It’s Time to Delight the Social Customer

Last week Marc Benioff was in Boston with another regional Cloudforce tour event, and Stephen Denning has written a good book. There is a connection between them.

The day after the Boston Bruins clinched the Stanley Cup, Benioff was in Boston, and thank goodness the company decided on a noon start time; otherwise more than 1,000 bleary-eyed Bruins fans might have had second thoughts about attending. Not to worry; there was an overflow crowd for what looked to me like a preview of Dreamforce — coming up at the end of the summer.

Benioff was ebullient, though it probably had nothing to do with being a Bruins fan and having waited 39 years for THE CUP to return to Boston. Amidst all the talk about clouds and forces, Benioff let out a quip that was revealing, signaling a shift in at least the company and most likely the industry. I will have to paraphrase here, but it went like this: We started out as a hosted service company, but we’re now all about social. If you’re not in the cloud, we can’t wait for you.

The Social Arbitrators

Now, in print that might seem harsh, but it was done with humor, and the crowd of converts certainly understood it. Translation: The next big move in the front office is social — we’ve been preparing for it for the last couple of years, and now it’s time to roll.

To back up his point, Benioff unveiled new messaging that I expect will be with us for a while — the social customer and the social enterprise. Now, neither one of these terms is new or original to Salesforce, but true to form, Salesforce is adopting them and giving them specific meaning. One new idea they are crisply communicating is the manifold relationships one can have with a vendor, all of which need to be arbitrated in some way by social technology.

There’s the obvious customer-company relationship, but also the customer-to-brand relationship and customer-customer relationships all mediated by some form of social media. The social enterprise must have strategies for each.

While we’re on the subject, let me nominate some shorthand for this brave new world. The customer-to-company relationship is now C2C — note I am not designating this as customer-to-vendor because “vendor” has been split into “company” and “brand” for good reasons. Customer-to-brand is now therefore C2B. Now what does that do for the customer-to-customer relationship since C2C is taken? I recommend CC, since customers effectively “cc” others whenever they use social media anyway.

OK, back to the social enterprise. The Salesforce vision is important because the CC social revolution is moving the C2C and C2B relationships from hierarchical to relational, and social tools are the things companies need to get the job done. Got it? C2C and C2B might become the business end of VRM (vendor relationship management), I think.

New Tools, New World

In his recent book, The Leader’s Guide to Radical Management, Stephen Denning explores the new world that will need these social tools. In Denning’s well-written and informative book, a company’s mission is to delight its customers by making and delivering products and services, not by simply providing adequacy in one direction and profits in the other.

Denning gives several pages to Salesforce connecting his vision and Benioff’s. This view is that should operate pretty much the way Salesforce’s cloud offerings do, especially Chatter, the Salesforce collaboration tool that enables ad hoc teams of people inside a company to spot problems and opportunities and take action to help customers and hopefully delight them.

One of the only criticisms I have of all this is the way Salesforce describes the effort it enables. When executives engage in this behavior, according to various speakers in Boston, they are said to “swarm” like a hive of bees, but when regular employees engage in the same activity, it’s referred to as “dog-piling”. Why this double standard? I think it would do the executive class some good to develop a mindset of rolling up its sleeves and working to delight its customers, as in dog-piling. I don’t really care which animal metaphor is used, but one only, please.

Where Have All the People-Pleasers Gone?

Back to Denning and his wonderful book. Denning spends some time analyzing the effectiveness of Fred Reichheld’s net promoter score, of which he is a fan and which is at least one source for the idea of customer delight. Denning did some interesting qualitative research that applies to this discussion. He checked out the mission statements of the 20 biggest companies in the Fortune 500 to understand their customer outlooks. Guess how many are in business to delight their customers? None, zero, nada. Sheesh!

Four of the top 20, which includes names like Verizon, Exxon-Mobile, Walmart, HP, GM, GE and others, actually say they’re in business to make money, period. Others have PR or similar safe-sounding goals, but none exist to delight you and me. It’s all about maximizing shareholder value — an idea that has been around for a while and gave us the swashbuckling attitude that nearly melted the di-lithium crystals in the world’s economic engine room. Time for a change? The tools are now available.

Denning is pointing out that it might be time to think again about corporate responsibilities and duties; Benioff is providing at least some of the how-to, and energy. Both men have a lot of work to do, but at least the journey has started. That’s why social is inevitable and why the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston this week is bigger and more important than ever. I will be looking for even more at Dreamforce.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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