Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Importance of Internal Communications in Social Media

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll have read my adventures in tortuously bad customer service this past holiday weekend. I won't belabor the specifics here, but the company I dealt with is large, well-known and once had a great reputation.

As I posted my difficulties on Twitter and Facebook, I received a lot of comments that were the digital  equivalent of eye rolls. "Big companies are all out to screw us" was the general consensus.As it happens, I don't agree. I've worked for big companies (global big) and in general "screwing the public" isn't ever on an agenda. If you talk to most individuals at a large multi-national company, you'll find hard working, decent folks.

So, one has to ask one's self, where's the gap between intent and execution? If everyone is working hard and is decent, how is it that customer experiences are so incredibly awful?

The gap - fueled by delusion, of course - is that internal communications have eroded to the point of surreality.

The delusion these companies buy into is "We save money by paying less for (a service we need.)"  That delusion might mean outsourcing, it might mean internal consultants or contractors on the job. That delusion -and the decisions that come from it - take that service, that piece of the production line, that part of customer relations out of the direct line of responsibility of the company. There's one gap.

The next delusion is "Our contractors are responsible for their piece of the job." Well, without establishing accountability for their actions, then basically - no, they aren't. There's your second gap.

And finally, with customer service outsourced and delivery outsourced and no one in place who can match the two, all those cost-cutting efforts end up with customers in a whirl of miserable, incompetent and powerless customer "service."

A horrific example of this is the #Amazonfail of last summer, in which Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Feminist books were suddenly de-listed en masse by Amazon. What many chose to see as a conspiracy, I saw as a complete breakdown in internal communications (read down to the final update.)

It's easy to roll your eyes at the "obvious" mistakes being made by another company, but take a look at your own business. Even if you own a small one-person business, you're liable to outsource work. For instance, your Search Engine Optimization, or your fulfillment. After all, you can't do *everything* by yourself.

Does your right hand know what your left hand is doing - does it even know that you have a left hand? Is the "quality" you claim in your corporate communications supported by your internal and external communications?

When you say you are engaging with consumers, is that reflected by actual interaction with them - or is your "Social" media really just more of the same one-way communications? Perhaps your attempts to be cutting edge are being hamstrung by your legal department.

Good External Communications Comes From Good Internal Communications

Before you launch that Twitter feed or new blog make sure that you can devote the right resources to your message. If Communications is in charge of the blog, and Sales is in charge of the e-Commerce site, make sure they - and the store clerk at the register - know about the holiday sale. This may seem amazingly obvious, but in my above bad retail experience, not only did the store associate have no clue at all about what I was asking, but the website was broken in three unique ways. And then it got hairy, with delivery and customer service who could not and did not help in any way, because they were clueless, disengaged, and not accountable for solving the problem...among other issues.

Good internal communications is not the same thing as having your stakeholders' buy-in. Communications can be borked at any level of your organization. From people at the top who wave their hands and say "make it so," without any real comprehension of what "it" is, down to the guy on the call center phone with a script and a quota, every level of engagement with your customer has a million opportunities to be the best - or the worst - experience that consumer has ever had.

Align your internal communications, and you'll find that your external communications will take off. When management, legal, communication, marketing and sales are all talking a common language then you have a solid base from with to launch your Social Media program. Otherwise, you're just creating more opportunities for confusion.
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