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June 17, 2011
By Mamush Heayie

The challenge of “Embracing New Technologies” is not about “knowing what to do”, but about understanding the “management implications” around the process. Mr. Josh Bernoff , Senior Vice President, Idea Development, Forrester, shared with the Asigra (http://www.asigra.com) Partners his views on what it means to empower employees and the customer for business outcomes during day 2 of the fourth Annual Asigra Partner Summit held on 8th of June 2011.

During his presentation, Bernoff suggested embracing new technology to encourage interaction between marketing roles for more effective management of the marketing process. Bernoff cited several examples of how technology is used innovatively to empower employees and customers, stating that it is important to understand how “IT organizations” can change the “role of IT” for expanded application to business challenges.

Employee empowerment can be an effective marketing tool. Bernoff narrated an experience of frustration resulting from inadequate customer service with his bank and contrasted it with the satisfaction he derived from the excellent service he obtained by intervention of an empowered employee. In the first instance, he pointed out that with the power of social media, poor customer service can be deadly business mistake. In the latter instance, while looking for a product at an electronics store, the customer service rep was able to point Bernoff in the right direction and even provided him with telephone numbers to confirm the availability of the electronic item he wanted. This resulted in additional sales worth $1100 for the electronics retailer as Bernoff, ended up purchasing other electronic items that would be required by his family.

Calling users of technology resources “Heroes,” as in the case of the electronics store employee, he says the term is commonly used to describe the employee who is able to come up with solutions; employees who can overcome hurdles and innovate; people who can think of new ways of interacting with customers, who are the new influencers in the era of social networking. This is important now that customers have the ability to influence others and “what they say” about the companies they do business with makes a difference. So, both “heroes” and “influencers” must be supported, empowered and made to work for the product.

In this context, Bernoff compares the results of two surveys that were conducted to ascertain how social media and the Internet are being used. It was found that the number of people who create content on social media have gone from 18% to 23% over the past several years. The number of people who were merely reacting in forums had gone up from 25% to 31%; and these 31% are now classified as “conversationalists because of their level of engagement and influence”.

The organization of social networks has gone up from 48% to 59% and inactive users has gone down from 44% to 19%. Among the persons who buy information technology products and services, the change is significant, though there are more active users among them. Bernoff, therefore, argued that “[IT buyers] are well connected and [service/product vendors] have to connect with them in these environments”.

One needs to recognize the force of social media networks and their impact on business. Illustrating this point with an example, he recalled to-mind the video “United Breaks Guitar”, which had ten million views and did damage to the United Airlines brand. The video was posted on youtube by a United Airlines passenger whose guitar was broken by baggage handlers. It was subsequently a feature story on CNN.

To solve this public relations challenge and why potential heroes are sometimes ineffective in organizations, Bernoff was of the view that organizations often stifle creativity and employee-driven initiatives. Sometimes, heroes are not productive because they are made responsible for everything that goes wrong. This is especially true with IT groups, where IT departments within organizations are known as “the department of NO”. They restrict initiative for fear of compromising security. To enable IT and encourage initiatives, three things must come together. The Hero must be given freedom to innovate; the management must be supportive of the hero; and provide the technology resources and understand the risks.

Concluding the session, Bernoff pointed out that the number of heroes in technology products and services is the largest, which is good news for the industry. Moving forward, it is important to build a “collaborative system” to virally spawn heroes in multitude. This is something any technology vendor or service provider can embrace to empower their business.

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