The following is a post I originally wrote for MyCustomer.com (22 April 2013).
After the pioneering days of Frank Eliason, has social customer care become outmoded? Guy Stephens poses questions we must answer.
As I travelled in to work on the train this morning I was thinking about whether things had really changed in the social customer care space since I took my formative steps there. That was 2008 and I was @guyatcarphone. I’m not sure how many social years equate to one year of the Julian calendar, but 2008 seems a long time ago now.
Social customer care was making its way across the Atlantic on the back of people like Frank Eliason – the first social customer care poster pin-up perhaps! I doubt he’s ever been described in that way. But his was the name that we all bandied about, like some magic talisman. If Frank could do it, then there was the possibility that any of us could do it as well.
This was BDC – Before Dave Carroll. On 6th July 2009, United Breaks Guitars was uploaded to YouTube; the rest, as they say, is history. Dave – I hope you don’t mind if I call you Dave, but we’re all friends here, right? – told a simple story: the underdog strikes back against the might of the monolithic corporate machine. Dave struck a victory blow for the downtrodden, for the individual. He suddenly gave us hope. Our voice was important, and not only was our voice important, but we could actually do something about it, and finally be heard. Dave gave us sight of a customer service that could be better, should be better, demanded to be better. And Twitter, seemingly, could deliver that hope to us on a silver tray.
Companies could no longer hide behind the façade of the monolith. We had believed they were impregnable, and they did nothing to change our views, they fuelled that belief. Without a post code, a telephone number, a fax number, an email address communicating with the monolith was at times impossible, frustrating, deflating… The IVR was another fortress or perhaps labyrinth to contend with.
The pioneering days
This was a time of exploration and discovery. It was fun. We made it up as we went along. We wrote the blueprint on a napkin, and then still made it up any way.
I like to think of that time as the ‘pioneering days’, but perhaps that reflects a sense of self-aggrandisement; certainly nostalgia, a time past. Everything seems better then somehow. I’m already starting to feel like one of the ‘old ones’, hanging longingly onto the coat tails of a forgotten story, that seems like only yesterday in my mind.
Those were the days when companies like Virgin Trains, EasyJet, BT, ASOS and The Carphone Warehouse paved the way for what exists today. Those were the days when responding via Twitter was a novelty, Facebook as a customer service channel was just a thought, and YouTube ‘How to videos’ were in their infancy.
Those were the good old days when strategy was not something associated too closely with being a social pioneer. When you could roll in to work and try something out that might work or it might not – that was the extent of a strategy session. Give it a go, if it works keep going, if not, stop and try something else.
But we’ve grown up a lot since then. Trailblazers like Warren Buckley at BT were far-sighted, but few and far between. Warren wasn’t afraid to let people Tweet him with their complaints, and yes, he did respond and get it sorted out. I think someone like Warren is still a rarity. I wasn’t alone at Carphone Warehouse though, there were others such as Richard Baker (Virgin Trains), Graeme Stoker (BT), Paul Hopkins (EasyJet), James Hart (ASOS) and Alex Brown (Virgin Media). They were experimenting and pushing boundaries, Tweeting with customers directly. We were learning off each other, sharing ideas via Twitter.
We were uncovering the challenges back then that many now face – how do you industrialise and scale social, what’s the ROI, what will customer service look like, what’s the future of the contact centre… and it’s these questions that got me thinking this morning: has social customer care moved on?
Ask the big questions
I know people like Esteban Kolsky (ThinkJar) was asking this same question and holding up the mirror to social at least two years ago. I’m not sure how much he’s changed his position since then, if at all?
I look at the state of social customer care now and I question how much it has moved forwards. Yes, it’s moved forwards in the sense that more and more companies are now doing social customer care, but are those companies celebrating the fact that they answer customers’ Tweets in less than one hour, or are they celebrating the fact that they have resolved the root cause of the reason for Tweeting them in the first place?
- Have organisations adopted an integrated approach to customer service, or is it still organised along channel lines – telephony, inbound email, social?
- Have organisations tried to understand how they could transfer their success in social across their other channels?
- Have organisations figured out how to offer social at scale? If you can offer telephony at scale, what is different about social?
