The BroadVision Blog

BroadVision at HR Technology Conference and Expo

BroadVision will be attending the HR Technology Conference and Expo in Las Vegas October 3-5. If you’re planning on being there, stop by booth #235 and say hello. We’ll be showing off our enterprise social network Clearvale and our employee portal solution for Human Resources. Also, make sure to sign up for our drawing for the chance to win a free iPad! We’ll be giving one away on Monday and Tuesday.

The solution is a powerful platform that helps facilitate the entire lifecycle of an employee, from recruitment to hiring and onboarding. It also helps employees and administrators manage employee benefits and immigration processes. For more information, please visit: http://www.clearvale.com/mkt/en/solutions_HR.php.

In the meantime, you can learn more about how Clearvale can help your company meet its HR needs in this case study we conducted with our client Synaptics here.

Rise up, social customers, and defeat the apathopolies

For a long time, I have enjoyed using the word “confusopoly” although I am ashamed to admit I couldn’t remember where it came from until I looked it up yesterday. It was Scott Adams who defined confusopoly in The Dilbert Future in 1998 as “a group of companies with similar products who intentionally confuse customers instead of competing on price“. He lists banking, insurance and telephone companies as examples of these, and (quite literally) illustrates the point in this classic cartoon.

The reason this came to mind was that I recently switched mobile phone providers. I removed the mobile option from my home phone & broadband contract,  which had cost an extra £5 per month when I added it a few years ago. Yet, when they removed it, they decreased my total monthly bill by £12. How can that be? Clearly, they were overcharging me.

It made me wonder how much I was being overcharged for all my other utilities, so I tried to switch to better tariffs (without switching providers) for gas and electricity. It was a fairly soul-destroying experience; yesterday I got an email from the gas company saying my new tariff isn’t compatible with “EnergySmart” – I neither know, nor care what “EnergySmart” is, and I have no recollection of ever asking for it. Now I have no idea if they’re going to change the tariff, and I’m not sure I can be bothered to find out.

So it occurs to me that these types of companies are not just confusopolies, they are “apathopolies” (a word I feel I can claim to have invented as there are currently no Google hits at all for apathopoly or apathopolies), relying on customers either being too apathetic to seek the best deal, or giving up trying. Let’s face it, we’ve all got better things to do with our lives than learn the weird terminology and product names utility companies keep inventing for gas, electricity and phone calls.

The era of the social customer should put an end to confusopolies and apathopolies. As consumers, we should use the power of social networks to crowdsource the knowledge required to navigate through the obstacles these companies put in the way of getting the best  deal. Collectively, we have this knowledge, but we don’t yet use it to bring about a change in suppliers’ behaviour.

I recently persuaded my mother to get a wireless broadband router. I said “ask them to give you one free, they’ll say no, so point out that they give free wireless routers to new customers and if they don’t give you one, you’ll switch suppliers. Then they’ll give it to you free”. I spoke to her two days later and she said that this is precisely what had happened. Similarly, the outrageous extra cost that insurance companies try to charge renewal customers – whenever my home or car insurance renewal notice arrives, it is very, very rare for me not to  save £50-£100 just by ringing them and expressing outrage at how much more they are trying to charge me than they would if I were a new customer.

Do they think we’re idiots? I find it quite offensive that a company that I pay money to treats its customers with such contempt. Most people know this happens, yet still it persists. Sometimes I make a point of ringing the insurance company and saying “even if you do now offer me the best price, I’m still cancelling, so that you will hopefully understand that this is an unacceptable way to treat customers”. But sometimes it just feels like all too much effort; what do they care if they lose one customer versus the profit they make from all those gullible renewal customers? The apathopoly wins again.

Well, “no more!”, I say. Social customers of the world, rise up and demand an end to confusopolies and apathopolies. Use your collective wisdom to guide your fellow customers to the best deals, and tell these companies that you are no longer willing to be treated like an idiot. Forget all those endless offers for teeth-whitening and foam pillows from Groupon; the true power of social commerce and group buying is in consumers uniting to put pressure on big suppliers. And suppliers, take note, this change is coming – you think you know about the power of the social customer, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

So rise up, my friends, rise up. If you can be bothered, that is.

The Social Business (R)Evolution

Via Technorati a few days ago I came across a post by blogger Laurie Buczek titled “The Big Failure of Enterprise 2.0 Social Business”. I recommend you check it out. The post’s title might mislead you into thinking it’s just another devil’s advocate type rant — but it isn’t, as the writer is quick to disclaim.

