While many companies still have policies in place that force interaction with the company to occur at well-defined delivery points, the reality is that this approach is largely counterproductive and unnecessary. We can usually achieve far more by connecting with our customers and the marketplace through these social, mobile, and cloud-based channels, than by trying to block them out one-by-one, "whack-a-mole" style, as they pop up. I've made the case over the years for this, in terms of generating significantly and exponentially (in some cases) higher returns and cost efficiencies to our businesses. That is, if we're willing to adapt how we work to these new channels. The genie is out of the bottle in most industries: If we don't do it ourselves, our competitors certainly will, sooner or later.
The point here is that we've learned that we generally can't adopt social media and other high-scale new digital models in makeshift ways, and then expect strategic value to suddenly appear. Not so surprisingly, clear strategy and effective leadership in these new digital channels is a must for those who want to take the shorter path. While ad hoc adoption will certainly create value, more effective methods of activation exist.
In fact, it's only when we have an evolving and adaptable plan for dealing with fast-emerging new engagement technologies that we'll achieve the ability to incorporate the innovations in the customer experience in a way that's likely to generate the kind of impact we want. The discussion recently of "outside in" business architectures is what we're talking about here in terms of rethinking how we manage to absorb the rapid changes coming from the consumer world today.
[ Related: What CIOs Should Know About 'Outside-In' Architecture. ]
Put another way, with the advent of social media in particular, we've crossed a digital Rubicon of sorts in the last few years: We've entered a new age of engagement, whose hallmark is the entire modern world being fundamentally and continuously connected to each other in highly varied and useful new ways, just as the previous age of transactions defined how we used technology to create, keep track of, and manage our workloads.
As we arrive in this new age of engagement, a billion or so people around the world have migrated to a constellation of new digital channels. More pertinent to this discussion, they are now using them in an attempt to engage with the organizations they do business with, with varying degrees of success.
Certainly, most organizations have already received the message at a high level. They maintain Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, they may have a mobile app, and they're exploring new digital channels on the edge, including Foursquare, Pinterest, and dozens of other new entrants. Many of them have even created their own enterprise social networks (or their employees have), and some of them have created customer communities and other social media constructs where the inside and outside of their organizations can meet and work.
Continuous Evolution Of Engagement
However, it's where new customer expectations and behavior meet widespread changes in engagement technology that many companies are struggling. Although we've now seen the rise of the chief customer officer in recent years, and the creation of social media and next-gen mobility centers of excellence in many large companies, there's still a major imbalance within most organizations as they try to appropriately adjust the level of effort they put into all the engagement options now open to them.
The good news: At any given time, for every individual business, for every industry, for every set of customers, there is the right set of investments to make in the emerging edge of engagement. The bad news: It's usually not until afterward that you fully know what that set is.
However, most organizations can begin to create capabilities now that are resilient and adaptable to the parade of new forms of engagement that will no doubt continue streaming from the consumer world. It turns out that these new two-way and open forms of communication have key supporting constructs that can be laid down and used across them relatively consistently.
Organizing properly for social business at a strategic level is probably the top-level concern when it comes to how a company as a whole can prepare for how people will engage with them in the future. But tactically, much more can be done while this much longer term effort takes place in fits and starts at the core of the organization.