- Have organisations figured out what metrics to use or is it about transferring traditional customer service metrics into a social space?
- Have organisations thought about what the impact of social is on customer service itself or are they still thinking in traditional terms that customer service is done by a team of agents that sit in customer service, marketing is done by marketers…? The technology has been updated but not the underlying business model.
I get the fact that social customer care is growing up, is having to grow up, but I’m fearful that what I am starting to see is that rather than being the catalyst to the provision of a more meaningful, more intimate, more sympathetic type of customer service, we are simply seeing social subsumed into a customer service that is increasingly outmoded, willingly ignorant of the changing landscape around it, and blinkered to the possibilities of what could be.
Organisations need to be asking the big questions in the context of today, not in the context of the business models that the decision makers grew up with. I’m certainly not advocating a wholesale clearing out. We need to be mindful of what was, but we also need to be open to what could be, might be, will be. Because that is the inevitable future that we will live through.
I’ve been following the development of leaderboards for awhile now, and have recently, on the back of a Leaderboarded/PeerIndex campaign, set up a UK Social Customer Care leaderboard featuring a variety of household UK brands across a number of different sectors. Although my choice of companies are random (or at least taken from a Twitter list I created a couple of years ago), I have tried only to choose those companies which offer a dedicated Twitter customer service account, rather than one that adopts a broadcast or hybrid approach (marketing, customer service, sales all rolled into one). Whilst the leaderboard, in this instance, uses PeerIndex to drive it, my interest is less around what data is used to drive it, and more around the implications of a leaderboard itself. Subsequent posts might address the different types of data leaderboards can use to drive them.
So here’s a few initial thoughts on leaderboards:
Anyone can create a leaderboard. What this means is that anybody ie. any customer with a few moments to spare can create a leaderboard (using a platform like leaderboarded.com) and feed any data they want into it, whether that is PeerIndex, Twitter hashtags, Twitter activity (Tweets, RTs), LinkedIn activity, blog activity (posts, comments etc), as well as traditional crm, sales or customer service data .
As a customer, I can create a leaderboard based on a combination of the Twitter activity of the brands that I commonly engage with, together with one of the social influence scores (PeerIndex, Klout or Kred) for example. The corollary to this is that I could equally create a leaderboard based on the hashtag #fail+[company name].
The fact that I can do this so quickly has implications around the fact that I could quickly set up a leaderboard for example as part of a research or pre-purchase phase when deciding which product to purchase.
On an individual level, I could use a leaderboard to track my and my network’s social activity over time or for a specific event. I could equally use it to track a sports team I support, as well as their competitors.
Leaderboards could be used to publicly (or privately) track how customer service agents were performing based on criteria that was both transparent and open. Indeed the criteria or data used could be different for each agent, but weighted to ensure a level playing field. In this way, an agent could directly link their action to their performance, and the result of it tracked moments later.
Social customer care teams could also create a Leaderboard of all their influencers (advocates and detractors), and start to understand their influence or activity over a period of time based on how much they Tweet or get Retweeted for example. They could go further and weight the different data points, so that an RT might be worth more than a Tweet for example. A leaderboard could be set-up of known detractors to track their activity on Twitter or other channels. But equally a leaderboard could be used to track advocates combining social data points and purchase history for example, to understand the value an influencer brings to a company and how their activity compares to other known influencers.
Leaderboards could be used to indicate (or perhaps even validate) a company’s or a group of companies social activity and used to understand how active (or not) they are; in turn it might be used as a proxy for how socially engaged they profess to be.
If I was looking to buy a smartphone I could set up a leaderboard of the telco companies using Twitter I was interested in and track their activities. Fortunately, most telco companies have set-up a dedicated Twitter customer service account. I could track these dedicated accounts for a period of time to see how active and responsive they were to customers and this could be used as a proxy to understand the quality of their customer service: what are some of the issues they face, how responsive they are to their customers, their tone of voice etc.
With regards to the UK Social Customer Care leaderboard I have created, what’s of interest to me is that ultimately I can create the leaderboard. I can choose which companies I wish to track. I set the criteria that is important to me. The leaderboard is specific to me. I understand the context in which it is created. It is meaningful and relevant to me. It is not some company telling me or broadcasting at me their official figures that 98% of their customers are satisfied with their service.
