17th May 2008

Community Strategy: Are you company-centric or customer-centric?

posted in Uncategorized |

Is your corporate culture really ready to drive success with online communities? 

One pillar of every community strategy I work on (particularly with larger companies) is assessing and driving organizational readiness.  There are a number of components to this (training, staffing, policy, sponsorship, etc…).  One challenge is that many companies (and consultants I expect) treat culture change like a journey.  We can describe what is problematic about the current state and we can describe what the desired state looks like - but when it comes time to drive change it starts to look like internal road shows (speeches), policy adjustments and training.  This isn’t bad, and in most cases it’s needed, but it often lacks the fundamental change in ethos that is big enough, clear enough and actionable enough to really be certain you did something completely different. 

I’m not going to dive into a big discussion (already had a few million times on blogs) about the opportunities and challenges that user intimacy brings through more socially driven design and user communities.  Instead, I want to hit on what I see as a very clear (but addressable thru culture change) disconnect between how companies behave and there ambitions for customer-centricity.  Almost no companies will stand up and deny that they are customer-centric (and they truly believe it!!).  They will list the advisory boards, feedback systems, usability testing, research, customer conferences…all the things they do to listen, listen, listen.  I even believe them (that they believe it)! 

They think they are customer-centric. 

So, let’s take a simple test all you “customer-centric” brands!  Be honest and ask yourself the following question:

“Within our company, what is the #1 thing we celebrate?”

Quick…what’s the answer?

Ship Day!!  Launch!! 

Right!  If you are a big product company and this isn’t the #1 answer - I’d love to know about it and what your answer was!!  If this was your answer, guess what, you are NOT yet firing on all your customer-centric cylinders!  In fact, you are re-enforcing a set of organizational behaviors in direct conflict with achieving success long term - particularly with your community strategy. 

Let’s look at this a second.  First off, this is nothing new and if you said yes, you are hardly alone.  This is what “we taught” ourselves to celebrate for decades.  We finished the task.  Time for a launch party!  We worked hard, we deserve it!  Heck, most of us are task centric individuals, so no wonder we have task centric companies.  But aren’t we rewarding an activity and not a result here?  Particularly when we are trying to build strong word of mouth brands. 

Here’s the problem:

  • What have you really accomplished?  No one is using it yet (beta customers don’t count!!!)
  • You’ve left your customers out of the party (at least in a meaningful way)
  • You just let a huge percentage of your employees “off the hook” on achieving the results.  Heck, now its sales, marketing and supports job to do the rest!
    • Ever heard a product developer say “I’m not a marketer or I’m not in sales” - no wonder we have organizational silos.  Companies with legendary brands “hide these seams” brilliantly. 

Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate all the amazing work that goes into building a product…but tone it down.  Find the real day worthy of celebration.  Decide what that day looks like for your brand, product and or service.  And hint hint…it’s NOT a sales target either!!  I know, I’m taking away all our favorite milestones.  In terms of long term brand value, revenue is a KPI, not a metric!  It’s a great indicator, but can hide problems and is a poor predictor of future performance.  Look for engagement metrics!  Customer to customer conversation.  Brand sentiment.  Net promoter.  You get the idea.  Celebrate when your users are starting to celebrate that they like the product!  And better yet…find those influencers, and party with them.  After all, if you’re now customer centric, don’t you want to pull those key users inside and begin preparing for the next wave of innovation!

That’s all for now…what do you think?  What do you celebrate!  And can’t you make this suggestion extremely actionable!  This would be real change and evidence of culture change … much better than “85% of employees complete the mandatory “customer advocacy” online training module!”


Popularity: 91% [?]

This entry was posted on Saturday, May 17th, 2008 at 1:39 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

There are currently 5 responses to “Community Strategy: Are you company-centric or customer-centric?”

Why not let us know what you think by adding your own comment! Your opinion is as valid as anyone elses, so come on... let us know what you think.

  1. 1 On May 17th, 2008, Jason Rakowski said:

    Good Layout and design. I like your blog. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. .

    Jason Rakowski

  2. 2 On May 17th, 2008, Nathan Oliver said:

    I see what you’re saying, especially in terms of feedback mechanisms and product improvement… And your thinking about customer interaction isn’t limited to the Software industry; My father used to run a Pillsbury Bake-Off, to inspire customers to create wonderful food stuffs with his product, share with the world and celebrate with one another, if you will:


    But the waters seem to get a little murky in terms of developing goals and success measures/metrics for professionals falling in different boxes of the matrix, no? Customer feedback may fall into qualitative where quantitative measures may be more desirable or necessary? Customers may not even know what they’re doing, I think Excel’s a wonderful product and people complain about it all the time, rightfully so in some cases and out of ignorance in others, even though it has to be the best Spreadsheet technology on the market, by far.

