • A simulated campaign
  • A real campaign targeted at a very specific group. Mind you: it’s online, so if your campaign is in any way interesting to people outside the group you want, you may end up with a runaway (viral) campaign at a time when you don’t know if your business will be able to handle the consequences.
  • You don’t run campaigns. Business as usual, but social is now part of that business.

Plan B: the ‘what-if’ approach

Aim for a quick fix for any nasty side-effects of taking the plunge by asking yourself a few questions for hypothetical situations.

Examples of ‘what-if’ questions are:

What if: your campaign leads to so much demand you can’t possibly meet it? You can only say “No, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait… we’ll help you as soon as we can!” so many times before people get really annoyed.

  • Can you identify anyone up front who can pitch in if it’s urgent?
  • Can you give your customers any idea of how long it will be before they can expect their purchase?

What if: the social channels you set up are hijacked by complaining people? How or to which team or person will you refer complainers? Is that team available through social media?

What if: your intern gets hold of your business password and accidentally publishes a private update on your account? (Note: if you want to prevent this, I suggest you make it very clear to everyone they are never, ever to delegate their responsibility).

You’ll notice this is not a miracle cure – just risk management the quick-and-dirty way. Depending on the type of business you’re running, you’ll come up with your own set of major and minor risks.

A few thoughts on business change

All of the above isn’t just true for developments in social media. Every organization runs into challenges of scale. At such moments it’s either you lead the horse, or the horse leads you. Go on, you choose 😉

Social media may act as a katalyst and propel your business onto the next level backwards. Based on that observation I would have you consider to prepare your business for success – back to front.

+ If you found this article of interest, please share it.

What else can you do today to turn your business social?