Recently I was listening to Margaret Heffernan deliver a powerful TED talk about the value of social capital. As I reflected on her talk, I realized that social capital is the fuel of true customer experience marketing.
Patrick Lencioni says healthy organizations have a competitive advantage over their not so healthy competitors. By healthy he means there is minimal politics, alignment on values, and people are happy and enjoy coming to work.
Heffernan and Lencioni are saying, in slightly different ways, that healthy organizations provide cultures with values that build social capital by nurturing trust, transparency and, most importantly, have healthy conflict.
Heffernan talks about an experiment with chickens that attempted to improve performance by selecting and organizing peak performers, putting together a team of “superstars”. However, it had the opposite effect. Interestingly, the top performers succeeded by physically eliminating their peers. We have seen similar results on professional and Olympic sports teams. Certainly not the elimination of fellow team members, just the failure of the group to function as a team.
Liz Wiseman describes two types of individuals in her book, Multipliers. She says there are multipliers and diminishes. Every organization and every group has some combination of both. While most of us will confess we can be both, what Liz is talking about is our brand or reputation. Do we make those around us better or are we more like the super chickens, pecking away at the competition?
So what does this have to do with the customer experience?
The lack of employee engagement isn’t a secret. Numerous reputable organizations have results that show the number of people who are engaged and happy at work is about one third or less depending on the study. What’s disturbing is the percentage of workers who are actively disengaged meaning they are not just unhappy, they are doing their best to disrupt and diminish.
Case studies based on research have demonstrated the connection between happy employees and the financial performance of an organization.
Happy customers are most likely to be loyal customers. In most cases loyal customers stay longer, buy or use more of a product or service, and usually aren’t afraid to tell others about their experience.
How do we build and nurture social capital?
Building social capital requires a fundamental shift in mindset. It’s a recognition that helping is often a better form of selling. It’s realizing that providing a healthy environment that encourages and facilitates helping is attractive.
Often the corporate culture is structured to nourish internal competition, superstars are typically promoted and rewarded for behaviors their peers may find objectionable. Those who have the answers and the willingness to openly express them tend to get promoted.
It is time to rethink how we evaluate performance. It’s not just what we achieve, but how we achieve it. Internal competition and functional silos typically contribute to a widening gap between the experience consumers are expecting and the one they are receiving. Find ways to engage your employees, here are five ways.
How can social capital contribute to a better customer experience?
Most of us don’t instinctively ask for help; we’ve learned that information is power and asking for help is often perceived as a sign of weakness. Increasingly the challenges are becoming more complex. Customers are expecting organizations to respond quickly and with one voice.
Solving the challenges in this new landscape will require everyone’s voice. Organizations will have to be aligned across functions and channels in order to consistently deliver a differentiating experience. Connected consumers have platforms that allow them to instantly communicate their positive and negative experiences. Here are a few more thoughts from my friend and fellow contributor Craig Jamieson.
Brands that recognize the power of social capital are well on their way to helping employees who are motivated and encouraged to help each other and of course customers.
We seldom begin with fundamental shifts, so practically speaking how does one get started?
Social capital is built on a foundation of trust. Transparency is a key ingredient in building trust. Open communication tends to starve the grapevine the way that lack of oxygen quenches a fire. Large organizations like Google are known for frequent communication updates.
Give employees an opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions. Social capital is built on bisynchronous communication. Whether you are the leader of a small team or a senior executive, don’t wait for a mandate to put this into practice within your current purview.
Model the behavior you want. Are you openly asking for help? Make the practice of asking for help an expected behavior. Reward it. Recognize it. Encourage it. Where appropriate, highlight examples so others will see the benefit.
In order to build social capital, we need to know our colleagues and customers. Find ways to know and care about your peers. Knowing more about others can help remove some of the friction that is born out of our differences.
Encourage candid conversations. Real innovation and collaboration requires candid conversations. This is not a natural behavior, so provide some tools and training when possible. This is probably one of the biggest challenges because it can be awkward and uncomfortable.
Launch the social capital journey
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is social capital. It’s a journey that requires constant oversight and maintenance. Don’t be discouraged if your initial efforts are met with resistance.
Consistently invite and encourage participation by everyone. Draw out those who are more introverted. Routinely take the pulse of those around you. Ask open ended questions like:
- What do you think about this?
- What’s a better way of doing this?
- Can you help me?
- What are we missing?
Here are a few other questions you can ask.
Celebrate and feature small successes. Recognize the multipliers and don’t be afraid to recognize potential. Reward movement toward the ultimate goal.
What else can you think of?