My heart sank as the third letter arrived: i’ve been trying to arrange a routine doctors appointment for three months now, but with no success. When i ring them, i get an answerphone. When they want to communicate with me, they write me a letter. In an envelope. With a stamp. To say the pace of communication is glacial would be generous. At one point, i rooted around on the internet and found a contact email address: i had no response to the email.
In the Social Age, many organisations are being left behind: they are unable to respond to the new realities of communication, finance, globalisation, evolved social habits and free choice. Organisations who used to be able to rely on consumer lethargy are finding that pillar eroding out from beneath them. Organisation who are unable to become agile will be left behind.
In the older, hierarchical and process led world, you could get away with it. Today, communication is democratised, messaging is instant and free, the power has shifted and everyone needs to catch up.
When i bought tickets to see Lady GaGa last week, i went online and did it. When i had a question, i emailed the venue. When a time changed, they emailed me: simple, immediate, effective.
This isn’t an issue of expense or complexity: it’s an issue of mindset. Who is in control, who owns the channels, who dictates the terms of the relationship. I dealt with one organisation recently who insisted i send them a fax. A fax? Who even owns a fax machine anymore? I don’t even have a landline to plug one into. How is that possibly agile?
There’s a tendency of many organisations to assume a position of authority or control, that somehow we should fit our behaviours, needs and expectations around them, whilst it is, in fact, it’s the opposite that’s true.
Look at the ways many organisations deal with taking time off: need to go to the dentist, you have to fill in forms, ask permission, ensure that the project won’t suffer. And yet we all have teeth that sometimes need servicing. Who is indebted to whom?
The social contract between individuals and organisations is evolving, away from one of indentured ownership towards one of balance and fairness: or at least it should be, to recognise the new realities of the Social Age.
Systems and processes need to reflect this new reality, it’s not our behaviours that have to change as consumers and users of the system.
Look at the best examples: Automattic, the company that runs WordPress (that powers this blog) put customer service at the heart of everything they do. Every new starter spends a month on the helpdesk. Their support website is geared up to helping you find the answer in their knowledge base or putting you straight into contact with a support engineer. The contact details aren’t hidden away, they’re front and centre. On the three times i’ve had an issue with the blog, they’ve not only solved the issue in short order, they’ve done it with great communication and an abundance of authenticity that leaves me feeling good. And did i mention that it’s entirely free?
The challenge for organisations is this: you don’t need to have solved all your problems and re-engineered your business to be fit for the Social Age now, but you do at least need to be developing the mindset. If you’re not thinking about change, if you’re still wedded to the fax machine, your shelf life is limited.