David Dalka has been a friend and strong supporter of BrainReactions dating back to our inception. After exiting a small startup last year, David is currently a Marketing Strategy Innovation Management Consultant to senior executives. Darin Eich had the pleasure of talking with David about the exciting and abundant opportunities to utilize social media and user generated content as strategic management team tools!
Darin Eich: What kind of activity takes place on social media and user generated content sites that could become insights for innovation?
David Dalka: People are discussing the products and services you provide everyday on blogs, social media sites like Twitter and user generated content sites like Youtube. The types of people can provide falls into several categories: evangelist about an industry, evangelist about a product or service, people who are passionate about a particular brand (no matter what!), people expressing frustration or dissatisfaction and people who are making constructive criticism.
Darin Eich: That is certainly true, what does this mean for better innovation?
David Dalka: Everything! It has potential not only for innovation, but also the entire way you do business! In the era of Web 2.0 a lot of people have focused on the public relations aspects of social media to promote their products. It is my opinion that the largest opportunities actually are in listening to people expressing frustration or dissatisfaction and people who are making constructive criticism and then acting on that information. The focus should be on how to solve these pain points in the marketplace, improving offerings and creating an elite, innovative brand experience!
In the late 1990’s, I worked at BlackRock (BLK) during its’ growth phase from 80 to 800 employees. At BlackRock we provided daily reports via the Internet for our institutional clients back in 1996 when other firms were still sending out paper reports only 45 days after the end of the month. This created offline conversations and/or emails from these clients for data adjustments and tons of suggestions for adding fields to these reports, changing the reports and innovation that created new reports! The increased cycle time of communication with our customers brought us closer to them and increased our pace of innovation – more importantly it focused that innovation outward towards the customer instead of inward. Our responsiveness to their feedback encouraged even more feedback! This feedback loop was critical in creating the incremental improvements that BlackRock made every day. These improvements over time created substantial competitive advantages that were a direct result of user and customer generated innovation!
Darin Eich: That’s amazing! So you are suggesting that pre-social media era experience is a strong indicator of what can and should be done to create innovation today using these tools?
David Dalka: Absolutely! The opportunities to create a process where you listen, then engage and reform your customer acquisition, marketing positioning and customer service is where the future of competitive advantage has the largest area of opportunity. Is your organization seizing the opportunity? Or are entrenched silos beholden to rigid budgets more suited for 1990 than 2009 over analyzing and delayed decisions? Have a bias for action.
Darin Eich: Who is starting to adapt to this change well? What actions are they taking?
David Dalka: Comcast is certainly making incremental steps in the right direction. A few short years ago a contract installer told Comcast that he completed an installation at my mother’s house when he actually did not. This was highly upsetting. My Mom responded with a guest blog post which made the Digg home page and they promptly removed the charges. Then there was the well known sleeping Comcast employee Youtube video incident.
Several months later a support employee named Frank Eliason approached VP of Communications Jennifer Khoury and asked if he could create a Twitter account and start to proactively respond to the complaints and problems of customers voicing concerns on blogs and/or Twitter. His @comcastcares account has now solved thousands of problems for Comcast customers and Frank now leads a team that is solely dedicated to this. I talked with Jennifer about this at ad:tech Chicago in 2008 to learn more about how this came about and she said she granted him the authority to do that immediately. The decision to allow a bottom up idea to be rapidly implemented is critical. Is Comcast the best customer service organization in the world? Not even close. Is Comcast realizing the mistakes of the past and making incremental strides towards improvement everyday now? Absolutely! And that is what matters, making incremental improvements in the customer experience. They also came back onto that original blog post and left a lengthy comment replying to all the other comments. There hasn’t been another comment on that post since then. Comcast is building credibility. Ultimately a portion of social media is a revolution about a return to good old fashioned customer service, which I’d highly welcome over the only way to get service is to request to close my account option.
Darin Eich: If an organization is looking to strategically innovate with utilizing social media and user generated content, what can they do to start in the right direction?
David Dalka: Why is Twitter working for Comcast? It works because Comcast is listening to and solving customer needs instead of seeing social media as purely a public relations or promotional tool! Strategy without execution is nothing, effective implementation is everything. Empowering your employees towards rapid action instead of 18 months of meetings to make a decision is critical to making incremental progress. Using user generated content, social media and search engine marketing effectively is an incremental process that transforms your entire culture and the way you do business across your organization not something that you have one person do and keep doing everything else the same way! You can’t write a check to a consultant and be done, you have to be committed to change. This means changing customer interaction processes and procedures across the organization. The big one hit solution doesn’t exist. Stop looking for it. You need to get down and roll in the dirt to find the details that can lead to innovation.
Darin Eich: Can you point to an opportunity for a company to utilize customer feedback in this manner to make products or services that improve the customer experience and create competitive advantage?
David Dalka: Sure. I bought a new Acura Integra in 1991 and am I am driving it into the ground – it has 154,000 miles on it. It’s been one of the greatest and highest return on investment purchases I’ve ever made! It’s time for me to buy a new car and I’m an Acura loyal customer for life right? Sadly no, I’m not likely to be. Why? During the 1990’s the engineers at Honda and Acura have forgotten that a significant number of their customers are 6′3″ or taller and the “improvements” that have led to marginal increases in miles per gallon changed the headroom in their sedans to the point where I don’t fit comfortably in one and the current pillar and rear view mirror placements cause dangerous obstructed views. If I don’t buy an SUV from them I don’t fit. To be honest, I am surprised the auto insurance industry hasn’t been more proactive in regards to this emerging issue. Starting way back in the year 2000 I started calling Acura’s customer service number periodically to give this feedback – to date I have yet to see any change in the design. I mean look at this photo showing a 5′6″ reporter in the backseat of a 2010 Honda Insight. I really wanted to consider the new Honda Insight, but myself and tons of other consumers will reject this car outright due to its inferior headroom characteristics. I’ve Tweeted the issue again just now. Will some car company listen to this, design cars that once again serve the comfort, visibility and safety needs of tall people and increase their market share? The opportunity is right there in the tweet waiting for any auto manufacturer to build a great sedan with great headroom and visibility for tall people!
Darin Eich: Other than innovation blogs and e-magazines like this one, where else can you find the thought leaders and resources on this subject?
David Dalka: Your own well thought out search queries on a search engine like Google is the best place to start. If people understand the true strategic nature of the emerging content and search engine optimization opportunities you’ll find them when searching about subjects that you care about! Another great place is slideshare.com, the world’s emerging thought leaders are creating content for lectures, small group meetings and Conferences (UGCX) and put the deck on slideshare.com.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this conversation with Marketing Strategy Innovation Management Consultant David Dalka. Stay tuned for future conversations with David and other innovators in future issues of BrainWaves. Drop us a line to let us know any specific issues you’d like us to discuss in future interviews.