“Estar” en medios sociales: sentido común + ayuda profesional… y tiempo

Muy interesante la sesión de continuidad de IESE  (10 de abril) sobre “Los medios sociales en España. La visión de la alta dirección” (en Twitter, #IESEsm; en la página de IESE ya está publicado el informe), facilitada por el profesor Julián Villanueva, y con la particpación de tres de los miebros del consejo asesor de 2011.

Se presentaron brevemente algunos resultados del estudio llevado a cabo a través de un cuestionario (que creo significativo: algo menos de 700 respuestas válidas) y, lo más interesante:

1.- Los 10 puntos en que José Luis Orihuela resumió lo que más le llamó la atención

2.- Los 9 errores más frecuentes en la gestión de los medios sociales (Prof. J. Villanueva)

3.- Las experiencias concretas de Campofrío, Iberdrola y Tuenti

4.- Un par de ideas de Rodrigo Miranda, de Shackleton Buzz & Press (fuera de programa)

Lo recogido creo que refleja, con bastante honestidad, cuál es la situación actual: es frecuente (y comprensible) la sensación de estar un poco perdidos, de no entender el lenguaje; hay incertidumbre; algunas crisis, y experiencias positivas…

Resumo brevemente los puntos anteriores, y comento finalmente mis conclusiones.

RESUMEN EJECUTIVO (para el que no quiera gastar tiempo)

– En muchas cosas estamos aprendiendo: hay que aceptarlo así y no frustrarse porque las cosas no salgan perfectamente a la primera. Esto, por cierto, ocurre siempre que se innova. Debe ser considerado “business as usual”.

– Una nueva etiqueta de relación, comunicación, presencia… se está formando (o más bien varias: depende del medio)

La comunicación es ahora un dominio que afecta a TODA la organización: todo lo que hace está potencialmente en los medios, quiera o no, y de todo hay que hablar

Nuevas habilidades de comunicación son necesarias, para todos: no sólo RRPP o marketing, no sólo los ejecutivos

– Como siempre, los objetivos y la estrategia son lo primordial, no las herramientas. Sin embargo, hay espacio de maduración para la selección, comprensión y uso de las métricas.

– Facilidad de acceso (“cualquiera puede estar”) no significa “low cost”: hacer las cosas bien requiere dedicar los recursos necesarios.

– La maduración de la comunicación 2.0 llevará a diferentes formas de estar: más cualitativas o cuantitativas, formales o divertidas, libres o reguladas, con predominio de unas plataformas u otras…

– Igualmente, debemos esperar una mayor maduración, estructuración de funciones, especialización, definición de procesos (en la línea de lo apuntado por Rodrigo Miranda)

Lo que le llama la atención a JL Orihuela (@jlori)

1) Los ejecutivos no usuarios (36%) no se sienten capacitados y no ven retornos. Los que sí lo son dedican pocos recursos y tienen demasiadas expectativas.

2) Déficit de estrategia digital. Casi el 30% están experimentando, están porque están los demás… El 60% tiene poca experiencia en medios sociales.

3) Dificultades para MEDIR: todavía es difícil. Existe la tentación de usar parámetros tradicionales, y no es lo mismo…

4) Community managers. Algo más de la mitad de los ejecutivos los tienen, pero el 30% no sabe muy bien lo que hacen. Percepción en muchos casos de que se trata de una destreza transversal que afecta a toda la organización.

5) Mandan Facebook, los blogs y Twitter. Después, Youtube, Flickr y Tuenti.

6) El uso es para informar y conversar (lo que resulta adecuado). A continuación, entretener y finalmente, vender. La selección de plataformas por objetivos es adecuada.

7) Equilibrio entre la prescripción profesional y la social (33% – 28%)

8) Existe una disonancia entre el objetivo de mejora de la reputación online y la poca importancia de su medición [puede ser por el punto 3), arriba].

9) Uno de cada cinco ha tenido alguna crisis de comunicación en internet. Lo positivo es que la resolución directamente con los consumidores en los medios sociales funciona muy bien (74% de los casos, con un 73% de satisfacción)

10) El tamaño importa: aumento de seguidores y tráfico en la página web (75%)

Errores detectados en la gestión de los medios sociales (Prof. Villanueva)

1) No hacer nada. Curiosamente, aunque la mayoría lo considera muy importante. Muchos estuvieron pero lo dejaron por no haberlo sabido hacer bien. Otros no se sienten preparados. Clave: entender que, si la marca es importante, YA ESTÁS.

2) “Estar de forma chapucera”: casi el 40% de los que tienen página en Facebook casi no la actualizan. Si se suma a contenidos mediocres, equivale a tener una tienda física mal arreglada, descuidada… Imagen de abandono. Muy dañino.

3) Falta de alineación con comercial y marketing (si se les pregunta, cada uno ve a la otra parte como un pequeño trozo de su propia área). Existencia de dos lenguajes. No es importante para la alta dirección.

4) Falta aprender a trabajar transversalmente: TI, servicio al cliente, comunicación… Asumir que al cliente le da igual la organización de la compañía, y se quejará igualmente.

5) Se exigen muchos objetivos. En el cuestionario, se pide todo, claro, pero, ¿se tiene claro por qué estamos? Estar para todo puede ser equivalente a no estar para nada. Foco.

6) Confundir la facilidad de acceso a los medios sociales con un coste bajo. El 63% quiere ganar notoriedad, pero eso no es fácil ni barato. Lo clientes NO quieren ser amigos. Además, hay mucho ruido – precisamente porque entrar es fácil –. Es difícil lograr “share of mind”. Se sobreestima el impacto y la facilidad para llegar a los clientes.

7) Como consecuencia de lo anterior, se ponen menos medios de los necesarios: presupuestos raquíticos. El 90% dedica a online menos del 50% del presupuesto y, del online, menos del 10% se invierte en medios sociales. El resultado es que hay mucha mediocridad en lo que se hace: nadie está ni entusiasmado ni desesperado…

8) Cada uno entiende a su manera el papel del community manager. Asunto importante, porque se puede esperar un papel decisivo en la estrategia de comunicación de la compañía de gente con muy poca experiencia, p. ej.

9) Se dice que se quiere escuchar al cliente, pero luego no se mide la reputación online.

Luego, tuvimos las experiencias y percepciones de tres de los participantes:

Jaime Lobera. Director de marketing de Campofrío.

Él mismo indica que fue convencido por A. Gallo cinco años atrás. “Los consumidores nos bajan de la nube cada día, pero sí hemos aprendido a escuchar lo que dicen”. Dedican mucho tiempo a escuchar, y menos al resto de cosas (esto se me antoja muy sensato: es lo menos arriesgado y lo que te aporta más valor).

Como persona de marketing, a él le parecía que era una gran oportunidad contar con herramientas que te permitieran escuchar directamente, sin intermediarios, a un coste tan bajo, y con una fiabilidad tan grande (“de forma salvajemente sincera”) a los usuarios. Posteriormente las incorporaron a sus procesos de marketing y comunicación.

Con respecto algunas métricas como los números de fans y followers, es un tanto escéptico para el caso de Campofrío: a él eso de los “amigos del chopped” le suena raro. “No queremos ser amigos de los amigos del chopped; ¡son gente muy rara!”

Desconfía de cosas que no son lógicas ni naturales. Entiende también que un gran número de visitas a webs (como la suya, básicamente informativa) más bien aburridas tampoco pueden ser un objetivo. Su rol es informar.

Por último, mencionó la convergencia  online/offline: intentan ser consistentes, buscan coherencia. Tienen resultados y alguna sorpresa. En general, les ayuda mucho. Algunas cosas que han hecho sí han generado bastante ruido Twitter, lo que les permite tomar el pulso de la calle: en cuestión de minutos u horas puedes tener mucha información.

Luis Gómez, director de Marca y de Responsabilidad Corporativa de Iberdrola

Fue la exposición más densa en contenido y, personalmente, la que encuentro más valiosa – precisamente por tratarse de una empresa que nunca va a estar en el territorio de las “love marks” (eso ya lo he comentado un par de veces), y representa, probablemente, a la mayor parte de los negocios.

