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February 08, 2013

Who Owns Social Media and Who Owns the Customer Experience?

What a difference a week makes! Last week I was in Miami at our annual ITEXPO (News - Alert) Event where it was 80 degrees on most days, and today all of us in the Northeast are living Blizzard Nemo in real time. Let’s just say at the moment Miami would be preferable. This is one of those cases where not only do I wish you were there for the event, but I wish we were there having a nice beverage while as Jimmy Buffett (whose concert I saw over the weekend) says in his famous hit song, “Margaritaville,” we could be “Nibblin' on sponge cake, watchin' the sun bake, all of those tourists covered with oil…”

There was so much to digest at ITEXPO that it is hard to know where to begin, so this will be the first in a likely series of commentaries on the state of the industry, the market and customers, now and going forward. I had the privilege of not just meeting with industry leaders, and moderating panels but got to sit through a series of really interesting discussions on a variety of subjects. The one that seems appropriate today was a question asked during a panel on the customer experience, industry analyst Blair Pleasant (News - Alert) of CommFusion was asked a simple question: “Who owns social media inside the enterprise?”

Blair responded “marketing.” The audience and panel agreed. That led to a follow-up: “Who should?” That produced a long pause. Finally, a voice who shall remain nameless volunteered and answer, “IT.” The panel and audience shook their head in agreement but that led to a spirited discussion as to the difference between “should” (because of competency and the need to cut across siloed information using such tools as federation and unified communications and of course “big data”) and “will.” The consensus seemed to be that “will” was aspirational.

Therein lies an underlying message of ITEXPO. As I wrote when there, the Battle for the Cloud Panel caused a stir. However, it was not the expected one given the heavy weights on that panel. The intensity of discussion was not about competition between vendors but about the future of IT. In fact, as you can see below, I have embedded the session in this piece because it needs to be seen and heard.

ITExpo Panel Session: Battle for the Cloud

That discussion about the future of IT goes right back to the problem with marketing owning social media. Yes, marketing needs to have a big voice in how social media is used in an enterprise, but not necessarily the only one or even the dominant one. We all get the fact that listening to social is the way to protect the brand in an instantaneous world, and that it is a way to “engage” customers. However, customer engagement must be looked at holistically. That means the contact center executives, because the contact center really is the front door of your supply chain, sales, HR, etc., all are stakeholders in the process of improving operations to improve the customer experience that will drive results.

Social is just a channel, and an increasingly necessary one. That means from an operational perspective it needs to be owned and operated by IT. However, reality in most enterprises today—despite the growing number of newly minted Customer Experience Managers (CEMs), the fastest growing C-level title in the world that is comprised of people who seem to have a mandate, lots of responsibilities but not enough power or accountability—is the changing corporate culture is as hard if not harder than introducing new technology.

There was a lot of talk at ITEXPO about two big trends. The first was the explosion of “shadow IT” where lines of business look to companies like Amazon Web Services (News - Alert) so they can have apps that solve immediate problems rather than wait for months or years for IT to give them a fix. In short, despite the imperative for everyone to play well together in the sandbox and collaborate, particularly based on the availability of tools like UC, the inclination is to “shoot, ready, aim” and talk about it later if ever. Internal trust is broken and that needs to be fixed.

The second was that BYOD and security issues, even distrust of the cloud, are causing IT Hell/chaos. In many ways the effects on the enterprise of not resolving the future of IT, and this means everyone sitting around the table and coming up not just with a strategy but an accountability framework, is imperative. “Aspirational” is not an alternative in a world that is changing so quickly.

At the end of the day, the C-levels have it right in making the customer experience at top priority. However, since social media is going to be a critical part of that, who owns social and who not just owns the customer experience but is empowered to break some glass to improve it are open questions. Different models of behavior are going to emerge to address this problem in short order, and trusted vendors are going to have an important consultative role. I can’t wait until ITEXPO Las Vegas at the end of August, because this one issue is moving and morphing fast.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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