Web 2.0 one-liner

Tim O’Reilly has a timely post rebuking attempts to define Web 3.0 – Today’s Web 3.0 Nonsense Blog Storm. As he points out, most such attempts tend to describe incremental changes to the technologies that have come to represent Web 2.0 as opposed to a major disruptive shift that will define the next generation of Internet maturity.

But best of all, his post includes a one-liner that perfectly describes the potential value and purpose of Web 2.0:

“It’s all about building applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them”

Whilst the reference is to companies building Web 2.0 applications (and why the backend – the data center – is what really matters), this definition could (and should) be equally applied to businesses looking to adopt Web 2.0 apps like wikis, blogs and social networks, particularly any solution involving the word ‘knowledge’ or ‘collaboration’. Many customers I talk to want the Wikipedia/MySpace/Facebook effect, but they are reluctant to open such tools to the entire organisation. Instead, the preference is to stay within a manageable comfort zone of ‘a few editors and everyone else is read only’. But that approach prevents those network effects from taking hold – it cripples the solution and limits the benefits to be gained from deploying such technologies. If you don’t want people to participate, stick with traditional web content management solutions… costly to maintain with content that is often out of date (or non-existent)

Technorati tags: Web 2.0; Enterprise 2.0

Blogging tips for business

I always try to add commentary to links here rather than simply link to what others are writing about, but there’s not much I can add to the following. Euan Semple highlighted a great post written by Matt Moore – how to do corporate blogging. The closing comment is included here but go read the full list:

Blogging allows you to:

  • Talk to customers and partners at all levels
  • Scan the environment for change
  • Identify potential thought leaders

All for very little cost

Good advice.

Found via Euan Semple’s The Obvious blog – Corporate Blogging 101

Beware the script

If there is one clue that business should take from blogosphere, it is that you need to change the way you connect with your customers if you want to sell them something…

Last Friday, I received a phone call from a BT sales person. I currently pay BT for 3 services: telephone line, ISP provider and dial-up Internet connection. The BT man kindly reminded me that I was a valued customer (I wonder how many unvalued customers they call?) and told me he wanted to help reduce my telephone bill. So far, so scripted. On to the killer question. “How are you finding your Internet service?” He asked. “Well, since you ask…” I replied, “bloody awful, I’ve been meaning to call BT to switch from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go ‘cos it’s a waste of money .” Hmmm, that wasn’t quite the response his script required to lead on to the next question.

Now I wasn’t expecting a sales guy to solve my Internet connection problems. But if he wanted to sell me something, he could have at least recommended that I call the support number, or even offered to get a support person to call me (that would have won some loyalty points). But nooooo, that’s not why he’s calling – he’s got a script and he’s going to stick to it…

“When do you make most of your phone calls at home?” (If you checked my account, you’d know the answer… ) “Daytime.” (Not entirely true.) “Ah, well, did you know that for the incredibly small amount of £24.99 per month you could have super fast broadband access to the Internet including free telephone calls during the day. What do you think about that?” (sigh, if he had bothered to ask instead of tell, he’d discover that I know all about BT’s broadband talk offer.) “Lovely. Send me an email with the details and I’ll think about it.”

What do I really think? That BT just spammed me – a mass-produced scripted sales call designed for ‘the customer’ and outsourced to a sales agency to save costs. What I’m thinking is they couldn’t be bothered to find out what I really need and sell me something I want. What I’m thinking is, if they don’t want to listen and help solve an issue with their service, why would I buy anything else from them?…

Did BT man ever send me that email with details of the offer? Did he hecks.

What did this whole experience remind me of? The Push model of doing business – treat your customers as an entity – the ‘customer’ – uninformed and waiting to be sold something. But in this emerging Pull era, customers often know more about the products than the people paid to sell them.