En el caso de Iberdrola, hay una corporación única que controla todo lo que se hace mundialmente (a nivel comercial y de comunicación corporativa). Problema: no hay UNA, sino  muchas reputaciones. Al menos, tantas como “stakeholders” (no son iguales los puntos de vista del accionista del empleado, de las autoridades locales, de los proveedores, del regulador, de los socios… todos hablan).

Para Gómez:

1) Hay oportunidades: NO hay falta de publicidad, sino déficit de comunicación. Grandes posibilidades de mejorar.

2) La comunicación unidireccional se hace bien, pero no así la bidireccional (y menos, en tiempo real)

3) El mundo de la electricidad es muy complejo. Muchos temas (incidencias) son muy personales (de ahí que se terminen resolviendo en mensajes privados, etc.)

4) Ya se hablaba de Iberdrola: estaban ahí los clientes, hablaban de ellos en blogs, en Facebook. Eso sí, hay que dimensionarlo, categorizar, clasificar, evaluar...

Tuvieron la idea de aprovechar la junta de accionistas para lanzarse en RRSS (Twitter, Slideshare, Youtube…), pero tuvieron que vencer un sinfín de dificultades (el negocio eléctrico está muy fuertemente regulado, y todas las compañías cotizadas – especialmente si estás en todos los mercados de valores importantes – están sujetas a innumerables restricciones en cuanto a lo que pueden comunicar, a quién, por qué canales y cuándo…) Tenían que ir con los abogados por delante, en tiempo real… Todas las presentaciones debían ir (actualizándose, incluso) con todas las salvaguardas y advertencias legales…

Al final les autorizaron a transmitir por Youtube la junta (primera de su clase en España).

Tiene un blog de información corporativa de Iberdrola (probablemente esto es relativamente sencillo de gobernar), y sacaron también una página FB, aprovechando para agregar todo lo que había en FB por todo el mundo…

Automáticamente, empezaron a preguntarles  muchas cuestiones del área comercial, y tuvieron que sacar una cuenta Twitter para gestionarlo (con la mayoría resuelto privadamente). A los usuarios, tener pruebas por escrito de las comunicaciones, un vehículo gratuito y rápido, les gustaba.

Lo usan mucho, p. ej., para informar de posibles problemas en zonas que se conoce que son de riesgo en su negocio (por tornados, etc.), cuestiones específicas de parques eólicos y similares. Están haciendo ya muchas cosas.

En lo que se refiere a la medición, NO buscan un ROI, sino cumplir objetivos concretos. No persiguen tener muchos seguidores, p. ej., sino ver qué preguntas hay, dar una visión de lo que se comenta…

Esto sí lo controlan muy de cerca: salen todos los días en los medios, y trabajan mucho todo lo que es riesgo reputacional. Entienden que siempre va a estar ahí, que es algo que hay que aceptar, y se trata de que, en caso de que estalle, sea lo mínimo.

Visión doble: las crisis son fácilmente comunicables, pero la reputación es lo que queda… Si el Reputation Institute te baja un punto, recuperarlo es carísimo.

En resumen, su enfoque es muy cualitativo (aunque a mí me parece inteligente y práctico). ¿Quizá empezamos a ver una segmentación de uso especializado según la “sociabilidad”, “lovabilidad” del negocio, su grado de regulación…?

Sebastián Muriel, VP Corporate Affairs Tuenti.

Tuenti tiene clarísimo que los SM nacen para la comunicación entre personas, no con las marcas. Poco a poco, con el aumento del uso, parece que esto se olvida…

Muchos creen que no se habla de ellos (cuestión que se repite: que tú no escuches no hace que los demás no hablen, y otros les oigan…)

El tiempo medio de uso de Tuenti es muy superior al de otros, y esto está relacionado con el ruido que percibe el usuario. El engagement depende de lo útil que resulta la red.

Dado que se trata de sitios donde la gente habla con la gente, quien quiera tener impacto ha de tener una conversación muy diferente de la de otros medios. No se puede “colgar” lo mismo en todas las RRSS (¡ojo a los CM!).

Para que te hagan caso, con tanta gente ahí, hay que ser muy diferente: CREATIVIDAD. Él propone un enfoque más cualitativo, y ve interesante un panorama de un posible choque del enfoque basado en métricas y otra más cualitativo.

La adaptación al usuario es crucial: quienes usan adecuadamente Tuenti llegan mucho mejor a sus usuarios… “Esta gente no es sólo que esté en otros medios: es que ni Twitter lo leen igual que nosotros”.

Por último, llama la atención sobre la proliferación de herramientas, que están removiendo el panorama y haciendo que el segundo de atención esté muy caro.

Mensajes: Seleccionar. Tener clara la estrategia y los objetivos.

Por otra parte, los usuarios más jóvenes saltan constantemente de plataforma, y éstas surgen cada poco. “La única métrica real es el tiempo que pasa el usuario en las RRSS”, y pone el ejemplo de Whatsapp.

Tuenti prevé una conversación centrada en la gente más importante para cada uno, sin ruido inútil, móvil. Por tanto, habrá que plantear cosas en dispositivos totalmente diferentes… Ahí hay que ser muy ágiles para reaccionar.

“Si todo está controlado, es que no vamos lo bastante rápido…”

… y del turno de debate/preguntas.

Me quedaré aquí con las conclusiones fundamentales:

– Los medios sociales te permiten saber inmediatamente cómo “respira” el público, comprobar si el sentimiento es positivo e INCORPORAR EL POSICIONAMIENTO a los productos

Las reacciones en la red son mucho más intensas que en otros medios: más información (menos espacio para la interpretación)

– Hay muchísimas herramientas gratuitas para escuchar y medir. La barrera de entrada está en la pereza… o los prejuicios. Las agencias te pueden ayudar: la inversión merece la pena.

– No obsesionarse con “estar” (si Tuenti no es adecuado, no hay por qué estar): se debe ser coherente con la estrategia, tener claro si se trata de parte importante de los objetivos y, en caso afirmativo, dedicar los recursos necesarios. Objetivos, no herramientas.

– Hay casos en que los medios sociales pueden servir, ante todo, para informar e instruir al público. En compañías cotizadas, p. ej., la comunicación te viene dada.

– Hay que escuchar, monitorizar todo lo que se pueda, pero hay que aceptar que no se puede controlar todo

– El CM como habilidad transversal: ahora mismo hay una necesidad puntual de una competencia escasa, pero eso pasará, y todos deberemos aplicarla diariamente. Todos seremos “community managers” (aunque otros piensan que se trata de perfiles muy diferentes del de marketing y comunicación tradicional)

A mí me parecieron interesantes un par de reflexiones de Rodrigo Miranda, de Shackleton:

– El posible rol de las agencias digitales de comunicación en formar, ayudar a las empresas a “digitalizarse”, a familiarizarse con el mundo de la comunicación 2.0, a construir sus organizaciones internas. En resumen, promover la profesionalización, hacer una disciplina de la persencia en medios sociales.

– En el caso de Shackleton, ellos tienen grupos separados, especializados, para las diferentes funciones: monitorizar, para saber lo que se dice en los distintos medios, análisis del sentimiento y extracción de métricas pertinentes y, por último, optimización y posicionamiento (p. ej., SEO: para aparecer en las primeras posiciones con las noticias, opiniones, etc. más interesantes para la compañía). Operaciones susceptibles de un enfoque ingenieril.

CONSECUENCIAS Y REFLEXIONES:

– Cuando decimos que la comunicación 2.0 es otra cosa, entre otras cosas, lo es para TODOS. En particular, mucha gente que antes NO estaba expuesta a medios tradicionales (prensa, radio, TV, etc.), ahora puede estarlo en medios sociales, y con muchísima visibilidad. P. ej., agentes de atención al cliente (a lo mejor antes sólo visibles para el que llamaba), desarrolladores de producto, diseñadores…

El caso de los empleados es muy interesante porque pueden dar gran credibilidad ante el público, por una parte, pero son difíciles de engañar (y, previsiblemente, sólo van a funcionar bien cuando voluntaria y espontáneamente quieran estar ahí – no va a bastar con el temor a perder el puesto de trabajo para moverles a contribuir… -) Nótese que este tipo de comunicación que antes, quizá, tal vez tenían sólo con amigos y familiares cercanos (que venían a ser “privilegiados” por su relación con estas “gargantas profundas”), ahora pueden tenerlas con TODOS los clientes (y proveedores, socios….)

