CEOs Get(ting) Social, Per IBM Study

Data divides top execs from the rest

The hierarchy of customer interaction methods starts with face-to-face, followed by websites, channel partners, call centers, traditional media, advisory groups and finally, social media. That won’t be the case in a few years. According to an IBM survey of 1,709 CEOS from 64 countries and 18 industries, social media will leap to the number-two spot while traditional media plunges to the bottom within the next three-to-five years.

“It’s all part of this move towards openness, both with your customers, with your employees, your business partners, and engaging them all together in what I call this redefinition of the organization—more broadly defined,” said Saul Berman, a partner in IBM’s global business services organization and one of the study’s two executive leaders.

The study, whose findings were based on in-person interviews, also found that CEOs plan to create a more social workplace—and the best ones already have. IBM broke out the executives whose companies were among the top 20 percent in terms of revenue and growth; 48 percent of those “outperformers,” as IBM dubbed them, said they promote organizational openness so that employees feel free to collaborate.

The study also highlighted a data divide among CEOs. While 54 percent of the outperformers said they have access to and can draw insights from data, only 26 percent of the underperformers said as much. And 57 percent of the outperformers said they could translate those insights into action, but 31 percent of the underperformers said they are able to do so. Berman attributed that lag among underperformers to several reasons, including inertia created by the success of a company traditional legacy business, and an unfamiliarity with data and analytics or a lack of technological understanding.

The data learning curve coincides with the push towards prioritizing more measurable communication channels with customers. One CEO who participated in the study had previously measured call center productivity by brevity but has since shifted that focus to allow for longer calls that can gather more customer data. “Increasingly you have to be open to get the data, and you have to be able to access it,” said Berman. “If you don’t have it, you can’t do much with it.”