Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Corporate Blogging Series-I : Corporate Blogs can make organisations customer centric.

I start a Corporate blogging series today and this is the first of the posts in the sequence. The series shall aim at sharing small anecdotes and snippets as part of my research in the area. While empirical studies are reserved for being published in different journals, some interesting organisational issues will be brought into focus.

For starters I republish an article published at Customerthink in August 2007 on General Motors and it's corporate blog!!.

Corporate Blogs can make organisations customer centric.

As senior executives from General Motors tried to figure out ways to understand market sentiment, a suggestion from a reader on the GM Fastlane blog caught the eye of executives. It said:

Offer a "green" alternative for every model you market and do it now. Hybrids tend to be expensive and clunky, but the technology is rapidly evolving and GM is behind.

Almost a year later, GM announced the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid car touted, not so much as a mode of transportation, but as part of a solution to the nation's energy crisis.

If you want to make your business customer-centric, you need a good CRM strategy that aims at providing a good platform for both your organization and your customer. This customer-centric modus operandi should pay adequate attention to the customer's process of product adoption. And it should focus on issues ranging from options available to customers and suitable promotional campaigns to showcase your product and managing the buzz about your product to concentrating on what your existing customers have to say.

The idea is to keep your current and prospective customers not only up to date with the developments in your organization but also involved by giving them a platform to share their views. The same platform can again be used to provide clarifications to any information circulating in the environment.

Auto giant GM used its blog to manage and nurture its relationships with customers. The blog, as you probably know, evolved from "weblog," a personal diary posted on a web page. Now it has come to mean opinionated posts, and smart corporations like GM are learning that they can serve as a powerful tool for gauging customer opinion.

As GM vehicles improved and quality and reliability issues were addressed, GM executives understood that the auto maker still was losing market share, as consumers found more value and more of what they wanted in other brands.

A peek
So executives decided to use the blog to gain a peek into what customers thought. They formulated a customer retention strategy involving exploring and evaluating customer expectations and establishing strategies through examining feedback. In a post in February 2006, Bob Lutz, GM's vice chairman, outlined the company's current fixation. with consumer consideration levels. On a post querying the general public on how GM could increase awareness, improve its public image and serve the customers better, Lutz outlined details of how GM's vehicles had won the MotorWeek Driver's Choice Awards, the Intellichoice Best Overall Value Awards and the Autobytel Consumer Choice Award.

He, hence, was using his post not only as a data-gathering mechanism but also as a brand-building opportunity. The post garnered 339 comments, ranging from suggestions on product overhauling to pricing strategies to advertisement campaigns to new marketing strategies and product comparisons with competitors. While some respondents, whose ages ranged from 22 to 55 (based on their profiles and what they shared in their contributions), went on to suggest strategies"such as making entry level cars the best; training dealers to making interiors nicer; and sharpening its focus and its brand recognition"others went far beyond that by suggesting joint ventures with Ford or even hiring Bill Clinton as a spokesman. One suggestion on offering "green" alternatives, however, appears to have struck a chord. Organizational decisions are not taken on basis of singular ideas, but customer opinions always matter"as you could see with the launch of a similar vehicle a year later.

At a Detroit auto show, GM executives unveiled plans to build the Chevy Volt, and the vehicle's touted environmental breakthrough generated buzz"and gave birth to some controversy. The Detroit News' Autos Insider carried a piece that refuted GM's claims and abilities to deliver the promise.

But here, again, the blog served the company's purpose. GM lashed back with a response on the blog from Lutz titled, GM Charging Ahead With Volt. In it, he reiterated GM's commitment to deliver what was promised and tackle any technological obstacles in the way, while also committing to be as transparent as possible in this process. The post attracted 121 comments, with at least 50 percent of the comments applauding GM's endeavors and its commitment to its mission. The naysayers ended up losing a lot of steam!.

A careful look at the collaborative web shows that corporate blogging is fast emerging as a viable option for corporations to evoke value perception in the mind of a customer. Enhancing a company's current data repository tools with a wiki (a web site that allows users to add and change content) or a blogging platform can greatly improve the quality, timeliness and collective power of the data, thereby affecting a customer's perception of value, improving customer satisfaction and retention.

Marketers can use blogs for brand management, to build credibility and to gain customer trust, as well as for relationship management. The GM Fastlane Blog allows the car maker to engage in a focused and contextual interaction with its customers, demonstrating that the company values customers' roles as "initiators," "influencers," "deciders," "buyers" and "users."

In my experience in the field of business development, I recognize that customers want to be listened to. They do not want to be passive receptors of a company's sales pitch.

By implementing a well-thought-out blogging strategy and encouraging a good level of community goodwill that, in turn, can be measured in terms of happier customers, you can leverage the power of your corporate blog to gain a real-time competitive advantage for managing relationships with your customers.

Granted, it lacks the sophistication of customizable monitoring and reporting tools marketers generally use to measure the effectiveness of a promotional campaign, but it's a simple way to keep track of customer sentiment. If you know what your customers feel and can connect to them emotionally, you've managed to make your organization customer-centric to quite an extent.

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