The Social Enterprise Blog

Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication – part 1

By Richard Hughes in Reclaim Control Of Your Business Communication on September 16, 2014

The way we communicate in business is changing. Email has served us well, but its limitations are becoming more and more apparent. This four-part series of animated videos looks at the three major factors that contribute to inefficiency in business communication, starting with communication overload.

Part 1 – Communication Overload


Part 2 next week.

Recap: Social Business For Real Work

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on July 28, 2014

Last week saw the conclusion of the Social Business For Real Work blog series that ran through the first half of 2014. The series presented practical and pragmatic examples of how enterprise social networking can improve collaboration in many different departments across the company, including sales, marketing, customer service, HR and finance. Together, they hopefully provide a valuable library of ideas from which you can pick those appropriate for your company and start using social business products such as Clearvale  to help you get real work done more effectively.

Links to each of the thirteen articles in the series are below. You can also find the iPad edition in the iBooks Store.

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The Customer Conference

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on July 23, 2014

The 13th and final part of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Even in these days of instant connectivity over the internet, there is still no substitute for face-to-face communication. Customer conferences are an invaluable opportunity to make connections, exchange ideas and get feedback. But all too often, all the good intentions that come out of these events are forgotten by the time everyone gets home.

The Social Business Advantage

Building an enterprise social network for your customer conference allows the connections formed with customers and between customers to continue long after the face-to-face event has finished. Before the event, it enables attendees to plan their visit to get the most out of the conference. During the event, it helps people keep up to date with latest updates and schedule changes, and to make connections with other attendees. And after the conference has finished, it lets attendees stay in touch, download presentations, watch replays of sessions, and make suggestions for next year’s conference.

Example

The annual Mobile1to1 Customer Conference has its own dedicated social network. This is separate from the main company social network, as it is geared primarily to the attendees of the conference.

The home page sets out the schedule and different tracks for the conference. It also hosts general discussion before, during and after the event.

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Each conference session has its own community. Before the event, it contains information about the session – delegates can join the communities of events they plan to attend, and this means they’ll receive updates about the session in their main activity feed. It also gives the conference organisers an idea of the numbers expected for each session.

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During the session itself, the community’s activity stream is an ideal place to post questions for the presenter.

After the session, the presenter posts his slides and later, the event organisers add a video recording of the session. Discussions between the attendees carry on long after the conference has finished, and the presenter remains actively involved. The event organisers monitor the communities to identify the most active discussions to help pick topics for the next conference.

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Make It Real

  • Create a dedicated social network for the customer conference. For smaller events, it may be appropriate simply to have a community within a larger network, but a full scale multi-track conference benefits from having its own network.
  • Encourage (or indeed, require) all attendees to join the network prior to the event, and use this as the primary channel of communication for updates about the conference.
  • Consider how much access to the network you are will to give people who don’t attend the physical event. The network can be a great way of connecting with customers who were unable to attend, but giving full access may undermine the event itself.
  • Encourage each presenter or session leader to engage with members of the community for their session, before, during and after the conference.
  • Enable conference attendees to use the network for their own customer-to-customer communication before, during and after the conference to help them get more out of the event.
  • Continue to monitor usage of the network after the conference and keep the conversations going. Use this to help shape the agenda for the next conference.

 

Social Business In The Finance Team

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on June 30, 2014

Part 12 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Most social business case studies concern edge-of-the-organisation departments such as sales, marketing and customer service. Opportunities for improving communication between and within other departments in the company such as Finance, HR and Legal are often overlooked or ignored. This is largely due to the misconception that social networking means indiscriminately sharing everything, which is incompatible with the need for confidentiality in these departments.

The Social Business Advantage

Finance teams can benefit from the easier access to information and expertise provided by enterprise social networks while maintaining the necessary level of confidentiality. A good social network with task functionality can actually increase the accountability in a finance team by providing a clear audit trail of who did what and when they did it, something that is often very time-consuming to reconstruct from email discussions.

Confidential information can be held in private communities, the membership of which is updated as employees join and leave the company. This makes business continuity far easier, as company knowledge is held in one central place, not distributed between employees inboxes.

Social networks also provide an ideal way of providing information to the rest of the company about financial procedures and policies, and receiving feedback and questions on this information.

Example

Nicola in the Finance team has recently updated the company’s policy for employees reclaiming expenses. She publishes this to the “Start Here” community which is managed by the HR team but has regular contributions from Finance.

Carol is a new employee in the Marketing team. She finds the document alongside all the other company policies and is able to ask for clarification about something she doesn’t understand. The comments are available to everyone else who might have the same question, reducing the number of times Nicola has to answer the question.

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Martha is a new member of the Finance team, and is helping out with quarter-end reconciliation activities for the first time. As this work is performed within a private community instead of via email and documents on shared drives, Martha is able to look back at previous quarters to see the procedures followed. She is quickly able to access the both the relevant files and the discussions that took place about these files. Without the community, she would have missed the context of these files unless she spent time piecing together conversations from her predecessor’s email inbox.