The article covers a number of factors that stand in the way of true social business adoption, with a focus on the lack of integration. I’m going to set integration aside and focus on the former, more general adoption issue. This is something I know for a fact many of the prospects and customers we’ve spoken to have struggled with for quite some time. The products we vendors offer are powerful. They’re packed with features. They can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Our very own BroadVision Clearvale allow companies to interconnect different business networks for their employees, customers and partners, and encourage knowledge sharing and idea flows like never before. There’s so much that these products can do for companies that are looking to “go social”.

But how do you get others in your organization who aren’t already embracing it to jump aboard? When will social business be viewed by companies as the norm and a necessity, rather than a segment of the enterprise technology industry? Analysts and thought leaders will tell you that it’s already here, that you can’t escape it. But how many companies in the world are still doing business just as they’ve always done? Don’t mind them, you might say. Those companies that resist will struggle. They’re going to fall behind.

Perhaps to an extent they will, but at the end of the day these companies are our prospects and customers, and it’s even more important for us to show them what social business can do to improve collaboration and engagement across their entire organizations. So many people we’ve spoken to have a fear that social business and enterprise social networking will interfere with long-established policies and processes, and the move to social would set them back far too much for it to be worth it. They can’t just abandon the way they’ve been doing things for X number of years. And that’s a legitimate concern.

But here’s what really got me thinking. Laurie calls social business an evolution, and not a revolution. This caused me to ask myself: as an individual working for a longtime enterprise solution company — a company that is now almost completely focused on cloud-based collaboration for internal and external business social networking — what have I been trying to help customers accomplish? Have I really been trying to help them “revolutionize” their business processes and the way their employees interact with each other? Is the injection of social business into an organization a “revolution?”

No, not really. “Revolution” is a scary word. It connotes uncertainty and disruption. But that’s what I and many others in the collaboration space have been calling it. So the more I think about it, the less the word “revolution” applies. I feel that people need to know we’re not trying to overthrow or stage some sort of coup against traditional ways of working, but rather help those traditional processes through a transition. To assist them in keeping up as technology changes and the world becomes more connected and social than ever before.

As Laurie’s post suggests (and to somewhat play sides against Andrew’s previous entry), old platforms of engagement like email are not dead. And they won’t be dying anytime soon. So my job, and the job of a social business solution like Clearvale, isn’t to make companies root out all the traditional stuff, but rather to keep the peace, and have the old and new worlds meet in the middle as technology continues to progress at its rapid pace.

“Evolution” is a much nicer word, and I’ve come to realize it’s much more relevant in the context of social business. Because that’s what social business is — a gradual adapation, a natural change, and one that will take some time.

The Personal Email Tipping Point

A recent survey conducted by Robert Half Technology of 1,400 CIOs of American companies with more than 100 employees suggests that real-time communication tools such as instant messaging will be more popular than email within the next five years.

A press release issued by RFT cited benefits such as speed, convenience and the “social aspect” of IM and collaboration tools such as blogs, forums and wikis as the three main reasons for this potential shift. Back in January, our CEO explored the downsides of email in his post Friendly Spam and Hidden Costs. In both cases, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there are many upsides to social business tools and too many downsides to email to continue using it as a primary communication tool for work.

It’s difficult to say when exactly, but there was a time when email went from being a novelty to being a necessary component to work. There was certainly a time when people could get away with saying they never checked their email, and if you wanted to contact them, you’d need to call. At some point, there was a shift and this was no longer acceptable. For many, it’s difficult to imagine giving up email in the workplace. I suspect, though I have absolutely nothing to back this up, that the shift from snail mail and the phone to email was a result of two things: mandates from leadership and personal epiphanies regarding e-mail’s virtues. I believe that the same is true of moving from email to social collaboration tools.

My personal epiphany about email happened about twelve years ago when I was an intern at an independent record label. It was often my responsibility to contact owners of local venues that would be hosting one of our bands and ensure that they had been using the promotional materials we had sent them: posters, flyers, swag, etc. As this was one of many things I did throughout the day, I always tried to get through with the calls as quickly as possible. But the venue owners always wanted answers to questions, about things like contracts, that an intern such as me could never possibly know, and the calls would go on and on before I could ever get the information I needed. One day, my manager suggested I try email instead. At that point my experience with email had been shaky and I didn’t always expect to get a response. But it worked brilliantly, and I started using email almost exclusively. I almost always got what I needed in the fraction of the time, and could even forward their questions to the right people.

Of course, it didn’t always work. Sometimes they wouldn’t answer my question correctly. Sometimes they would answer a question I didn’t ask. There were plenty of times that I never got a response and had to call anyway. Obviously email wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we had, and it made my life a lot easier.

