Social media has already changed the way we interact in our personal lives, and it is now beginning to transform the way that many businesses connect both with their customers and with their staff. By using enterprise social networks, organisations are able to be far more responsive to their customers as well as enhance the quality of service they provide.
In our report entitled ‘Putting social media to work’, we looked at how the use of enterprise social networks has changed the working practices of a number of retail and service sector organisations. While our survey research found that many organisations are relatively advanced and effective when using social media externally, in particular in liaising with their customers, it’s clear that they could be making better use of the tools internally for sharing knowledge and ideas.
By encouraging their employees to use social media to communicate with one another, we found that organisations can benefit in a number of different ways. Social media platforms not only help a company improve its responsiveness to its customers, but can also vastly improve its operational agility.
Fielding customer queries
Retailer Marks & Spencer, for instance, uses an enterprise social network called Yammer to flag up issues arising in the course of its day-to-day operations. In one case, a customer wanted to exchange some slippers that had been a Christmas present to her son, as she had mistakenly been sold a pair which had one slipper in a size 11, and the other in a size 6. The store had no more pairs in the correct size, so posted the issue on Yammer, and within 36 hours a pair of slippers had been found and were on their way to the customer. People were saved having to phone around different stores trying to find the slippers and no one was looking unnecessarily, as staff across the business could see instantly when they had been found.
This is just a small example of the speed at which threads can develop on the online forum, and of how enterprise social networks can lead to the swift resolution of customer queries.
Communicating in real-time
One of the great benefits of social media is that it moves beyond two-way communications, allowing people to converse with colleagues at the same time as feeding messages ‘up’ the management chain. As a multidirectional forum, it supports innovation. Not only are organisations are able to draw on the knowledge and insight of their workforce in an instant, but interactions between colleagues can help shape and refine ideas.
Train operating company Southeastern, for example, is using enterprise social network WorkMate to support day-to-day operations. One of the original reasons the company chose to adopt the platform was to share real time service updates throughout the organisation, to keep pace with passengers who were sharing information about delays and rail network problems on Twitter. However, by creating a platform for employees to communicate with colleagues across the whole of Southeastern, WorkMate has helped the company to fix faults on trains, reduce delays, and even communicate internally to quickly locate lost property.
By contributing to an understanding of what’s happening in an organisation now, as opposed to analysing the failings and pressure points of the previous month, the beauty of enterprise social networks is that they can help to resolve operational issues quickly and with little resource. Andy Bindon, HR director for Southeastern, notes that: “If you put a message on [an enterprise social network], it probably won’t be very long before you get a response to that message or someone adding a comment.” It is largely this collaborative aspect that makes enterprise social networks effective as platforms for real time service improvement, and ensures that operational problems are resolved swiftly and easily.
Supporting the business
While the benefits of implementing an enterprise social network are clear, to be truly effective organisations must ensure that the platform supports their primary business function. On top of being a tool that is easy to use, and something that employees may like to see more of in their work, companies should not lose sight of the crucial question: how can it practically support the work that we’re doing?
For many organisations large and small their success depends on the quality of customer service they provide – just one bad experience could be enough to make a customer walk away, never to return. As enterprise social networks become increasingly popular, it will be interesting to see whether they help companies step up their game and enhance the customer experience for the good of their business.
Jonny Gifford is a research advisor at the CIPD and author of ‘Putting social media to work’. To find out more about the benefits of enterprise social networks visit:http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/research/social-media-work-lessons-employers.aspx