Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

While you do not want to boil the ocean or create a runaway initiative, you can’t limit innovation to only one function like marketing or sales. Your best balance is to innovate in small increments across an end-to-end process.

Consider the fact that your customers experience several of your departments in the same transaction. Depending on your business model and industry, your customers may interact with all of the following groups:

  • Marketing and advertising when they’re still a prospect
  • The channel when they are about to make the purchase decision, which could be a distributor, your own customer service department or your website and eCommerce department
  • The supply chain department or Third-Party Logistics (3PL) provider for shipping and delivery of the product
  • Your after-sales, service and warranty support should they encounter an issue.

When you embark on innovating your customer engagement model, you have to consider all the ways the customer may interact with your company and make sure you are delivering an experience consistent with the model you are promoting. If you are going to use social media to measure customer sentiment and listen for feedback, then all of the functions that contribute to the customer experience need to be onboarded to use the same media. You can’t just have marketing use social media to interact with customers at the speed of life (minutes) then have customer service take days to get in touch with the customer to address their issue. The back and front offices have to be in sync.

When an organization adopts social media as a channel to connect with their customers and stakeholders, it is about much more than implementing a system. It is about the leadership to reorganize how the enterprise listens, responds and interacts with customers. You need to have the right human infrastructure behind it. When a customer connects with a company through a social medium; they expect immediate response and follow through. Therefore, when social media is the intake vehicle, a company cannot afford to respond via bureaucratic mechanisms that reflect a traditional organizational structure. Social media offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about customers and should not be wasted, as I have recently experienced.

A few weeks ago, I used a social media outlet –Facebook– to voice concerns over my experience at a large retail chain. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a response from the company on Facebook within 20 minutes. On a Sunday afternoon to boot. They promised to have the store manager contact me to resolve the issue. I was ecstatic, full of expectations. The store manager’s call came 3 days later with the typical responses you’d expect. I felt let down and was furious with the company not just because of the store manager’s reaction, which I had initially expected; but because they had raised my expectations so much with a 20-minute response on a Sunday afternoon then did not follow through at the same level of expectation.

Now it is your turn to participate and turn this post into a discussion piece. How is your company innovating: by function or by process? Has your company adopted social media as a customer communication channel? What are some lessons learned?

This is the second in a series of 4 posts covering the theme of innovation and the role of CIOs in driving it. See also Digital Innovation & the Changing Role of the CIO. Next we will examine how to get your organization ready for innovation and how to cultivate a culture that produces the new and different. Stay tuned for the Prescription for Healthy Innovation post.

While the thoughts and opinions expressed here are my personal opinions, I credit publications from Gartner, Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company for helping me shape them.

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