We've blogged several times about the efforts of some companies to establish two-way dialogs with their customers through initiatives such as online forums -- and their mixed results.
Continental Airlines, for instance, has won kudos from its customers for its policy of employing a dedicated person to monitor online chat forums and even to visit some customers in person at feedback events around the country. Dell, on the other hand, has been less successful with its Ideastorm site and its own interactions with sites such as the Consumerist.com.
One of the most intriguing attempts yet at engaging folks online -- specifically shareholders -- was a recent live Webcast with General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt.
As The New York Times reports, GE first invited its shareholders to submit questions questions for Immelt through the Internet. The CEO then sat for an interview with a couple of journalists, featuring some of the submitted questions. The company promised to publish answers to more of them online.
Some 6,000 questions were received. Not many of them were specifically answered during the half-hour chat, according to the Times, with much of the time devoted to banter that allowed Immelt to hammer home points designed to drive up the company's stock price. Still, the company earns points for its willingness to put its CEO so publicly "out there."
As CRM consultant Paul Greenberg, author of "CRM at the Speed of Light: Essential Customer Strategies for the 21st Century," told me during an interview last February, many companies struggle with the idea of ceding more control to their customers. He said:
Most company cultures are so traditional, there are going to be immediate conflicts. Let's take a business blog. The first thing that is going to happen, your legal department is going to want to approve every single entry. The minute that happens, the blog's value goes to nothing. The first thing you have to do is make sure that any department involved with this blog is on the same page, and that they fully understand that the writer's voice has to be authentic. It's not just a new way of doing marketing hype and spin. It's a conversation with your customers, and thus, if criticism has to be leveled, it has to be leveled.
The most important thing, said Greenberg, is "... to keep an experience on the customer's terms. Your customers are empowered enough to know what they need."