Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC Thought Leadership Principal, Beyond Philosophy
Over the past few years, we have seen the growth of b2b and b2c market research online communities, or MROCs. Companies can, for example, conduct qualitative research, such as juries and panels to evaluate alternative communication concepts and executions.
They can do straight customer loyalty and customer value research by recruiting panels of forum participants. Typically, these surveys are conducted on an Intranet basis. Results are immediate, and companies using their forum participants as panelists get response rates high enough to avoid the non-response bias pitfalls of other, lower response, self-completion research methods. Further, companies using their communities for value and experience research can link results to projected, segmented customer profitability, a tremendous benefit.
In what Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine call the “Customer Experience Ecosystem”, engaging employees who are both visible to customers and those behind the scenes (i.e., all employees) can directly impact the customer journey and customer experience initiatives. Tapping internal knowledge and expertise through ‘voice of the employee’ programs has seen increased acceptance in recent years. Through such programs, employees can offer ideas for improving the customer experience, co-create, offer perspectives on the ideas of others, and help track these ideas from the first spark to final implementation.
Innovative, social techniques are core to employee VOC programs. Just as captive customer MROCs can provide excellent information, much the same can be said for employee MROCs. Very often, this is a partnership between Marketing and HR. Though at present they are far less prevalent, employees MROC’s represent tremendous, cost-effective learning and insight potential.
Almost identical to consumer and customer MROCs, employee market research communities offer every enterprise the opportunity to:
– Create a dialogue – Employees can offer their perspectives in a non-threatening, secure environment. Most MROCs provide the option to sign-up anonymously, and interact with the online community manager. In addition, company stakeholders can listen in, or review transcripts, to go deeper into employee and employee-customer issues, with breaking continuity
– Generate cross-enterprise insights – Building from the perspective that every employee has roles and responsibilities in delivering value and optimizing the customer experience, organizations can provide actionable, objective bottom-up information. In addition, ideas can be tested on this basis.
– Have tremendous flexibility – Employee communities, and research subject panels, can be run for set periods of time or on an open-ended basis. This gives the organization and the employees a great deal of contribution flexibility. Depending on what the organization needs, community research participation by employees can be open-ended or have fixed end dates.
One of the greatest benefits of employee MROCs is that the processes and mechanics of these communities enables employees to be more empowered, to feel that they are heard, and that they are helping guide in decisions important to the organization. At the same time, employee communities are social entities for their corporate sponsors, enabling companies to build relationships and provide more fulfilling and engaging experiences.
An excellent example of an organization which drives customer and employee advocacy through social engagement is TD Bank. Wendy Arnott, TD Bank’s VP of Social Media and Digital Marketing, has built a social media program from the inside out. For several years, TD Bank has been able to connect employees across business segments and geographies, as well as leverage employee knowledge, build communities of interest, recognize and collaborate, and ultimately deliver business values. As she has stated, “We wanted to give a voice to our employees and open up two-way conversation.” In an industry like banking, often considered a business of inches played over years, this is both great for employee experience optimization, and competitive differentiation