I want to share some thoughts that have come to me through a journey of helping companies learn how to connect at a level that is not transactional in order to bring them gently into the ‘socially connected’ world of the Internet. A subject that terrifies most CEO’s and their Boards.
I have a certain advantage that you may have when spending time around companies, as a consumer, supplier and stakeholder. I can feel people’s emotions, I can read what really matters to a company between their words. I am driven by the emotional intent and experience of companies and how they treat their followers and customers. I know I am not alone on this sensitivity.
30 years of my life has been spent within tech, helping companies to use it for improving their company and the experience of people that interact with them. I therefore love the ‘new connected world’. ‘New’ to me in 1998, perhaps new to some more recently.
Let’s look at the way businesses have changed since the advent of technology and whether technology has been used to bring us closer to the companies and people we buy from or whether we are in fact all more disconnected.
Companies have been led by CEO’s to automate, remove the customer from the people in the organization, to ensure time is saved for the company rather than for us the consumer, of course the consumer sometimes wins, but the intent was the companies driver in this investment. Technology has been used to be more efficient, to compete at a lower cost, to go global. Some have placed their phone based customer services in other countries, to save costs. They have learned to manage shareholders, they have learned to ‘manage’ the input of staff and pay salaries. They have served themselves, and let’s not be naïve, they have had to build all this infrastructure in order to compete in an economy that is driving down costs.
What they haven’t learned is to us technology to actually care about the customer, and even more than this, to care about the wider community that exists around them. This is the part that Ibelieve is letting them down now in the ‘war on trust and loyalty’.
In the pre-tech days, the face to face times, businesses used to have to listen to the customer, they had to talk to them, build rapport; care about the wider implications of their products and services. We even have examples of how companies during Industrialization had to care about the education of the and health of the community, to ensure that they had a good workforce to recruit from locally. Now many companies are global, we they chose where to spend our ‘caring money’,we call this ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’.
Over the past 15 years I have been astounded by the lack of empathy and listening that large organisations show toward the people they want to sell to. They have totally lost sight that business happens at an emotional level. They way they treat a customer and treat their supply chain, impacts the sentiment we all hold about them. I rarely hear a good word said about a Bank, a Utility Company, a Retailer or any company that we end up buying our products from. So incomes the opportunity for the outliers! The companies that creep in with a different culture and a different solution to the same problem, focused on the problem a consumer has not on the service they want to sell! These outliers work at an emotional level, listening to the needs and culture of the ‘new consumer’.
No one can work at a pure practical level. Work has taken over our lives and we have to accept that emotion enters our being in everything we do. Highs, lows, confusions, stress, joy, impatience, fear, excitement, boredom, trust, distrust. There are very few things we do in life that doesn’t involve an emotional reaction, even if we have learned not to show these things, or even acknowledge they exist.
Try thinking of a time when you were making a decision to buy anything, from a paper clip to a computer, from a car to a house, from a business flight to a holiday. The thought processes you had were driven by emotions of hope, efficiency, organization joy, excitement combined with the fear of making choice. Think also of the time when you had buyer remorse, regretted a decision you made, what caused that? What could have stopped that feeling?
I have spent 15 year evangelizing the subject of a ‘connected world’ ‘my own mantra is ‘Connecting Hearts’ as I sense the real need to get people to connect at a deeper level than the brain, mind and wallet.
I thought that if I could influence the marketing department, then I could get this understood, help them to socially connect online. I then thought if I could influence the Customer Service Department they would care in a ‘modern way’, then I realized if I could get to the CEO of a business, he would see the light and change the culture of customer interaction. Now I see the problem is even deeper, it is about leadership internally before you can even see the external opportunities (and threats). Let me explain…
I recently re-read a part of Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple’s Biography and he tells this story… when Apple were preparing to launch iTunes they looked to build a partnership with Sony to acquire the rights to music. Following many meetings they soon gave up on that idea. The write Isaacson says that the reason for the decision to cease this relationship was that while Sony had all that Apple needed, the departments within Sony were at war with each other, each trying to protect its own interests and no one had a clear set of intents for the company, a sense of purpose, vision or future, so it was impossible for them to make a strategic partnership, that as we all know, could have changed the course of history for them and Apple.
Recently, I helped a company to consider the benefits of building a ‘Community’ for their clients’. I ran a workshop that would explore this and help the team who would be involved see the benefits of this. What I discovered was a shock. While they speak of caring, seek to support their clients and they are built on family values and togetherness, the people themselves within the company felt very disconnected from one another. What became clear as we looked into the companies intent was that none of them know what is was or felt connected to it. Each person had their own agenda, values and intent, but it was only by coincidence and good fortune that any of them shared the same sentiments of ‘why’ they existed as an organization.
These moments are like pure gold to me, the opportunity for people to come together and work as one, with the shared beliefs, values and intention. This is the basic starting point for any companies that seek to build community and expect to join up to the external world. Even communicating online as a company would seem disjointed if the ‘communicators’, the ‘thought leaders’ could not agree their shared intent and shared goals for their clients to benefit from.
It is impossible for a company to evolve into the socially connected world if its leaders and staff are not connected and caring about one another. True community starts at home, ensuring that our workforce loves their day and loves what they do and dare I say cares about each other as a starting point to caring about others.
I see many companies looking to evolve their customer engagement strategies, seeking to embed Twitter and FaceBook into their communication, this is a step forward, but if the people communicating for them online are not emotional about what they do, then it is a task, and the receiver of that communication feels that.
Emotion is a HUGE part of business life, embracing that and building on the emotional level of all those we interact with would truly connect us all. Kindness and love creates a chemical bond through the release of Oxytocin and serotonin, to me that must be the most powerful company strategy of all. Now that is my next Blog….. are you ready for hormones! I guess as a women I would hope you are!