Connecting through Social Media

If your company hasn’t jumped on the social media bandwagon yet, it’s probably missing opportunities to connect with customers in new ways.

Information technology is reshaping the company/consumer relationship, often bringing benefits to both. The misuse of technology, however, can erode customer care. In the work I do with organizations, I’ve heard more than a few horror stories.

Despite living in an age where technology has made always-on data connections ubiquitous, we are more disconnected from the people we impact than at any other time in history. Even with the proliferation of social-media sites, we continue to miss opportunities for genuine dialogue.

Fortunately, many companies are changing this. They know their customers crave the ability to provide immediate input on specific products and services. Consumers prefer to buy products from businesses that know and care about customers’ needs. Managers and front-line employees must listen empathically to what consumers have to say. When managed properly, social-media sites allow open communication.

A 2011 study conducted by Parasole Restaurant Holdings and new BrandAnalytics found what consumers say online increases staff ownership of the employee/customer relationship.

Indeed, technology can actually enrich relationships between customers and employees. But it requires commitment from senior managers, who must:

  1. Affirm their commitment to active, empathic involvement with customers
  2. Understand the ways in which current procedures and systems mediate interactions with customers
  3. Promote the deployment of social networks and other technologies to help customers tell their stories
  4. Encourage and enable workers and managers to hear them

Only when employees can step into their customers’ shoes can companies add authenticity to the claim, “We care for you.”

Inside the Empathic Organization

Stanford Professor Dev Patnaik has created the term “Open Empathy Organizations” for those that encourage employees to focus on empathy as part of the company mission. Success requires employees at all levels to be genuinely interested in other people, and there must be multiple ways for them to interact.

Open Empathy Organizations also provide ways for employees to buy and use the company’s products and services. Netflix gives DVD players and free subscriptions to employees, who can learn firsthand how customers experience the company.

Similarly, gardening giant Smith & Hawken boasts a large garden at its company headquarters. Leaders encourage employees to plant and tend to crops, while familiarizing themselves with the company’s products. At such empathic companies, employees begin to understand how their work plays a positive role in their customers’ lives. Staffers become more attached to the results they see at work.

Employees perform at optimum levels when they know they make a difference. When they are encouraged to demonstrate care for customers, they become more engaged and energized.

In what ways could you create opportunities to demonstrate customer care in your work? If you don’t have contact with customers, then in what ways could you see yourself connecting with co-workers with enhanced empathy? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo creditShawn Campbell

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