Social Media, Marketing and a Dose of Humility

I’m a proponent of social media, not because it’s the “latest greatest” bandwagon to jump on but rather because it really has the ability to shorten the customer to supplier distance and drive quicker and better response times. It’s always nice to be able to write about real world examples of that process, and recently an interesting one came across my desk, especially because it involves two companies that I’ve written about in the past.

Zuora (see coverage here) is a SaaS subscription vendor while Syncplicity (see coverage here) is online synchronization and central file management provider. They had an exchange which is well worth looking at….

Syncplicity signed on as a Zuora customer in in March 2009 for a new offering it wanted to launch later in the year. Being a tech company, they decided to self-implement Z-Billing with little direct help from Zuora. Syncplicity then went live with basic functionality in April. In July, Syncplicity was experiencing a bunch issues with Zuora, some technical and some not – but most attributable to sub-optimal communications and customer support.

In frustration, Syncplicity CEO Leonard Chung posted a scathing comment on LinkedIn. Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo saw the comment and, after a reportedly sleepless night, contacted Leonard wanting to repair a very public falling out. He assigned his top engineering exec to the problem. In turn, Chung assigned his key person to work with Zuora on the issues.

The process to fix Syncplicity’s issues took 3 months but at the end of it all there was a successful roll out of the new Syncplicity product in November and, in a happy ending to a sad story, Chung is now a reference customer for Zuora and is pretty positive given the history, as he says, "we had a rocky start, but they really pulled through for us”.

After speaking to Chung about the incident I was really keen to hear Tien’s perspective. Bear in mind that Tien is a alumnus – his career developed watching the great marketer and visionary Marc Benioff sell the world on his vision. It’s not surprising that Tien is widely acknowledged, by both friends and competitors, as a master marketing mind.

However the Syncplicity affair shows that perhaps Tien overstated what Zuora was capable of back in early 2009. Perhaps a degree of hype got in the way of a clear description of what Zuora could, and could not, do. I put this to him and his reply was refreshingly honest for such a showman:

There is a fine line between hype and vision – articulating an exciting vision can galvanize people to achieve. Zuora has been running fast since its inception, the Syncplicity event was a wakeup call to focus on the core tents of creating tools that make business more successful

The event spurred Tien to embark upon what he’s internally labeling “Zuora 2.0” – a transformation of the business into a more reflective place that is focused on customer success. Of course sometimes that means exerting control over customer sign on and deployment. It’s indicative that Elizabeth Tse, who in a previous role ran eBay, has joined the Zuora management team as Vice President of Customer Operations. It indicates much more of a focus on internal customer advocacy.

Sometimes then, a failure is a positive thing. For Zuora the affair, although unfortunate, has led them to a mantra simple articulated as “deliver 100% customer success”. 2010 will show what that actually means for customers.

Overall, social media has shortened the feedback loop for both companies and made a big difference in the customer service process – people can easily find the CEO and other key staff easily, and contact them directly – it’s exceptionally empowering and, used wisely, can bring immense value to an organization.

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Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. His business interests include a diverse range of industries from manufacturing to property to technology. As a technology commentator he has a broad presence both in the traditional media and extensively online. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

More about Ben here.

One response to “Social Media, Marketing and a Dose of Humility”

  1. hosted crm online

    This is not the first public lashing I have heard given via social media, it is becoming a common occurence. Zuora handled the incident in exactly the right way. This has enabled them to demonstrate to customers, right we got it wrong (this one time) but we have now made it right and even better! If all companies use this as their mantra public comments will not be too much of a customer relationship nightmare.