When off-shoring became fashionable, business jumped at the chance to lower the operating costs of running a call centre without first questioning the effect it may have on customer service. Given it costs a lot more to win a new customer than it does to retain an existing one, creating a system that frustrates your existing customers and reduces the quality of service is perhaps not the wisest strategy. Lower operating costs are of little use if the cost of sales has to rise to compensate for the customers you lose.

The same is becoming true for selling. It may be cheaper to use untrained contractors, armed with a script and a list of telephone numbers, to mass sell a new service. But lowering the cost of selling is of little use if it annoys your customers so much they cancel what they already pay for and go somewhere else.

How should the call have gone?

  • For starters, don’t tell me I’m a valued customer, find out if you are a valued supplier – thank me for purchasing your services
  • If you are going to ask what I think about your services, be prepared to deal with the response – if I tell you there is a problem, try and fix it before you try and sell me something else
  • Be honest – don’t tell me you want to help reduce my telephone bill when you don’t (switching from Anytime to Pay-as-you-go would reduce my telephone bill, subscribing to broadband would not)
  • Do your homework – BT itemises my telephone bill and would know that I barely make any telephone calls during the day from home so why ask the question?
  • Don’t assume that I haven’t already done my homework – if BT man had asked, he would have found out that I had spent the best part of last month studying BT’s various services and knew all about the broadband talk offer
  • Instead of trying to sell me the product you decide I should be using, match the right products to my needs – if BT man had tried, he would have found out that I use wireless a lot in coffee shops and have been considering buying a BT OpenZone account

If BT had invested in proper sales tactics instead of using canned scripts, they would probably have:

  1. Sold a broadband package in half the time it took to waffle through the script
  2. Also sold a BT OpenZone account

That would have increased revenue on my account by £35 per month. Instead they got less than nothing – I will switch my Internet account to Pay-as-you-go (it should save £10 per month). Prior to the call, I had no intention of buying broadband from anyone else, now I’m not so sure BT are worth the extra cost… Oh, and opinion of BT before the call: 7/10. Opinion after the call: 5/10.

Now that’s a lesson in how not to sell to your existing customers…

Employee participation

A great example to demonstrate the benefits of the firm as a collaborative community. Creating an internal stock market to suggest and invest in ideas to improve the business beyond the imagination of the leadership team

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When will IM come of age?

Instant messaging (IM) has been a popular consumer tool for several years now but has yet to become accepted within the business world. Fear of misuse seems to be a key argument against adoption, with comments such as “people will just waste time chatting” being one of the common excuses. There are two key reasons why I believe organisations simply cannot ignore the potential of IM:

1. The shift towards real-time business

The connected world we now live in is increasing the pace of business, and the successful organisations will be those who are able to react in real-time to changes in their markets. Instant messaging is just that – instant. In a real-time environment, instant communication is a good thing.

2. “Generation Tech

The generation coming through college has grown up with the Internet. They don’t understand the issue us ‘oldies’ have with information overload. They crave information or, rather, they crave instant answers and are used to getting them. Will they want to work for dinosaur relics who make it difficult to get stuff done?

Let’s return to that common excuse, ‘people will just waste time chatting’. Why is this a good reason for not using IM? If people want to gossip, they’ll gossip. Be it on the telephone, by the coffee machine, outside in the smoker’s area… where ever. Risk of people taking too much is a poor reason for not adopting technology. Talking gets business done.

(For an explanation of the following diagrams, please review ‘causal loop diagrams‘. The short version: an arrow is used to denote a relationship between two entities. An ‘S’ means that an increase in one leads to an increase in the other. An ‘O’ means an increase in one leads to a decrease in the other.)

According to Gartner (“The Knowledge Worker Investment Paradox”, July 2002), employees get 50 – 75% of their information directly from other people. So, the easier it is to contact someone, the more likely you are to receive the answer to a question, and answers (should) lead to satisfied customers:

Also according to Gartner, 7 out of 10 phone calls go direct to voicemail. This one isn’t difficult: the more likely you go direct to voice mail, the less likely you are able to contact someone, the less likely you will receive an answer, and customer satisfaction goes down:

The Guardian quantified this issue in an article published April 2005: “Telephone tag costs British companies £20 billion per year.” Surely any system that makes it easier for people to talk to each other will improve productivity? Sooooo, what can be done to reduce the likelihood of being sent direct to voicemail?

