Drop me in as keynote speaker at any industry conference you want -- cement, high tech, medical devices, restaurants... and my message is consistent: It's all about quality, and it's all about excellence.
And who determines if you have quality output or excellent performance? Your customers. Listening to the voice of the customer is Step No. 1 in making a quality improvement.
The basics for doing this have been the same for decades. Universities from Harvard to Pepperdine drill into the heads of their MBA candidates: "If you need feedback from your customers you will do the following: surveys, interviews, focus groups, or direct observation (secret shoppers, customer-for-a-day programs...)."
Marketing, strategy, quality, and R&D functions all use these tools. Too bad if they are not extended to Web 2.0.
According to a Deloitte study, marketing still drives most companies' Web 2.0 usage. Add to that the well known emphasis on transparent data gathering related to online sales and advertising, and one conclusion pops out: Many firms may be missing the boat by not expanding Web 2.0 applications to engage a broader spectrum of customer-focused activities.
Web 2.0 usage is lopsided in many firms, with marketing and sales dominating the usage. If more departments than marketing leveraged Web 2.0 to bring traditional, manual customer tracking efforts into cyberspace, they could experience exponential gains in their results.
Some companies do issue online surveys instead of paper ones. They may even have a Facebook or LinkedIn page. How many, though, are employing the existing technology to have meaningful dialogues with the people who keep them in business?
A quality control group could easily set up a virtual focus group to discuss recent shipping problems. R&D could remotely view people in their homes, interacting with product prototypes and asking questions real-time. Strategy groups could leverage Web technology to zero in on, and communicate in real-time with, members of key customer groups.
It's not just about B2C communications, either; Web 2.0 social networks also boost C2C communications. We used to hear that an upset customer will tell 10 others. With today's blogs and social networks, one upset customer can now tell 100,000.
As online purchasing continues to grow, the notion that customers can post influential feedback about your products is driving more of an emphasis on quality and ensuring excellence in meeting customer needs. What if you went to your corner grocery and under each product was customer feedback? Might that influence your purchase? At Amazon.com it does.
But that’s a reactive example. How about getting ahead of the game? Use social media and other Web 2.0 tools proactively -- not for marketing or issuing coupons, but to engage in real dialogues that will instill customer loyalty.
Following are some uses of Web 2.0 that enterprise strategy and quality functions could deploy:
- Real-time focus groups and panel studies
- Direct dialogues with product designers and engineers
- Virtual plant tours and design reviews
- E-town-halls with company management
- Virtual user forums
- Customer involvement in helping to plan product lines and set strategy
- Company-provided training and Webinars on topics suggested by customers
So here’s the opportunity:
- Move beyond marketing and sales dominating the use of Web 2.0. Let the other functions get to the table.
- Move from manual use of consumer-voice tools to leverage the automation available today.
Once marketing moves over and lets the strategy and quality functions sit at the Web 2.0 big-boy table, I have to believe we'll see some significant new trends in how companies communicate with their customer communities.
— Jeff Cole is president of JCG Management Consulting Ltd., a firm specializing in business process improvement and change management.