Puede que las compañías deban ponerse de acuerdo con sus empleados para que cada cual pueda participar de acuerdo con (a) sus propias capacidades [a unos se les darán unos medios mejor que otros] y habilidades de comunicación (b) la adecuación del medio para el trabajo [para algunas cosas serán más adecuados los blogs, para otros Twitter o Facebook] (c) las prioridades de comunicación y servicio.

– Esto hace que la formación, la adquisición de habilidades de comunicación en este nuevo entorno no sea cosa sólo del CEO (con su blog, su Twitter y lo que se quiera), de PR, de marketing… Ahora todo el mundo, empezando por las organizaciones de soporte, el área de IT, etc. VA A TENER  QUE ESTAR.

Realmente, dentro de una compañía hay muchos papeles diferentes, y no es razonable pensar que un CM pueda hablar igual de inversiones, de estrategia de producto, de posibles problemas con tal  o cual producto…: hay que poder hablar de todo lo que afecta a la compañía, no sólo de lo que marketing o RRPP corporativas quieran hablar.

– Hablamos de la necesidad de ir adquiriendo una nueva etiqueta: durante miles de años el ser humano ha adaptado sus normas de cortesía, su presencia ante los demás al entorno inmediato, cercano. Inicialmente, oral, y luego extrapolado a la comunicación escrita personal (correspondencia), y posteriormente, masiva (pero unidireccional y desde pocos medios).

Ahora, nuestro “entorno cercano” es virtualmente todo el mundo. Y no sólo eso: lo que decimos queda registrado, lo que tiene una importancia fundamental. Todo esto nos está llevando a ir descubriendo poco a poco unos nuevos modales, que debemos observar.

– El hecho de que en plataformas diferentes los usos consagrados sean tan diferentes (pensemos, p. ej., en el caso de Twitter, donde se ha creado espontáneamente toda una etiqueta, un estilo de comunicación muy específico) va a llevar a la necesidad de adaptar los contenidos para cada una de ellas: en tono, frecuencia, densidad… Seguramente no todo el mundo podrá hacer de todo.

– Esto va a hacer la estrategia de comunicación mucho más compleja.

– Igualmente se complica la tarea de hacer seguimiento de medios. El “clipping” de prensa va a ser otra cosa: no basta con vigilar a un puñado (todo lo amplio que se quiera, pero limitado) de medios, sino que hay cientos de millones de personas que pueden hablar potencialmente de ti…

– Un enfoque científico y bien estructurado, como el que indica R. Miranda, puede ser clave, y representar un estadio de madurez que las compañías han de alcanzar cuanto antes. Las agencias especializadas pueden ayudar de múltiples maneras: conocen los puntos calientes, las herramientas adecuadas, las etiquetas de cada medio, qué se puede medir…

– En lo que se refiere a la monitorización hay, al menos, dos dimensiones:

(1) Conocer todos los medios sociales donde puede estar la “masa” (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), que puede ser donde más pueden aportar los especialistas actuales en medios sociales e internet

(2) Conocer dónde están los “caladeros” de opinión especializada, sectorial, con un peso más importante para los especialistas, analistas de tu mercado o industria (más cualitativo, pero igualmente importante: aquí es donde los especialistas de cada sector se moverán mejor, ya que puede tratarse de foros o páginas de nicho que no se posicionen muy bien en buscadores, o que ni siquiera sean indexados – acceso restringido, p. ej. -)

– La estrategia, en su conjunto, debe ser también más consciente, más estructurada (si no lo es más es porque aún estamos aprendiendo). Hay que marcar objetivos y priorizar, saber qué vamos a medir y por qué (hay que saber qué significan las métricas), elegir los mix de medios sociales adecuados para cada cosa, definir el contenido y todo de la comunicación, a quién nos dirigimos y para qué…

Is it just me, or is this really poor sales?? A telecom service (?) example.

I have to ask, because I cannot believe what I am experiencing already weeks & weeks on end. Maybe I am missing something?

Of course this is a personal example, but I doubt it is exceptional (by the way, I learnt through some friends about another – far more strikingly surprising – example of continued poor customer care, but I need to get some of the facts straight before commenting). It looks like some companies forgot about the basics of traditional (‘1.0’) communication even before moving to 2.0 communications… Quite intriguing.

NB: Here I will just comment from the point of view of a customer (though, of course, many of the questions pointed out will be influenced by my professional experience).

The thing is simple: every week (or every other week, at the most) a contact center agent calls home on behalf of a well-known telecom service provider (let’s call them ДЖ.) in order to sell something and/or ask to shift service (i. e., to them). This could not be worse for ДЖ. if a competitor was calling pretending to be them in order to undermine their credibility: although we have repeatedly asked them NOT to call us again, they continue to do it all the time, over and over again.

OFF-TOPIC

By the way, these are some impressions I have developed over many years of interaction with CC representatives of telecom companies. You may not be surprised:

1) The CC Reps (all of them, shift-in, shift-out) do not really care a sh…

2) Neither cares whoever is operating the ‘service’ (ehem!)

3) There is no chance that any of them really understands the issues at hand. I cannot recall a single occasion when I could discuss anything really important for the service with a CC person (only with the engineers on the third level of support or beyond – by the way, there are some really smart folks down there).

4) The company is not, and will not be, taking any steps to fix that. It is probably debatable whether this is because of the pressure to reduce costs (that would not allow them to dedicate knowledgeable folks to service residential customers) or lack of a better approach to service that would allow telecom companies to leverage their scarce and valuable engineers or experts.

5) The company for which the service is operated does not have a clue of what the heck they are doing at the CC!

(I am more than interested & willing to admit all counterexamples here).

My guess is that they do know all this is happening, and this speaks volumes about the real importance attached to customer care by the companies when compared to ‘the real stuff’: of course it is far more important to keep costs low by using unqualified, high-attrition, non value-adding personnel than really having a meaningful interaction with the prospect or customer. Now, the same companies are more than willing to pay pretty decent salaries to community managers, apparently not realizing that the corporate image needs to be consistent across all channels in order to be credible.

But this is not the subject now – again, a digression! (But you are nevertheless welcome to comment, of course!)

I came up with a few thoughts & questions on this particular case:

  • First, it is really a shame that service providers do NOT analyze and get actionable feedback from conversations with customers. So, you are told by the IVR machine that conversations may be recorded, say, ‘to ensure the quality of service’ or something to that effect, but the reality seems to suggest that this is probably more a way to intimidate the CC Reps (so they avoid all malpractices and violations of professional codes) and/or a legal caveat, and that nothing ever gets really done.
  • Are companies dropping attention on traditional (‘1.0’) communications and focusing only on their Facebook pages, forums, Twitter accounts, blogs…? If 1.0 communication is not relevant anymore, what about dropping it altogether? That would (a) Save money (b) Eliminate inconsistencies (c) Increase chances of engaging frustrated prospects
  • Of course (well, should it necessarily be so? Refer to the off-topic above, and the note below), the CC Rep has no option but to stick to the script (*) (s)he is given, but there are some questions:
  1. Does nobody ever review the results of the calls? Certainly there is a track saying that my number has been contacted (literally) dozens of times, you have the data on the agent, dates & times, duration… Why pester, for God’s sake? If they still want to keep trying, should not they test at least a different approach? What about segmenting targets based on attempts made, as well? Is anybody tracking the costs per customer incurred? [1]
  2. Has the outsourcer of the CC service figured out a way to cheat the telecom company while theoretically sticking to the terms of the contract and SLA? [2]
  3. Are there some perverse, ill-crafted incentives in the compensation scheme and/or SLA? [3]
  4. Are they missing the tools to analyze automatically the recorded calls and figure out key words indicating deep dissatisfaction?? (a bit difficult to believe, but… )
  5. Do companies believe that if you are not a customer yet – then your dissatisfaction does not count? (How do they then think you are ever going to become one, for God’s sake?!). The customer status comes and goes, mind you!
  6. Maybe companies need an independent, real-time tool analyzing customer sentiment while on the phone – also based on voice pitch & intonation. It seems that technology has some challenges – see it here, for instance… I think you can at least DETECT issues, count events – and then go do some sampling and investigation. Do companies NOT realize that you can definitely burn a prospect in a matter of SECONDS??
  7. If companies believe that channels are isolated (whih I doubt), they are deeply wrong. Your communication has to be coherent; the guy in charge of customer satisfaction needs to be closely attuned to corporate communication (and the other way round). Otherwise, for instance, real CC experiences of customers will leak and do leak) into the web, Facebook pages, forums, etc. People, by the way, increasingly tend to spend way more time there than on the phone with companies (or, well, with anybody). A company has to have a (ONE) personality… not many (this is weird, isn’t it?).

