Our first topic of 2016 explored knowledge, power and influence in organisations. Or to be more specific, where is the knowledge, who has the power, and how is this affecting the ability to influence behaviour?
Searching for trust
To understand this topic, it’s useful to use the metaphor of going to the doctor. In the
industrial age, we went to the doctor to seek their professional opinion on a particular
ailment. The doctor was the ultimate source of knowledge about our issue. We had
little alternative than to have blind trust in him/her, and as such they held almost
all the power to influence our behaviour.
Fast forward to the information age. What do the majority of us now do before going
to the doctor? We Google our symptoms. The ability to search online has dramatically
shifted power away from the doctor to such an extent that the best question a doctor
can now ask us is ‘what have you Googled?’
This has a dramatic effect on trust. If the doctor fails to address our concerns arising
from our Google search, our trust in them falls to a new low. But if the doctor asks
us if we have any concerns, listens to the knowledge we have obtained from our Google
search into account, addresses our issues, our trust in the doctor then increases
to an all time high.
The power of context
Search has significantly shifted power away from organisations by putting information
and opinion in the hands of the customer. It is highly likely that customers will Google
a problem before calling a call centre. And in some cases, it is likely that the information
they find online will be more up-to-date than the information available inside the
This is why many call centre employees increasingly resort to Google searching in order
to resolve customer queries. The most up-to-date information lies within the customer
community, not within the official knowledge management system. The knowledge of
the community is being updated in real time, whereas it can take weeks (if not months)
for official sources of information to be updated.
But more importantly, the knowledge of the community is contextual. Whether customers
realise it or not, their query will arise from their specific context. Answering their query
effectively will therefore require an understanding of this context.
We instinctively seek answers to our questions from people who understand our
context, whether this be our friends, work colleagues, or our online network. And we
are more likely to trust the answers we receive from people who understand that
context. So how can organisations tap into the deep ocean of contextual information
that surrounds its customers, and use it to improve customer experience?
Organisations as dynamic, omni-channel communities
To tackle this growing problem, we need to re-imagine the organisation as a dynamic,
omni-channel community made up of both customers and employees. The community
has the knowledge and power to influence the behaviour of the organisation and help
it adapt to the rapidly changing demands of its customers. And the community may
well be made up of both customers, employees, and general observers.
This transformation has been given many names, including open innovation, bringing the
outside in, or even simply customer/employee engagement. The music service Spotify
is a great example, as is the Chinese Telecom giant Xiaomi who release a new version
of their operating system every week in response to user feedback.
The ability to listen and adapt has been key to the success of these information age
organisations. By minimising the effort required to engage with their community,
organisations can gain access to a wealth of untapped insight that can be used to
improve the business. And crucially, making the pockets of specialist information held
by customers, employees and departments more searchable by the community,
allows this contextual knowledge to be shared and leveraged in new and valuable ways.
Organisations that can listen, think, adapt and act in response to their community are
those that will successfully evolve and ride the wave of digital transformation. But while
a community can be grown inside any organisation, a common barrier is the tendency
for the organisation to act without listening, or worse, continue to believe that
‘it knows best’.
Many businesses still behave like an industrial age doctor by assuming that customers
haven’t searched online before calling. But if a business is engaging with the contextual
knowledge being co-created by its community, it will be perpetually evolving in response
to customer needs.
And that, surely, is just what the doctor ordered.