If you want to get social, start with email and the telephone

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Getting social means communicating…all ways

Communicating… an old art

As the ever rising number of companies ramp up their efforts in the digital media space (aka digital marketing), there are, in my opinion, three very important parts of the social “program” that need to be checked before embarking:

(1) to what extent do members of head office meet and discuss with clients in the field?
(2) what is the experience when calling the company on the telephone?
(3) what is the experience when sending an email to a company representative?

On the first point, the further question is to what extent management is engaging in real dialogue with its customers and stakeholders. Does management have a true intent to listen — exhibiting such soft skills as empathy, humility and openness?  The answer to this question will give a good insight into the company’s culture and its orientation toward the customer.  Being client centric is not something to which one can just pay lip service.  It needs to be lived and breathed from top to bottom.

Social: Dial(-ogue) Those Numbers

What is the experience?

The two following questions — about the telephone service and email experience — are extremely relevant as companies explore the social media question.  In its core, social media is about communication.  A company’s disposition to engage and communicate with its stakeholders can be read through the prism of the current telephone and email interaction.  If companies have not created a culture of fluid communication via the old and standard means, I would be pessimistic about their ability to adapt to the new environment, where messages are being sprayed out in forums, social networks, instant messages, VOIP and more.  As Bill Gates forecasted, “[s]ocial networking-type applications will become as ubiquitous in the workplace as Microsoft Office tools and will likely replace e-mail as the dominant form of corporate communications.”  If you think you are overwhelmed with emails, wait until Bill Gates’ vision becomes reality. The email will likely not disappear overnight, that said.  Nonetheless, the way a company has come to (mis-)manage emails will likely show up again in the social media space.

Email – Nominative & Personal

To this end, a company would do well to revisit its ability to answer the phone swiftly, capture and pass along messages to the correctly identified individuals, reply promptly and personally to emails, etc.  Otherwise, you can do as someone like Robert Scoble does : openly admit that you can’t reply to all the messages.  I would much rather that someone acknowledge that they cannot get back to everyone rather than (a) pretend they care or (b) just get lost in a black hole or be considered as junk mail, or both.  The idea of emails (that are not spam) and most phone messages, it should be underlined, is that they are personal and, very often, nominative… Therefore, when someone does not reply to a personal message (i.e. the message disappears into a black hole), it certainly augurs poorly for corresponding and interacting in the multi-forum, multi-format & ubiquitous internet message systems. Personally, I have seen many companies whose email habits and phone systems leave something to be desired.  If, as I am beginning to believe, customer service is the new marketing engine, are these same companies going to be able to switch gears in the digital space?

What do you think? Is there a relationship?  How can an organization mobilize itself constructively to listen and answer to the dissipated (and disorganized) world of messaging when they don’t manage the more or less linear world of faxes, phones and emails?  Will the new Facebook Messages system help or accentuate a poor communication culture?

6 Comments, RSS

  1. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, makes this point exactly in his book, Delivering Happiness – wherein he tells the story behind one of online commerce's biggest success stories. For sure, I agree that customer service is going to be a huge marketing engine going forward and many big companies (and small) are going to be left in the proverbial starting gate.

    Great blog. Thanks for sharing, Minter.

  2. I think service (period) is the new marketing and Tony Hsieh certainly tells and does it well. Customer service provides a beginning, during and after to any particular consumption. The end game is this added proverbial "tail" that bites back, where consumers can broadcast their feelings about the service (good or bad). As Jan Carlzon wrote (in "Moment of Truth"), you just have to be good. Customer service is, in its core component, about dialogue: being accessible, understanding, listening (and acting)… As you say, Gordon, many companies are at the starting gate.

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