By being able to see someone’s presence as online, you have an immediate indication that the person is available to answer a question. Presence information increases the ability to contact someone and reduces the likelihood you will be sent directly to voicemail. The better able you are to contact someone, the more likely you are to get the answer you seek and customer satisfaction goes up.

So what’s the deal with not adopting IM?

There are corporate versions of IM designed for business use. These versions typically support standard protocols (making it easier to integrate with other applications) and include additional features such as encryption and auditing for improved security and compliance requirements. Surely it’s better to give this technology a try than come up with untested excuses for not reducing your telephone tag bill…

Related posts:

Practice versus Process

Ross Mayfield recently wrote a blog entry’ The End of Process’ that created a bit of a stir. (Nicholas Carr posted a lengthy response in ‘Process Matters‘.) Here are a couple of snippets:

If a knowledge worker has the organization’s information in a social context at their finger tips, and the organization is sufficiently connected to tap experts and form groups instantly to resolve exceptions — is there a role for business process as we know it?

UPDATE: Euan Semple nails it: “Process is the sort of word that grown ups in suits use to throw their weight around and to convince others that they know what is going on and that it makes sense.”

For once I disagree with Euan and Ross (and I think they both write good stuff normally). It’s easy to be dismissive of process when you are experienced, but knowledge workers and experts are made not born. There’s a popular saying – first learn all the rules then break them. Process is invaluable when you are inexperienced and learning something new. Once you understand the process, you start to test it, break it, change it, ignore it… that’s when practice and instinct take over.

In my mind, process is something that can be documented, usually as a workflow with well defined boundaries. Follow the process and you will get a predictable output. Practice is about gaining the experience to know when (and when not) to break the rules. It’s not just about managing exceptions, it’s about intuitively knowing that changing or ignoring the process is the right thing to do in a given context. Process is about dealing with information. Practice is about applying knowledge. (See related entry: From data to knowledge and beyond). If the same practice starts to replace the ‘official’ process on a regular basis regardless of context, then it’s time the process was updated – process and practice should be interdependent and regularly reviewed.

If you think process is just something people use to pull rank over others, you need to step out of your comfort zone and remember what it’s like to have absolutely no idea what you are doing. Making the assumption that you can always rely on experts risks not learning for yourself, and one day it might be you that others need to tap into. I’ve used the following quote once already (in Dashboard Dangers) but it is also relevant here. From the book ‘The Elephant and the Flea’ by Charles Handy:

…My first independent command was running Shell’s marketing company in Sarawak. There was no telephone line to the regional head office and my bosses in Singapore. We managed because we had to. And maybe it was better, because there was no real way they could judge me other than by results. Things had to be pretty worrying for anyone to spend two days coming to visit me in what was not the most luxurious of places… If I made a mistake I at least had the chance to correct it before anyone noticed. That might not be possible today without a lot of self-discipline by superiors. Fewer mistakes, maybe, but less learning, less responsibility.

That’s not to say that people don’t sometimes get over zealous in focusing on process (the point I think the article was really trying to make). In Seven Productivity Tips, #6 described automating business practice instead of business process. A documented process is the theory of doing business. Before you automate it, make sure: a) it is actually used (don’t just trust the manual, witness the real ‘as is’ process in action), and b) you understand, and don’t inhibit, the practice that surrounds it when designing the new ‘to be’ automated process.


What does Web 2.0 mean…

Web 2.0 is creating lots of buzz at the moment, both positive and negative, and the inevitable ‘dotcom’ bubble comparisons have begun as the main players go into acquisition mode. I think it is too soon to be defining what is, and what isn’t, Web 2.0. But I do think it’s important to consider what it means and why it matters.  Read More