Flash-forward today and we have something much better than email. I’ve had many, many moments of clarity when I’ve realized that collaboration tools had much more to offer than email: getting press releases approved without filling a half dozen inboxes with one sentence back and forth conversations, posting a case study to our intranet and getting feedback on a from a larger pool of coworkers, finding inspiration in a blog post that might have gone overlooked if it had been an email and many more.

We’re currently accepting submissions for the Clearvale Success Awards in which we’ve invited people to share their experiences with Clearvale, and how it has helped them work better. I am looking forward to the results not just because it will help us serve our customers better, but because I am curious to learn about the personal tipping points many people have experienced using collaboration tools.

Does Your Company’s Intranet Have a Central Park?

This year marks the 200-year anniversary of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811; the plan that gave way to Manhattan’s grid system that still exists today. In fact, it’s just about impossible to imagine Manhattan without it. The often near-perfect 90-degree angles that make up the city blocks (except for pesky Broadway and a few other troublemakers) can provide people with a feeling of order in a place that is often, for residents and visitors alike, overwhelming.

Created as an orderly way to develop the city’s infrastructure, the plan was, at the time of its creation, criticized for being too rigid. However presently, the plan is most often praised for its foresight and utility. Manhattan is one of the few major cities in the world that is not bisected by a major highway, preserving a healthy pedestrian culture; something that might not have been feasible without the grid system and its wide avenues.

However many would find other faults with the plan and its creators knew it. They said so in the plan itself:

“It may to many be a matter of surprise that so few vacant spaces have been left, and those so small, for the benefit of fresh air and consequent preservation of health. Certainly if the City of New York was destined to stand on the side of small streams such as the Seine or the Thames, a great number of ample places might be needful. But those large arms of the sea which embrace Manhattan island render its situation in regard to health and pleasure as well to the convenience of commerce, peculiarly felicitous.”

The assumption was that Manhattan’s waterfront would provide an open, clean space for its citizens. Obviously, this did not work out as originally planned.

Crowded, dirty and loud, the city continued to grow without a “place” to disconnect from the realities of the rapidly changing urban lifestyle. Facing a serious civil disaster, the city didn’t begin planning a solution – Central Park – until 1850, and Central Park as we know it today didn’t really open until 1873.

The point of all of this, as it relates to enterprise social networks is that it is entirely possible to create something that perfectly solves the problem it was designed to fix which ignores other issues that can be just as dire. The health issues, both physical and psychological, that began to accumulate before the creation of Central Park would have almost certainly reached some kind of critical mass if a solution had not been found, and New York City would probably not be anything like what it is today.

It has been apparent for some time now that the way we work is changing, and much of the infrastructure needed to do that work is virtual. At least one study has already shown that some people are experiencing fatigue with Facebook, which for many people is used as a leisure activity. Who is to say that employees won’t experience a similar type of fatigue when working in a virtual environment?
As companies build there own “Commissioner’s Plan” for organizing virtual enterprise spaces, it might not be a bad idea to consider developing areas within their intranet that facilitate interaction that isn’t totally work related, at least not in the strictest sense.

Synaptics, a leading developer of human interface solutions, has built a Human Resource intranet using Clearvale Enterprise. Earlier this year, they discussed plans to creatively develop communities within the intranet for some often overlooked uses. One such community would be the platform for an “employee wellness program”, where coworkers can share experiences with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and dealing with illnesses. Synaptics hopes that this will encourage employees to interact with and learn more about one another, as well as potentially decreasing sick days and mitigating healthcare costs. Additionally, the company is considering developing an internal social network where employees can further get acquainted and get a better sense of one another’s roles within the company.

Enterprise Social Networking certainly provides us with unique way to improve workflow, but it also provides us with ways to creatively solve issues whose “2.0” version (such as fatigue) have not yet fully manifested.

Why British English is the language of Social CRM

They say French is the language of love. Although, apparently the French say that Italian is the language of love. Anyway, wherever you come from it’s unlikely that you’ll consider British English to be the language of love. But British English is the language of Social CRM. This may take some explaining…

As a lingustically pedantic British employee of an American company for the last 13 years, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the differences between British and American English. Yes, everyone knows about petrol vs gas, lift vs elevator, biscuit vs cookie, etc, but I am still constantly encountering other, more subtle differences, such as the American abbreviation of Mister being “Mr.” not “Mr”. And one of the differences that has fascinated me most is formal and notional agreement.

