Title: Chief marketing officer
Size: $1.66bn market capitalisation, 1,070 employees
FEARLESS: Using dialogue to drive change
Britta Meyer believes social technologies are most powerful when used to create a true dialogue with customers that helps a company improve its products and operations—and become a more successful business.
Many companies still view social technologies simply as one-way marketing tools, says Ms Meyer, who is chief marketing officer of WageWorks, a San Mateo, California, company that provides pre-tax commuter and healthcare savings and spending accounts to corporate employees. “They’re afraid that customer input is going to tarnish their brand.”
But today’s consumers, empowered by social media, are increasingly turned off by one-way marketing, she says. Whether companies like it or not, consumers will voice their opinions. Businesses must listen and respond or risk causing damage to their brand.
On the flip side, fostering customer connections can shift opinion powerfully in a company’s favour. Yet social “doesn’t work as a marketing channel unless you are prepared to open the social door and let people come in with their issues—not your issues,” Ms Meyer says.
One of the biggest complaints WageWorks fielded from its customers was about the unfairness of the “use it or lose it” aspect of Healthcare Flexible Spending Accounts, a federal rule that forced employees to forfeit any unused money at the end of the year. So the company began expressing concerns to US Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service officials in 2010, adding its voice to those of other employers. In 2013, the IRS decided to modify the rule to allow $500 of unused funds to be carried over to the next year.
The victory underscored the power of listening to and advocating for customers and using their frustrations as catalysts for improvements. Today, Ms Meyer is using social tools to listen to WageWorks’ customers and improve her company.
“What’s really exciting is that any consumer has a voice today, and it’s really up to the company how to respond to it,” says the 43-year-old native of Germany. “That is going to change the business.”
To change WageWorks, she has created a three-part strategy comprising “social care” for customers, social marketing and a “social enterprise” agenda for employees—all supported by technology. Her team monitors and quickly responds to every service inquiry, customer review and blog post that mentions the company, whether the comments are positive or negative. She then passes along what customers have to say to company management, which uses the feedback to improve WageWorks’ service.
To gain employee buy-in, she laid out exactly how the company would make the strategy a reality. “Explaining what we do, why we do it, how others are doing it and sharing initial successes all leads to an improved comfort level as we execute on the plan,” she says.
“You have to let go of the fear,” she insists. “You can’t just post tweets and go on Facebook. That’s not going to do anything for you anymore. What companies need to do is live and breathe what the principle of social stands for—which is being open and listening.”