Certainly, customer contact center technologies, management & operations are a fairly mature industry, and so is business intelligence. As companies, we have now all kinds of possibilities at our disposal (including virtually unlimited disk space and brute force processing capabilities [4]) and yet, as customers, we are anything but impressed by the results. What is happening here?

Some ideas for later consideration:

0.- All information collected by all company-managed channels (web pages, company forums, chat, call center) has to be used and exploited. Currently there is no technical restriction forcing us to choose or sample. Not at certain levels, at least. Not at the CC level, for sure. Do I own and manage all information, or is the outsourcer ‘preprocessing’ it without my full understanding of the procedures?

1.- As a company, I would need to have some tool conducting a preliminary, basic analysis of ALL contacts with customers (and, maybe, independently of the outsourcer), filtering & classifying them based on potential insight. I may have to record all conversations and create transcripts for them, and then use text-processing capabilities (these I can already use in email, chat, web pages, etc.)

2.- Then, I need to have some customer care experts look (at least) into the most meaningful, information-rich ones. I have to make sure that all insight gained is acted on. I need to have metrics on that, consolidated data, the possibility of auditing EVERY SINGLE contact and tracking actions on them.

3.- Maybe our algorithms are working poorly, are not dependable. Should we conduct some audits of data and analyses by human experts in order to check if we reach similar conclusions?

4.- Some specific, targeted actions on concrete individuals may take as a long way towards improving customer satisfaction, not only on the specific customer, but also with other prospects: a real example is far more effective than all quality certificates, public commitments to quality, etc. Maybe we have to pick up a number of customers of different profiles, in different places, and make sure that we fix ALL their outstanding issues with us. There are some potential benefits:

  • We may gain a lot of insight into both client needs and wishes and our internal operations and their shortcomings (especially where different areas would need to figure out new ways to cooperate)
  • We may generate some good reactions in the social media
  • We may come up with a better understanding of the cost of doing business, improvements in the way we conduct relationships, ideas for automating actions known to work, etc.
  • We may realize that we are missing information and that we need to put in place additional measures to capture it.
  • We may also encounter some hard nuts to crack. Maybe there are a number of things where we cannot fix the problem. This may end up being a communication/education issue (or opportunity). BUT IF YOU KNOW, YOU ALREADY MADE PROGRESS.

5.- Customer satisfaction is neither a vertical or horizontal process, but maybe something to be seen as a mesh. Any area of the company may be involved in creating or destroying customer satisfaction. If a new platform deployment for voice over IP or rich multimedia delivery is creating issues, or making customer migration tricky, customer care needs to know. What is more, the customer satisfaction responsible needs to be aware IN ADVANCE of potential risks. Are the organizations processes taking care of that? Probably, not well enough – this is an interfacing issue, after all.

Similarly, if there are issues with charges, discounts, packages, offerings… not being properly applied, if collections is having issues, if we are applying changes of any kind (albeit for regulatory reasons – not my fault!), we have to know… Of course this may mean that the organization requires some changes, in order to have properly allocated accountability, create incentives for cooperation, make sure that the necessary information is timely shared, etc.

6.- What is preventing the organization from making sure that ALL people contacting a customer and/or dealing with his issues share the information and simply behave in a way as if it were JUST ONE person doing the work over shifts & relays? (I do not think it is me: it seems to happen to everybody, regardless of market & operator). Is it somehow related to responsibility allocation and traceability of actions in the contact center?

7.- Social media (and any other media not under the control of the organization) is another huge area of concern. There are all reasons why service companies should devote at least as much attention to them as the best in class worldwide (e. g., this list – but there may be others). Starbucks, Real Madrid, Zappos, Coca-Cola, Gatorade and others provide beautiful insights [5]. Also Movistar is starting to do some good things in terms of customer care in social media. Tools such as Swotti can help us a lot (with, of course, continuing work in preparing the categories, identifying key words… and lots of tracking) in figuring out what does our reputation look like out there…

In summary, we need to put a deliberate, conscious effort in place to KNOW what is being said, what issues are there, what measures we should adopt… and then, of course, take them and track results in a systematic way.

By the way, if our communication is better and customers perceive that we care, no matter if the service is equally bad from a technical point of view (network coverage, QoS – call drops, network congestion, etc.), they will be happier (this is perfectly and soundly human, mind you).

7.- By the way, we need to leverage experiences of our colleagues in other markets. Have others come across similar issues and solved them? What measures have they put in place, and how did they work out?

8.- Definitely, the client organization needs to know what is going in the CC. One of the issues with outsourced services (especially if they seem to be running well) is that, in the long run, it is difficult for the client organization not to ‘relax’ and, as a result, take distance from operations (the result is that you do not understand them as deeply as you used to). How to deal with that is an interesting issue (initially, concerns used to revolve around the possibility that the outsourcer should hid information from the client or not facilitate service transitions).

9.- I believe that all the tools are there. I suspect that service providers are well aware of what is going on. I think there are conscious decisions behind what we experience… but it is not politically correct to explain it :(.

NOTES:

(*) Scripts in call centers direct the activity of agents in order to ensure that they do what they are suppoosed to do, ask the right questions depending on the situation, etc. Of course, the lower the qualification, skills and business acumen of agent, the more important they become. But, mind you, Zappos does not use them!

[1] Well, maybe the company is really clever and has some insight into customer behavior according to which, in a high percentage of cases, people treated that way do not really care, and such a practice does not negatively impact their chances of becoming a customer. Although I personally have difficulties understanding this, hey, there might be some deeply scientific, in-depth analyses justifying such practice: a case where the point of view of a particular customer may have to be obviated.

In any case: let us imagine that the service contract is based on some sort of flat rate. Even in that case the calls made to a specific prospect imply a cost that should be allocated to (the effort made targeting) him: this goes to your SAC. And performance (e. g., number of prospects converted) also reflects that number. So, hey, maybe the prospect base is already squeezed, and the service does not really make sense…

[2] Imagine that the compensation is (at least, partially) based on number of calls made. Making many unproductive calls may be attractive for the operator of the CC (little time spent on the phone = more calls), unless the client company has a decent method for analyzing data and making sure that targets make sense.

[3] This is, by the way, one of my favorite topics: the real core on running organizations, if you think carefully about it. Creating a suitable incentive is not just a really difficult thing to do properly: it is, above all, an extremely tricky thing to monitor, analyze, measure and reformulate. It is, in very many cases, counterproductive – but we know that they are the key for human performance, so we keep trying. Maybe an idea to launch a series of entries based on practical cases – more fun and useful than any theory!

[4] Here ‘brute force’ simple means automated processing, without human supervision or interpretation of results. I do believe that, no matter how many semantic analyses your AI engine conducts, you better have some smart humans sampling conversations and digging into them (if only to improve the engine’s set of rules)

[5] True, some of them are love marks, so, of course, the relationship with their customers is not comparable, and delivering a pure service is a different thing. Still, there are many practices that are applicable.