I’ve only touched on a few possible uses for leaderboards here, and I’ll be continuing to explore how I can apply different data points to the UK Social Customer Care leaderboard such as Twitter activity. If you are interested to read more then please read the following post by Toby Beresford, Founder of Leaderboarded – Why we love building lists and why an influencer list matters.
Please note that I sit on the Advisory Board for Leaderboarded.com, in a non-fee-paying capacity.
The future of digital culture – yours, mine, and ours – depends on how well we learn to use the media that have infiltrated, amplified, distracted, enriched, and complicated our lives. [Howard Rheingold, NetSmart]
I have been thinking a lot lately about the literacy of social and what it means to be social in a social business. Predictably, I’ve ended up with far more questions than answers.
What does it mean to be ‘social’?
It’s a simple question.
I can read and write. I can add and subtract. I can write an RFP. I’d like to think I can get on with people. I’ve read Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. But what are the skills I need to work and communicate in a social business? How do I learn these skills when the new paradigm is being shaped as it evolves.
The new paradigm disrupts and changes. It causes anxiety and concern. Social has become a proxy for change. A type of change that is unfamiliar and uncertain. But what type of change isn’t those things? The dark heavy machinery of our industrial heritage starkly juxtaposed against the lightness of the world being shaped around us. In the liminal zone between the two, we reminisce, become nostalgic, and yet can’t help but be a little bit curious.
How do I know I am being ‘social’? Do I need to be social all the time, or just some of the time? Is posting a picture of my lunch to Instagram or checking in to where I work – social? I have a Twitter account, connections on LinkedIn, use Facebook, I’ve tried Tumblr, Posterous, Storify, FriendFeed and a whole host of others since gone, I write a blog. I tell myself: I must be social!
I must be social because I have all the social logos to prove it displayed on my About.me page. Or are they just like all the unread books on my shelf at home? I must be social because other people tell me so, because I send a certain number of Tweets every day. I must be social because I have a Klout, Kred and PeerIndex score? Although I can’t remember asking for one.
But what does it all mean? When you go behind the logos, the Tweeting, uploading the pics to Instagram, what does it mean to be social? Who decides? Can I decide? Do I have the credentials to decide? Does it matter? But then by extension does authenticity matter?
I don’t even know what it means, but I know it matters…
Freedom and words
For some reason I prefer the word organisation over company or business.
Words are important, and yet in social we leave them vague and amorphous. They are defined by assumptions, which are unquestioned and appropriated. Applied randomly. By the crowd.
And yet who am I to judge? Who am I to decide which words should be used, who can or can’t use them, who should define them and how.
Should I adhere to the definition of the crowd and the meaning they impose? The meaning forced onto the word by the united voice of the crowd. The promise of freedom delivered on a tray; delivered by the masses.
Social brings with it a freedom, not of expression, but of scale. It binds people, unites them behind #something. It binds and unites at a scale we have never known before. It binds and unites at a speed we have never known before. We are still learning the possibilities. Still exploring.
But back to words. Back to the sense of freedom that social offers. Or perhaps, it’s the mirage of freedom. Either way, the pretense of freedom is tempting, alluring, encompassing. But am I fooled by it? Seduced by it. More than likely.
Is freedom, openness, authenticity a vain pursuit? The promise of it brought tantalisingly within reach by social. Sign in, create your profile, and all of this could be yours. Easy. And yet what freedom is there within the crowd? It is a relationship constantly fraught with friction and compromise.
But who am I to question the crowd?
Mindset, Culture, Technology
I’ve also thought a lot about the context in which social business takes place, from both a personal vantage point, as well as a corporate one. By context, I probably mean the framework. And even then, I’m not sure if framework is the right word either. But let me try to explain.
Quite early on in my journey I realised that social wasn’t a technology play. It required the technology to make it happen – absolutely, but the technology was simply the switch by which everything else happened. As Howard Rheingold states:
“We’re in a period where the cutting edge of change has moved from the technology to the literacies made possible by the technology.”
