The new Arms Race: Social Customer Care

cusotmer careHow quickly should your company respond to a question or a comment in social media? Unfortunately, many companies I know will respond “Never!”. It is a sentiment we hear a lot that most of the online complaints are from a handful of trouble makers and response will only make it worse.

Well, sorry guys but customers now expect quick and effective response to social media and companies that are not gearing up to meet these expectations will be left far behind.

A recent survey done by Social Habit found that 32% expect a response in less than 30 minutes, and a total of 42% expect a response within the hour. 24/7. How are major brands doing in their social response times? Social Media Influence has a great infographic that shows some brands social activity and response times. Wal-Mart responds in an hour and a half but to only 7% on inquiries while Target responds in 2:48 hours to 85%.

It seems like this is a new arms race and everyone expects these response times to go down and/or requests addressed to go up. Like all social media activity, the consumers and big brands lead the way but once the expectation is there, smaller brands and B2B companies will  be expected to meet these new standards or risk a customer satisfaction issue.

This is especially important for companies that see Service as their competitive advantage, like agent based insurance companies, services companies and luxury brands.

A few guidelines for effective social customer care:

  • Listen! Effective listening and feeding of social inquiries to the customer care team is a must. Even if you choose not to respond, knowing what is said in a timely manner is critical
  • Connect the social listening and response management to your CRM. A large portion of complaints is related to recent purchases or an attempt to contact customer care in other ways that did not get results. CRM systems need to include a place for other identifiers for customer in addition to email and phone number. Facebook name, Twitter Handle etc. need to be part of the user profile. A social inquiry needs to be seen in context and the activity recorded for future interactions. This level of social customer intelligence is going to differentiate companies that do it right.
  • Direct service activities to a separate channel. To avoid cluttering the main FB and Twitter feeds with customer issues, create a special account for it and clearly set expectations as to when it is active. A great example is what the Microsoft XBOX team did on http://twitter.com/xboxsupport

  • Set internal standards for response times and integrate these metrics into the overall customer care KPI’s.

For other examples of brands doing it right see this great post. HBR also has an interesting, more structural post on the topic.

10 Best New Features of SharePoint 2013

The new SharePoint 2013 was just reached “Release To Manufacturing” stage! It is available for download now to MSDN subscribers and slated to be officially released in Q1 2013.

To celebrate, we thought to share some of the highlights in this upcoming release. While SP13 builds nicely on the foundation of previous versions, it does offer plenty of cool new features / improvements for business users to get excited about.

So here are the top 10 in no specific order.

  1. Cloud First: while SharePoint was part of Office 365 for some time now, it was a limited experience. SP13 is promising the full experience in the cloud + regular release of improvements and enhancements.
  2. The Newsfeed: taking the best from Facebook and Twitter, the new Newsfeed is the centerpiece of SP13 social push. The foundation was there in SP10 but you needed an external component like NewsGator to make it work. Now you’ll be able to build your network, follow colleagues and post / search the newsfeed at different organizational levels. #hashtags for all! For more…
  3. Communities: the other new social feature is the ability to create communities. A community (as separated from a project team) is for getting a group of people to collaborate more freely around a topic and share expertise. Built around Discussions, it expands them into seeing members, their contributions and allows easy formation of expert communities. For more…
  4. Cross site publishing allows for the first time to share content across sites, site collections, applications and even farms. We built a custom solution for this for an insurance company that wanted to post new forms to the public site, Agent portal and Intranet in a single action. Now it is built in. For more….
  5. Search had received a major upgrade. The acquisition of FAST was finally integrated into the main SharePoint search resulting in a long list of great improvements such as: Search for conversations, videos and reports, visual results and in-page previews, context sensitive sorting, advanced filters and of course, better performance, API’s etc. For more…
  6. SharePoint Apps!: one of the major changes to SP13 is the concept of apps. Apps are just like they sound, web applications that can be packaged so users can add them to pages or use them from within SharePoint. Not that different from the concept of solution packs before (line the Famous Fab 40 that were discontinued in SP10..) of packaging your web app in a web part. The new model does have a few advantages. It gives users more control on apps to use and while IT can still approve apps, they do not need to install them for users. It can also make internal applications easier to find and reduce redundancy. For more on apps see the Microsoft SharePoint apps blog.
  7. Simple project / task management: for complex project management you still have project server but it is an overkill for most simple projects. The new team site template includes the ability to manage tasks, deadlines and a simple work breakdown structure for a project team. It generates a personal and a group view of tasks and timelines perfect for keeping everyone on time. For more.,..
  8. Enterprise eDiscovery: one of the essential requirements for ECM in this age is a good eDiscovery mechanism to ensure content related to litigation or information requests can be executed efficiently and across all information repositories. SP13 is adding a new eDiscovery center that would make this a lot easier. For more…
  9. New Usage Analytics and useful views: Microsoft is replacing the SharePoint analytics with 2 new tools: search analytics and usage analytics. Usage analytics provide more detailed view of how SharePoint is used and even better, adds up to 12 cutom events to be added and tracked without custom tagging. You can also use the data collected from these tools for useful views such as Most Popular, Popular Searches ect. For more ..
  10. Better support for digital assets: there is no longer a need to create a special media library for digital assets. Once enabled, audio, video and other rich media can be added to any library. For more…