    It’s a complicated problem. Capitalism is alive and well in America, we pay people for action and have to both define what that action is and tie that back to compensation. I.e., I think it’s going to be hard at a company the size of Microsoft to tie back a developer’s compensation to the feedback of Jane Doe from _________. Compensation and compensation goals is one of the more complicated endeavours on Earth, the slightest variation can produce wildly varying results.

    I also wonder if the current thinking is partially a matter of human nature, life’s short and if you’ve busted your whatever to develop something your livelihood requires to develop, and you’ve developed it, I’d say yes, celebrate. ‘Cause the next challenge is about 5 minutes away, and that might be the exact interaction you’re talking about, SP1. Why does Microsoft have free sodas on campus? That’s unusual, no? Seems to me that they’re celebrating employees just being there. I think there are a couple of critical issues happening here.

    I must admit, I’m twisted, I’ve been in company centric-type jobs all of my life, when you’re in the Finance function/Mergers and Acquisitions, your customer is the Shareholder and that’s who I’ve always fought for. If I got too high of a satisfaction grade from the person’s company I just bought, I haven’t done my job, that’s not my customer, that’s my business associate.

    Interesting post!

    Nate Oliver
    Microsoft Excel MVP

  3. 3 On May 19th, 2008, kevin beares said:

    I think you bring up some great points Sean. When you hear Steve B say at the MVP Summit, “Vista, a work in progress”, where did he get that opinion from. He certainly would not have said that if he based the success of Vista on the launch date being hit. Clearly, we did not achieve an unwritten objective, win the hearts and minds of our customers. Instead, there is actually a community back lash movement where our community are advocating one of two things; upgrade to XP or go with brand X (Apple, Linux, or something else). http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/15/1944206 and from Dell’s own support forums, http://www.dellcommunity.com/supportforums/board/message?board.id=vista&message.id=50277

    I think Vista is a perfect case study for where hitting an ship date was not the right goal. I think we at Microsoft need to look inside and think of way to capitalize on some other goal(s). Maybe we still can keep our first goal to ship, but the dependent goal(s) is that we get a 4 out of 5 or higher rating from our Community Buzz analysis and/ or we have/give members of our community (Self nominated) sign off on our product.

    These members of our community could be self selected via some random drawing and they are given the authority to sign off on our product. So, if they collectively say no this product is not ready, then we slip and incorporate their suggestions, bugs, etc.. until they feel that the product has met the customer quality bar.

    I would argue that some product teams think that they are doing the above via their beta feedback programs and it is tied to the ship date. The term ZBB comes to mind. ZBB means Zero Bug Bounce. A ZBB milestone is a best practice and used by just about every team at MS. It is a best practice because it works to force teams to get very serious about shipping. A team can declare they have reached ZBB if there are zero active code change bugs older than 24 hours.

    I think that feedback programs (Betas) can have a major flaw. Coming from me, that is scary since I run betas for a lot of Microsoft products. Not to say that I do not think that betas are great way to get community feedback, but they lack something. That je ne sais qua. How can a feedback program translate to seriously, overwhelming, historical community buy in and achieve? Did we build a strong word of mouth brand? I think in most cases, the people who are on your beta, already have bought into your technology and will sing your praises anyway, but I bet you if you pressed them on it, they would say that they have mixed emotions about your release. Becasue of a number of factors that they were exposed to during the beta. One would be the transparency of the decisions we made in order to meet our ship dates. It probably left at least some of them at the altar. I know in the cases of SBS 2008 and Windows Home Server PP1, I think some people are pretty ticked that some features did not make or have been annouced are not making the final cut and we haven’t even shipped yet.

    I have a feeling that if we changed our model to really identify these (seems like) little things that probably we may have a better chance of achieving or exceeding on the goal of building a strong word of mouth brand.

    Just my thoughts.


  4. 4 On June 2nd, 2008, Some Interesting Blogs (And Articles) « Customer Experience Matters said:

    […] Group Therapy: Community Strategy: Are you company-centric or customer-centric? is a post from Sean O’Driscoll at Microsoft that discusses how to examine corporate […]

  5. 5 On June 12th, 2008, aditya said:

    I totally support the fact that customer needs are not the first priority for corporates. But before pointing fingers we need to understand that achieving complete customer satisfaction is rather an impossible task. But yes we can work towards it. I would like to get your views on innovation in our corporate blog (mahindrauniverse.com).

Leave a Reply

rss posts
  • Categories