A Customer-Centric Business Is A Social Business

12/19/2014 08:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Customers have always been the compass of how successful businesses operate; business exists to serve the customer - it always has and it always will. The difference in this digital age, where customers are more mobile, social and data-driven, is that the customer's power and ability to influence has shifted, and the customer's voice has scaled and amplified. Today, putting customers at the center of business, including important decisions across all line of business, is a critical part of business success, specially given the ever growing and highly competitive global landscape.

As Group Vice President for Oracle's cloud social platform, Meg Bear lives and works at the intersection of people, business and technology. Bear is passionate about bringing the customer together with the business mission and making sure that businesses are not just focused on making their operations better, but also on making sure that they're focused on serving their customer better. In her role, Bear manages a group of products that do both external and internal social platforms - everything from social listening, social engagement, social marketing, internal collaboration and all the analytics to help social become part of the business landscape with technology as the backbone.

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Meg Bear (Twitter: @megbear) - GVP Oracle

Thanks to social networks and collaboration software, companies understand more than they ever have before about what their customers care about and have the opportunity to move beyond simply responding to customers on social media to using that information to bring the customer into their business. "Where we see our customers interested and where we see them moving is bringing social throughout the business, throughout the life-cycle, throughout the channel, which allows them to do better things for their business," says Bear.

6 ways to embed social into the fabric of your business:

1. Know where your business lies - Knowing where your business lies is the key to everything, says Bear. After that comes the customer journey mapping to learn what journeys your customers are taking and how that plays out. Bear recommends starting with your classic B school questions: What is your business, who is your competition, who is your customer and how do they want to interact with you? "Once these things are really well understood and agreed upon, you can figure out where digital is in that story and where social is in that story," says Bear.

2. Start with customer centricity -Social, in its basic form, is a path to understanding your customers, communicating with your customers and being in a relationship with your customers that is more meaningful to them. But Bear says that if that's the only thing that you care about, you are missing the opportunity to impact your business. It becomes more strategic if you start with customer centricity - defining who your customer is, what they care about and how they want to interact with you.

Many organizations think of social as a pure marketing play, but social media is not just for marketing departments and IT. While it's important to do social well in marketing and that is in fact where you start, Bear points out that marketing is not the only group that impacts with the customer and gets in touch with the customer. All departments from PR to service to product development need to be in tune with what the customer likes or dislikes if you are going to build them good products.

According to Bear, "Social must become a much more structural and embedded business element, and not something that is just a function of marketing. If you are only doing social in marketing you're missing out on having a relationship with your customer which services them throughout the lifecycle, through to advocacy and onto creating an ongoing lifetime value through that customer relationship."

3. Build internal advocacy upfront - Getting social into the DNA of your company requires change, which can be difficult. Bear's advice is to think smartly about where you start and understand what you are working with and where you want to go. "The point is not to get everyone on social, but to drive business outcomes - something that everyone can get behind, because that is how we all get paid," said Bear.

Speaking broadly, Bear has seen it work well when companies get some initial successes on the board, build some advocacy internally and then grow it out from there. "The key is really defining some good and some smart successes that other groups care about upfront, such that you can build on that momentum," she says. If you begin by helping people understand how they can use social to drive the desired business outcomes, it becomes more about the real business results, and less about trying to sell somebody on a new way of doing business.

4. Tie social to key business metrics - Social, as with any element of digital transformation, works best when you can tie it to the key business metrics that you are already tracking in your business plan. It requires having a very collaborative and strategic business discussion about who you are as a company, how you serve your customer and what you measure to do it. Bear says, "If you can get this really tight it becomes much easier for teams to interact because if your measurement is about customer retention, then you can think about how everything you do manifests itself with customer retention."

Bear believe that organizations must really thinking about your metrics and really thinking about how you help define success across groups is the key to where people are seeing success and where they are seeing tension.

5.Be true to the culture of your organization - To answer the million dollar question of how organizations can become social, Bear says that organizations should first and foremost be true to the culture and identity of their organization when thinking about how transparency and the value of the global voice can be part of what they are. According to Bear, "A lot of times people think they have to share everything, but if it's not their corporate culture than it's not going to work, and people are going to find that off-putting."

Secondarily, Bear advices organizations to think about where within their personal corporate culture collaboration, sharing of information and working together can give them the biggest benefit. Then think about what that means for their business plan, and where that plays in driving business results.
"The benefit for all companies of getting their employees, ecosystems and customers more engaged as part of their business plan is that it gives you a competitive edge that you really don't want to miss out on," said Bear.

6. Watch the data foundation - Systems of engagement and systems of record are critical pieces, but Bear advises organizations to keep an eye on the data foundation layer underneath them. "We are getting insights out of the data about broad themes, but we're also getting insights about individual customers. We are also getting better at knowing how to target so we can get the system to serve customers better and actually build a relationship with them." Bear predicts that it will keep getting stronger as organizations get a better handle on the data.

In closing, Bear notes that they are seeing bright lights and interesting stories in the tools used to act after you gain the insights from social. Bear points to companies like General Motors who are seeing feedback about their cars and giving that feedback immediately to the right people to actually fix them on the line, revealing the possibilities that lie in the data when there is an action plan built into an organization to respond to the things that emerge on social media that are important to address. "We are going to get better at helping every part of the business hear the customer to do their part better," said Bear.

You can watch the full interview with Meg Bear here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM ET as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.