Are We Gulping Social Media Kool-Aid?


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I believe social media can contribute to business success. We ourselves have attracted clients through Linkedin. Organizations are generating web traffic off Twitter. A few silly videos on You Tube have helped fill company coffers. Great.

But that’s not good enough to justify abandoning rationality for dreamy visions of social media leaping over tall buildings, taking us to Mars, and yes, helping companies catapult over competitors to the wonderment of business fans everywhere.

Let’s get real

People are ignoring business fundamentals while guzzling the social media “kool-aid.”

People are ignoring business fundamentals while guzzling the social media “kool-aid.” And worse yet, the fundamentals are rapidly changing, but rather than worrying about how marketing, sales, service and many customer-affecting back-office functions are going to adapt?it’s like, “Take two long social media sips and you won’t feel a thing.” For a while. But sooner or later, the buzz will wear off and a reality hangover begins.

Again, I’m not trashing all things social media—or everyone writing about it. Axel really knows his Schultze. And Bob Thompson’s feet never leave the ground. But everyone responsible for customers can’t stop doing everything else and try squeezing every last drop of business value out of social media, while aspects of business worth far, far more go untended.

More attention needed

Social media is not the answer to all problems. Are you focusing enough attention on these four priorities?

1. Improving processes to improve customer experience

The vast majority of customer experience is process-driven. We can radically improve experience by implementing customer-centric process. Instead: marketing is still trying to persuade customers they had a better experience than they did; customer service is applying band-aids to problems created by bad process; and sales remains largely disconnected from customer disappointments?only to keep right on promising what the company’s process can’t reliably deliver.

We’re currently working with a company committed to elevating customer experience levels. They’ve created an E2E (end-to-end) customer experience initiative that’s almost entirely process-focused and managed by a work quality expert. What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing?except this company’s a near total anomaly for thinking and working this way. We’d give our eye teeth for more clients that understand process, not branding or promotional communication, drives customer experience. But then again, few companies appoint anyone to oversee overall customer experience, either. They lack the resources because those ostensibly responsible for customer relationships are playing on You Tube.

2. Investing to determine what customers value and how much

We continue wasting research money determining whether we’re doing a good job delivering what the company wants. How about some serious investment (like in Kano studies) to discover what would make customers much happier, rather than running CSAT study after CSAT plus ongoing NPS monitoring to learn how customers feel—after we did much less for them than we could? That’s nuts.

We recently had a client doing an excellent job making clients happy at points of human contact. Their CSAT scores are solid. However, their surveys rate them on secondary issues for customers. If they’d run Kano studies or conduct qualitative research they’d understand customers’ number one priority: “Do it right; do it fast; and do it right the first time.” All the glad-handing they’re doing still leaves customers unsatisfied with their performance ? on the core activities customers value most. Essentially, most companies design customer research to make the company or specific functions look good, not get at fundamental customer truths. But if we hang around Linkedin or Facebook enough we’ll know all about our customers, eh?

3. Removing organizational impediments to delivering customer value

Companies, with few exceptions, are designed to meet company expectations, not customer expectations. As a result, business misses opportunity after opportunity to create more customer value ? and in many cases persist in doing work that subtracts value. Reorganizing work around customers not only creates more value for customers but helps companies immensely by breaking down silo walls and removing excess bureaucracy (as in saving lots of money).

Companies, with few exceptions, are designed to meet company expectations, not customer expectations.

We’ve had numerous clients take risk mitigation measures that: a.) cost far more than the risk they covered; and b.) hurt customers by increasing transaction cycle time. Lose-lose. It got so bad in one case that I slipped a slide saying “You guys are spending millions to save pennies” into a presentation to the COO. My direct client covered his eyes when I showed it. The next day copies of the slide were plastered across the walls of the executive suite. They took the hint and started adopting new process. But unfortunately, situations like this abound, and we’re not addressing them. But we can make up for these customer disappointments with a social networking program, can’t we?

4. Getting your internal communication act together

Customers hate doing business with companies where the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing or why, but business largely ignores the problem. And when companies do try to remedy poor internal communication, they typically use grotesquely inappropriate tools that cost a fortune and often cause more problems than they solve.

One of our recent clients headquartered in the U.S. is owned by an ex-U.S. parent with a heavy hand. They work in an exacting, high-tech field where even the slightest system glitches can shut down customers. And the systems are so complex and customized that only specific engineers can work on most systems. Problem is that when a system issue does occur, they can’t quickly find the right techs. In fact, sometimes they can’t find them at all. They need a highly competent field service system or better yet, EC (enterprise communication), which melds process with an offshoot of contact center software that’s just entering the market. So first, IT decides, on its own, that a traditional CRM system can solve the problem. Utter fiasco.

Then corporate weighs in and tells them to wait for a solution until they roll out a global ERP system with BPMS (business process management system) capabilities. BPMS systems cost huge amounts to buy and implement, and BPMS can’t address this problem or many other core issues we’ve identified. They’ll be waiting until hell freezes over for solutions to very fundamental customer experience problems. No? They can find engineers on Twitter?

Oh, right.

Time for rational priorities

If the people in companies claiming responsibility for things customer would spend their time addressing the issues customers want addressed, they wouldn’t waste so much time doodling with social media.


  1. I definitely agree Dick there are many people out there that are preaching that social media is an end all of marketing and all things online. The fact is if you don’t have a sound foundation in your company, social media will not save you.

    Social media is a tool. Right now it is very hot, partially because it is a relatively new phenomenon and partially because of it’s power. Social media usage continues grow in leaps and bounds and is definitely very powerful for reaching people. But, if a company is not based on sound principles and/or they don’t create a plan for social media, they will fail. You make 4 very good points which all lead to better customer service and customer relations. Social media has the power to extend this and engage your clients and potentials. Though without a customer centric attitude, the company will most likely miss the point of social media and it will be a further extension of their poor costumer policies. Which can even cause more damage than good.

    Bottom Line: First create a strong customer centric basis in your company, then use Social Media to bring it to the masses.

    I actually wrote about why companies fail at social media sometime ago you can read it here: More Than 50 Percent of Fortune 1000 Companies Will Fail With Social Media, Will You?

  2. Dick Lee – Bryan, thanks for your comment. I thoroughly agree with you. Just a thought, based on your sensitivity to these issues, I’d like to invite you to join the Outside-In Process group on Linkedin (a social medium that really works if you emphasize content, not promotion). Here’s the link:

    Again, great comment! We really need more dialog up here.

  3. Dick,

    I agree with you that in the rush to board the social media train companies are looking for some silver bullet to turn themselves around. If you do not know where the train is headed when you get on, your praying that you will arrive at your destination.

    We spend considerable time with our clients integrating social media into their overall marketing and public relations plan. We work backward from their established goals, identifying which aspects of social media will lend themselves to an established strategy.

    We have seen so many companies squander opportunities by setting up a fan page, attracting customers, and then turning their customers off with mindless comments. If your fans begin to hide you because your posts have no value, you have defeated the purpose and harmed your business. Nevertheless, they see the train at the station and rush to jump on so as not to miss it, forgetting, that they can reach their destination more quickly with some patience and planning.

    I believe that social media should be viewed as network marketing on steroids. All the skills that have traditionally been utilized to successfully market yourself, you or your company’s brand, have not changed. If you do not possess those basic skill sets, social media is not going to help. Combining those traditional skills, with the reach of social media, can create success.

    Bryan is correct, with out a strong foundation you will fail.


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