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Brad in the sales team is working on a major customer deal which is going to require an innovative and out-of-the-ordinary pricing model if the deal is to close. He creates a task to:

  • First discuss this  with his manager, Ceymore, to agree the proposed pricing model
  • Then get approval from the Finance team to ensure the model meets the company’s standard policies
  • Finally get approval from the CEO.
  • Discussions taking place in the task remain private and only visible to invited members.

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Make It Real

  • Set up private communities for the Finance department. If the organisation is small enough, this may be just one community for the whole department, though for most organisations apart from the very smallest this is likely to be several smaller communities at various different layers for each group who need to work together in private.
  • Encourage the Finance team to be active members of the wider network, publishing policy documents they are responsible for, and actively responding to queries related to these from other departments.
  • Try to move as much email-based discussion as possible into private discussions in the social network. If other people need to take over these discussions when employees move within the company or leave, they can simply be granted access, rather than being sent a long email trail.

Supporting Sales Partners

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on May 15, 2014

Part 11 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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The Challenge

Many businesses are dependent on sales partners to widen the distribution channels for their products. But keeping these partners up to date with the latest sales intelligence can be hard work, resulting in potential customers being presented with out-of-date material or missed opportunities for the partner. And managing discussions with a network of partners can be time-consuming; some of these partners may be in competition with each other, meaning that discussions need to take place in private, leading to the same information being repeated time and time again.

The Social Business Advantage

Using an enterprise social network to power a partner network enables companies to keep sales and marketing material up to date, keep the partners informed, and create private communities for any confidential discussions. Raising awareness of the importance of partner activities helps align the whole organisation behind supporting the channel. Feedback from partners’ dealings in the market can help inform product direction and sales strategy.

Example

Carol is responsible for managing the Mobile1to1 sales partner network and keeping the sales materials updated. This has been established as a separate social extranet, independent of the company’s own employee social intranet. This enables a balance of sharing some information with the entire network, while still being able to have private discussions in invitation-only communities set up for certain partners.

When Carol updates a product overview presentation, the new version immediately becomes available to all partners.

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Many of the sales partner organisations operate in different countries or industries, so have no competitive concerns. The partner network allows open discussions between these companies, enabling them to provide feedback to Carol, and to discuss best practices.

However, some discussions are not appropriate for such an open forum. Brad manages the relationship with two sales partners who sells Mobile1to1’s products to UK telco companies. As these two partners compete with each other, discussions around sales strategies need to be kept separate. These take place in a private communities within the partner network.

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Make It Real

  • Consider the most appropriate social architecture for your partner network. Do the partner companies compete with each other, or will they support each other? Or both? This relationship will dictate the best way to determine how open or closed the network will be. In the example above, a separate partner network was established; in some cases it may be more appropriate to create a series of private, guest communities in the main company social intranet.
  • Establish the network as the definitive “source of truth” for all partners. The effectiveness of the network will be reduced if some partners continue to ask questions and request material outside the network. Changing this behaviour may take time and persuasion, so make sure the partner managers can clearly articulate the benefits of the network.
  • Establish procedures for granting and revoking access to the network. It is easy enough to find out when employees in your own company leave and revoke their access to company networks, but it can be much harder to gain similar information about partner employees.
  • Encourage as many employees as possible to participate in the partner network, rather than channelling all communication between partner managers. One of the key benefits of the partner network should be direct access to the knowledge of the whole company.

Finding Expertise

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on May 07, 2014

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

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on April 15, 2014

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

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on March 27, 2014

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 
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Carmen is assigned a task by Brenda to resolve an 
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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.

The Customer Community

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on March 12, 2014

Part 7 of the Social Business For Real Work series.

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The Challenge

The principle of creating a customer community to provide product support is well established, and most companies have some form of community now. But the quality and vibrancy of these communities is highly variable, and many suffer from being seemingly disconnected from the main customer service operation.

The Social Business Advantage

Many of the advantages of a good customer community are widely understood these days. Peer-to-peer support, where customers help each other, often delivers faster and more detailed assistance than a customer service team could offer. A vibrant, open customer community is a valuable product advertisement, demonstrating that the customer will be well-supported after purchase.
The communities should be closely integrated both with existing customer service systems (e.g. CRM) and with internal-facing employee social networks in order to allow discussion of more complex issues to pass seamlessly between participants both inside and outside the company. Private issues that have been mistakenly reported into the community can be quickly moved to CRM systems. And conversely, repeated reports of the same problem via CRM can be contributed to the community knowledge base.

Example

Petra is the customer service lead for Mobile1to1’s mPhone 5 product, and manager of the customer community for this product. This is a public community that has been running since the product’s release a year ago. Over this time the community has built up into a valuable knowledge base for product users, with contributions from both customer service staff, and users of the product. As this is an established community, Petra’s main role is performing a little light-touch moderation to keep the community on-topic, and identifying customer-specific issues which should be redirected towards traditional CRM channels. The CRM system is accessible alongside the community discussions, making it easy for members of the community to see both at the same time.

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Paul was an early mPhone 5 customer and is very active on the forums, guiding new users towards help already contributed by the community. Mobile1to1 recognise the contribution Paul makes to the community, and have invited him and a few other “community champions” to special product feedback events at their headquarters in San Francisco.

