“Rub A Dub Dub” We’re In A Customer Hub

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building customer hubs

The aim of a Customer Hub is certainly more ambitious than just ‘ three men in a tub’.

In the first post of this series on Customer Hubs, I explored why they solve many of the issues that operating in a digital context throws up in terms of adaptability and organisational alignment.

In its mature phase, a customer hub houses every competency needed to operate aligned customer engagement; steered by real time analytics and leveraged through agile change management and stakeholder collaboration.

This is what it looks like visually.

customer hub better res

As you can see there is nothing new in the mix. Only in the way it functions.

The design intent of a customer hub is to transform the negative impact of functional organisation which I explored at length in the first post of this series. Instead, a customer hub provides the ‘perfect’ workflow. Bringing together teams whose working relationships are normally weakened by functional organisation yet who need to act in a well orchestrated way.

Here are some scenarios which illustrate this point:

  1. If customer lifecycle management matters to an organisation’s growth and profitability, then the normal way that marketing, sale and service teams go about their business cannot be seen as fit for that purpose. In this regard a customer hub model excels at grooming multi disciplinary talent and an ‘outside-in’ mindset
  2. If differentiation and market leadership matter, then the increasing speed of digitally powered markets implies BAU (business as usual), innovation and improvement must be continuously feeding off each other to get/stay ahead. Customer hubs have built this interchange into their core workflow to help make ‘perpetual beta’ work like a well rehearsed team of mechanics during a Formula One pit stop
  3. If customer focus means more than a poster campaign, it’s a real challenge for executives to provide alternatives to top down change programmes whose high rates of failure we explored in the first post. Customer hubs act, as their name implies, as a point of integration for customer engagement, voice of the customer, customer journey management, customer insight and other such programmes which can fail to provide either basic ROI or secondary benefits when acting alone.

In other words, customer hubs synergise existing investments by encouraging them to function together rather than separately as so often happens when launched from the context of functional planning.

If Not Competencies, What’s New About Customer Hubs?

Of course most organisations already have degrees of existing competency in sales, marketing, service, analysis, change management and collaboration. For sure, there are always better solutions to be acquired and as such most organisations will have a mix of intentions and budgets to evolve them.

But customer hubs will flourish regardless of the generation of solution being used for each competency. They work in paper based, manual environments as much as digitally smart ones. They are agnostic towards any technology in use and can fit around existing enterprise processes.

In other words, they are designed to work from any start point and deliver value immediately.

So what the trick? If it’s not so much to do with acquiring the latest version of something as a ‘must have’ capability, what is a customer hub providing? In a sentence, it’s the chemistry of working together; preferably in the same physical, high performance environment.

If you have ever worked in a start-up or business that was small enough to fit everyone into a single room, then you will recall the strong sense of shared endeavour that being together engenders. Let’s now imagine you outgrow that space and need to rent another room on another floor. Some of the team move out to occupy the new space. Notice how fast an ‘us and them’ starts to develop. The tendency to go tribal is strong in all of us.

There is nothing wrong with that, in the sense that organisations much larger than our imaginary start up still manage to function. But almost inevitably will do so within an undercurrent of ‘office politics’.

This becomes a drag on creativity and responsiveness. The reason why I’m even suggesting a customer hub model is that functionally organised teams are finding it tough to remain effective in the real time, highly iterative world of digital business. We can no longer rely on ad hoc, cross functional collaboration.  A more competent and resilient response is needed.

Imagine trying to coach a sports team remotely. Maybe some things can be achieved in this way but there is no substitute to having everyone on the pitch together practicing their game plan, nurturing a group mind.

I have one business example to evidence what I’m saying. At the time when this particular story surfaced a few years ago, Dr Rebecca Harris was in charge of the social media centre of expertise at General Motors. She decided to recruit a cross functional team from sales, marketing and service and locate them on the same floor at corporate HQ. Her aim was to try and improve GM’s responsiveness to customers engaging with them over social channels.

Without changing anything else (e.g. workflow, systems), she discovered that cross functional response time improved from 24 hrs to 1.5 hrs. She reported that this was the immediate benefit of having everyone in a particular customer journey co-located.

It seems these benefits have endured. A GM employee confirmed during a recent webinar on customer hubs that indeed the benefits of working in this way continue to be very well received within the organisation.

A similar effect has been reported by Wells Fargo in their social command center. All outgoing responses to Twitter and Facebook enquiries need to be vetted by the in house lawyer. By locating that person within the same physical environment rather than playing telephone or email tag, the brand is ten times faster than any other Financial Service brand. This is achieved simply by co-locating the right mix of skills to expedite decision making.

By the way I’m not suggesting the way to become an effective digital business is to put everyone into one single room! What I am suggesting is that single room teamwork accelerates team learning. Customer hubs are intended as low risk experiments to discover how post industrial organisations might more effectively function.

I will explore the detail of how a customer hub functions in my last post of this series. Meanwhile please let me know what ideas this one has stimulated.

In Summary

Even service organisations that consider themselves advanced in their omni-channel capabilities face the barrier of internal silos and competing agendas. This remains a strategic weakness in terms of real time responsiveness

Customer hubs provide a low risk evolutionary path. They draw together a number of competencies into a new form of working relationship. This includes sales, marketing, customer service, analytics, change management and collaboration. Together they become a hub of innovation, improvement and competitive responsiveness for the rest of the organisation.

Organisations of every size can benefit. However the larger the organisation, the more attractive a customer hub becomes. I’ve always been struck with the military’s rule of thumb that operational units greater than 300 people start to lose their effectiveness as social complexity outweighs any benefit of scale. Customer hubs are all about exploiting that dynamic.

Other posts in this series on customer hubs include:

Why Customer Hubs Accelerate Your Digital Agenda

Underneath The Bonnet Of A Customer Hub

Thinking About Customer Hubs (video interview)

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