looking_over_londonThe Social Business era has arrived, and with it, individual customers now have a voice. “Listen to me,“ they shout from digital rooftops. “Meet my needs and exceed my expectations,” they demand – online and offline. They’re not passive recipients of products, services and one-way messaging any more. Since the dawn of commerce, businesses have tried to get closer to their customers. That day is here.

Customers are clamoring for greater intimacy with firms they trust, to drop the veil, raise the shades, get close and personal, have a real conversation. Sadly, many customers get no response, no invitation, no further discussion. Those companies simply don’t know how to build a relationship with the people who matter most – their best, most engaged customers.

Many firms have been very busy building out a suite of software tools, aligning their brand messaging to the buyer journey, convening ad nauseum to refine their KPIs. But they still haven’t given any thought to caring for their customer on a human-human level. The strategy remains: telling customers why the company is great, strong and handsome, and then using the new tools to repeat the same old message on social channels. Some firms are fickle — on one channel they are engaging, but on another … not so much. The whole relationship cadence is a mess. And the customer is left dangling, waiting, feeling ignored.

What‘s a poor traditional company to do? How can a firm save this relationship and act on their commitment to the customer? As an expert social business therapist helping organizations build better relationships with key stakeholders, there are two first steps you can take to become a Responsive Enterprise.

First, shut up and listen. Learn what your customers really want and need from your organization. Find out what they want from other customers, too. No more one-night stands, where your firm only gets in touch when there’s a problem, you need a case study or it’s time to renew a contract. Let customers share information with you. Be an active listener by sharing information back and forth to build a real, ongoing relationship.

This human-to-human style will also force a change in how you interact with customers across all your lines of business. Marketing, sales, call centers, delivery teams will need to approach their tasks in new ways, updating business processes to ensure consistency. Establish a cross-functional Social Business Center of Excellence with a clear mandate from senior leadership. Use it to develop a customer engagement program with an eye and an ear to spotting and listening to customer insights. Create a real, functional customer advisory board — once you’re ready to handle the truth.

Second, take your online customer community to the next level. If you don’t have one, examine the reasons why not. This isn’t the place to do online marketing. It’s where you listen closely and connect with customers. Take down all those virtual brochures and banners. Stop peddling your wares, and instead, educate your organization about the power of an online community to be the premiere 24X7 customer relationship-building center. It will become THE place for strategic engagement with customers and prospects, and a key source of ideas, suggestions, customer service and support. Bring these engaged customers into the center of your business. Showcase their contributions. Insofar as your firm is concerned, they are everyday heroes. Say so, and respect them. How? Don’t manage this valuable community as a side project, cobbled together with “barn-raising” funds and staffed by a couple of summer interns. This is an uber-strategic initiative for your whole enterprise. Online communities are where your customers convene. Listen, learn, and treat them well — they can deliver tremendous value.

Building a Responsive Enterprise takes more than a conversation with a social business therapist. It requires planning, patience, steadiness and a crawl, walk, run approach. Your firm has spent years – decades — dreaming of the day customers might care about and become more involved with your brand. Now that they have, embrace the opportunity to build relationships, learn about customer needs and uncover new insights about your products and services. Everyone’s a winner.