Emprender en España: el interesante y curioso ejemplo de Silvia Calles

Creativa, autónoma y emprendedora de una pieza:  he aquí un caso del que se pueden sacar muchas cosas sin que, hasta donde entiendo, ni se necesiten sofisticadas tecnologías ni capital riesgo… ni escala mundial. Comentaré aquí unas cuantas impresiones y reflexiones sobre la presentación de esta “ilustradora sobre ropa”.

Sorprendentemente (esto es, para mí), fue en una sesión [1] organizada por ESIC y la revista Capital bajo el lema “Emprender creando y crear emprendiendo” (el pasado 21 de marzo; es de esperar que en unos días los alumni de ESIC pueden acceder a la sesión completa en Eriete), celebrada en el campus de Pozuelo de Alarcón, donde nos explicó su caso. Confieso que no pensaba que un negocio como el de Silvia cayese bajo el radar de estas organizaciones, y me alegro de estar equivocado.

Hay que decir que la conferencia estaba plenamente engranada en el número en curso de Capital, dedicado íntegramente al emprendimiento, sobre el que quieren trasmitir ciertas ideas clave… y creo que el caso de Silvia está muy bien traído. P. ej.:

  • Se trata de una necesidad perentoria para España (probablemente vamos a los 6M de parados en 2012). Para otros modelos de emprendimiento puede ser más lento arrancar (imaginemos si para España queremos adoptar medidas que nos acerquen al modelo israelí que comenté hace poco).
  • La clave está en la escuela, en la formación desde pequeños, en la imagen que se forma del emprendedor, del trabajador que crea su puesto de trabajo (este asunto salió repetidamente la entrada citada arriba). Esperemos que estas iniciativas para educar en el espíritu emprendedor se generalicen.
  • ¿Por qué en otros países sí y en España no? (para algunos modelos… De nuevo, ver la entrada citada arriba)
  • Criterio propio: “Te dirán que estás loco, pero tú, sigue”
  • El riesgo y su aceptación

Espero que se verá claramente cómo este ejemplo pude ser una referencia muy útil y darles ideas a una gran cantidad de personas en España, que trabajan solas, quieren ganarse la vida con lo que les gusta, pero necesitan llegar a su público y organizarse el tiempo (entre otras cosas, para compatibilizar la producción con la venta: mientras vendes no produces, y viceversa).

Perfil en dos palabras:

Silvia Calles es ilustradora y diseñadora, está en el mundo de la moda y se comunica con dibujos (hay mucha información proporcionada por ella misma en su bitácora y se le puede seguir en Twitter como @silvicalles, aunque es relativamente nueva, así como en Facebook.

Visión

“Idea más pasión (más formación) = trabajo”. Ella ha hecho de su pasión su trabajo. Se ha dicho muchas veces, pero no está de más repetirlo: fundir pasión, formación y trabajo es importante porque

  1. Sabrás mucho de ello, porque te interesa y le dedicarás mucho tiempo – tu vida. En su caso, quería dibujar, y su idea fue usar las colecciones de ropa como lienzos (que, además, serán “publicidad exterior”)
  2. Disfrutarás de él, porque es lo que más te gusta hacer. Serás feliz.
  3. Tener que dedicarles muchas horas, cuando suceda (que siempre termina ocurriendo) deja de ser un problema. Tu trabajo es también tu hobby.
  4. Comunicarás y venderás con mucha mayor convicción… y credibilidad. No te costará hablar de lo que te gusta y no tendrás miedo a mostrar lo que haces.
  5. De forma “natural” la experiencia te permite evitar meteduras de pata, y te ahorra trabajo. Ella, p. ej., tenía la experiencia de operar un negocio propio desde los 18 años (entonces, un bar).
  6. … (el lector con una vocación clara encontrará otras con que continuar su lista)

Dónde está

Desde hace dos años es copropietaria, con dos amigas/socias de la tienda La Antigua . Esto tiene sentido en varios aspectos:

  1. Las tres buscaban un espacio en que mostrar y vender sus producciones: importante en productos físicos, en que la textura, el brillo, el vuelo, etc. no siempre se aprecian bien en el mundo visual, y también para poder encontrarse con los clientes cara a cara.
  2. Abren 11h al día, seis días a la semana. Siendo tres, cada una sólo dedica dos días a atender la tienda (1/3 de su tiempo), a las tareas menos glamurosas, a la caja, etc., y ello les deja mucho tiempo para dibujar, buscar materiales y otras tareas de vlor añadido, a la vez que ofrecen un horario muy amplio a sus clientes.
  3. Reparto de los costes asociados al local y aprovechamiento máximo (costes marginales cero)

Por otra parte, esto tiene también sus inconvenientes, y necesitas vigilar otros aspectos. P. ej.:

  1. Con 1/3 de tienda para cada una, el espacio físico no es suficiente. Además, este mundo tiene “cuatro meses horribles de ventas, entre rebajas y temporada baja”.
  2. Es fundamental que tengas una gran relación y afinidad con quienes compartes el espacio (y que el 66% del tiempo son tus vendedoras)

Desde el punto de vista de modelo de negocio

Hay muchas ideas aprovechables por creativos y artesanos, desde luego:

  1. Ella trabaja esencialmente sola, lo que le da un control total sobre todo el proceso. Tiene el problema de la falta de escalabilidad, pero, como señalaba S. Blank en post al que me referí anteriormente, es un modelo de emprendimiento perfectamente viable y que tiene sentido: se corresponde con sus objetivos vitales. Lo importante de la estrategia no es que replique otra que funcione, sino que sea coherente.
  2. Fundamento: Trasladar dibujos a la tela, hacer colecciones cortas, y piezas especiales.
  3. Venta directa, sin intermediarios, control de todo el proceso, y ajustar los precios al máximo (el escandallo del producto les sale más lógico y le permite ofrecer un precio asequible). Ella lo hace todo y recurre a sus amigos y fans para que le hagan fotos, sirvan de modelos, etc. La socialidad te da gratis muchas cosas, si tienes una comunidad sana y activa.
  4. Para mitigar el problema de la falta de espacio físico, las limitaciones de tráfico por la tienda y la imposibilidad de hacer publicidad de masas, explota medios y canales virtualmente gratuitos, como Skype, Facebook y Twitter. Igualmente, lleva ella misma su propia marca.
  5. Calidad: asegurarla absorbe la mayor parte del coste. Tener la publicidad y comunicación virtualmente a coste cero permite ofrecerla a un coste razonable.
  6. Fidelización: esto lo trabaja muchísimo, de forma directa, personal y muy individualizada. Tiene una comunidad realmente muy afín, de gente que realmente conoce y la conocen.
  7. Venta caliente, con conversión muy alta.
  8. Transparencia: si tiene a una clienta en Skype y entra alguien en la tienda (que hay que atender, ya que se ha molestado en acudir… y además, te debes también a tus socias, como es lógico), vuelve el PC para que lo vean.
  9. Aprovechar fuentes de información útil y gratuita: explotar organismos oficiales, y preguntar a todo el mundo.

