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Executive Leadership: The Connected Company, Part 1
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Executive Leadership: The Connected Company, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Connected Company, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: The Connected Company, Part 1

A few years ago, I helped a family member give away a car, but early in the process, I discovered that the original lien on the14-year-old vehicle was still held by Ford Credit, a company that had since been absorbed into the parent organization and no longer kept an office in my state. It was some kind of error, because the car had been paid off for more than nine years. When I called the customer service line for help, a representative told me he could help me, but first I'd have to fax him some notarized paperwork, and I would receive the lien release by fax.

I did as instructed, but I never received the release and had called my neighborhood copy center so many times to ask for an incoming fax that they knew me by voice. When I called Ford again, the same representative said the paperwork must not have been received, and suggested I try again. I faxed it again, and a week later, I still didn't have my letter. This happened three times, and when I asked the representative if he could just call or email me when he received the fax, we could figure out where the problem was and put an end to this silly cycle. He insisted that this was impossible; the fax machine was in a separate building and nobody there could contact him or me about a specific fax.

Frustrated, I took to Twitter and found an active Ford Credit account. I sent a direct message: I'm having enormous trouble with a lien release. Can you help me?

After a few exchanges on Twitter, we spoke by telephone. My first words were, "Before we continue, may I just tell you my long, frustrating story? At this point, it would make a difference to me just to know someone is listening." He heard me out, then gave me the number of a fax machine he was within walking distance of. He promised to call me as soon as he received my fax. Then he took responsibility for making sure I had a faxed copy of the lien release and a physical original. What had so far been a three-week game of frustration was resolved in two days.

It's a strange story, because it illustrates an older model of service and a newer model, at the same time and within the same company. In my first interactions, my problem was received, and I was given instructions on taking it to another, completely disconnected department, but I would only hear from that second department if it heard from me first, and for some reason it never heard from me, and there was no way for me to know whether it heard from me or not. My original contact, rather than solving my problem, repeated the instruction, locking me into a ridiculous non-feedback loop. My Twitter contact laid out a plan for accomplishing what I needed, and was with me the whole way, from hearing my problem to resolving it. For whatever reason, he was in a position to tailor a solution to my specific needs.

In The Connected Company (O'Reilly, 2014), author David Gray explains the difference between these two models, exploring their histories and metaphors. More than just a treatise on embracing new technologies, Gray explains how technologies shaped our thinking about business and about the trading of goods and services. Consumer expectations have changed for a variety of reasons, and Gray outlines theoretically and practically where these changes come from and what they imply for providers.

It's worth noting that Gray's approach is not about Twitter versus a telephone, but about how a company connected within itself and to its customers will thrive, while a company whose decision-making layers are several degrees removed from the customer will flounder. He offers several examples of different ways companies such as Nordstrom, Zappos, Amazon, and Apple have addressed the consumer experience as the driving force behind decision-making. Each example is a different approach, but the underlying message is the same: the product is not the product. The product is the avatar that connects the customer to the company. Customer service is the product, and that service is best delivered by "connected companies. "Companies must act not as machines," he writes, "but as learning organisms, purposefully interacting with their environments and continuously improving, based on experiments and feedback.

Being connected means different things to different companies, and there are definite risks, which we'll take a look at in part 2 of this series, but connectedness also means making a positive difference in your customers' experience, something that's too promising to disregard.


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Executive Leadership: The Connected Company, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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