The people, you and me, have embraced the change, and we’re now learning the literacies that will enable us to play, work, interact and communicate. Wasn’t it Clay Shirky who wrote: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society”?
But organisations are lagging behind, resistant to change. If only they had listened to The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 and ‘got down off that camel’. The bit I’ve never understood, is that organisations are made up of people, you and me.
But back to my early journey.
It became obvious to me that these social technologies were inextricably intertwined with me. In many ways they reflected me: who I was, how I engaged with people, how I communicated with people. Perhaps I might even go so far as to say they were a reflection of who I could be, wanted to be. My inner self played out on a public stage as @guy1067.
@guy1067 doesn’t exist, @guy1067 feels separate to me, I can hide behind the faceless mask of @guy1067. But @guy1067, he(?), it(?) is me. Who am I trying to kid?
The social technologies were also a catalyst or perhaps more likely a proxy that probed away at me, posing seemingly simple questions about private/public, inside/outside, work/play, me/you … but these weren’t questions I could walk away from, leave hanging. They demanded an answer, and they demanded an answer that could only be played out in one place: in public.
But I digress. As if I have followed a link and self indulgence and serendipity have taken me to another place. What’s the word or phrase for that? #onthetipofmytongue
The crux of the matter is that early on I realised that social wasn’t about the technology, it was about me and my mindset. And when I got to work it was about culture and organisational transformation. But who wants to talk to me about organisational transformation?
Who are the teachers, gurus and experts??
Who teaches me to share, to be authentic, how to collaborate, to understand the subtle differences and nuances between collaborate and co-operate? Who teaches me to be a connector, spanner, broker? Who teaches me not to hoard? Am I a Dipper, a Denier, or an Ultra? What skills do each of these require? How do I know what skills I need? Can I retrain?
Social reflects the type of person I am, not the type of person I want to be? If I am opaque, private or closed, can I ever hope to be open, authentic and transparent? Where do I start?
Who will teach me? The crowd? The self-appointed guru? The commentator and critic? The crowd appointed chosen one?
Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, (the company I work for by the way) in a recent address to the Council on Foreign Relations talks about ‘the social network being the production line within the company’. This is a captivating and enticing statement, signalling a fundamental and profound shift in the organisational foundations of a company. The social network challenges the norm. Imagine a system in which the sharing of knowledge is the cornerstone of the way you work: to share is to work. Sharing becomes the means of exchange, knowledge the currency.
My social eminence, represented in its current rudimentary form of Klout, Kred or PeerIndex scores, reflects a new kind of hierarchy, in which my actions, my knowledge, is directly reflected in my desire, my willingness, my understanding of how to share. My enemy is not apathy (can I be bothered?), but my ability to discern. For sharing for the sake of sharing is meaningless. My ability to share therefore is a delicate balance between my innate understanding of the relevance of what I am sharing combined with how well I understand who I am sharing with. So even sharing is fraught with difficulty. And heaven forbid if you overshare!
But what happens when we add another layer of complexity in and combine this score with degrees of benevolence, authenticity or openness. This may be foreign to us now, but this is where we will inevitably head. Every action tracked, every action measured. Data collated, analysed, scored. And all of this in real-time, and matched with real-time performance ratings. The quantified self at work. And let’s not forget to wrap a layer of gamification around. Everybody likes a badge.
But in the end, as I reflect on all of this, it all seems to a large degree, somehow so familiar. Social business is a construct, just as @guy1067 is, and when all is said and done, I will still go to work. Yes the way work happens may change, is changing, but work was always social. We’ve just forgotten that, and social technology is helping us to rediscover the artefacts and gestures of our social past. We’ve rediscovered each other again. A degree of intimacy, albeit virtual, that was stripped away with production lines and call centres, is returning.
We’re simply thinking it through, exploring aspects of work we hadn’t experienced before, because it wasn’t possible. Take one variable out of the equation that has allowed us to be where we are today, and we could have been asking a lot of different questions (or not at all). But at the end of the day it’s still just business as usual.
Ever was it thus.
The following is a brief talk I gave at the MRS Annual Conference 2013 – Shock of the New (20.03.13).
