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Blogs > Quocirca

Social Networks - hotline or dirty washing line?
Rob Bamforth By: Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst, Quocirca
Published: 22nd June 2010
Copyright Quocirca © 2010
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With a great deal of gushing marketing language, many companies are touting their social networking credentials in an attempt to steal a march on their rivals and perhaps appeal to a ‘youf’ audience – LOL – or actually, for someone of an older online generation, ROFL (rolling on floor laughing).

For some, the overzealous approach mirrors that taken and failed by a number of businesses in the early days of the internet. Many companies considered ‘online’ to be so new, separate and different that it started as a science project run by an enthusiastic maverick, and ended up as a ‘new way of doing business’ silo, that in fact for many turned into an old-fashioned way of going bust.

Largely, good business is good business, and most of the advances in technology simply open up new channels or avenues for communication. These amplify or magnify the good (and bad) in business processes, providing rapid growth in good ones and opening up holes elsewhere.

Recent personal experience indicates social networking appears to be no exception. In the course of one week, a couple of different software packages were failing in odd ways, with weird error messages. Hitting the search engines yielded plenty of results, but none of them with answers. Trawling the vendor’s web sites brought nothing either. After using traditional lines of communication failed, a weary ‘tweet-of-despair’ was keyed. In each instance this fired into action a support tweet, with positive suggestions—one led directly to the bug fix, and grateful thanks.

A further example came after enduring IVR and contact centre hell of a major telecoms provider, trying to get a relatively minor account address issue fixed—minor for the supplier, major for the customer—which ended in being told they had ‘no complaints procedure’ for dealing with the problem. Again, a tweet prompted a more positive and personally directed response.

These examples are perhaps symptomatic of these companies’ shift in attitudes, which favour the latest techno-whiz, but lack a joined up set of processes that link this contact mechanism with the others, or the core business procedures.

Despite these examples being service and support issues, and therefore only really being in the responsibility of one department, it seems that different communications media are used and managed in different ways, and perhaps by different people. The technology is taking precedence over the business process and, in particular, the technology du jour is taking precedence over the others. This is one of the reasons why the dotcom boom turned to bust.

For many companies this issue grows as other groups with customer contact are added to the mix—in particular, sales groups—and the sharing of customer information and interaction details between departments fails. Without a common and consistent view of the customer, and all the interactions between supplier and customer, how can any organisation offer the personal and tailored service to which so many aspire?

Simply throwing more technology at the customer service problem will not fix it, but the right approach might help. Establish a common view of both customers and product or service offerings, and provide a customer experience that is common across all channels—boring traditional, and the latest social media.

This is not easy, and often requires a fundamental re-focus and perhaps re-structuring by the supplier, but properly integrated with other communications channels, social media can be a useful extension. However, if it was easy to win over customers and their business especially during a downturn, then everybody would do it, and clearly, some do not. For them, social networks will not provide a ‘hotline’ for new opportunities, but a very public line to hang up dirty laundry.

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