Algunos ejemplos:

  1. Ella tiene sesiones de Skype los martes: ve quién se ha apuntado, y empieza la venta. Se conecta cada 20 minutos. Lo usa también para organizar citas cuando la prenda, por lo que sea, no da bien en foto o vídeo.
  2. Cada día se hace una foto nueva con el último vestido que ha hecho, y ahí empieza la venta real. Hoy en día hace hasta un 40% de ventas a través de Facebook (página enlazada arriba).
  3. Ella misma se prueba las piezas para que las vea la otra persona (Skype o en la tienda). Si se piensa en términos de conversión, realmente es brutal: ¡hasta ahora, toda visita se salda con una venta!
  4. Reserva huecos (que comunica – se puede ver en FB -) para encontrarse personalmente con sus clientas
  5. Se comunica mucho directamente con sus clientas más fieles (las que tienen “de todo”) en un grupo de Whatsapp: les pregunta, consensúa con ellas decisiones. Se trata de gente que conoce su proceso creativo, y que participa en él. Obviamente, esto ayuda a que vendas todo – menos restos que vender a pérdida.
  6. Explotar publicidad tradicional, con soportes resistentes, visibles y duraderos(yo lo valoro así, al menos): compró una máquina de chapas y vende 400 chapas al mes (apenas gana 10 c. con cada una), que casi obliga a comprar. Un par de reflexiones:
    1. Es una pequeña inversión en publicidad y comunicación
    2. Puede casi “obligar” a comprarlas, por la especial relación que tiene con sus clientas
    3. Se prestan a ser objetos coleccionables
    4. Interesante el “chip”: aunque sea poco lo que ganes, que todo genere algún beneficio. Evita “subvenciones cruzadas” entre tus actividades (en algún momento escribiré un mini-post sobre esto)

Retos actuales: de momento, le va bien, y está cómoda, pero…

  1.  Ella necesita siempre creatividad, ideas. Así, ha lanzado una campaña en Twitter (#dibujatupalabra), con 5000 tarjetones para repartir por bares, que se ha hecho ella misma para dibujar.
  2. El blog le resulta un tanto estático, y se le queda un poco frío, amén de llevarle mucho trabajo. Está pensando que no le funciona mucho (pero quizá debería ver cuánto ayuda a que se le encuentre).
  3. Aún no tiene página web. Problema: no puede producir tanto contenido.

Claves (por ella misma):

  • No tener miedo a mostrar el trabajo
  • Preguntar todas las dudas. “Hay organismos oficiales para eso” Ella le pregunta a todo el mundo, y responde a todo el mundo. Es muy abierta, pide y recibe, y le funciona muy bien. NB: en productos tan diferenciados, esto es posible incluso entre gente que haga cosas similares, porque los clientes no suelen verlo como competencia directa – te gusta o te va un estilo u otro, pero las buenas prácticas que adopten otros colegas NO te van a quitar clientes… siempre que tengas una imagen personal, propia.
  • Explotar los soportes de difusión gratuitos. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, blogs…
  • Explotar posibilidades (oficinas/despachos desde 50€/mes, ayudas para el autoempleo, etc.)
  • Es bueno compartir experiencias y aficiones, sugerir libros, discos… Es una forma de filtrar. Hace que tus clientes te conozcan. Ella debe de estar haciendo esto bien, porque su base de clientes es muy fiel y genera mucho negocio.
  • Conseguir tiempo libre. Es sano encontrar espacio para uno mismo. La creatividad se resiente mucho si echa demasiadas horas seguidas.
  • Conocimiento de los materiales, control sobre ellos: en su caso, todas las telas son locales, nacionales. Sabe para qué le pueden valer los soportes. Apuesta por una marca sostenible y que pueda controlar cada día.
  • Medios sociales, comunidad: apoyarse en familia, amigos, fans – sin intermediarios -.
  • “Lo peor que te puede pasar es que eches muchas horas, pero, si te gusta…”

NOTAS:

[1]   Se trataron otras dos cuestiones de gran importancia, que quizá comente en entradas posteriores – ¡según el tiempo disponible, y asuntos que me llamen la atención, claro!: la de los socios para emprender un negocio, y reflexiones sobre el mundo del emprendimiento (desde el punto de vista del que es emprendedor y, además, está en el mundo de la formación sobre esta cuestión). Desgraciadamente, no pude quedarme a la segunda parte.

Thinking about the human user? A brief reflection on search engines, SEO and page content.

Recently, a couple of news made me think a bit (again) on our behavior (as users) when surfing the internet and, specifically, when searching for news, products – whatever.

First, the news came that Google is decided to penalize sites over-optimized for the Google crawler.

Then, a tweet from @jnovick draw my attention to a brief article about the “10 words you should never use in LinkedIn”.

Both things raise an interesting question: to what extent the ‘commercial’ or business use of language modifies our utilization of it in our daily life, and what we should do about it (if there is something we have to do, or can do)?

Google search engine started to be successful because it retrieved the results that human users would have liked to have. I. e., we humans had the impression that Google did search like we would have ourselves… had we the time to do it. The powerful algorithm compared advantageously with the approach used by directories which relied on humans surfing the web, analyzing the different pages and rating content. Brute force computing seemed to be superior to thoughtful human assessment of contents (you may think that Google took up too quickly for human-maintained directories to keep up with it… and with the growth rate of content creation in the web: had it appeared some years later, maybe directories would have grown up and indexed successfully most of the web).

But, as Google became the preferred search engine and we users became unable to search for stuff differently, web designers started to figure out how to entice the SE into ranking their pages higher (I guess part was discovery and part was about following Google’s own recommendations). The endless war between SEO specialists and Google started, and Google dance became a popular entertainment for web masters and content creators.

So, because users got to pages mostly via Google, and not via directories, portals or simply their own, personal, manual search, it became just logical for designers that the first and foremost user, the key one to “satisfy” was the Google algorithm: humans were not as important, because they would simply follow Google (this is a pretty simplified view, but you know what I mean). And this is where we are now. For instance, we build links because Google ranks them high, right? (Of course it very much depends on the quality: there is crap and there is Wikipedia, Google itself, official sites, etc. You can check many specialized sites on the subject, like this one). Not because they make really sense from the human user’s point of view. After all, you may very well be interested in a given piece of content even if no site at all has a link to it. Are we all supposed to ‘work’ the same way?

Then, of course, there are many (mostly SE-invisible pages) with great content that (this is typical for scientific and academic research: I do not have the proofs, but can help suspecting that this is related with the subjects not having an obvious chrematistic meaning), as a user, you would love to be able to find quickly and, guess what, search engines simply ignore them (if you suspect that almost every single piece of good content is in the internet, I tend to agree with you… but finding them is a different thing).

Another side-effect is that pages appear in the first positions (which essentially means that they are visible) if they are heavily commercial (or, well, Wikipedia). Google own sites (such as Google Scholar) may make it to the top as well, of course, but it would be excessive to call that non-commercial.

Some reflections:

  • To what extent will Google strive to reproduce human behavior? Will it care, or will it be satisfied with monopolizing the SE market?
  • By the way, does ever Google think about the possibility that different people search differently? I suspect, the answer is ‘no way’: no long tail here! You will just have the options that Google offers you to the left of your screen (well, or the right, if you use Arab, for instance) – that’s your long tail here!
  • Will it be tempted (again) to be the one who decides what is human and what is not? I would say so: the algorithm will not be shared and you will have to live with the results it gives you.
  • Are changes in the way we search for stuff limiting Google’s ability to improve its understanding of (genuinely) human behavior – because we decide to let the SE do all the work? The thing is: when you stop researching according to your own ways and simply rely on the tool, you are not revealing how your brain works – in fact, it has ceased to work creatively, and just adapted to the SE operation.
  • Alternative competitive algorithms may be very important for Google itself to improve. I suspect that if Bing has a meaningful organic (i. e., not sponsored) success, there would be valuable feedback for Google.
  • What would it take for users to revert to more intelligent/human approaches to searching? Or is this a definite change in human nature, like standing on our two feet?
  • To what extent are social networks a substitute for users a bit fed up with SE results? E. g.: either we trust our own capacities to find the right stuff, or we resort to our contacts, instead of simply relying on search engines.
  • Will we ever again be able to consider Google a neutral SE? I suspect, ‘no way’, because (a) this is essentially big business (b) price bid will never go away [and maybe (b) is just a result of (a)] and (c) This kind of things.

Regarding the article on Linkedin’s report about the most over-used buzzwords (NB: the report is about USA; there may be some variations by country, but chances are that there will be many similarities), I wonder to what extent this is different from old word wearing-out (ever heard of comparing teeth with pearls, or lips with ruby?).

Here you are, for your convenience, the 10 expressions: Creative, Organizational, Effective, Extensive Experience, Track Record, Motivated, Innovative, Problem Solving, Communication Skills and Dynamic. Which specific phrases or expressions make it to the top ten is irrelevant, by the way.

