Culture and Customer Service

My husband and I have a goal to travel overseas at least once per year.  Last year we had the opportunity to visit Barcelona. The Travel Channel had highlighted Spain as a culinary travel destination, so of course my husband being a big foodie wanted to go.  We were not disappointed.  We ate at Taller de Tapas, La Taverna del Clinic, and Ca l’Isidre.  What we found interesting during our trip was that even the 4-5 star restaurants seemed to take forever in bringing us the check.

At first, we joked that we were probably just inpatient Americans wanting to rush a meal.  We noticed how Catalans take their time to enjoy a cigarette with coffee after dinner.  My husband and I wondered if the waiter or waitress was waiting to see if we would smoke after dinner (we do not smoke).  After enjoying such wonderful dinners in Barcelona we felt awkward labeling the long delay for our check as poor customer service.  Was Barcelona a place not concerned with good customer service?

El compte, si us plau.

After conducting some research, I learned it is customary in Barcelona for diners to initiate the request for the check.  In fact, it is considered rude for the waiter or waitress to bring the check before diners ask for it.

“The customer is always right in Spain….The waiter will not bring the bill until he is asked to bring the bill by one of the diners.”

Source: TripAdvisor, Spain: Guide to Etiquette in Spain.

This was so interesting to me because I felt the opposite was true of my experience in American restaurants.  Hence, my disappointment with the waiter or waitress not promptly bringing our check.  Here in the U.S., waiters or waitresses anticipate when diners want the check and often initiate the conversation.  In Barcelona, the dining party is supposed to initiate the request.

Given my area of work, I think about how businesses are leveraging social technologies to scale customer service.  Learning from my experience in Barcelona, I am now more careful not to assume that good customer service interactions will be defined in other parts of the world the same way we define it in the U.S.

Operational Barriers to SocialBiz Success

I hosted a webinar for Awareness, Inc. back in December 2009 about operational barriers to social business success.  Christine Major provides a great summary on her blog that includes the Twitter stream of commentary.

I began the webinar by characterizing social business.

Characteristics of Social Business

  1. People-centric (employees, customers, business partners)
  2. Transparent processes
  3. Culture of trust
  4. Egalitarian (everyone participates and has a voice)
  5. Self-organizing networks
  6. Two-way, unstructured information exchange
  7. Events are orchestrated, not controlled

What I found in my research at IDC is that many large organizations maintain a hierarchical, command and control management model that is at direct odds with social business.  Traditional corporate culture often supports business operations that act as barriers to social business transformation.  These internal barriers are what many businesses will have to overcome in order to realize the full potential of participating in social media.  (Full webinar recording below)

Ten Operational Barriers to Social Business

  1. Organizational silos
  2. Command and control management
  3. Top-down, one-way communication channels
  4. Social activities not integrated into work flow
  5. Employees measured on individual performance
  6. Competitive culture
  7. No guidelines or training for social media
  8. No methods for measuring social value
  9. No executive sponsor for social initiatives
  10. No role models for social media initiatives (peers with experience and expertise)

Here is the full webinar posted by Awareness, Inc.  Thanks @cmajor and @bostonmike.

I’d like your feedback.
Did I miss anything?
I’d also like to hear from you about the biggest challenge your business is facing today with social initiatives.

Playing A Role in Social Business Transformation

The entrance of social media into the workplace fascinates me.  The idea that people – their personality, opinions, and casual conversations – provide tremendous value to business seems foreign to the traditional, command and control corporate world.  Social media puts a spotlight on how antisocial businesses have become.  Over the past few years many businesses have neglected to nurture relationships with constituents – employees, customers, business partners, investors.  The current Social CRM rage humors me because business has always been about relationships.  It took a deep recession to remind us that we need to be listening and communicating with customers regularly in order to retain them.  I predict once the job market improves, this realization to take care of your people will shift to employees.

Today, the market remains focused on specific social destinations (e.g., Twitter, Facebook).  However, the opportunity for social software in the workplace runs deeper than destination sites where marketers run campaigns.  Social media introduces new behaviors, and with that expectations, for communication both inside and outside the firewall.  Social business transformation is applying the principles of social media – transparency, trust, empowerment – to the workplace.  Social business doesn’t stop with a Facebook page and Twitter handle (read my former colleague Mike Fauscette’s blog about Comcast for an illustration of my point).  I believe a tremendous amount of work lies ahead for companies to undergo social business transformation.  My experience as a research analyst covering social software at IDC peaked my fascination with how social business transformation would play out.  Are  companies able and willing to undergo the structural and cultural change required to engage and respond in realtime with customers on the Web?  Forecasting market trends at IDC, I developed a strong desire to work more closely with practitioners and play a more direct role in helping businesses conquer these new challenges.  Hence, I have decided to pursue an opportunity as a consultant with Dachis Group which will provide me with intense experience helping companies redesign to be social businesses.  I’ll be blogging about my observations from these experiences on the Dachis Group Collaboratory.