I was once criticized for writing “BroadVision are …” in a blog post. American English demands “BroadVision is …”, because BroadVision is a corporate entity and therefore requires a singular verb. But to me, BroadVision is also a collection of people, and therefore it was far more natural to use a plural verb.

British English allows this “according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively”. The Wikipedia article has a great example of this, from Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army:

Oliver’s Army is here to stay
Oliver’s Army are on their way

To a British English speaker, that’s perfectly natural. The first line refers to the army as a single entity, the second refers to the people in the army.

That’s why it acceptable for me write “BroadVision is more than just a corporate entity; it is a collection of people. And BroadVision are committed to making our customers successful”.

But what’s this got to do with Social CRM?

Recent research from Altimeter Group shows that, on average, companies have a staggering 178 social media ids. In a subsequent discussion on Google+, Jeremiah confirmed that these are just official company ids, not people who participate in social networks as themselves on behalf of the company. In the same discussion, Frank Eliason noted:

I have the belief that the long term strategies do not reside in these branded accounts, but rather with the employees themselves.

I believe that branded accounts will remain important for marketing, but as Frank implies, customer service and social CRM is much better suited to conversations between real people. And that’s hard to do through a faceless corporate identity; it’s rather inaccurate to describe that sort of interaction as “social”.

I once discussed social CRM with an insurance company who were considering getting their personal advisors (i.e. salespeople) to become friends on Facebook with their customers. I always felt this was a very foolish idea that customers would hate. But that doesn’t mean customers don’t want to interact with a real person. It would be wrong for the nature of the customer service relationship to be dictated by Facebook’s (notoriously simplistic) vision of friendship.

This is one of the reasons Clearvale is better suited to customer service than Facebook is; it enables a professional connection between a customer and a supplier customer service agent without granting each other access to photos of their respective children, etc. For the vision of Social CRM to become a reality, this type of relationship is essential, and it will lead to customers seeing suppliers as a plural collection of people they can talk to, not a singular corporate entity. And that’s why British English is the language of Social CRM – because it allows us to refer to companies in this way.

Social Media Horror Movies

The story so far… the hero of the movie has, in an unexpected plot twist, turned out to be the villain. A torch-and-pitchfork-wielding mob have gathered, and are baying for blood. Meanwhile, the villain remains trapped in his castle, remaining resolutely silent. We now await the dramatic conclusion… will the villain seek redemption, or will he be torn limb from limb by the angry crowd?

The hero/villain is, of course, Netflix (hence the tenuous horror movie analogy). As has been reported extensively elsewhere, Netflix has angered its customers by introducing a new pricing plan which amounts to a 60% increase for many customers. While I write this, the blog post describing this has 5000 comments (the maximum Blogger allows), 10,631 comments in the Facebook widget, and an astonishing 57,091 comments on their Facebook page; few of them are very positive.

As I don’t live in the US, I can’t subscribe to Netflix, so I have watched the story unfold as an interested bystander. I’ve been surprised by the anger that has been provoked by a $6 per month increase, especially as is fairly widely known that Netflix have been forced into paying studios much higher rates for content. But there’s no doubt that there is genuine anger there, somewhat exacerbated by the initial response from Netflix “30,000 or so is a subset of 23 million subscribers. They’re not speaking for the majority.”

This has all the hallmarks of a social media horror story, the latest in a long line of cases where a company has established a social media presence but is ill-equipped to handle a torrent of negative feedback.

As luck would have it, I was speaking at an Enterprise 2.0 webinar yesterday, and I took the opportunity to ask our guest speaker, Sameer Patel, about Netflix’s predicament. His answer was, for me, the highlight of the webinar, because of the way he managed to see the positive opportunity that Netflix have. Sure, he said, they have a lot of angry customers, and social media has given these customers strength in numbers. But it has also given Netflix far more rapid access to this feedback, and presented them with an opportunity to respond and fix the problem quickly. Five years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible – social media has massively shortened the feedback cycle, and given companies the information they need to react quickly.

Of course, to be able to take advantage of this opportunity, the company needs to be set up to listen to their customers and factor this into their decision making. In our recent Clearvale SecondFloor event in Boston, Paul Greenberg talked about how the Comcast Cares program fails in this respect, because it is perceived within the company as PR. Indeed, this was this subject of yesterday’s webinar, The Connected Enterprise, ensuring that your company is “wired internally” to meet the needs of your customer.

Whether Netflix will take advantage of this opportunity, I have no idea, and I don’t presume to tell Netflix its business. But it’s a useful reminder that right up until the very end of the movie, there is still time for a final plot twist and a happy ending.