Is the 1-9-90 rule for social participation dead?

It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.

A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.

I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:

  • Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
  • Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
  • We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
  • While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.

So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?

Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.

Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.

Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants

  • Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
  • Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
  • Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.

Share More: a framework for enhancing collaboration

In a great study, McKinsey and Company published last year they showed how companies that use social and collaborative technologies extensively (networked companies in their terminology) outperformed traditional companies. They called it “Web 2.0 finds its payday”.

So if you work for a networked company – congratulations. Now if your company is part of the vast majority of companies struggling through some forms of collaboration but not seeing enough benefits, how do you get to the payoff stage?

In this following series of posts, I’ll try to offer a methodology and examples for how to do just that. Elevate the level of collaboration and create a fully networked organization one step at a time.

We call this process Share More.

The premise is simple, for each business area or function, find a real world business challenge where collaboration can make a difference. Implement it. Move to the next one.

Creating the overall framework is like creating an association wheel for the term “Share” in the middle:

Sharing can be with just a few team members or with the whole company. It can be internal or external. If you stop and think about all the interactions you have in a week, which causes you the most pain and time? Can these interactions be made simpler using technology? Can you Share More?

The first Share More solution I’d like to address is process and workflow solutions.

Share Process

Process and form automation is all about tracking and control. The real dramatic change is in giving managers and administrators visibility into every step and log of every change and update. It can also speed the process up and save effort in typing information into other systems, initiating emails or filing paper into physical files.

We’ve worked with a large hospitality organization to automate all HR and Payroll related forms through the use of InfoPath and SharePoint and learned a lot of valuable lessons that can be valid to many a process automation:

  • Strongly enforce data integrity: Most forms are created to collect data that will be fed eventually into another system. Therefore data input must come from the same source system it will end up in. Values and choices have to be restricted to valid combinations and open text fields limited to a minimum. The cleaner the data is, the less trouble it will cause down the road.
  • Know how organizational and reporting hierarchy is maintained: While you may know what system holds the organizational reporting structure, knowing that it’s 100% accurate and maintained up to date is a lot harder. Since some forms require sending confidential information like salary for approval, the wrong reporting relationship can compromise important information. Consider masking personal or confidential information if it is not essential for the approval requested (while the data, encrypted, can still be part of the form)
  • Don’t over customize: like our beloved tax code, approval workflows can get extremely complicated and convoluted as organizational politics that evolved over the years created special cases and more exceptions than rules. Codifying these special cases is expensive and prone to change. Consider it an opportunity to streamline and simplify the rules.
  • Augment with stronger 3rd party tools: while the core systems – like SharePoint contain built in (and free) workflow mechanism, it is limited in the control, flexibility, scalability and management as it comes out of the box. Some 3rd party tools like Nintex and K2 BlackPoint provide added flexibility and scalability. For a price.
  • Version deployment: Forms and process will change. How will updates be deployed without interfering with running flows and processes?

In future posts I’ll explore other opportunities for Sharing More including Sharing Insight, Sharing Responsibly and we’ll look into specific opportunities for collaboration and sharing in insurance and healthcare.

Keeping it Fresh: The 6 Pillars of Web Content Governance

Content. It is the bane of existence for web marketing managers everywhere. As soon as a new site is up and running, the content is getting old in inaccurate by the minute. Chasing business owners to revise, update or write new content is a constant struggle. To make it worse, many areas may not have an owner at all..

