Customer Networks Strategy

What this panel promises to cover: Today’s interaction models with customers are largely transactive in nature and typically begin and end with an individual promotion and sale. Enterprise 2.0 concepts offer the ability to build longer term relationships that can outlast each transaction and keep customers engaged over longer periods of times. This session will feature customers that have made the successful transition from a transactive model to a customer network approach and the benefits they see in the form of tangible revenue, cost reduction and overall customer satisfaction.

Moderator – Sameer Patel, Partner, Sovos Group and blogger,
Panelist – Phil Gross, Marketing Manager, Intuit Quickbase
Panelist – Paul Michelman, Director of New Products, Harvard Business Review Group
Panelist – Jason Corsello, Vice President, KI OnDemand, Knowledge Infusion
Panelist – Jim Storer, Co-founder, The Community Roundtable


[These are my quick notes, complete with  (what I hope is no more than) the occasional typo and grammatical error.  Please excuse those. Thanks!

From time to time, I’ll insert my own editorial comments – exercising the prerogatives of the blogger.  I’ll show those in brackets. ]


  • This session is about moving moving beyond a transaction-based approach to understanding customers to actually engaging with them through an ongoing process.
  • One question to consider: how well do you know what your customers are thinking? If not, Enterprise 2.0 tools can help provide channels for conversation and relationship with customers.
  • Phil Gross: there is value in having a company to customer channel. However, there can be an even greater value in creating a channel that lets customers engage with other customers.  Intuit Quickbase has found that this alternate channel has been a huge marketing advantage.
  • In a consulting practice, having these customer networks allow the enterprise to stay in touch with customers between engagements (cementing the relationship).  In addition, customers like these channels to learn what other customers are doing.
  • Jim Storer: why did ComCast cares really take off? Not necessarily because ComCast was broken, rather because their customers didn’t have a great way of communicating with ComCast.
  • Phil Gross: Engaging with your customer is not new.  Before web 2.0, it was mainly about a one-way marketing campaign, coupled with one-to-one relationships that weren’t scalable. Now social media provides a scalable way to reach and engage with all your customers without breaking the bank.
  • Jason Corsello told a personal story of his experience of ComCast cares. When his home service was interrupted, he found that the folks at ComCast cares responded quickly and effectively.  However, he later received a service charge for this on his bill even though this charge had not been previously disclosed.  He gave this as an example of the customer-facing part not being integrated with/reflected in the back-end processes.
  • How do you ensure that you have an integrated approach that passes through and supports all the benefits and innovations of  these new web-based customer networks?
    • Phil Gross: You need a strategy to ensure that the internal communications and actions support the customer-facing channel.  Throughout, keep the focus on the customer.
    • Paul Michelman: There are two questions – internal buy-in and execution.  Assume the best: that your employees will do try their hardest to meet customer needs to the best of their abilities.
  • Sameer Patel: How do create and sustain the right business infrastructure to support these customer network initiatives?
    • Jim Storer: Start by taking an honest look at your corporate culture.  Most are too siloed and inward facing to support engagement outside the company.  The best tactic is to pursue a very specific, clear-cut use case around which you can rally forces and efforts internally.
    • Jim Storer: You can create a customer support community for a specific purpose, but understand that it’s ultimately the customer that decides what that community is for. The company then has to be able to adapt to and support that.
    • Jim Storer: If there are pre-existing communities, you need to “fish where the fish are.” However, if you can provide a brand-specific community, make sure your strategy for this manages the transition from the pre-existing community to yours.
    • Jason Corsello: In addition to knowing your customers, you need to know how to “feed” them. If you have a customer base that is focused on confidentiality (e.g., the HR community), don’t expect them to share online. Instead, his firm provides periodic opportunities for members of the community to meet in person and off the record.
    • Paul Michelman: If there is a pre-existing community, you can start there, but you should figure out if and how you can provide something of greater value.
    • Paul Michelman: No company actually “owns’ their customer community.  It’s the customer who owns the community.  An enterprise forgets this at their own peril.
    • Jim Storer: The companies that have the most successful community strategies employ mult-disciplinary teams that can move the program forward together.
    • Phil Gross: Having an internal “owner” of the community is important for accountability.  Usually, the worst answer is to make IT the owner. The better choices (in his opinion) are Marketing or Support.
  • An audience member reports that she has recommended to her company that they form a separate unit to own the initiative and acts “as Switzerland” internally to ensure that all the relevant constituencies (IT, Marketing, Communications, HR, Legal, etc.) are well-represented.
    • Paul Michelman: The group that own and starts the program doesn’t need to own it for ever. If you have a fight about ownership, you probably have a successful program that many want to own.  That’s a good thing.
  • Sameer Patel:  Back to the E2.0 aspects – what are you doing internally to support your external efforts?
    • Jason Corsello: Create an expertise locator to ensure customer questions get to the experts and are answered quickly. He reports that JetBlue intends that within 3 years every member of the staff will be able to respond to customer requests directly and will be trained how to refer (appropriately) questions that fall outside their expertise.
    • Phil Gross: Internal microblogging can be a great way to locate expertise.
    • Paul Michelman: Analyze the questions – they tend to come in particular buckets.  Once you’ve identified the main types of questions, you can craft work flow to ensure the questions are directed to the right internal experts.
  • Sameer Patel: What metrics can you use that REALLY help illuminate how your customer network efforts advances your business strategy?
    • Phil Gross: They look at kind of use (how are customers using it? what questions are they asking?) as well as frequency of use and the patterns surrounding that.  They track these things numerically and via anecdotes.  They have seen that their communities have greater use than their support functions. They have been able to collect hard numbers to show the number of new customers who come to the company via the community and referrals from existing customers.
    • Paul Michelman: when you start, you can’t really know what you can deliver from a business perspective.  However, you can and should establish learning goals when you start. This will provide good directional information. From that you can build to more “hard-core” traditional business metrics.
    • Jim Storer; when you are thinking about ROI for community, don’t think about this in traditional terms.
    • Jason Corsello:  Some businesses (like his) have been able to derive useful data regarding customer satisfaction, revenue due to renewals, etc.
  • Jim Storer: The whole concept of crisis management via social media (consider United Breaks Guitars).  He commends Ford for using social media channels to clarify their situation for the publicly before the bailout issue rose to the level of a crisis that needed to be manage.
  • Phil Gross: If you don’t have enough customers to “seed” a community, you get a bunch of “tumbleweeds.”
  • What’s the value of engaged customers?
    • Jim Storer mentioned a study of eBay that found that engaged customers tended to produce much more revenue for eBay.
    • Paul Michelman concurs, saying that they’ve seen the same phenomenon at their organization.
  • Sameer Patel: What’s the right end goal? Should the inherent value of the community supersede the incremental benefits with respect discrete business units (e.g.,  marketing, support, etc.). Can the customer network outgrow and outlive the short-term business goals?
  • Jim Storer: SAP is a great example of this.  Their community is practically a product in and of itself and has provided great value and insight to SAP. They have been able to save money on headcount.
  • Paul Michelman: publishing absolutely needs their customer networks to grow beyond and outlive the single book sale.  This ongoing dialogue and engagement with the customer will help the publisher understand how to cope and flourish in a rapidly changing market.

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