Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part III)

This post is the third post of this series.  In the first post I explored ‘the social customer’ and provided my point of view.  In the second post I explored social CRM to make sense of what it is.  In this third post I take a similar look at ‘social business’.  This is a long post and if you have the patience then you will get value out of reading the entire post.  If you are in a hurry and just want the nugget then the first section of this post is all you need to read.

Social business: the nugget to chew on

If you believe that implementing a bunch of social media and collaboration tools into your business is going to make you a social business then you are deluded.  You are making the same kind of mistake that people just like you made when they invested millions into CRM systems in the mistaken belief that implementing these systems would transform relationships with customers and lead to the ‘milk and honey’ of customer loyalty.  If you load a donkey with all the books of wisdom does that make the donkey wise?  No.  And you would never do that, you would laugh at anybody did do that.  Then why do so many tech oriented people think that implementing social tools (collaboration, social media) will make a business a ‘social businesses’?

Why am I so confident?  Because ‘social business’ requires us (our culture, our organisations, our businesses, us) to get present to and live out of / from a social ontology.   Right now our Western culture, our institutions, our businesses and our behaviour (in the public and private domains) are shaped by / arise out of an atomist ontology.  What is required is a transformation. A transformation that requires a shift from the “I-it” mode of relating to people (employees, customers, suppliers, partners….) to the “I-Thou” mode.   I’ll let RD Laing spell it out for us:

“Persons are distinguishable from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world.  Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential….

The error fundamentally is the failure to recognise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.”

Put simply it says that when you and I treat a fellow human being as an object (an It) then we are doing violence to his (and our) humanity.  Do you acknowledge her  existence by saying hello or shaking hands?  Do you provide the right work environment, a human one?  Do you allow her to voice her authentic voice? Do you involve her in the decisions that affect her?  Do you use words that acknowledge, teach, inspire or do you use words that criticise, condemn, humiliate?  Is the whole person welcome in the workplace or just that part that is useful for work?  And so forth.

If we get that a human being is an organism that is continually experiencing then everything that we do or do not do matters.  We cannot escape our responsibility to one another. Each of us is like a wave continually interacting with other who are also ‘waving’ and thus affecting us. That is what ‘social’ means in its fullest sense and that is what we expect when we are being ‘social’ and socialising.

So that is the challenge: a transformation in our world view, in our society, in our organisations, in our businesses and in our behaviour. We are speaking about a transformation in how we look at “what it means to be human” – form atomicity and instrumentality (“I-It”) to social and experiencing (“I-Thou”).  Looking for good examples of companies that treat human beings with dignity and built great relationships withe employees who go on to create great value for customers and the company then look no further than SAS (more on SAS later in this post).

First, lets address this question:  how easy is that likely to be for those of us who get what ‘social business’ is really about to bring about the kind of transformation that I am talking about here?

Morpheus speaks wisely when he says

“The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you are inside you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy.  You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  Morpheus, in The Matrix, 1999

What does the latest Deloitte Research tell us?

I came across this piece today which talks about a new global report by Deloitte Research provides guidance organisations should consider on how they can significantly improve bottom-line results by fostering and promoting connections in the workplace.  Here are some of the key points that got my attention and are relevant to the whole notion of a ‘social business‘:

“We are more technologically connected than ever before, being addicted to our computers, cell phones, and PDAs. Ironically, today’s technology-saturated environment can actually weaken the quality of people’s connections that enhance performance.

“…people’s jobs are much more complex, technology can be both a distraction and an asset, and workforces are increasingly more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. The report concludes that these changes have made it very difficult for today’s workforce to make quality, value-adding connections.”

Employers need to become connected to their employees to deliver on what they need and want in the workplace, such as interesting work, career development, and flexibility in exchange for their highly sought-after capabilities.

“…it’s critical for employees and employers to foster three primary types of connections:

  • Connecting people to people to help promote personal and professional growth; 
  • Connecting people to a sense of purpose to help build and sustain a sense of organisational and individual mission; and
  • Connecting people to the resources they need to work effectively, such as managing knowledge, technology, tools, capital, time, and physical space.

In my view this research validates my point of view:  tech tools are not enough, we have to work on building the connections between us and our fellow human beings.   Lets take a look at a master at this game: SAS.

What can we learn from SAS?

The Deloitte Report (Connecting People to What Matters) illustrates its reasoning through case studies.  Of particular note to me is SAS (the business intelligence software company which which has experienced 29 years of continued revenue growth and was recently named in FORTUNE magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the tenth year in a row. What makes it so special, what can we learn from SAS?

Our corporate culture is based on trust between employees, customers, and the company,” said Jeff Chambers, Vice President of Human Resources for US-based SAS. “We care about employees’ personal and professional growth, which inspires them to do great work. Employees who solve our clients’ biggest problems yield happy, committed customers. It isn’t altruism. It’s good business.”

I don’t buy that at all.  Looking into the company and its founder, I am clear that it happens to be both altruism AND good business.  The altruism came first and was the direct result of Jim Goodnights personal experience – how he was treated (an object, an “It”) when he was employed.  Here is what the net throws up:

“When Goodnight founded SAS, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He has also stated that he believes the work culture is key to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organisational performance”

This point of view is corroborated by this article in Inc, the key points that speak to me are:

“The fact that we’re private means that we can make long-range decisions,” says Goodnight. “We don’t have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers………..  So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian’s approach. “We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people,”……

“Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entry into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There’s a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight’s explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: “If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy.”

