Welcome to an on-going series of interviews with the people behind the technologies in Social Business. The interviews provide insightful points of view from a customer, industry, and vendor perspective. A full list of interviewees can be found here.
Rob Tarkoff, President and CEO Lithium Technologies
Rob Tarkoff is president and CEO of Lithium Technologies, the leader in Social Customer Solutions.
Before assuming the CEO role at Lithium, based in Emeryville, Calif., Rob was Senior Vice President and General Manager of Adobe Systems’ Digital Enterprise Solutions business unit that had annual revenue in excess of $1 billion. Rob pioneered Adobe’s Customer Experience Management strategy, and was responsible for the core Acrobat, Adobe Connect Web conferencing, Adobe Digital Enterprise Platform, and customer experience management offerings. He oversaw the Web content management and digital asset management solutions gained through Adobe’s acquisition of Day Software. Rob also led Adobe’s worldwide enterprise solution partnerships, including system integration partners and strategic ISVs.
Before Adobe, Rob held several executive positions at EMC Corporation, Documentum, Inc. and Commerce One.
1. Tell me in 2 minutes or less why Social Computing is changing the world for your customers.
Rob Tarkoff (RT): Social computing is changing the way marketers and line of business executives interact with their customers. It’s not another channel. It’s a philosophy. It’s a key way that customers experience brand.
The larger question is: “How do you design, build, deploy and manage an effective solution in the midst of massive evolution?” And, unfortunately, there is no common interpretation of social. Some get it fundamentally wrong when they view this only as a channel. Some are enlightened with a new philosophy to serve their customers.
Today, we face an expectations-gap between the consumer world and business environment. Employees and customers yearn to experience software and offerings as social and community based, whether it’s shopping, gaming, or internal collaboration.
What’s interesting is there is a generational gap here. People are very interested in including their reference peer group in everything they are doing with recommendations and experience sharing. A slightly older demographic may see the value of social, yet have not implemented that into everything they do. They see it as a major advantage, but may not fundamentally know how they want to engage with the ongoing experience
Meanwhile, the 40 to 50 year old demographic is engaged. They have to think about social the same way they think about rich media. For this group, social media is a rich media. This medium provides new ways to interact and experience. They expect these paradigms to be designed into everything.
2. What makes social computing disruptive?
(RT): The major disruption is the change in the power balance. Consumers have the power because they can quickly amplify their experience with admiration for a brand they love or rally their connections to hear their injustice. Companies are responding as much as they are leading. We now have the customer-network effect.
With social on everyone’s mind, company authenticity gains in importance. You can’t hide stuff in a social world because everything you do is on Twitter and Facebook. The major disruption is people have all the power and expect to use the power to surface whether or not a company is authentic.
Is a company doing what it says it’s doing? Are they true to the core of what they are about?
People are more willing to tweet or post on Facebook about a bad experience than call a company to tell them they had a bad interaction. This makes the way companies must respond to customers very different. And, you need to build this competency into your call centers and at every customer touch point.
Now, the only way to differentiate yourself and experience is through service and customers experience. Some may some say this is a major challenge, but those who have embraced can make the social customer experience an opportunity to differentiate, accelerate sales, and build brand advocacy.
3. What is the next big thing in Social Business software?
(RT): We have spent years uncovering what makes communities so powerful. Today, we are working on helping business executives understand the business impact. There are a lot of start-ups and un-proven technologies in the market creating confusion. At Lithium, we’re interested in understanding the effect of communities on people’s loyalties. What makes a community tick? What makes them sustainable? What makes a visitor return? Tell their friends? These are critical aspects for business executives to understand and core to social business software.
Interactions must be much more interactive and dynamic. I can’t stress enough how important it is that companies focus on the health of their communities, guiding them to create, encourage and reward brand advocates.
Social business software also helps drive down customer service costs. But this really is so much bigger than containing costs. We’re changing the competitive dynamics across entire industries.
4. What are you doing that’s disruptive for Social Computing?
(RT): Social computing should be more then just building connections from one platform to another. We change things by building a system that is meant to strengthen ties between people. It’s the passionate fans, the ones who feel like they belong to your brand, that are changing the game. They’re offering up their evangelism, their ideas, they’re advice to other customers. Taking that kind of data and making it useful to an organization takes changes to both culture and technology. Social customers don’t care if your title is “customer service agent” or “CEO” – when they have a question, they just want an answer. ASAP. So if you can create a system where any employee or passionate fan can give information exactly when it’s needed, everybody wins.
And, unlike a general online community, Lithium has created methods for brand advocates to attain rank and reputation. These ranks are associated with their ability to view, respond, and engage with other members of the community. It’s not a volume-game. It’s based upon how others in the community value your contribution. It’s our not-so-secret sauce to encourage repeat participation and provide passionate members with a badge of honor for their knowledge and contribution.
5. Where do you see technology convergence with Social?
(RT): Companies are facing a complete transformation in how they must engage with their customers. With volume of information, people, and resources available, customers are savvier than ever. The incredible digital transformation happening across industries has created unprecedented opportunities for companies to forge deep relationships with their customers through habit-forming community experiences. Lithium empowers companies to find their biggest advocates, tap their passions, and motivate them to participate to develop deeply engaged customers and brand buzz while enabling a superior customer experience.
6. If you weren’t focused on Social Computing what other disruptive technology would you have pursued?
(RT): I’m a big sports fan and was a tennis player in college so sports play a role. For me, I’d be developing devices that retrain your neuromuscular programming to perform at the same level as 20 years ago. If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be doing stuff around energy and clean-tech. I see many opportunities in the world of electric vehicles. We’re finally getting traction. This is where Shai Agassi was ahead of his time. I see so much interesting stuff in the future of transportation that I’d be looking at these areas. Because I love the San Francisco bay area and I don’t think too much about where else I’d be.
7. What’s your favorite science fiction gadget of all time?
(RT): I would say it’d be a jet pack that I could ride to travel around Silicon Valley and avoid the Valley’s notorious traffic. Cheaper than a helicopter, and more portable.
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