Steve Hall asks, what if there was a “Customer Conversations Department?” Hall:
“I’d…suggest the creation of an entirely new discipline headed by a director of customer/consumer conversation/dialog. The sole responsibility if this person/department would be to converse and listen to the consumers with no interest in selling product.
This is not achieved though doing surveys or hosting focus groups or through agency account planning efforts. It is achieved by talking to customers/consumers as one would if they were discussing a product at a cookout or dinner party. This is not stuff that can be rolled up neatly into a spreadsheet of a PowerPoint presentation. This is roll-the-sleeves-up, get-dirty-with-the-customer conversation.”
I.love.it. But it shouldn’t be a “department.” It may need to start that way, but ultimately every person within an organization who comes in contact with a customer:
- Customer Support
- Product Marketing
needs to feel this way. Why? Because, customers don’t interact with a silo’d “department.” And every customer has the ability to talk about his or her experience with the company via these crazy, newfangled blog thingers…regardless of which department was involved in the interaction.
Tom Hespos runs with this idea. Hespos:
“I think we can agree that comparatively few companies have made any sort of investment in opening and continuing meaningful dialogue with their customers online. We’ve got the broadcast model to thank for that. As you know, when you’re holding a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. When folks are out there praising or panning a product or brand, corporations tend to look at the problem as a mass marketing problem. In reality, most of the panning can be dealt with effectively by empowering somebody to join the conversation, actually listen, and take the feedback to the company for incorporation. Most of the praise can be greatly amplified in the same way.”
and Doc pushes it further:
“This is a provocative proposition. What Tom’s talking about here is going way beyond the rogue Scoble, or even the hundreds (thousands?) inside companies like Microsoft and Sun. We’re talking here about changing marketing’s function (or a large part of it) from messaging to conversation.”
This is the right direction. There are a few fundamental things that need to occur to keep this snowball rolling, however.
Per the comments from the others above, execs in organizations from the smallest to the largest need to get whupped upside the head with the clue mackerel, and understand what’s happening here.
Folks on the front lines need to get out of the “transactional” mindset, and start thinking about conversations, and relationships and communities.
Systems need to change. Existing (so-called) customer relationship management systems don’t get us there. Actually, I take that back. CRM systems could get us there, if the individuals using them started thinking about using the systems as tools to track persistent conversations over time (note: link is a PDF), as opposed to being tools that sales management uses to know how soon they need to warn Wall Street that they’re going to miss their quarter. (Don’t even get me started on the whole “living life one quarter at a time” mindset thing. Grrr.)
And, finally, from the “do-ocracy” side of things, we, as customers, need to be rationally vocal when we are treated poorly (or ignored). As customers, we need to continue to let our service providers know when they are screwing up, through all means available. They can’t listen if we don’t talk, and write, and start voting with our wallets when they blow it.
So, my question to you…what do we need to do next to keep this going?
Links, all in one tidy place:
- Steve Hall: Brands Need ‘Consumer Conversation Department’
- Tom Hespos: A Hypothetical “Conversation Department”
- Doc Searls: Talking marketing
Related posts from The Social Customer Manifesto: