Last summer I wrote a post wondering whether the "C" in CIO should stand for customer, opining that CIOs should get out and talk to their companies' customers more often if they wanted to contribute to top-line revenue growth.
All senior executives, not just CIOs, should make an effort to do so. Of course, that's easier said than done, given busy schedules. But social communications, both through customer-facing channels like Twitter and internal collaboration software from companies like Socialtext, Salesforce.com, Jive and Yammer, can help fill the gap.
In a post on The Customer Bites Back blog, Lorena Harris shares some data from research she did for Convergys that shows employees are generally better than management at identifying the service attributes and channel preferences that are most important to customers. Not surprising, considering employees have regular, direct contact with customers and management doesn't.
Harris identifies four key reasons employees don't share customer feedback with upper management, and I've added my comments:
- Employees may not feel empowered to communicate their knowledge to executives. This is where a good internal collaboration platform can come in. Employees will probably be more inclined to freely share feedback if executives take the time to share thoughtful responses to it. And collaboration software can help employees share their good ideas. Last summer I wrote a post that mentioned Wal-Mart's use of internal blogs to tap its employees for ideas. Via the blogs, more than 5,000 employees contributed ideas on how the company could save energy and costs. One suggestion, to unscrew light bulbs in vending machines throughout stores, saved the company $1 million when implemented across the global Wal-Mart footprint.
- Executives don't make enough effort to spend time with employees on the front lines. While feedback gathered via social channels can give executives an idea of customer sentiment (and they can buy software to help them filter and parse it), there's really no substitute for the kind of real-world action experienced by folks like Microsoft CIO Tony Scott. Of the four hours he spent working in a call center, Scott said: "If you haven't done it, go sit in a call center and listen to customers calling in. Customer service people know things about products that product development doesn't know."
- Executives aren't using social channels. I know, some folks worry they don't have enough time for channels like Twitter or won't derive enough value from them for the time they put in. But the only way to find out is to give social channels a try. And executives might be pleasantly surprised at the value they get from them.
- Executives rely on data analysis, much of which is probably based on information gathered via traditional tools like customer surveys. I think it's important for executives to check in via social and collaborative channels and see if what they hear there meshes with the analysis. If it doesn't, it's time to start asking questions and find out why.
Harris wraps by noting the "very large and very real changes taking place require new techniques and mind-sets" and suggesting executives must make sure they don't have tunnel vision when it comes to their companies' customers.