“SoLoMo” – Social, Local, Mobile – summarizes quite a revolution in human-to-human communications as well as human-to-business relationships. While in a retail store, e.g., the mobile consumer has on-the-spot access to information about products and services being sold. Before the ubiquity of connected mobile devices, buyers were stuck with information the seller put out and advertised. Now, they can countercheck that messaging right at the point of sale. Dedicated Web portals or apps put pricing and messaging in context, show competitive offers immediately through keyword search or barcode scans, expose ratings based on other consumers’ experience, and recommend other stores nearby through location based services. When researching a bigger purchase at home, users have access to forums discussing products in detail, providing help. After a purchase, customers can share their own experience, or ask questions about the operation of a product, etc. If you excuse my language – I like to call this age of SoLoMo the end of BSing in marketing. Marketing departments are no longer in sole control of the messaging and positioning of products. Consumers now have a say. And their voice gets bigger.
What does all of this have to do with Voxeo? Voxeo is a B2B vendor, so some of the above doesn’t really apply, at least not to the same extent. However, our roots are within the developer space, and Voxeo has embraced the principles of social media long before the term existed.
As an example, we are not shy to let our developers, customers, and users talk openly about us. We started publishing VXML and CCXML documentation (together with product documentation) on www.vxml.org back in 2002 and added forums to it. Users can ask questions, or answer others’. Members of our support team, engineering, project management, sales engineering, and even management participate in these forums. User forums are early forms of social networks, albeit very dedicated ones.
Our customer portal Evolution (get your free account today!) is a home-grown platform for customer engagement, with access to technical support (through our own ticketing system), product and standards documentation (check out bit.ly/VODocs to see how serious we are with documenting our products), shared code repositories, developer forums, knowledge bases, and more. Our customers can use live chat (among other channel) to talk to our support staff about anything from general coding questions, application-specific inquiries to production outages. A journal keeps track of these interactions, and customizable notifications around network maintenance or new product features keep the interested user informed.
Part of our culture is Unlocked Communications. We mean that in various dimensions: from the communication technology we are developing, to the way we communicate with each other and the office space we work in (if you ever wondered how we work in our Orlando HQ, watch this: bit.ly/voxeoofficetour). For internal communication, we use Skype: Being in 15-20 parallel chats would not be uncommon for a Voxeon. Group chats exist for everything from engineering or customer projects, to departmental chats, technology- or product-related chats, or impromptu discussions with a smaller group. Individual chats allow immediate access to subject matter experts and upper management alike. Our group chats are social networks en miniature: employees ask questions, others answer or comment. Knowledge otherwise buried is socialized and unlocked. The chats are searchable and thus become knowledge bases on their own. New hires get immersed in the conversations early on – while being overwhelmed at first, the chats turn out to be valuable sources of experience.
We have extended our chats to our partner base. Key members of each Voxeo department are part of a dedicated chat per partner; the partner has the freedom to add any number of participants. While we do not necessarily put an “SLA” on these chats, our partners value the accessibility of Voxeo talent and SMEs. Questions usually get answered within a few minutes. If not, somebody in the chat will nudge someone in the (oftentimes virtual) office to provide an answer to an outstanding question. Partners also gradually learn who knows what at Voxeo, or who has responsibility for what. Over time, this “social” experience turns our partners into a true extension of our core team. Last but not least, Voxeo chats can be fun. Not everything is work-related, and part of our partner program is immersing our partners in our culture.
With the advent of networks such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn we have extended our presence accordingly, now publishing critical network up- or downtime messages or announcements on dedicated (public) Twitter accounts, or pushing out news and features, or engaging in discussions with each other.
But all in all, our engagement in these channels is just a continuation of what we have been doing since day 1, about 13 years ago. Being open about oneself, about one’s strengths and weaknesses (that everybody has), and being open with one’s technology (incl. open standards!), is what we believe drives true customer loyalty and championship.