Well, what’s the message? I do not have any conclusions for you, but have myself a number of questions:

  • Is it not legitimate to be creative, innovative, or cost-conscious, or whatever? What if this is what I am? Is there anything wrong with using in my profile the natural words to say so? What would else humans expect me to say in a conversation!?
  • Should I just look for synonyms as word get worn out? (Good idea: then I would have to change my profile more often and this would improve my results!)
  • Hey, in that case, is it not unfair that other, competing profiles are displayed because they use the most popular terms instead of the ‘original’ or ‘creative’ ones I came up with as a replacement, in order for the HR guy to like my profile more?
  • Will my profile look better in the eyes of the HR person… who may never find me if I use alternative, unusual wording for, say, “track record”?
  • By the way, LinkedIn does provide information about the “performance” of keywords (e. g., your skills), and suggests that I benefit of it by using ‘more successful’ options. Does it mean that I should use them for the SE to find me… but, hey, maybe not, because humans reviewing it after finding me may not like it (as the article mentioned indicates)?
  • Are you going to (have me) create a front-page profile for the SE (not visible for HR folks), and a second page linked to it so that humans like it, or come up with an similar invention? Should we rely on some future robot, capable of analyzing if all the wording in the profile bears a genuine relationship with the keywords used?

Maybe it is just me… I would love to have your views on this. After all, this blog does not intend to teach anybody anything – it is more about jotting down personal reflections and (ideally) having others opinions & views to enrich mine.

IT governance and/vs. Innovation – A digression

Governance vs. creativity… Doesn’t it sound a bit like the eternal fight between good and evil?

I suspect that this entry will simply be an introduction – but God knows! This field is extremely vast; I will simply jot down here some unorganized notes, hoping that I will be able to work on the different items separately.

This post was triggered by a discussion I just recently came across (started in a LinkedIn group), about this very old question, albeit somewhat updated & refurbished for the sake of times & subject. Shortly put, it reads: “Does IT governance stifle innovation?”

I have to acknowledge that, initially, my reaction (somewhat driven by the course of the debate at that moment, I guess) was probably a bit too straightforward, along the lines “That’s a pure matter of balancing competing needs and the problem is restricted to the right way to do it – mixing in it the right factors, to maximize value”; “Respect and follow the process till you have a new one – there are mechanisms to propose, assess, approve and carry out changes: use them!”…

I realized that most contributors had in mind the opposition (often ‘contradiction’, in terms of TRIZ) between control and innovation, i. e., between the need to ensure predictable results and the drive to improve things, between the drive to avoid the repetition of past mistakes and the push to explore new possibilities, etc.

Then I gave it a second thought, and found that the question had probably more potential to trigger reflection than I had initially considered. As I see it now (and ‘now’ means ‘as I write this’), there are several more questions in the mix, and I do not think that there is such a thing like a ‘right answer’. We could link this, for instance, with a number of considerations, e. g.:

  • The ‘not always fully synergistic’ needs of organization and individuals working in them
  • The effects of external regulations on the ability of an organization to improve itself, to boost performance, and do things creatively
  • The impact of external ‘authoritative opinions’ (e. g., external industry analysts & experts, media and others) on the organization’s ability to decide. You can include here the ‘frozen’ or ‘consensus’ opinion represented by de facto standards and IT management frameworks such as ITIL, COBIT, CMMx, TickIT, ISO27001 and many others)
  • Is the environment, the ‘ambience’ more important to drive innovation, or is it the corporate processes, the tools, the resources (people, money, time)…?
  • There is innovation at all levels, from creating new businesses to deploying tools and changing internal procedures. You could have actions and effects at all management levels.
  • Measurable improvements and intangible improvements, It is probable that the biggest boosts come from not easily quantified/quantifiable proposals (there you need vision).
  • The potential value of driving entrepreneurship and stewardship among employees WITHIN the organization (and the difficulties of doing it)

In this post I will concentrate on what seemed to be the focus of the debate I mentioned above, namely, the specific point of IT daily operations (maybe there will be other entries on the other aspects… and maybe not!), and how the drive to enforce controls and follow the change control processes may interact with the push (and the need) to change things, improve applications & processes, adopt new tools, empower the users, etc.

Before proceeding to the point, however, let me make a short digression (I tend to digress quite a bit, in case you still did not notice it) on the issue of regulations.

Note that, although there are very many definitions of IT governance (here you have the one from ITGI), the more or less explicit consensus is that its aim is to make sure that there is the right accountability for decision-making around the ‘right use of IT’ in the best interest of all stakeholders. Well, this is a certainly potential catch-all term, isn’t it? Investors, business users, government agencies, employees, clients, customers… and the overall society at large are all potentially considered as such, which opens a very vast field for ‘interests that should be protected’ (read: an excuse to introduce regulation which, in turn, ends up requiring even more governance rules) [1].

Fortunately, in practice the focus is on ensuring that IT supports the efforts of the corporation to observe all regulations that affect it. Depending on the industry (and the moment), legislation affecting shareholder rights, environmental regulation, personal data protection, price-fixing, etc. may be more or less central.

IT governance, as commonly understood nowadays, can be considered a derivative, extension or implication of corporate governance: shortly put, when you consider the obligations implied by corporate governance (e. g., Basel II, Sarbanes-Oxley), you realize that they have to cascade down through the information systems and the people who run them – simply because current business operations cannot be understood without them. Therefore, the key forces compelling us to act and do it one way or the other are:

  • Public regulations of all kinds regarding industry, customer rights, environment protection, personal data protection…
  • The stockholders (owners) themselves

Corporate governance and, as a result of it, IT governance, can include also items not (yet) regulated, but that respond to trends in public opinion. Quite often, not heeding what the public says can be very harmful, especially for big corporations and governmental bodies (e. g., everything related to child labor: if you are a multinational manufacturing company with factories overseas, you better make sure that no kids work there – even if you outsourced the actual fabrication). If you think this raises a question as to what is real leadership, and what simply holding an executive position, I’m with you there.

It may be worth discussing to what extent government bodies should regulate operations of private companies, how to assess (from a technical point of view) such regulations and related stuff, but I will not discuss it here (not this time, at least). Besides, this is an almost endless discussion – do not rule out, however, that some comments be made at some time. For the moment, you can refer to any of a myriad of specialized think-tanks, such as @CatoInstitute, @Heritage, @FP_Magazine, @amprog, @thefabians, @BrookingsFP, etc.

Finally, I do believe that, from the purely internal point of view of the companies affected, there is an upside to regulation: it does certainly force you to exert your imagination, and many areas in the organization will be challenged to reinvent themselves, tweak their processes, exploit or create new technologies, diversify… in order to overcome the impact of regulation (all regulations are per se detrimental to the performance of organizations: companies simply keep evolving and finding ways to mitigate the effect of them [2])

It is probably worth thinking a bit about the question of: “Can my organization generate some value from IT governance derived duties, and not simply comply”? For the moment, however, I will not touch this here.

End of (explicit) digression!

On the other hand, leaving aside IT governance, as depicted above, we have IT management frameworks, as described in various models (such as the ones mentioned above). These focus on risk management, predictability of costs and schedule, quality assurance, etc. In general, it is more about the ‘technical stuff’, the day-to-day work of your data center folks, project managers, developers, testers, configuration management teams, database administrators, etc. All of these, along with systems users, are expected [3] to respect a good number of well-defined processes such as (as per ITIL nomenclature) event management, incident & problem management, request fulfillment, etc., and adhere to good (often referred as ‘best’) practices.

Now, in the normal course of things your people will have many suggestions for improvements, and good ideas in order to improve how things are done – and, for the most part, they will be measurable [4]: they could reduce time to market, cut down errors and time waste, improve customer service, etc.

They are important for them for several reasons (in no particular order, mind you!):

  1. Simple wish to do things better
  2. Self-interest: I want to avoid rework, repetitive, boring tasks, unexpected calls at night, etc.
  3. Wish to create something new, and see the effects of it
  4. Recognition (and visibility)
  5. Once you ‘see the future’ that could come with an improvement, it is simply impossible to ignore it
  6. Drive to have fun at work

For most people it is easy to sympathize with this inner drive for improving things.