Fancy CMS systems were supposed to solve all that with expiration dates on content and distributed ownership but the tools themselves are just the means. People still need to use them.

That is where Web Content Governance comes in.

Web Content Governance is the overall approach to the way content is created, managed and maintained intended to ensure consistency, accuracy, relevance and compliance. It generally comprises of 6 main components: Process, Structure, Policies, Standards, Ownership, Processes and the Systems that are used to enable, enforce and automate them.

The details of each component vary between companies but generally include the following:

  • Process
    • Creation
    • Updates
    • Retention / expiration
    • Archiving
    • Workflows:
      • Editorial review
      • Legal review
      • Brand Review
      • Publishing
  • Structure
    • Content classification
    • Media types
    • Taxonomy and Metadata
    • Hierarchy and inheritance
  • Policies
    • Legal
    • Security
    • Data collection
    • E-mail
  • Ownership
    • Roles
    • Permissions
    • Escalation
  • Standards
    • Brand Guidelines
    • Content guidelines
    • Accessibility
    • Legal
    • Copyrights
  • Systems
    • Content Management System (CMS)
    • Digital Asset Management (DAM)
    • Document Management
    • Business Process Management (BPM)

Few tips and tricks

  1. Assign a bad cop. A senior enough executive who would be the enforcer.
  2. Build a team of champions. Department of area champions who have enough familiarity with the tools and can provide knowledge and communication channel to different business units and groups. The team should meet on a regular basis.
  3. Use automation. The ability to set content expiration is a great way to ensure all content is looked at (however briefly) regularly.
  4. Don’t relinquish control over the last step. Someone from the centralized web / marketing team should still review every page before it is being published

Rise of the networked Enterprise – Web 2.0 finds its payday

McKinsey & Company published their yearly study of Web 2.0 adoption in the enterprise as they’ve done over the last few years. In addition to the interesting data and continual growth of use, they tried to use some statistical analysis to correlate the level of use and adoption to company business performance.

The results, while far from being statistically conclusive, do show that companies that have extensively adopted Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies (they prefer using the term “Networked Enterprise” to the traditional Enterprise 2.0) perform better than their less networked peers.

It’s a great validation to what many of us practitioners in the field see as obvious. More information sharing, transparency and collaboration increases knowledge dissemination and empower better informed decisions. Taking these approaches out to customers and partners can only have positive effect.

Few things I found noteworthy in the results:

  • The ownership of internal collaboration at 61% of responding companies was in IT, not the business or corporate communications. This leads in many cases to a tool based discussion and decisions rather than how can these tools best serve business needs employee needs. Overall lack of ownership is still one of the biggest problems we are seeing. One of the most important steps a company can make in promoting the importance of collaboration is assigning clear ownership.
  • The biggest benefits come when companies use collaboration technologies both internally and externally. Business processes are complex and span multiple stakeholders. Companies that are able to automate and refine these processes and interactions see returns and this is very encouraging.
  • Success and adoption comes from putting Web 2.0 technologies “in the line of business”. If use of collaboration tools is not an additional tool or task but where the work is done, it will be used. If documents are only stored in SharePoint folders rather than in file shares, reports uploaded vs. emailed etc. everyone will get used to it quickly.
  • Social Networking being the highest used web 2.0 feature at 40% adoption. The term Social Networking itself is problematic as it can be used to describe many different types of interactions, from facebook to the SharePoint “colleagues” but there is no doubt that the immense popularity of these tools outside of the enterprise is having an impact, at least on what people think the priorities should be.

What’s ahead?

So how will social technologies evolve in 2011? It seems like the trend of adopting successful consumer tools and bringing them to the fold will continue. The gap is still huge and for most companies, even getting to a reasonable level of sharing still is in the future but some likely candidates include:

  • Full adoption and usage of smartphones as working and collaboration tools, not just email.
  • Location a la 4square
  • Collaborative editing with office 2010

Top Web Technology and Marketing trends for 2010 part 1 – Social Strategy and Infrastructure

I was at Barnes and Noble over the weekend and browsing through the business books section could see only 2 types of titles, books on the financial collapse and guides to social media marketing. Both are selling well I hear.

