I was reading the latest blog post by Jeremiah Owyang (Altimeter Group) the other day – Altimeter Group: The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’.

There’s a lot of great insights, and I am a huge fan of both Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group, but there was one thing in the report that really jarred with me. There’s been a lot of commentary on it as one would expect, so for what it is worth, here is my humble two pence worth.

I come at the report from the viewpoint of social customer care. It’s the area that I have worked in over the last few years. Firstly at The Carphone Warehouse where I set up the use of social media within customer service and now as a consultant at Foviance working with other organisations looking to formulate their strategy within this area. So although I have worked in marketing, I have moved to customer care over the last few years.

So here’s my thoughts as I read through the report, but actually there’s only one part of the report that really narks me and it’s right at the beginning.

On the title page is written – …or be relegated to ‘Social Media Help Desk’.

I’m wondering if this is a phrase that one of the people interviewed actually used and has simply been incorporated into the report. But that is by the by.

The use of the word ‘relegated’ is an interesting one. Typically sports teams get relegated to a lower division. The word implies moving to a lower status or level. There is fundamentally a negative connotation with the word. Perhaps one can appreciate its full implications by stating its opposite is ‘promotion’. With relegation the direction is set downwards.

An alternative might have been the word ‘reduced’. The implication being that the full value an organisation might derive from it has not been realised.

I want to reiterate, that I am not trying to belittle or dismiss this report. I genuinely believe there’s lots of very valuable material within it.

I’m thinking this report is from the purview of a marketer. Customer service has traditionally been overlooked. Driven by cost savings and lean efficiencies, its function within an organisation purely tactical. And yet, over the last two years or so, customer service has undergone (and continues to do so), some of the most fundamental changes we have seen within a traditional business paradigm. It is moving from a closed transactional interaction to an open experiential one. It is now undergoing a fundamental shift, whereby empathy and emotion are now being wrapped around underlying technology and business processes. Furthermore, customer service has always had a natural affinity with PR, but until now this has simply been ignored.

In my view, customer service has just as much a claim to drive the social strategy as any other department. The idea that the social media help desk is an almost unthinkable alternative, in my view is not only shortsighted and anathema to where some of the organisational change is taking place at present, but perhaps also reflects the make-up of those interviewed. There is no doubt that historically strategy has been driven from marketing, but accepted norms of business behaviour are changing. Marketing, customer service, sales, compliance, business ops are coming together gradually and rightly so. A customer is a customer to the whole organisation, and not simply to marketing, telephony or social depending on the touchpoint and the organisational structure in place.

Social is cutting down the divisions within a company. Where the web site highlighted divisions, social is blurring them. Social promotes a single viewpoint, indeed it forces it upon an organisation, it unites the organisation behind the customer, or in fact alongside the customer. Partners, collaborating, co-creating, working together for a greater shared outcome. The whole greater than its parts.

Social demands that an organisation understands its culture, its DNA, its mindset. Any discrepancy, any point of vulnerability within an organisation will be found out, exposed and publicised by an increasingly vocal customer. Organisations are, in a sense, on view 24/7 now.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that, in spite of the possibilities that social implies, this report, for all its insights, is written from a traditional business viewpoint. A viewpoint that seems to be grounded in marketing, rather than adopting a more inclusive approach.

Perhaps I am wrong, but this is simply my thoughts, and I wait to be corrected. But ultimately, this is the innate beauty of social, the opportunity to share my thoughts with others on the same stage…

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