Enterprise Software Vendors have always focused on their enterprise clients’ needs when concocting their products. SFA, SCM, CRM, ERM, [insert your TLA] were all developed with the objective of optimising business from the inside-out, formalising and streamlining processes and connecting systems, and now with Social Software in the Workplace connecting people again. In parallel to that, we have seen companies build platforms that help people connect such as the now-ubiquitous Facebook, Twitter and consorts, bridging time and space to help people interact and reinforce ties with others like them.
What we are experiencing now is that the ESVs are integrating concepts learned from Web 2.0 into their product suites, and making them ‘enterprise-grade’ by including security, domaining, integration tailored to the needs specific to organisations. Hutch Carpenter goes as far as to say that this can be predicted by a simple rule of a two-year lag between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. The boundary between the technologies in the home and at the office is becoming less marked, but I still have the impression that the products developed are evolutionary rather than revolutionary – blogs, wikis, communities and so on with an ‘enterprise control’ layer – nothing disruptive as such. If you look at Gartner’s Magic Quadrants on the subject, you see that there are some big and a plethora of smaller actors (ripe for a round of consolidation?) with all of them having more or less the same feature set. So the question that arises in my opinion is where do we find inspiration for software innovation?
Enter The Social Customer
Paul Greenberg – who has greatly influenced my thinking, thank you Paul – reminds us that the company needs to become a customer-driven organisation in order to understand and meet the needs of the Social Customer, as compared to having an inside-out vision of what customers want. The Social Customer has expectations regarding interactivity and ‘partnering’ with you to meet their needs, and social CRM is about organising your company and collaborative value chain (CVC) to meet these.
Getting to the needs and turning them into actionable insights is where there is still a lot of work to be done. In Marketing, answers have been sought by using surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, behavioural observation etc. and more recently we are extending this paradigm by sifting through comments on Twitter, blogposts, fanpages and “Likes” on Facebook and trying to make sense of them. As Esteban Kolsky noted after the CRM Evolution 2010 Conference, Analytics is going to be the hot topic the next 2-3 years, and in my opinion especially when we start combining Social Network interactions and interrelations with transactional customer data in our CRM systems.
Although these approaches give us new ways to get to the Voice of Customer, In the age of scarcity we need to find new ways of creating value that go beyond creating value for the company alone, as Wim Rampen states here. The issue with VoC is that you are still looking through the lens of your company that has a particular colour. Rather than nurturing a collaborative relationship with customers, employees, and partners that feeds on itself and leads to the closest approximation of the desired outcome for all parties involved, there is a fair chance that idea&s and insights just get bounced around the walls of the company to either get lost in its meanders or come out looking quite different from what was actually needed.
We are starting to see some platforms emerge that aim to capture needs by allowing customers to offer suggestions (such as ideation software) which can then be voted upon ‘democratically’by their peers (a.k.a. crowdsourcing) in order to provide priorisation, but again these are systems are developed by ESVs from the point of view of enterprise needs. Ideas are funneled into business processes, lost to the customers because they are left to ‘wander off’ to be worked upon behind closed doors.
If we really think that customers have something to bring to the party, but also they don’t know our constraints well enough to contribute as an equal, let’s enable them by educating and learning together with them! Give them the information, insights and tools that allow them to effectively partner with us! When and if they choose to reach out for whatever reason (advice, support, contribute, complain etc.), provide them with the tools and venues that are geared to these interactions and that provide value to all!
Where an ESV can add value is by devising platforms that are designed from the outset to facilitate interaction and engagement between all actors of the collaborative value chain, and in particular to capture the customer’s job-to-be-done and facilitate collaboration that leads to the desired outcomes. Facebook, blogs and Twitter are interesting platforms but when customers post comments or ideas for a company – they do so with the hope that the company is listen AND will do something about it AND will acknowledge and give them feedback – but currently the experience continuum they offer is clumsy to say the least.
Some quick examples of platforms I can think of : wiki-like platforms where communities can collaborate on an public RFP for a company’s offering; information aggregators that show product information, ratings, comments, issues & resolutions so as to give customer data that will allow her to make informed decisions and/or comfort them; ideation platforms that allow suggestions AND involve customers in their elaboration…if you have other ideas, please leave them in a comment here!
I am not saying that there are no enterprise software platform providers out there that “enable” the customer to get the job-to-be-done done (and align customers with the brand as Graham Hill would say). Lithium Technologies has a interesting platform that was designed first and foremost with the customer in mind, but its integration with the CVC is still far from complete). What I am stating however is that ESVs could focus more on providing solutions that help the customer partner with the enterprise. As such, Customer Enable Technology may be one of the new ways that we can create value beyond creating value for the company alone, to the benefit of all.