Finding Expertise

Part 10 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

In large, and even mid-sized, companies it is often difficult to find the right person who can contribute their expertise to a particular project or task. Few organizations maintain an up-to-date record of the key skills of employees, and even if they do, this is usually too broad and superficial to be of real use.

The Social Business Advantage

An Enterprise Social Network provides a variety of ways of finding expertise within an organisation.

  • Member profiles provide employees a mechanism for describing their skills and knowledge, enabling other members to search for relevant people.
  • Narrating your work not only tells everyone what each employee is working on now, it provided a searchable archive of what they have worked on in the past
  • Communities of interest bring together employees who have expertise in a particular subject with those who want to learn more about it.
  • Content rating allows members to provide feedback on the contributions of other members, enabling the most valued participants in discussions to be identified and rewarded.

Example

Brad has a sales opportunity at a large multi-national healthcare company. The potential customer has a number of questions about how the products being proposed conform to a variety of different regulations in countries across the world. This is an area that neither Brad nor his immediate circle of contacts have much experience in, so he searches through the network members in the hope of finding someone with more knowledge of the subject.

As the company encourages all members to complete detailed profiles, including experience gain in previous jobs, Brad quickly discovers that Jessica, a relatively new recruit to the product management team, has 5 years experience working in healthcare and can provide useful insight into this subject.

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The customer also has some detailed questions about data security. This is a topic that has a very active community of interest on the company social network. After a quick read through a few of the discussions, Brad notices that Ben from the product engineering team regularly gets very good content ratings for his contributions.

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Checking through Ben’s weekly blog posts on his active projects, Brad sees that Ben has helped out sales with security questions on a couple of occasions in the last year. So Brad makes contact with Ben as a first step in getting the questions answered.

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Make It Real

  • Encourage all network members to use their member profile a showcase of their knowledge and expertise, making it easier for other members to find them. This should include a summary of current and previous projects, and links to useful content the member has created.
  • Implement a “narrate your work” policy, asking each employee to provide a commentary (however brief) of what they are currently working on, what they’ve learned from this, and the challenges they are currently facing.
  • Encourage a culture of feedback where all network members are encouraged to give feedback on content they have used through content rating and comments. This helps identify and reward the most valued contributors to the network.

Sharing Sales Intelligence

Part 9 of the Social Business For Real Work series. The iPad edition of the series so far is now available in the iBooks store.

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The Challenge

In order to be successful, sales teams need a good understanding of the market they are selling into, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of their competitors. But in many companies, competitive intelligence is often performed centrally by a marketing team resulting in it being rather “dry” and theoretical, lacking the real world experience that is often far more valuable. And sales teams often fail to keep up with the latest analysis, leaving them poorly equipped for competitive sales and unable to differentiate their offering effectively.

The Social Business Advantage

An enterprise social network can host a central repository of a company’s competitive intelligence, and a forum for discussion of this. Analysis can be published by the marketing team, and combined with contributions from the sales team based on discussions they have with customers and prospects, and from any other members of the company who find relevant information. The collective market knowledge can be kept current with contributions from the field teams, highlighting when certain pieces of intelligence are no longer up to date.

Example

The marketing team has established a community for publishing and discussing competitive intelligence for the sales team. Keeping this up to date has always proved difficult in the past, so the sales team are encouraged to contribute their own experiences, however anecdotal they may be. David is responsible for curating the community, keeping the published analysis up to date, and verifying the contributions received from sales.

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During a break at a prospect meeting, Brad is able to access the community from his phone, download the latest information about competitors who have been mentioned in his meeting, and check if there has been any analysis performed on a competitor he’s never heard of.

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Other members of the sales team add to the discussion, and this helps David identify priorities for further analysis.

Make It Real

  • Establish a community (or communities for separate product lines/markets) for exchange of competitive intelligence.
  • Ensure that the sales teams are both consumers and contributors to the community. Their real-world experience of what prospects are really saying is often far more valuable than theoretical analysis.
  • Don’t just limit the community to sales and marketing – in many organisations a variety of other roles (such as consultants and customer service staff) also discover anecdotal competitive information. Together, these contributions form crowd-sourced market intelligence from a variety of different angles.
  • Allow free-flowing exchange of information, but appoint someone (or a small team) to curate the community. This person or team is likely to be office-based, and will check the anecdotal contributions from the field teams.
  • Ensure that out of date information is removed or clearly marked – incorrect competitive analysis can badly damage the credibility of a sales rep.

Sharing Knowledge To Deliver Better Customer Service

Part 8 of the Social Business For Real Work series.

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The Challenge

In many organizations, customer service staff are well-equipped to deal with the most common questions from customers, but need to rely on experts from other departments to help resolve more detailed or unusual issues. Access to this expertise can be difficult because it’s not always obvious who to ask, and when the right person is found, they may not have the time to spare. As a result, resolution of complex customer issues can take a long time, leaving the customer dissatisfied.

The Social Business Advantage

An enterprise social network makes it easier to access the expertise of people in other departments by making requests for assistance openly visible to everyone. Serendipity is one of the key benefits of working in this way – anyone who has a valuable contribution to make can do so, even if they were unknown to the person who originally asked the question. By holding these discussions in an open forum within the company, this forms a valuable knowledge base, searchable by other customer service staff who may need it later.

Example

Brenda is the customer service lead for Mobile1to1′s new software developer kit (SDK). Although she is an experienced customer service agent, and a competent programmer, she lacks detailed knowledge of the new SDK. Therefore, she needs to rely on colleagues in the product development team and professional services organization to help resolve detailed questions from developers outside the company.

To address this knowledge gap, managers of the customer service and product development teams agree to create a community in the company social network for customer service escalations. Certain members of the product development team are instructed to spend some time each day monitoring the forums in this community, but the community is open to the rest of the company to join and contribute to.

The escalations community

The escalations community

As the customer service lead for the SDK, Brenda acts as a focal point within customer service’s own community, and tries to resolve as many issues as possible within the customer service team. When she cannot do this, she creates a new discussion topic in the escalations community.

Dave from the product development team sees an escalation in his 
activity feed and replies

Dave from the product development team sees an escalation in his 
activity feed and replies

These new topics appear automatically in community members’ activity streams, and as a result Brenda normally receives a rapid response from the members of the product development team assigned to monitor the escalations forums. But when this doesn’t happen, the escalation process agreed requires Brenda to assign a task to a member of the product development team to ensure that issue is resolved.

Carmen is assigned a task by Brenda to resolve an 
unanswered escalation

Carmen is assigned a task by Brenda to resolve an 
unanswered escalation

If the assignee of the task feels someone else is better placed to answer the question, they can reassign it to a another team member. Meanwhile, Brenda can continue to monitor the status of the task to ensure it is completed.

Make It Real

    • Agree the terms of engagement between customer service and the other departments that are likely to provide assistance in resolving customer issues. While a social network allows serendipitous resolution when someone spots a question and answers, it is important to get the right people into the community in the first place to enable this serendipity.
    • Create separate escalation communities for each group of product experts, e.g. one community per product line. This avoids too many people needing to read too many questions, thereby making the process more efficient.
    • Identify the right balance between “push” and “pull” mechanisms for answering questions. Ideally, every issue would be resolved by “pull”, i.e. someone answers without being explicitly asked to. However, some questions may go unresolved in this way, so there has to be a point where a more formal “push” is required to request explicitly for a designated subject matter expert to take responsibility for providing an answer. Use tasks for these explicit calls to action, so that their completion status can be monitored.
    • Make the escalation community as open to many people as possible within the company. You never know who may have a useful contribution to make, or who might benefit from the knowledge shared.