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How To Scale Social Business For The Real World

New channels = new challenges. Learn how smart organizations are adapting to the new ways customers connect.

It wasn't all that long ago when we had just a handful of fairly straightforward ways for our customers to connect directly to us.

Typically, they called us on the phone, or sometimes they sent us an email. More recently, they visited our websites and filled out online forms requesting something, usually information or help. To get to know them better, we might have invited a select group of them to focus groups, or perhaps requested that they fill out a survey.

[ Related: How Smart Businesses Reorganize For Social.]

This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.

More Social Business By Design columns

Interestingly, these interactions were fairly simple, linear, and aimed at specific outcomes. They also tended to be brief and relatively infrequent.

As you might have guessed, this traditional customer experience is in the midst of a major change. Those simple days of relatively well-defined engagement processes are now disappearing for many organizations. In their place have emerged dynamic and fast-shifting situational models for customer support, product ideation, and sales processes, to name just three.

In fact, over the last half-decade, the digital world has opened up a literal cornucopia of new channels through which customers now want to reach us. This includes a vast array of social media, online forums, mobile apps, game environments, and other consumerized user experiences that are employed in ever more sustained and more intensive ways by our customers. The virtual explosion of mobile apps or the dominance of social media in global communications are just two well-known examples.

There's an important qualitative difference in these new digital channels as well. Unlike the old narrowcast venues of phone and email, they are much more open, public, and participatory. They're also less linear, harder to control, quite a bit messier, and significantly larger in size by any number of measures, including number of people, simultaneity (how many people talking at once), length of conversation, and complexity of conversation.

From Containing Engagement, To Enabling it

Adoption of these new channels in the consumer space is happening to such an extent today that the wall is starting to break down between our workers and customers, even our supply chain. As we explored in the case studies in Social Business By Design, this sense of blur applies across the board to the traditional fields of marketing, customer service, sales, product development, operations, HR, and virtually every other corner of the organization.

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