Are we truly engaging with our relationships?

Connecting RelationshipsI had dinner this week with a good friend of mine in Mayfair – London, who has just been appointed a strategy director for a very large software company when we decided to discuss the subject across people relationships and are we truly engaging with our relationships in this much dominated technology age.

We discussed social media and its engagement with relationships and generally agreed that social media is broadly your choice of tools. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google Plus are most popular and important for relationship building through the use of your brand, context, goals, target audience, etc.

One definition that helps pin it down comes from Taylor Ellwood, author of Understanding the Social in Social Media. He writes:

“When I think about engagement in social media, I think of it as an activity where a person is purposefully choosing to interact with other people. S/he is actively interested in participating in the online community and is also actively interested in helping others out. Engagement then really means developing relationships, sustaining them, and consequently creating an environment where people can trust you enough to want to do business with you.”

More and more, individuals are empowering the use of technology and expect to engage with brands when and how they want; organisations are tasked with encouraging and supporting collaboration for employees, and customers, while keeping an unrelenting focus on user experience. How can they do this, while safeguarding the integrity of both the business and the brand?

It’s a complicated challenge to deliver a personalized and valuable experience – one that is challenging brands to metamorphosis to truly engage with their customers and would-be customers through understanding what they want (through analytics), providing them what they want (through valuable content and storytelling), and when and where they want through a consistent omni-channel brand experience (mobile, Web, and physical).

It means putting people at the center, to create open and authentic ways of engaging with individuals instead of segments or categories. This is possible today like at no other time in history because of the convergence of technologies for social, mobile, cloud, and security. This convergence is giving organizations and brands the means to meet people where they are. It is arming them with the data and the expertise required to personalise every human-to-human interaction. And it is giving them the credibility that is the foundation of trust. In fact, 80 percent of individuals are willing to exchange personal information for a personalized offering (IBM 2013 Annual Report, page 21) with brands they trust to keep their information safe.

The wonders of technology are impressive, it’s true, but in order to effectively engage with people we must look back to some of our intrinsic and ancient human qualities: storytelling, substance, empathy, and the value of specialised skills and talents. All of which is made most daunting to brands by the rapidity of the change and the fact that multiple shifts are occurring simultaneously…and the changes will keep coming!

IBM research shows that there are compelling reasons to foster this cooperation. Outperforming enterprises are 54 percent more likely than underperforming enterprises to collaborate extensively with their customers (see Figure 9). In fact, deep collaboration is a universal ambition: nine out of 10 CxOs foresee doing so in the near future (see Figure 10). (Exploring the Inner Circle: Insights from the Global C-Suite Study, IBM Institute of Business Value 2014.)

GHS

Of course, the crucial bridge between the organisation and its customers is the workforce. The ability to engage, develop, recognize, and support employees is essential in the high-stakes battle for customer loyalty. It is these individuals who represent – and effectively are – the organisation’s brand in the market. They interact with customers on a daily basis. It is they who monitor and analyze changes in customer preferences and who develop and maintain the technologies that help connect the physical and digital worlds. This is why a motivated and properly prepared and engaged workforce will be indispensable for success in the customer-activated world.

The exciting future of all of this is that we truly have the opportunity to co-create and innovate as both employees and as customers, allowing us to connect, engage, and collaborate as people – together – to create value and invention.

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