Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Making business social networking work in both directions

Posted in strategy and planning, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on February 7, 2011

I want to start this posting by citing an experience that I am sorry to say every potential reader here has personally experienced too, and probably many times. We have a question or a problem – some issue we need help with from a business we do business with, as a supply chain partner or other business representative or as a customer. And we try calling them through their provided and frequently toll-free number and we enter the automated phone system twilight zone.

It continues to amaze me how many major, successful companies set up and use these systems, often making it very difficult to reach “someone with a pulse.” It amazes me how many of these systems literally do not allow for real human contact at all, simply throwing generic menu options at their callers until they either settle for what may be a poor fit for their needs or they give up and hang up.

Justification for this is almost always couched in cost control terms and as a means of limiting payroll to the cost-effective and essential. That may or may not be valid, and in some cases it probably is. I am considering writing a piece on that complex of issues in an upcoming posting. But for now, I will set aside the issue of whether these “peopleless call centers” are cost effective or not. I will instead note that many of these same companies actively embrace social media in their communications and marketing. And yes there is an element of cognitive dissonance there. These businesses seek to connect through customer service systems but without offering opportunity for the people who call them to say anything back. And at the same time they seemingly embrace online channels built for feedback and for communication from their marketplace.

• They always have a web site, and that generally includes at least some pages with at least some online forms for placing orders, signing up for newsletters and a range of other functions.
• But if they offer a phone number in their Contact Us it is often to an automated system, or they simply offer forms or even just frequently asked questions (FAQ) page links. And if they offer online chat it is probably to a third party vender with little ability to provide more than rote responses to standard questions and requests.
• They branch out in their online presence to include a Twitter identity so their followers can get quick updates delivered to them on sales, new products or other offerings and other timely and time-sensitive information.
• They may even offer one or even more officially approved and branded blogs for increasing the channels they present their core messages through.
• In fact they might deploy communications and marketing campaigns through any of the many available online and/or handheld oriented social media and communications channels.
• But they mostly speak without really listening.

I have been writing for over a year now to Social Networking and Business and to Web 2.0 Marketing, and a steady message I have at least tried to convey through all if this is the need to listen. I have discussed sources of positive and even immediate value from listening when I discuss viral marketing and cloud sourcing and a variety of other tools and approaches that have become available through the marketplace. But even discounting any particular resources of these types and even if a business starts from a central publishing perspective in its communications and marketing, they still need to listen.

There are hidden costs and lost opportunities in running peopleless call centers and from only offering fully automated phone systems that do not allow for opportunities for callers to reach real people. There are hidden costs and lost opportunities in using social media tools and channels but simply as alternative ways to centrally publish and do what amounts to fancy-dress Web 1.0.

Tomorrow I am going to post an open letter to President Obama on a need for 21st century two way communications in conveying a message of national and even international significance, and in capturing the attention and opinion of the larger public in promoting and fulfilling policy. I admit I start in my analysis and understanding of these issues by looking at them from a business communications and marketing perspective. And I write this posting today to highlight how badly this can be and often is done in business too.

There are other ways. This can be improved upon. Doing so offers real potential for businesses and it offers real potential for the people, the communities and the marketplaces they would reach out to and connect with, in doing business. Tomorrow I will at least attempt to connect some of this to the more open arena of politics and political discourse.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by PRO Start, PRO Sales. PRO Sales said: Making business social networking work in both directions « Platt …: I have discussed sources of positive and … […]

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