Tuesday, December 16, 2008

First Steps to Connect

Actually you probably already have a first step. It has become so basic that it no longer stands out. I hope the things I talk about here will fall into that category very soon.

The first step in connecting is to have a connection point. What most of us have today at a minimum is e-mail. That gives you a basic tool through which to communicate.

I am going to assume this is a baseline starting point and call it step zero.

Step one is to have a platform to launch e-mail, or other communications. For a business this platform is your client's basic information as relates to the products or services you provide that client.

In the mass online space this would be the equivalent of a FaceBook or MySpace profile. In the typical business space this is the equivalent of your in house customer database system.

Here are the problems with using these for connecting.

Social networks such as FaceBook or MySpace are intended to be wide open. When you are transacting business you need more customer privacy. Sometimes the privacy is legally required. Sometimes - all the times - it is just appropriate and expected behavior.

Back office customer databases are just generally not built to be open to each individual customer. The entire system design is usually a small improvement on the best of the 1980's IT thinking. Trying to move it into the real time, keyword based, social tagging, online 24/7 is more or less like adding a GPS to Great Granddad's horse. You can do it but it lacks a certain something.

What you need is a platform that is built for the web. Not retrofitted.

I am going to talk about the platform we have built and are continuing to enhance. I know this will sound like a commercial - it is to a small extent. But mostly I am going to talk about that platform because I know it best. It is being built in steps that have a reason behind the sequence of releases. It is not something that may fit your situation. It is designed for insurance agents, so most folks that read this will have no use for it and will also have to insert their own industries needs.

The first step is creating user profiles for all the folks with whom you need to connect. These profiles can be changed by each user once they start using them to collaborate with you. But you need to create them initially.

In our little corner of the world - insurance - we have three basic profiles. The business, the employees of the business, the clients of the business. Your business is probably about the same to this point.

So for us step one is to create a business profile.

Here is what our systems agency (the insurance business entity) profile looks like.

Notice that the first thing we show is the business logo. The web is a very visual space now that everyone assumes high speed connections. Your logo is part of your brand and should show on every communications you have. In our system it shows in the top left had corner of all screens you will use to collaborate with others.

Next you put in your basic name, address, phone, web site, e-mail and mailing address information. Remember, this is a communication platform. All this information is about how to connect with your business.

Step Two is to create a profile for the folks that work at the business.

Here is what our Agent (the employees of the Agency) profile looks like.

Again, this is a visual medium so we have a picture for each person that works at the business. this way when your co-workers or clients are connecting or collaborating with you, they can see you. That's a good thing by the way.

The rest of the profile is information to allow connection and communication.

Third Step is to create a Client Profile for each Client.

Here is what our client profile looks like.

Notice the top left image is a picture of the client or something about them. The lower picture is the agent (employee) who is primarily responsible for this client. Now when anyone is working in the space, they can see the other parties visually.

You will also notice that the client profile has much more information connected to it. There are all the tabs at the top of the profile for more detailed information. There is also a Map Link to pass information from this profile out to other useful services. In this case Google Maps. Remember, there is no need to build services that are already easily available. That is part of collaboration also.

So this is the first part of Connect, Collaborate, Compete. Getting things started as it were.

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