A social intranet is a nice "thing". It's modern, and even searching is enjoyable. This is where you can find all the information you need. Some employees quickly see how a social intranet can help them collaborate with distant colleagues. Suddenly, an in-person meeting, with its related travel costs, is not necessary for each decision. It is good enough when several people - independent of location and time zone - add their ideas to one page of the intranet, collaboratively expand upon them, and make their decisions there.
To cut a long story short: A social intranet can greatly contribute to being better, more efficient and more effective - but a crucial question which, unfortunately, is not very often answered, is: Why should we all work better, more efficiently and more effectively? What is the reasoning behind this? Or what should be the reason?
Why do companies exist at all?
One answer to this question could be:
The purpose of a company is to develop products and services in order to sell them profitably to customers.
I do not want to get into a discussion about concepts such as profit growth, commerce, or "bad" capital, as this would certainly go beyond the scope of this post, but I would like to briefly point out that companies, through their profits, are also able to do 'good' things.
Back to the existence of companies: the sale of goods (products/services) to customers. What exactly are customers? Is this a species that sometimes appears as statistics in many company divisions, reporting that the averaged XYZ quality rose in the last quarter from 11.7 percent to 12.3 percent?
Or is the customer the person who, from customer perspective, is ...
- ... trying to figure out the exact differences between your newly launched ABC product's Silver version and Gold version?
- ... surprised when they visit one of your stores and finds that the seller has not yet heard about this product ABC, but they can recommend the product XYZ without restriction, since they use it themselves?
- ... endlessly waiting in button-controlled telephone queues to ask a question after buying this product?
- ... left hanging after a complaint with just a comment-free refund in their customer account?
As we get lost in our daily work, unfortunately the focus is almost exclusively on internal processes, structures and procedures. From the customer's point of view, it is often incomprehensible why a particular process does not run smoothly. The customer can not know that a problem is caused by a not yet completely error-free interface between two departments. Right! But they do not need to know! The only thing that the customer is interested in, is that their problem is fully resolved by your company quickly, and that they can rely on you in the event of an emergency.
Should they lose this sense of trust in your company's relationship with them, it is for them easy to ...
- ... write bad reviews about your product and company in the social web.
- ... refuse to consider purchasing the next model from your company.
- ... cancel an existing contractual relationship with your company.
Figure 1 illustrates the highly simplified customer lifecycle from product development, marketing and sales, to the first purchase by a customer and how they develop into a regular or long-term customer. Even if what the customer experiences here is very simple, many different departments are involved. And at each interface between departments, a change in "responsibility" can hold up this customer lifecycle.
Unfortunately, very few companies realize that the real purpose of their work is to conquer the hearts of the customers, to make them into regular customers! That is where the money is earned.
But what does the customer "out there" have to do with our social intranet within the company? Simple question, simple answer: Everything! The customer is the basis of every action - or rather, it should be!
A social intranet as a general purpose tool?
A social intranet is a very good tool to:
- improve collaboration between different departments.
- deconstruct communication-restricting hierarchies and silos.
- publish and keep company knowledge in a central, available location.
However, to encourage the willing use of it requires the iron will of every employee (from the mailroom to the CEO, from the reception to the employee representatives). This also includes migrating towards openness and transparency, and away from a highly structured hierarchy (and it's not enough to accept these things, they must be actively promoted).
Your company's iron will can be incredibly motivating when you keep in mind that improvements to internal communication and collaboration can prevent hiccups in the customer lifecycle. Keep in mind that every internal communication stumble can be the final trigger which makes a customer switch to your competitors.
This post is a translation of Dr. Oliver Ratjczak's original German post: Gute Kommunikation und Zusammenarbeit verfolgen klare Ziele.