Now, which difficulties do we typically encounter to foster this kind of internal, self-ignited innovation? I see several ‘sources of frustration’ in employees proposing improvements in operations where they are somehow involved:

  1. The administrative, bureaucratic procedures to record, prioritize and approve the proposals
  2. The ‘high mortality’ of initiatives. In short, ‘nothing gets ever done, so why care?’
  3. The lack of feedback and explanations for NOT implementing (even something backed by a favorable cost/benefit analysis)
  4. The lack of recognition for coming up with good initiatives

On the other hand, if you are responsible for ensuring that operations run smoothly, you could understandably come up with a number of remarks:

  1. ‘One should not fix something that works’ (“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’)
  2. Proposals have to be validated, right? Many do not have a clear, well-articulated benefit attached to them, others are costly to implement, or depend from several, difficult to coordinate areas
  3. “We do not have the resources to implement this” (one alternative reading is: ‘we have our hands full with ordinary work – and so should you!’) [5]
  4. “We cannot devote so much time to analyze proposals of changes” (NB: this tends to create an initial filter based on: ‘who is proposing this?’ Gaining credibility carries you a long way here; see point (7) below)
  5. ‘Improving the way we do our work is part of your job’ (though it is now widely accepted that incentives are needed even for doing correctly your daily work. Incentives at large are a huge theme.)

This simply reflects the fact that there has always been, and will always be, some sort of opposition between two competing needs: control and innovation.

Control, in itself, tends to rely on predefined processes & operations and well-known responsibilities, in order to guarantee an expected result and prevent unexpected (because undesired) things from happening. Its ‘responsibility’ is to ensure that the organization does not break something that is working. You could metaphorically say that the reason why control opposes to innovation is the same reason why you are discouraged to drive creatively when commuting between office and home.

… And the experience tells you that you are  usually in some sort of balance: if you enforce controls, procedures, approval mechanisms, etc. in an overly strict way, chances are that your ability to innovate and contribute to create value for your business from your IT function will be, say, ‘limited’  (and the other way round you just dive into chaos).

So, this is a typical scenario you may have in mind when talking about the subject I picked on the forum:

Your people, the ones who have the technical knowledge, and the hands-on experience with your detailed procedures, who are familiar with their hiccups, who constantly talk with users, etc., will be ‘discouraged in advance‘ to come up with any ideas.

That is quite logical: if you require tons of documentation, going through numerous approvals and quality controls that demand (what the individual considers to be) an unreasonable effort (i. e., the ‘personal cost – benefit analysis’ does not bode well), then they will simply skip it.

Another digression, for those loving to have an upside and a downside:

The good thing: you can be sure that, should any initiative go through that filter, then you can be pretty confident that either the idea is so important as to be worth the effort OR you have in your organization some folks who are, definitively hard to discourage. Both are good news, aren’t they?

The bad thing: your folks will get frustrated, will eventually lose any inspiration and drive to do new things, will get bored, will not like their work, will lose enthusiasm and productivity or quit (“whichever is worse”, you better think), will be blamed for not creating value… That sounds a bit like a real ‘con’, doesn’t it?

EOD

Here are some considerations/recommendations (they are based on personal experience and have always helped me a lot, but you know best what works for you):

(1)   Try to have in place a formal process to gather, document, get feedback and manage the workflow associated with the initiatives… but only if you do believe in it and are committed to run it seriously. Otherwise, do not bother: you will just generate frustration and lose credibility (NOW: if you think that you do need to do it but do not yet feel like you must do it, then try to have someone convince you by showing his results).

(2)   Report on and communicate successes, metrics (number of proposals received, implemented, discarded – by reason -, etc.), feedback received, etc. This is important (a) In order to show that this is real (b) To motivate your folks (c) To create a push to improve

(3)   Recognize contributions. You may not have money to give away, but you can surely send emails, post on the intranet or your group pages, comment in your group meetings, etc. Be specific, articulate the value, explain the challenges. Use it in your appraisal mechanisms.

(4)   Try to put aside time (or may I better say allocate?) of your folks to work on improvement initiatives, even if it is not as much as you would like, and enforce that work is done and results are delivered. This will help you in a couple of ways:

  1. If you have specific objectives, deadlines, deliverables… you are way more likely to get results
  2. People (quite naturally) tend to attach credibility to tasks with a budget  attached to them
  3. You eliminate excuses for not contributing

(5)   Include discussions in your regular group meetings, allocate time and do not skip them. Only in the same conditions as in point (1).

(6)   Know your processes and analyze how they (seem to) interfere with innovation. Do all see how a specific control requirement adds value? What if it were removed?… Force people to be specific when describing how it is stifled by processes. There may be things to improve, but there may also be good reasons for having them: you may also drive good value from people understanding WHY things are done this way… and get ideas as to when they should be changed. I once worked at a client that kept for years a guy dedicated to processing a special tax… years after it had been eliminated. Also, they will see that there is also value in OLD THINGS (why else keep we doing them, man?)

(7)   Build up credibility for delivering your ‘normal work’: this will gain you room to undertake improvement initiatives. If you and your team are well-known for reliability, chances are that your bosses will not spend unnecessary time looking into how you do things. But if you and your team fail, then their eyes will be on you and, “how dare you waste time in ‘other things’?”

(8)   Have your people discuss regularly with fellow employees (e. g., business users of the systems and applications they support) as to what improvements they would like to have, what kinds of issues they see in their daily work. Ask them from time to time (what do they say? Who said that? When did he say it? What do you think we could do about that?) in order to track how they are doing in that respect. This will (a) give you relevant ideas and (b) help you gain support.

(9)   In prioritizing work and qualifying initiatives you may well encounter that there are way more of them that you can undertake. And there is an obvious question: ‘if every one of them has a good return, why we do not them do all?’ Maybe it is a good opportunity to also attach value and put an ROI label on things YOU ALREADY do. Note that normal operations are often undervalued: be sure that if you do NOT drop something that you already do, it is because of its cost/benefit (including mandatory stuff, of course).

(10)  Reserve for yourself the attribution to approve initiatives, even without an obvious CBA attached to them – you are the leader, after all, and many good ideas are not so straightforward, but do NOT reject proposals unless with a clear decision path for doing it. That would sound pretty much as laziness or arbitrariness (whichever looks worse).

As a final reminder, three things need to happen in any context where communication plays a role, regardless of the mechanisms, channels and people involved.

(1)   ‘Doing the thing’: if you do not actually, tangibly foster innovation, then do not bother to pretend you do (just because that’s what someone expects you to do)

(2)   Showing that you do it, and care: if something remains hidden from people, it is exactly the same as if it did not exist

(3)   Make sure your people see and realize. Very often people will not pay attention to internal bulletins, blog posts, etc. You may have to explain what has been done, the results obtained, how the improvements were received in actual meetings or conferences. People need to feel that this has something to do with them

Overall, I am convinced that management frameworks are not, per se, an obstacle to creativity, but you need to take BOTH control and innovation seriously, use common sense, and always have in mind what is the maximum value you can get from your people’s brains – which is usually a lot.

NOTES:

[1]   Of course, one initial problem is that there are very many potential implementations of such generic definitions, and in practice, and real life observance, can be interpreted in widely different ways. For the moment I will leave these considerations out of the discussion.

[2] Curiously, when legislation intends to favor companies – e. g., granting them some privileges – the long-term effect is negative, due to the accommodation that comes with lighter circumstances

[3] This assumes a minimum level of maturity (such as CMMI Level 2)

[4] Of course many proposals may just be the result of people wishing to try new stuff, deploy and practice with new tools, etc. You will probably have to refer to point (10) at the end of the article for these cases. However, in the IT domain is normally not so difficult to figure out metrics and ways to measure them.

[5] This is probably related (at least, partially) with the fact that the organization sees some things as necessary that for the individual employee may look like discretionary, and the other way round. This point is probable worth commenting separately.