• January 3, 2011
  • By Juan Martinez, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

The Rise of the Empowered-Employee Empire

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Today, even the most backward business knows customers are discussing its products on social networks and blogs. Depending on the brand, these conversations can boost or obliterate a business’s reputation. The key to leveraging these exchanges might be as simple as providing your employees with the same power to connect—or so say Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler in their new book Empowered. Schadler is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester; Bernoff, a senior vice president, coauthored (with Charlene Li) the 2008 best-seller Groundswell, and was named an Influential Leader in the 2008 CRM Market Awards. CRM Editorial Assistant Juan Martinez chatted with the two analysts about how empowered employees can energize customers and transform businesses.

CRM magazine: Your book argues that customers matter more after the sale. That might blow some minds.

Josh Bernoff: People are always checking social environments before making purchases, and they’re more likely to trust what their friends say—or even what strangers say—than anything that a company says. In an environment like that, customer service becomes paramount because your customers—and what they say—are going to have an enormous influence on choices other people make. This means that you want to spend just as much effort on getting promoters out of your customers as you do on any outbound marketing.
CRM: In the book, you urge businesses to “unleash” their employees.

Ted Schadler: Customers have a lot of data and access to each other. Companies need to respond to that. What they’re doing today is slow. They’re trying things out system by system, function by function, but employees are actually moving very quickly. If you’re a salesperson or a marketing person or in product development, you have access to the same technology and information as your customers—you might as well start using it. Our research shows that 37 percent of U.S. information workers are provisioning some piece of technology on their own, without [corporate] sanction or control. A lot of people are calling this “consumerization of IT.” We’ve called it “technology populism.” The key here is that the technology is readily available to employees. You just have to allow them to use it in appropriate ways. You don’t want chaos. But you want to make sure that everybody is on board—with what technologies are OK to use, how to use them, what the risks are, and how to get the most value out of them—in order to really take advantage of the kind of empowered employee that is driving your business forward and solving customer and business problems.

CRM: Can you explain what a “HERO” is? What should executives ask before starting or supporting a HERO project?

Bernoff: “HERO” stands for highly empowered and resourceful operatives. A HERO is somebody who has an idea on how to serve customers. These ideas use technology that is easily accessible. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement. In fact, it can be quite challenging, often because of politics and technology issues. A HERO project is simply an idea on how to serve customers. We recommend that people go through a rigorous process in understanding what departments will be affected, how many people will be involved. Will you need help from IT, from people in legal or regulatory affairs? We actually have a tool—http://bit.ly/empoweredtool—sort of a quiz to evaluate your project and see whether it’s worth doing.

CRM: What are Mass Connectors and Mass Mavens?

Bernoff: There are 500 billion influence impressions generated every year about products and services—500 billion cases when a person sees what another person wrote about a product or a service. There’s a lot of concentration here—16 percent of the online population accounts for 80 percent of those influence impressions. That includes Mass Connectors—people who are making impressions through social networks—as well as the Mass Mavens—people who publish on blogs and discussion forums. Getting a handle on who your Mass Mavens and Mass Connectors are will tell you [whom] you should concentrate on when it comes to word of mouth.

CRM: How will mobile devices empower employees in ways that social media cannot?

Bernoff: Empowered customers increasingly demand information wherever they are in whatever they’re doing. They know they can get that information instantly. Your choice as a company is to provide that information for them or let them find it wherever they want.

Schadler: Fourteen percent of U.S. information workers have a smartphone today. Just over half of those are self-provisioned. If you ask the people who don’t have a smartphone [if they want one], two-thirds say they do. The reason is super-simple: They want to check email from home or at the soccer field. They want access to the information they need to get their jobs done from anywhere.

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