I recently attended the 2012 Lithium Network Conference (LiNC for short) in San Francisco to hear about the latest and greatest from Lithium Technologies as well as from thought leaders such as Brian Solis, photo left, who shared about Digital Darwinism from his new book The End of Business as Usual. Lithium’s software powers the social customer experience, including online branded communities, for over 300 brands including AT&T, Best Buy, Sephora, Skype, and most recently added Nestle, Aruba Networks, and Guitar Center, among others. I have attended two of these events in the past – as a Lithium customer (Verizon). This year, Lithium asked me to come as an industry thought leader so I could look at their event and announcements from a different perspective. Here are some of my key takeaways.
Good News for Social Customer Service
Having been a Lithium customer for the past two years, when I was the Verizon Community program manager and social media strategist, I am probably a bit different from other “thought leaders” who attended the briefing and the event. I have used many if not most of the functions of the Lithium offering. I was happy to see a renewed focus on both sides of social business – customer service, as well as marketing.
In fact, I had wondered how much new functionality we would see in the area of customer service. In the past, support communities have been Lithium’s bread and butter. In the past year or so, Lithium had put a renewed interest into marketing and had some great successes; Sephora’s Beauty Talk is a great example of how to engage the social customer. With the renewed interest in the marketing side of the house, I was a bit concerned that Lithium would swing too far in that direction and neglect good ‘ole customer service.
I was pleased to see great improvements in their customer service functionality, mainly the new Lithium Response offering. It takes the already strong features in the Lithium customer service platform and expands further on them, allowing customer service agents to have all the information they need at their fingertips so they can do what they do best – respond quickly. From what I have seen, it seems to be able to provide the full fire-hose of social media information, prioritize issues that come in to the business, route them to the right agents, and surface content (from both the community as well as from self-service pages) that can help solve customer queries. It also includes case management, which had been lacking. It looks like a great step up from the customer service functionality previously available with an online support community, and it will make the interaction between social media customer service teams and community managers much easier. I look forward to seeing more of it in action soon.
Improving Social Media Marketing
On the marketing front, Lithium announced some new partnerships, such as Shoutlet. This particular partnership will allow Lithium customers to take advantage of Shoutlet features that will help make the social conversation easier, especially in the area of marketing campaigns and CRM. It will be great to watch some of Lithium’s marketing communities take this on and deliver strong social media ROI. Other areas where the focus on marketing is visible include additional opportunities for photo sharing, group spaces/private communities (great for research and innovation), as well as improved single sign-on (much needed functionality) and more robust ratings and reviews (served up via widgets). All around, the Lithium social marketing offering has taken a big step forward, and it will make an impact in organizations that take advantage of it. In the future, I look forward to seeing these two pillars (customer service and marketing) of social business come together, as our customers don’t see departments as they go through their journeys with us. These pillars need to meet up in order to create the rockin’ customer experience that will be vital for business success in the coming months and years.
I greatly enjoyed the conference itself; it was nice NOT to speak at an event for once! There were a lot of new faces this year at LiNC, both customers as well as Lithium employees, and this helped to keep the conference feeling fresh. New faces always means a lot of energy, and that was definitely apparent. I absolutely love the way Lithium showcases their customers at their events, and this one was no exception. Using the theme of Heroes, the Lithium event team had customers share the stage with Lithium executives. They told some inspiring stories of how their companies, including such leading organizations as Skype and Cisco, are using Lithium to get solid returns on social media as well as innovate in their space. I highly recommend more customer sharing at future Lithium conferences as well as throughout the year; hearing from other community managers was always very helpful, as well as inspiring, when I was a Lithium customer.
Thank you for an exciting and entertaining LiNC event, Lithium, and thank you for having me there.
(Photo credit: Top, Becky Carroll; Bottom -Lithium Technologies video from LiNC 2012, Paul Gilliham)