Pushing social media responsibility down to the lowest possible level

In my role as social media lead at IBM for a competitive team on Oracle, and editor for the SmarterQuestions.org blog, I’ve been thinking about the best place to put the responsibility for social media activity.

And then I read this post from Jon Schlossberg, UX Lead at Bonobos, on Quora.

http://www.quora.com/Why-did-Bonobos-have-such-an-epic-fail-on-Cyber-Monday-2011#ans837881

Bonobos, as the article talks about, had an epic fail on Cyber Monday that took its whole site offline.  This was important to me because I love Bonobos and wear their pants basically all the time.  It was also important to me because I was one of the customers who placed an order, had my credit card charged, but never had anything shipped.  And I had an excellent experience on the phone with a customer service rep who got everything sorted out for me.

One part of the article that rung especially true for me is this:

How have you been coordinating the way you talk to customers? 

The amazing part is that, largely, we haven’t coordinated much. Aside from clearly refocusing the entire company’s efforts on customer service, and creating rotating platoons for phones, emails and credit card cleanup, everyone has operated with autonomy.

Uh… really? Many on social media are calling this a ‘textbook’ way to handle customer service in response to an epic fail. Are you telling me this happened without a painstakingly architected gameplan?

I believe the success in our handling of the situation is due to one reason and one reason only:

We’re very good at hiring.

Smart people tend to make smart decisions. Nice people tend to be nice. So we’ve carefully constructed our company culture to attract and retain smart and nice people.

How can that be?!  No coordination and everything just works??  I just wrote about John Boyd and the OODA loop, and how timing becomes the most important part of winning a battle.  Spending energy on staying coordinated and “in sync” is just wasted time away from the Observe -> Act cycle.

Clearly Jon is simplifying – just being nice and smart is probably not enough to get the job done.  However, he also alludes to culture and leadership being another important component to Bonobos’ social media/customer support success.  When the management level of a company sets clear guidelines about how they expect their employees to treat customers, and then empowers and respects its employees enough to let them go for it without reading from scripts, you can get this type of powerful impact.

I would also frame it as management needs to let go and not try and control everything.  There is simply too much happening, too many unhappy customers and unplaced orders and unforeseen technical problems to have any one person doing everything and checking up on everyone.  This type of environment is similar (I think, having never been in either) to the air-to-air combat from Boyd’s world.  In an environment where there are lots of variables that require rapid and intelligent decision making, coordination and oversight is just going to get in the way.

I think the moral of the story is not only to hire the right people, but to trust them to follow a mission laid out by management.

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