Empowered: How CIOs Are Connecting Community With Customers

This excerpt from the new book Empowered, by Forrester's Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler, explores how CIOs are supporting "Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives," aka HEROes, with technology innovation.
The technology story behind Best Buy’s Twelpforce

It took a team to get Twelpforce off the ground, including CMO Barry Judge, Blue Shirt Nation cobuilder Gary Koelling, and marketing staffer John Bernier. But the technology worked because of an idea from Best Buy Web strategist/architect Ben Hedrington. These four employees are a living, breathing example of the Hero Compact—managers, marketers, and IT working together. Here’s the technology back story of Twelpforce.

Behind Twelpforce, Best Buy’s official Twitter customer service handle, are twenty-five hundred Best Buy retail staff employees plus a handful of customer service professionals. Each of these employees is empowered to tweet answers to customer questions, just as they do in person thousands of times a day in the retail stores. These tweets are tracked and redistributed through the Twelpforce Twitter handle.

Behind the Twitter handle was Ben's technology idea.

Ben’s idea was building an experimental Twitter aggregation service called ConnectTweet.1 This service, which runs silently and efficiently on Google’s App Engine cloud servers, does a simple job. It uses Twitter's APIs (application programming interfaces) to continually search for Twitter posts with a defined hashtag (“Twelpforce,” for example) and then repost them through a common Twitter ID.

Ben built ConnectTweet on his own time, as he put it, “after 5 p.m. every day for a week.” The key ingredients were his own programming skills and a credit card to cover the cost of renting Google’s servers. He coded directly on the Google cloud. Ben proved that it could work and opened it up, eventually, to several hundred kindred HEROes in other companies.

When Barry Judge, Gary Koelling, John Bernier, and Ben Hedrington decided to make this part of Best Buy’s business, it took a month and some contract developers with Python programming skills to create a business-ready version of ConnectTweet, still running on the Google App Engine cloud.

With the trust embodied in the HERO Compact as the guiding principle, it wasn’t hard to do. Previous experience with Blue Shirt Nation had laid the groundwork so Barry Judge and IT could see what kinds of things were possible. So they opened up the corporate directory to Google’s App Engine cloud and turned Twelpforce into a business-ready customer solution.

The key lesson here is that when a HERO wants to move, IT must be ready to move quickly to help. But how? By getting much closer to HEROes and the technology they need to solve customer problems.

Josh Bernoff is the coauthor of Groundswell. He is senior vice president, idea development, at Forrester Research. Ted Schadler is principal analyst in Forrester's IT Research Group

Adapted from Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler (Harvard Business Review Press). Copyright 2010, Forrester Research, Inc.

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