Brenda is the customer service lead for Mobile1to1’s new developer program. She creates an external community for members of the program and sends invitations to those who have enrolled in the program. As this is a new community, Brenda has to contribute a lot more in the first instance to seed the discussion and establish it as the definitive place to get questions answered.

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Make It Real

  • Consider whether to host public customer communities in a hybrid internal/external network, or whether to establish a separate network solely for external communities. The correct configuration depends on the company, but is typically driven by the number of customers you would expect to host in public communities. If there are a large number of these, then a separate public network makes sense (Clearvale enables separate internal and external networks to be integrated as part of a social ecosystem). If the number of customers is relatively small, or if the communities are mostly invitation-only (like the developer program example), it is probably easier to host them on a hybrid network.
  • Articulate a clear policy for company involvement in the customer community, and ensure that this policy is followed. This sounds obvious, but many companies fail to do what they say they will, or fail to even explain their intended level of engagement. Some companies are very active in their customer community; others are almost entirely invisible, although this is far less acceptable to customers these days.
  • Identify and reward top customer contributors. The nature of the reward will vary depending on the context, and may be as simple as recognition in the community or may involve early access to products, access to product managers, or even some financial reward.
  • Establish community behaviour guidelines and moderate discussion with care. The community is clearly far more valuable for everyone if it stays polite and on-topic. But preventing or deleting any sort of dissent angers customers immensely and is likely to drive members to other, less regulated, less constructive parts of the internet.
  • Use social media presence to guide customers towards the public communities, as these provide a much better environment than Facebook, Twitter, etc for resolving all but the simplest questions.

Delivering and Discussing an RFP Response

By Richard Hughes in Social Business For Real Work on March 06, 2014

Part 6 of the Social Business For Real Work series

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(see also the previous article in the series, “Managing an RFP Response“)

The Challenge

These days, responses to requests for proposals (RFPs) are increasingly large and sophisticated, often consisting of a wide range of rich media. This makes traditional delivery mechanisms such as email and hard-copy more and more inappropriate. And the process of the recipient requesting clarification from the vendor is typically slow and inefficient, involving several people from each side communicating via single points of contact in order to maintain an audit trail of discussions.

The Social Business Advantage

A private community in an enterprise social network is an ideal way for a vendor to present their response to a prospective customer’s requirements. It enables the detailed textual response to the RFP to be presented alongside supporting rich media such as videos and presentations. It allows the vendor to present the team working with the prospect, and to establish broader lines of communication between the vendor and buyer. By focusing all communication in a single place, it makes it easier for new additions to the vendor or customer’s teams to catch up quickly, and provides a ready-made audit trail of post-response discussions and clarifications.

Example

The Mobile1to1 social network is a Clearvale “hybrid network” enabling both internal and external communities to be securely hosted in the same environment. Brad has worked with others in the company to prepare a response to an RFP from UKTechCo (see previous article). Now he creates a new external community for the delivery of the RFP. He lays out the content of the response, a series of supporting videos and presentations, and introduces the team who worked on different parts of the response.

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When this is complete, he invites Ava, his contact from the prospective customer to join the community. She becomes a “guest” in the Mobile1to1 network. Ava requests that Jamie and Millie are also added to the community – this is something that Brad controls as owner of the community, because as a security safeguard, company policy prevents guests inviting more guests.

Once the UKTechCo team have downloaded and read the RFP, they have a number of questions which require clarification. These are posted as comments on the relevant section of the response. Brad assigns tasks to the other members of the Mobile1to1 team to ensure they these questions are answered rapidly. These tasks also provide an opportunity for private discussion between the Mobile1to1 team about how best to answer the questions.

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Mobile1to1 are invited to present their response in person. After the meeting, follow-up actions are managed in the community, ensuring that all communication is consolidated in one place. These discussions lead to more people from both Mobile1to1 and UKTechCo becoming involved in negotiations. These new additions can quickly get up to speed on discussions so far by reading through the comments in the community.

For final negotiation of commercial terms, a second community with reduced membership is created to ensure confidentiality of topics that are not appropriate to be shared with all members of the respective teams.

Make It Real

  • When creating external facing communities, make sure the access controls of content within the community is set correctly, and that no internal-only content or discussion is allowed to “spill” into external communities.
  • Encourage everyone on both the vendor and customer side to keep all communication within the community, to avoid discussion being fragmented by email. With all discussion in one place, it’s easier to see what has happened, and for new additions to either the vendor or customer team to catch up.
  • Help the customer understand the benefit of delivering an RFP in this way. Some companies may find this unconventional and be initially uncomfortable. It would, of course, be counter-productive to lose a deal by insisting on communicating in a way that the customer does not like. But equally, this approach demonstrates a more modern, enlightened way of customer communication, and many customers will welcome this.
  • Also consider the inverse of this example – where the buying company requires all vendors to submit their RFPs to a private community in a social network owned by the buyer. Here there is a much greater opportunity to insist on delivering responses in this way as the buyer can refuse to accept submissions delivered in other ways. Few vendors will endanger a deal by refusing to join the network.
  • If the deal is closed, continue using similar techniques for post-sale account management communication.
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