Starting today, it is not OK to treat your customers like a nameless, faceless mass.
Your customers' experiences in business and in their personal lives increasingly include building relationships on social networks. These are very personal connections.
Your aging customer relationship management strategies will eventually break as your monthly customer email becomes more and more jarring to customers, or just turns into noise.
Your employees and management team must change to treat your customers like people. It seems obvious, but change of this scale can be long and difficult for organizations that have been managing customers in a specific way for years.
The Rise of Customer Community Strategies
One of the ways that organizations are creating more meaningful prospect and customer experiences is through the use of online customer communities. The diversity of engagement opportunities, range of business-level performance indicators that a communities can impact, and reasonable cost for this enterprise technology, leads many businesses to make online customer communities a central part of the customer relationship strategy.
Successful customer community strategies bring customers, employees, and partners together for the success of the customer. In a recent interview on Socious' social business podcast, ProCommunity, Jamie Notter (co-author of the book, Humanize) talks about this change in management as activating the periphery and shifting voice from the center outward.
Why is Culture Important in Social Business?
Like healing a down economy, effecting change in your organization can take many paths. They range from quick Band-Aid techniques that provide temporary relieve such as training employee on new procedures or clamping down on processes for quality control. However, these approaches rarely result in cost-effective, sustainable change.
Like fixing a broken economy, the action that creates the most lasting good can also be the hardest. It takes changing underlying assumptions across the organization, reevaluation of roles, and commitment to the end result. Humanizing the way that you work with your customer community takes a culture change inside your company and this does not happen overnight.
Social business by definition decentralizes decision making, customer interactions, and idea generation. According to Notter, old-school management approaches, where top-down control and authority rule, are unsustainable in a social world. Companies flourish when they can establish and nurture a culture where the leadership sets the direction, empowers their employees, and supports the community. This clears the way for the team to use their experience and creativity to meet the overarching goals.
For instance, it is much more effective for an organization to educate employees on the core values that they want to come across in customer experiences. Then, let employees from across the company find ways to make that happen, rather than training employees on specific scripts and language they can and can't use with customers.
Culture and Online Customer Communities
In his appearance on Socious' podcast, ProCommunity, Jamie Notter discusses 4 areas that organizations should focus on to develop a culture where employees, customers, and partners come together to help customers succeed with their products and services.
Change #1) Create an Open Culture
Shift voice and decision making power from center to the periphery. One of the primary roles of people in positions of power is to protect and serve the community. In other words, provide vision, eliminate roadblocks, and keep the openness values at the forefront of the customer community.
Change #2) Create a Trustworthy Culture
Building on openness, create trust among customers and employees that their online discussions are acceptable and that not all solutions have to be fully thought-out right away. Create a culture where ideas build on each other and people are not judged in the middle of the co-creation process.
Change #3) Create a Generative Culture
Embrace inclusion. Actively work to connect customers, employees, and partners in your customer community. Freely give and encourage the ability to create content, solutions, and brand characteristics in your online customer community.
Change #4) Create a Courageous Culture
It takes courage to listen. It takes courage to experiment. It takes courage to fail. Lay a foundation in your organization where the business culture promotes taking risks and breaking traditional customer engagement molds.
Find more information about these four principles, including a free online assessment, at the Humanize book website.
Online Customer Community Takeaway
Online customer communities take both your organization and customers from a 1-to-1 communication channel to a networked model. People from your company and your customers' organizations, who did not interact previously, now have new opportunities to share, collaborate, and learn.
Rather than try to plot out every possible situation that could arise in the customer community and micromanaging every employee-customer-partner interaction, invest in developing and maintaining a culture where all stakeholders understand and can act on the mutual goals, opportunity, and value that your customer community brings to the your organization. This takes openness, trust, freedom to connect, and courage.