It’s good to see that after some significant doubts, corporate America and small businesses alike are engaging users on social media sites and twitting away. Unfortunately, what we often get is a complete schizophrenic approach. The corporate website is all law and order, control and command broadcasting carefully crafted and designed branding messages and product introductions. Then we have the social media wild west where everything goes, no rules exist and chaos reigns. Living with a split personality is hard and as Nestle recently found out, trying to enforce brand guidelines on Facebook can backfire at you.

As mentioned, there are a bucketload of books that will teach you how to engage and utilize social media, use it to form personal relationships and provide value add rather than just another outlet for PR.

I think a more urgent task we have is addressing the challenges of changing the purpose, structure and utility of public websites to adapt to the new social reality. Frankly, even after 6 years of “web 2.0” most sites are still pretty static brochureware, but the Social revolution is changing that quickly. Even though not every company will want to cancel their website and send users to Facebook instead as Skittles did for a few months, there is much to gain from trying to marry the two worlds.

The goals of the public website have not really changed: create a positive brand experience, attract and convert new customers, retain existing customers, make it easy to do business with you and provide great service anytime, anywhere. Now adding the social layer on top of that elevates it to a whole new level. It also requires a new and maturing technical infrastructure and tools to manage this experience.

Adding the social layer can take many forms but done right it will make every website more relevant, accessible, personal and effective. The tools to manage this new environment are still evolving and maturing but the next releases in all product categories will include a social integration layer.

Before embarking on the next iteration, every website owner must examine and decide: “How social should the company’s site be?”

Here are some guidelines for different models of social integration

  1. Divide and Conquer: create separate destinations for different types of interaction but make them distinct from the main site
  2. Complete control over brand experience: build the brand site into a social community
  3. Co-Promotion: link and syndicate content from site to social media, promote social media activity on site.
  4. Aggregation and context: aggregate relevant social media to site from multiple sources
  5. Integrate and Connect with Social Media: create a seamless experience and leverage identity and existing relationships

Of course, these modes are not mutually exclusive and can be used for different part of the site or in evolving fashion.

For more on these topics, I’m doing a webinar on 3/31/10 on best practices of social integration and will bring some examples. To register go here.

The Promise of the Real Time Web for the Enterprise


Real Time Web is the latest trend to capture the media’s attention over the past few months, and indeed seems to encapsulate well the effect that Twitter and the social networks are having on the flow of information. The ability to get up-to-the-second information about people, news and activities around the world is a foundation for a new wave of startups and services and is being integrated into search and other services.

As many users of the real time web will attest, its constant stream of information can be overwhelming and disjointed but at its best, it allows awareness and insight to emerge as the confluence of information takes a clearer shape.

Can this be useful in the enterprise? (I’ll be careful about using the term “The Real-Time Enterprise” that Gartner coined a few years ago; it means something else).

Companies generate huge amounts of data that rarely sees the light of day. Let’s consider the following scenario – you are an account manager for several key accounts in a particular vertical. What information are you getting? Most likely direct and indirect emails consist of 90% of the information while the rest is verbal, non-documented conversations. But what if you could get real-time updates on the following:

  • Client specific news
  • Client brand related blog posts, discussions, videos and tweets in real time
  • Vertical news
  • Client services updates about milestones reached
  • Customer support alerts about open service tickets and their resolution status
  • Internal discussions and email regarding the client
  • External email communications with the client by different team members
  • Etc..

Not all of these would constitute information that someone will send a specific email on. Being aware of the stream of news, discussions and information can be invaluable for an agile and responsive approach.

Our current document and email centric information systems are not built to provide this level of constant details. Using the new generation of web mashups and aggregation tools are beginning to offer reasonable solutions.

As Jennifer Martinez had recently observed in GigaOm, there is a huge potential for tools that will help sift and provide context for all of these huge streams of data.

What surprises me is that most of the discussion looks at this as a new phenomenon while there is an industry that has been using this method very successfully for a long time. The Bloomberg (and other) terminals provide bite size financial information in a continual stream that can be filtered, sorted and analyzed. It combines company news, industry news, transactions, price changes, etc., in a way that for a novice seems indecipherable but for the experienced broker is a goldmine.

Providing the right tools are put in place, the potential business value seem significant:

  • Accelerating cycles of decision making
  • Pushing all relevant information to you rather than pulling from multiple sources is a great time saver
  • Decreasing the unbearable email load
  • Increasing and broadening awareness to domain knowledge

For more information on the real time web and the type of tools that exist around it, ReadWriteWeb has compiled a great list of top 50 real time web companies and services.