What I’d like to explore briefly today is an idea put forward by IBM’s Chairman and CEO, Ginny Rometti. In a recent address she gave at the Council on Foreign Relations, Ginny talked about three principles:
- The first one: data will change how you make decisions
- The second, data will change how you create value
- And the third, data will change how you deliver value
And she gave three seemingly unconnected examples to illustrate these principles.
- The first one — a police department reduces the incident of rape by moving payphones inside of a convenience store
- Second one — a Mexican cement maker, CEMEX, launches its first global product in record time not by building a factory but by building a social network
- And the third — a U.S. presidential campaign doesn’t rely on opinion polling and yet predicts the final vote in a key swing state within 0.2 percent
What tied these three examples together was the idea that organizations are learning to compete in a new competitive landscape. And that data will be the basis of that competitive advantage. She goes on to ask the audience to think of data as the next natural resource.
I want to, for the next few minutes, pick up on the second point: the idea of creating value. Ginny talks about new ways of creating value, and cites the example of CEMEX, which gained competitive advantage by building a social network. Within this context she talks about the social network becoming the new production line within the company.
Let’s think about that for a minute: The social network becomes the new production line. By extension, the network becomes the very backbone of the organisation itself. This idea disrupts and challenges our very notion of how companies are structured, how people communicate, the idea of what a business process is and where it resides. Imagine if what we did took place along, in, on the networks that we each create, that we participate in, as well as on the social network that we collectively, as the organisation, create. What is the implication of this? How would this change the way decisions are made for example? Who could make those decisions, and how would we validate them?
If we look at this idea of the social network as production line, from another perspective, from the point of view of data and insight, what is the impact? Where does data reside, how is it accessed, captured or distributed, who owns it, how do we use it, leverage it…
In this paradigm, where data as knowledge, becomes more open, accessible, ubiquitous and universal, where knowledge, or the creation of it, is accessible in real-time and at source, what becomes important, and where competitive advantage lies, is not in what you know necessarily, but what you share, and by extension your willingness to share. The fact that the social network has become the production line, indeed the backbone of the company, giving us open access to each other at any time, simply heightens this, and sharing becomes the default setting. To work is to share, and what you do (or indeed don’t do), the decisions you make (or don’t make), are played out in public. Analysed, rated, commented on by your colleagues. And in the same way that Klout, Kred or PeerIndex indicate your reach or influence, so might we begin to see ‘share’ scores, indexes and leaderboards. Indeed, your ‘share’ score directly correlates to your performance measures.
Perhaps for some, this kind of dystopian view is untenable, unthinkable, unimaginable, unfathomable, but so was the internet not that many years ago.
Imagine if we layer on top of this the idea of the internet of things, the idea that objects, the world around us, is now connected as well…objects not only talking to each other, but also analysing the way we interact with them, the way they interact with each other… Imagine in this paradigm if data was frictionless – frictionless data – what would the impact be? Imagine if delivering insights was a function of everyone, not just a team of analysts. Imagine if insights resided in the objects around us that we engage with.
But imagine if we also take this concept of the social network as production line, and extend it beyond the boundaries of the organisation, into the marketplace, so that customers are now part of that social network. Notions of inside and outside, internal and external, company and market, employee and customer, public and private, buyer and supplier, will need to be re-defined, or even defined. Relationships re-examined. All of this on both an individual and corporate level.
We are at a time now when we often talk about shifting paradigms being disrupted by social, where social often acts as a proxy for change. What we often do is change the technology, but fail to fundamentally change the paradigm or context in which it operates. So whilst I’ve allowed myself to go on a bit of a flight of fancy, the gap between me talking about it, and it being reality may be only a handful of years or months away rather than decades.
Ginny ends her address by saying that the challenge is not technology. The challenge is one of culture, and that perhaps is where competitive advantage might lie. The competitive advantage that lies in, ultimately, becoming an authentic organisation.
So my question to you is: Are you ready for that shift towards becoming an authentic organisation? Are you ready for the social network as production line and the impact of what that may bring.
