Communities will become a core engine of commerce, innovation, experience, loyalty and service – Interview with Rob Tarkoff

CommunityToday’s interview is with Rob Tarkoff, President and CEO of Lithium Technologies, a digital customer experience platform company. Their technology both powers some of the world’s largest online communities and helps some of the worlds largest brands with social customer care and publishing. Rob joins me today to talk about some recently published research, engagement, what it is, what it isn’t, what brands should be doing more and less of to help them engage more with their customers and the role of communities in all of that.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – Creating a culture that stands for something and stands out – Interview with Tim Deeson – and is number 239 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Highlights from my conversation with Rob:

  • Lithium recently released a new report called: The State of Social Engagement 2017.
  • This is Lithium’s second-annual report on how the best brands are using social media to deliver market-leading digital customer experiences. Their findings are based on data collected from 70 brands across 8 industries and 342 social channels.
  • Most brands are struggling with digital transformation and the report aims to both put some data behind their struggle and to uncover some clues as to what brands should and shouldn’t be doing.
  • Most brands know that they need a strong and engaging digital presence but many are failing to deliver on that.
  • On of the key issues is that many brands are still thinking of digital and social as a broadcast channel and not as a new channel to initiate and foster conversations and engagement.
  • On a self-reported basis, only 1% of brands think that they are developing meaningful relationships with their advocates and influencers.
  • Underlying this, Rob believes that many organisations are facing a perfect storm that combines
    • 1. The fact that the communication tools that many executives were trained on are now being superceded by new technology and behaviours,
    • 2. The redefinition of the role of sales, marketing and customer service and how each has to play a bigger role across the whole of the customer journey, and
    • 3. The fact that the change management capability to manage these sort of changes does not exist inside most organisations right now.
  • Most organisations in the world that do this well are digital natives.
  • Others struggle as they are too busy keeping up with the technology changes that they forget about the business change management imperative.
  • There is not a lot of agreement on what engagement, whether customer or employee, really means.
  • Many companies when they talk about customer engagement link it to monetisation and think that when you engage your customers you sell more.
  • However, Rob believes there is a missing step and that is the step of enlistment, where brands need to enlist a number of their most valuable customers to advocate on their behalf.
  • Many customers trust and want to hear from this group.
  • Brands should think of engaging their customers towards helping them be a self directed consumer.
  • In the digital age of customer experience and digital first, brand is negotiated not declared.
  • Here’s a few steps that companies should consider to put themselves on the right track:
    • 1. Regardless of the size of company, this sort of change has to be led by the CEO so that the whole company sees digital engagement as an obsession.
    • 2. Engagement has to be linked to top-line business impact.
      • Examples:
        • GoDaddy increased revenue by 65% and average order size by 51% by using their community more and in better ways. They are linking visits to an engine and a domain that surfaces user generated content as part of their brand negotiation process and they are linking this to financial outcomes.
        • Microsoft has achieved more than $140mln in savings through call deflection by using their online community.
        • Embracing this type of digital first, engagement approach has allowed Comcast to reduce their response times by over 60% and their NPS score went up 30% yoy.
        • When FICO directed more of their customers to the MyFICO community to answer questions around credit, the average spend of their customers increased 66%.
  • To fully implement a customer lead digital transformation, it starts with the commitment of the organisation. It ends with really looking at all of the systems in a company that touch customers and making sure that they are encouraging customers to contribute to a conversation around products and services. This has to be done in a way that is sustainable and can grow over time as that content will become an asset of the company.
  • Rob is increasingly seeing companies differentiate themselves by using the power of user generated content that surrounds the product experience.
  • When the return on innovation goes down the return on customer experience has to be multiplied.
  • Lithium recently acquired an External Online Community Business from Jive.
  • Community will become a core engine of commerce, content creation, marketing, innovation, experience, loyalty and service.
  • Community will become the next generation CRM system.
  • The importance of customer engagement will only go up and, particularly, the role of customer to customer communication.
  • Wow service/experience for Rob is epitomised by brands like SouthWest Airlines and Hilton hotels which habitually look for moments to surprise and delight their customers and how that drives growth and advocacy. He believes that the brands that deliver on these type of strategies will be the ones who differentiate themselves from their competition and lead their markets.
  • If you are looking to digitally transform your customer experience then do reach out to Rob and the folks at Lithium as they would be happy to see how they can help.

About Rob (taken from his Lithium bio here)

Rob TarkoffAs President and CEO, Rob guides the strategic direction and corporate vision for Lithium. Since joining in September 2011, Rob has significantly expanded Lithium’s product portfolio, grown the company from 150 to 400+ employees, and expanded into new global regions and vertical markets. In his own words, “I want to build Lithium into a multi-generational company that is fundamentally changing the way businesses and people connect with each other.”

Rob joined Lithium from Adobe Systems, where he served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Digital Enterprise Solutions business unit. At Adobe, Rob pioneered Adobe’s Customer Experience Management strategy, and also led Adobe’s worldwide enterprise solution partnerships, including system integration partners and strategic ISVs.

Before Adobe, Rob held executive positions at EMC Corporation, Documentum, Inc. and Commerce One. Earlier in his career, he was an Associate Attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati where he was part of the team that took Amazon public

Rob holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College. Additionally, Rob serves on Advent Software’s board of directors and is a member of the board of advisors for the Lawrence Hall of Science, the largest public science center in the U.S.

Check out Lithium here, grab a copy of their new report: The State of Social Engagement 2017 here, say Hi to Rob and the folks at Lithium on Twitter @rtarkoff and @LithiumTech and do connect with Rob on LinkedIn here.

Thanks to Pixabay for the image.

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