Final words

The challenge of ‘social business’ is not one of technology.  It is one of creating a culture, a work environment, like SAS has done where people matter and they know they matter – where they feel trusted and valued as human beings not just interchangeable cogs who fulfil roles and execute specific tasks.  Companies like this address the fundamental question (coming from employees) for a ‘social business’: why should I participate in all this social stuff?  Once again, lets listen to profoundly wise words:

“Why Mr Anderson?  Why do you do it?  Why do you get up? Why keep fighting?  Do you believe you are fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is it freedom?  Or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Yes?  No?  Could it be for love?”  Agent Smith, in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003

Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out for all of us.  The ground of our existence is survival – we wish to continue to exist – and there is an awfully lot we will do to earn that paycheck that allows us and the people that count on us to survive.  However, we will only go that extra mile for a) people we love; and b) causes that occur as noble and which stir our hearts and light up our lives.  Does that remind you about the key points from the Deloitte report? The need to foster connections: people to people connections; and people to a sense of purpose?  Without these connections investments in social technologies are a waste, a fool’s errand. 

Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part I)

Recently I have been thinking about and diving into ‘social’ and that includes reading David Weissman’s book ‘A Social Ontology’.  It is not bed time reading – I will share my thoughts with you in due course. One thing I can share with you right now is that our current set-up is based on an atomistic ontology: people as particles rather than people as waves – think about how electrons show up in experiments.  I’ll come back to this at the end of this series of posts.

This week the organisers of a social customer engagement conference – The Social Customer 2012 – London, 29 March http://bit.ly/wCN9MA – approached me with an offer.  An offer of 3 tickets (1 for me and 2 for you) in exchange for me promoting it through this blog.  I value education so I took up their offer.  To keep myself honest, I am making all of these tickets available to you (the readers of this blog and the Twitter followers of this blog) – if I go to this conference then I will pay.

Given what has been showing up in my living, I did some bed time reading: trawling through the internet to get to grips with ‘social customer’, ‘social CRM’, and ‘social business’. Why?  To figure out whether all the ‘social’ speak is snake oil or great medicine.  Let’s start.

The Social Customer

I get the term ‘customer’: an entity that buys a product/service and makes a payment in return.

I get the term ‘social’: usually a person that spends time with people, enjoys/thrives on the company of people, actively contributes to people by taking an interest in their lives is called ‘social’; there are spaces that we designate ‘social’ where ‘socialising’ occurs, for example the cafe in Paris; and ‘social’ only means something when you have something to compare and contrast it against, specifically the designations ‘non social’ and ‘anti-social’.

‘Social Customer’ is just a meaningless phrase to me.  Which makes me ask the following questions: what kind of a creature is the ‘social customer’?  What are its defining features?  And importantly is this creature mythical like the unicorn or real like a dog?   Through my research I came across this article, the author sets out the following as “defining characteristics of social customers“:

  • hyper-connected – by this he means they carry a smart phone everywhere and have access to the internet;
  • readily reach out to peers and influencers (through social technologies / media);
  • are constantly researching (on the web of course)
  • share what they think of you (the business);
  • expect brands to engage them; and
  • control the purchasing cycle.

Read through the defining characteristics and then ask yourself how many customers fit that description?   A very small percentage – a tiny percentage.  Is that why Tops give ‘social’ a wide berth? If you were the CEO how much attention would you pay to the ‘social customer’ if it strikes you that only a tiny percentage of your customer qualifies as ‘social customer’?  Or is it simply that ‘social’ was lost from the Tops vocabulary a long time ago, soon after they entered school?  My take on this: I can forget about the ‘social customer’: by this definition / requirement, the ‘social customer’ is like the mythical unicorn – captivating yet unreal.

The Social Customer Manifesto

Then I came across the Social Customer Manifesto – it is on the right hand side of the website page, you might have to scroll below the fold.  I took a good look at this and then I dug into my lived experience of my fellow human beings as human beings and in their ‘customer’ role.  Here is my zen like take on it:

I’ll leave you to decide whether my view fits in with your lived experience or whether the view set out in the Social Customer Manifesto is a better fit. From where I sit, the writer of the Social Customer Manifesto, has an understanding of human beings (in their role of customers) which is radically different to my lived experience.  Please do not point out Wikipedia, Apache, Linux etc to me – those were born out of a completely different context: a context of contribution to a noble cause – almost the opposite of commercial reality which is to enrich the Tops and their masters the financial analysts that work the stock markets.

Want to win one of the 3 free tickets?

If you want to win one of the 3 free tickets then please read the following carefully:

What you need to enter the competition for the free tickets?  You need to send a tweet that conforms to the following specification:

“I’d like 2 attend The Social Customer 2012, London, 29 March http://bit.ly/wCN9MA #MzIq | {give a reason here}”

Who will choose the winners? Me.

How will I choose?  The three tweets that make the most contribution to me: put a smile on my face; make me laugh; put something into the world by giving your time or some other resources to a worthy cause.

And finally, I thank you for the privilege of your listening and the contribution that your comments, your emails make to my living.  YOU inspire me to continue speaking and sharing my authentic voice through what you share with me and how you share.  I am grateful that you exist.

Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.