6 ways to get your web presence and infrastructure in shape for 2010

In this lingering recession, everyone is looking for new ways to better position themselves to compete and grow revenue. A lower level of consumer and business spending will require efficiency, careful optimization and leverage of low cost assets and methods. It’s time to get into shape! Here are 6 ways to revamp and strengthen your web sites and infrastructure on a modest budget:

Revamp your web strategy for a web 2.0+ world.

The internet world has dramatically changed in the last 3-4 years. Social networks, user communities, user generated content, twitter, the iPhone and other mobile devices, GPS and location aware devices and the other components of Web 2.0 completely altered the way businesses and users communicate and transact online. Each of the Web 2.0 components come with their own set of opportunities and challenges. They provide new channels that enable communication at a fraction of the cost while demanding a new approach to openness, transparency and interactivity. Regulatory, security and governance concerns are not always easy to address. Chart a path in these new waters by rethinking your Web Strategy and redefine the role that the web and other digital channels will play in the company’s future and put a plan in place for its execution.  

Implement a social media strategy and measure its value

Social media tools are a great way to build honest online relationship with customers and other audiences. Doing it right is not always easy. A social media strategy will force you to think through and define where to be and what is to be communicated, set the tone and nature of interactions, set guidelines on how to respond to negative feedback, factor in legal and regulatory implications, address intellectual property and security issues and many other aspects need to be thought through. In addition, measuring the impact of these activities is not always easy. Building a model that can assess and provide value guidelines is very important. 

Reduce costs by Leveraging open source and Cloud web infrastructure components

We have a client who recently came to us asking advice after a planned $3M Oracle e-business implementation turned into a projected $15M 3 year project. We recommended they look at OfBiz and other open source e-commerce frameworks. Open source enterprise level software , SaaS and Cloud Computing have matured to the level that major organizations are leveraging these low cost scalable solutions to build a robust infrastructure that can replace big investments in hardware, software licenses and data centers.  

Take control of your content – Deploy a Content Management Solution

For many companies, fresh content is key to repeat visits. As sites scale, managing and maintaining them becomes an expensive and difficult task often dependent on IT or external resources. Content Management Systems (CMS) provide business users with the ability to modify and update sites and global structures that make graphical changes easy to implement. They also provide ability to segment users, add personalization and social features such as Blogs and community without the need for additional software and services.

User Experience Redesign

If your website has not gone through a redesign in the last 3 years, chances are that it looks dated. What looks fresh and relevant changes all the time and the key in the last few years has been incorporation of user engagement and interactivity, quality content that speaks more directly to the users, content targeting and using sites as relationship building tools rather than one way communication streams. Sites need to add rich content, video and mobile support as well as dynamic interfaces. All these changes contribute substantially to improved website ROI

Optimize sites for goals and conversion

It’s crucial that every marketing and search dollar is well spent. To do this, websites need strong web analytics so that sites can be continuously optimized to maximize conversion and be careful to avoid the main pitfalls. Web analytics capability allows businesses to test new ideas, layouts and promotions and to quickly refine them to drive sales and traffic as well as optimize search and marketing spend. With Google analytics and other low costs services, setting great analytics does not have to mean big bucks.

Measuring the Business Value of Twitter

twitter101business

Twitter has just released a new useful guide covering the basics, best practices and case studies for using Twitter for business. 

They are trying to stress that Twitter should be viewed as a tool for building relationships rather than a tool for broadcasting announcements, PR, etc. in their words:

“Instead of approaching Twitter as a place to broadcast information about your company, think of it as a place to build relationships.”

It is still a great vehicle to get coupons, deals and specials out, but the long term value will come for said relationships.

Another interesting subject they address is measuring the value of Twitter. 2 things are important in this regard:

  1. Twitter ( as other social media activities) links should be tagged and reported in web analytics tools using special tags embeded in the tiny URLs so they could be seamlessly rolled up along with all other measured media
  2. As an engagement tool, it brings to focus the tracking and value placed on brand engagement as part of the value of the web activities and interactions. Think about the value that can be assigned to a user reading branded messages several times a day.

For more information about best practices in using Twitter for business see our previous post on the subject: bulding the collaborative enterprise.