I was reading a post a moment ago by @Marie_Wallace – The Social Business Struggle. This led me to another post by @hjarche – Collaboration is a Means Not an End. This led me down another path to another great post by @deb_lavoy – Collaboration isn’t Working: What we Have Here is a Chasm. My head hurts, but I love this disruptive and serendipitous aspect of the internet. Where I start is not where I will finish. Links undermine, lead me to somewhere I hadn’t intended to go… I let you lead me astray, I know the game.
…there’s reason to believe perhaps this year will be better than the last…days go by so fast…
Technology has changed everything. Paradigms are shifting. New or different lexicons emerging. The ‘old ways’ rubbing uncomfortably against the ‘new’…
We live in a time of cliches, appropriated words and platitudes, perhaps this is part of the journey towards ‘boring technology’. Perhaps we are simply waking up, recognising, believing that something better exists; better because we have more control over it, better because we have the authority to do something about it… in some ways, it’s still about all the old things we’ve always railed against, but it’s just different. We’re using them differently. We’re all using them, we all have access to them (or is that just another assumption). Life is full of unquestioned assumptions.
We use words such as – collaborate, co-operate, authenticity, trust, openness, sharing, transparency, democratisation, empowerment, connected and even hyper-connected… we use these words in juxtaposition to words such as power, command and control, silo, hoarding, authority, hierarchical… one is morphing into the other.
I talk about collaboration, and after reading Collaboration is a Means Not an End, I’m now thinking about co-operation, we can’t have one without the other. I need to think more about it. But I use these words, I have my own definition and interpretation of them. But when I talk with you, my connected friend and follower, I assume that the collaboration and trust and openness and hyper-connectedness that I talk about, is the same one that you are talking about. That when we collaborate, we are working towards the same end, the same shared goal.
But when I get to the end, I realise that I’ve made assumptions, that I’ve never told you my meaning of collaboration. Perhaps there’s a step before assuming collaboration comes before co-operation?
Someone told me we’re all social now.
Twitter – check
Facebook – check
WordPress – check / Tumblr – no
FourSquare – check / Gowalla – check (is it still going?)
Google+ – check
LinkedIn – check (even got a First Million badge, must be a real pioneer!)
Posterous – check (ok not very often)
Klout score – check / Kred score – check / PeerIndex – check (just to complete the triumvirate)
Bit.ly account – check
#hashtags – check
Friendfeed – used to (who remembers Friendfeed. I liked Friendfeed, I think it’s still going)
Delicious – check
Instagram – check (but don’t tell anyone)
Flickr – check (but don’t tell anyone)
EyeEm – check (ok, so I haven’t posted a photo yet)
Lively.fm – check / Spotify – check / last.fm – check / Grooveshark – check
Yammer – check (an old friend)
IBM Connections – check
I must be social
A thought crossed my mind
For the amount of time I’ve spent setting up and using all my different social accounts, how much time have I spent thinking about authenticity, empathy, trust, openness, collaboration, sharing…?
When was the last time I talked to you about collaboration? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to me? What does it mean to us? Have we agreed?
The lexicon of social
I am left with a final thought
How social am I really?
I was recently in Oman helping a local regulatory body set up their first foray into social. Over the course of three days we worked together to get their Facebook page up and running, draw up a social media policy and some posting guidelines for their Facebook page. We also made sure that each one of the team had posted a comment onto their Facebook page by the end of the workshop.
What I found fascinating was that I knew they could set up their Facebook page without me. This got me thinking about what my value to them was? And my answer probably hasn’t changed since I first got into social a few years ago. The value I offered was not that I knew which buttons to click, or how you could add an image, or remove or edit a post if you needed to. My value to them was whatever they wanted it to be. And that ‘value’, that ‘whatever they wanted it to be’, resided in the fact that I was a safety net for them, a trusted adviser, someone whose hand they could hold, someone who was simply there when they needed it.
But how do you quantify that? How do you get someone to pay for trust? How do you get someone to understand that they aren’t really paying you for your time to set up a Facebook page, but for trust? The Facebook page becomes a proxy for that trust. I can quantify my time to set up a Facebook page, to create a social media policy or posting guidelines. I can put a cost against these things. But who would be willing to pay for trust? And yet that is exactly what you are really paying for…