The Social Web Is the Perfect Forum for Customer-Empowered Service

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So here we are in 2008. All the well-intentioned plans made last year abandoned as we battle with new economic and political conditions.

One of the most interesting insights from 2007 was the fact that service and marketing are still separate functions, doomed to travel to the same destination but along different roads. One would have thought that the twin pressures of increasing revenue and reducing costs would have forced them to work together – but no. Perhaps they think a miracle will happen – that by sheer chance the two would look totally joined up to customers? One thing is sure, the pressures on costs will drive more and more companies to employ segmentation and use automation wherever possible.

The Internet is a wonderful invention but I fear it has deflected management attention away from solving the real issue of the integration and alignment of pre and post sale activities to create consistency. Nevertheless it does offer companies, particularly small and medium sized ones, access to the world market in a way never before possible. We instinctively think of the web for marketing but increasingly we are seeing the web used for service and not just for online access to manuals, support, FAQs and questions to the faceless support team.

We are now seeing the proliferation of ‘co-creation’ where customers and suppliers get together to design the new generation of products and services. It is not rocket science that existing customers not only know the existing products and services but they clearly have a need, some brand loyalty and likely to be repeat purchasers. So who better to ask for input about the new generation of products? And of course it’s not only more likely that you will design successful products and services, it’s also a cheaper way to do it!

This is what the web was designed for – this is the social web at its best. But I think, or perhaps hope, that 2008 will see a new proliferation of social web interaction in the area of service. Using the same logic as product development, existing customers are the best people to provide instant feedback on issues, provide suggestions and even help other customers with problems. Customers will love it because they can interact online, show off their prowess and earn discounts for new products and services – which means built in customer retention. The result will be better service for lower cost. I can’t imagine any VP of Service wanting anything different. So what’s stopping it happening?

What do you think? Please respond to this blog and let’s get the debate going. Service has been to quiet for tool long. Happy New Year to all my readers.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great conversation starter; I am surprised to find this without any comments yet…

    My personal take: we (humans) have a tendency to try to fit new phenomena under the models we understand instead of using the fact that they may not fit as an opportunity to challenge those models. Thus the Service Executive is looking at this as a cost saving opportunity, the Marketing executive is looking at this as yet another channel to propagate the same message (one way only) and there is not enough strength on the Relationship emphasis (where is the VP of Customer Relations?) and the Experience (nascent yet).

    Couple of links for my own thoughts and others that support your entry above:

     

    Hope this helps

    Filiberto Selvas

     

  2. Filiberto, many thanks for your response. I am also surprised that more people do not engage in this important debate. You make a good point about the different focus of service and marketing. My worry about a Customer Relationship VP is that unless they have line control they will be like the VP of Quality or VP of BPR – lots of snarl but no teeth. I am hopeful that Chief Customer Officers will morph from COOs and grab this particular issue by the horns; otherwise I can’t see things changing. The obsession with individual accountability leads to functional metrics and functional thinking – none of which are good for customers or ironically the P&L and get in the way of integration. Models generally help people to ‘get it’ but the integration of sales, service and marketing is a big nut to crack. It has mainly been driven by marketing out of CRM thinking but my mission is to help create the case for service taking a lead. If anyone ‘gets customers’, they should. If you are reading this wants to join the debate, ask questions or discuss issues, just click on reply. We look forward to hearing from you.

    David Rance
    Director, Round
    [email protected]

  3. I agree that the social web could be, and should be, a boost to customer service. But let’s remember that discussion forums have been around a long time, and have been used to let customers help themselves with technical and other issues. Cisco was one of the trendsetters in this area, using forums some 10 years ago.

    But much more is needed to integrate these into the enterprise. Vendors and companies still treat these forums as separate entities, with little crossover of information from a forum to the “official” service channel. That’s a shame, because I’ve had better luck getting help from forums–some hosted by the vendor, but often times not–than from the company’s web site.

    Web self-service has been around for a long time now, too, as a service channel for customers. Companies would rather customers service themselves online before calling. But I’ve only found two vendors (Parature and KNOVA) that provide a discussion forum as part of an integrated solution.

    Companies need to start looking at the social web as part of the continuum of service processes. And CRM vendors that want to ride the Web 2.0 bandwagon should do more than add AJAX and update their look and feel, including providing integrated forums and clever ways to connect with other forums.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

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