Does the use of social media inside an organisation or externally create better performance or better customer service? The argument is that social media improves a company’s financial position by improving its reputation through increased external customer service and improved employee engagement inside the organisation. However, the underlying question is whether this works in practice.
The idea behind this argument is that customers receive better service from organisations that are better connected with them.
There is a strong assumption that organisations, and workers, who are under more public scrutiny, are better behaved in that they are more attuned to a larger audience beyond the customer in front of them. However, this depends on the organisation’s culture as much as it does upon the customer. Will all customers report bad customer service? Are organisations attuned to responding to complaints about bad customer service? There are many stories of people broadcasting their complaints on the web, but after the novelty factor, how effective is that in the long-term. If you are the 15th person blogging about bad customer service from Acme Corp. or Any corp, does that have the same impact as the first time? Soon, we reach a “so what” inflection point. ”Yep, you have had bad customer service so why do you want me to get excited about it?”
At the same time, the argument is that social media within an organisation may foster improved employee engagement. The idea is that employees connected though social media know what is happening within the organisation and are more engaged and connected to each other and by inference to the customer. The underlying idea here is that internal social media leads to increased employee engagement and this leads to better outcomes for the organisation and the customer. See for example, the use of Yammer (a micro blogging platform) at Capgemini http://www.managementexchange.com/story/microblogging-capgemini
If the results are there internally, does that lead to better outcomes for the customer or does it privilege some customers over others? In terms of customer service, is there a danger that the social media can privilege the connected over the unconnected? For example, some may respond quickly e email from a cabinet minister, so they get preferential treatment from an organisation in a way that the email or letter from a resident might not. In that sense, social media may reveal rather than shape an organisation’s culture.
The challenge, then, is for the leadership to overcome these implicit, or explicit, biases within the culture and set the tone within the organisation regarding customer service and performance. If social media, through micro blogging can do that, though, are leaders who have succeeded without those tools going to be sensitive to and ready to engage with the promise and potential of social media? Will they be able to see or accept that social media will improve performance and customer service?
There is a challenge for leaders to understand whether the social media is a change in degree or kind and whether they can accept the indeterminacy of social media in that its effects (intended or otherwise) are beyond their immediate control.
Yammer and other social media offer the promise that they will improve critical upward communication. Critical upwards communication is the information about problems that threaten an organisation that are known to the frontline workers, but not known by the top managers. CUC is information the frontline want to tell the top but are uncertain or potentially fearful of telling their managers because it contravenes or contradicts the image or impression that senior managers have of the service or the team. The idea is that Yammer and internal social media will allow managers to receive more CUC so that they can find the problems, know the issues that are emerging, and respond quickly and openly to them. For more on CUC, see Denis Tourish’s excellent article:
I would be interested to know if organisations that have been using Yammer to improve critical upwards communication. Do top managers get better information and are they more attuned to emerging problems in businesses that use yammer and other social media? Moreover, do these organisations get improved results and deliver better customer service both internally and externally?
What may be occurring is that companies that already have a habit or tradition of nurturing CUC use Yammer and other social media to enhance and leverage existing systems. If social media does not so much change culture as reveal it, then the first question is to return to the culture to determine whether it is ready for social media. The challenge for leaders then is to use social media to shape their culture before the inability to use social media unermines their ability to compete for customers both internally and externally.