How to Collaborate with Customers without Using e-mail

Ever since I got started with my new mantra of giving up on e-mail, specially work related e-mail, I have been getting a good number of different comments from various folks, both inside and outside IBM, asking me how do I do it in order to collaborate and share knowledge with the customers I have been involved with. Mind you though that, as most of you out there would know by now, I don’t have a direct and frequent customer exposure; yet, I have been participating with several customer engagements in their adoption of social software over the last few months. So I do have a need to collaborate and share information / knowledge with them and here is how I eventually get it done without using e-mail!

In most cases, most of them are hanging out with me using different Web 2.0 tools like Facebook or Twitter, amongst many others, after we have met (Physically or virtually) and exchanged experiences around our own social software adoption. We eventually found out they are not that different from one another.

However, there has been an increasing number of customer interactions that I know in most cases other folks would be pushing for them through e-mail, because that is the easy way out. But have you thought the kind of impact you would be making, if you would take the time to co-educate your customers and yourself on how you can be much more productive by sharing knowledge and collaborating faster than through traditional e-mail by making use of social software tools?

I guess I am just saying that you would only be moving away from e-mail as your collaboration tool, if you eventually make it a choice not only for you, but also for your customers and collaboratively negotiate what would be the best way to interact without resorting to the easy way out.

So how do I do it? Well, instead of me explaining it, I thought I would share with you a story of how I have done it in the recent past. And actually it is going to be a story you are going to enjoy. It has been shared already through one of my favourite collaboration and knowledge sharing tools between IBMers, customers and business partners called Lotus Greenhouse.

In it, you would be able to read the story of Giora Hadar and how he managed to put together a rather impressive slide deck on Government 2.0 for a presentation he was giving to a customer after tapping into another fellow colleague and myself. The story is available over at the Lotus Greenhouse and in case you may not have access to it, I have taken the liberty of reproducing part of the article over here, so you get a glimpse of how we eventually managed to do it:

"[...] I asked Giora about his experience with the Lotus Greenhouse and he had a great story to share with me. Giora successfully completed a significant project by using the Lotus Greenhouse to collaborate with colleagues. In fact, before the project began, Giora did not even know all of the people involved! Here’s what happened… Giora was called by a local Lotus representative to give a joint presentation for Government 2.0 – see this article – with John Kamensky , another IBMer. Each person had their own presentation and they needed to combine the two presentations into one. While doing research, Giora ran across another presentation from Luis Suarez , an IBMer in Europe.

After being introduced to Luis, the three colleagues decided to combine all of their presentations into one. Giora did not have access to any internal IBM sites so he created an Activity in the Lotus Greenhouse through which to collaborate with John and Luis. It only took 36 hours for Giora, John, and Luis to create a single presentation. What an excellent example of how you can use the Lotus Greenhouse to work with others, between companies and around the world."

Yes, that’s right! In less than 36 hours, three total strangers with a passion to bring forward some awareness on Social Computing got together through Lotus Connections Activities in the Lotus Greenhouse and produced a final deck which was very well received by the customer and all of that without a single time using e-mail to get the job done!

That is how you can move away from e-mail as your collaboration tool. Find the group of folks you would want to collaborate with, even your customers!, and then decide jointly what’s the best way to get the job done. Don’t jump immediately into e-mail, because everyone has got it, or everyone will get it, or it is the easiest way to reach out. It may well be initially, but over time, it is a burden, it is locked down, it doesn’t provide an open, collaborative nor innovative space and there is always this innate feeling of having to chase things up, over and over again, right?

So, why not invest a little time at the beginning in collaboratively working with your customers and share with them how you would want to engage with them? Don’t you think that’s something they themselves would be expecting, too? You know, I bet they are the first ones who would want to move away from e-mail. Thus why not help them? Bring out the conversation and I am sure you would find plenty of lovely surprises all around… It is up to you to get things started and slowly, but steadily, move away from e-mail. And don’t worry, the wasters are lovely!


(You may not be able to access some of the links mentioned above, specially the ones related to the story itself, which has been shared inside the Lotus Greenhouse. If that’s the case and you would want to take a look around and read some more on it, sign up for a free account over at http://greenhouse.lotus.com/join and feel free to mention my name as the reference, if you are asked about one. Have fun!)

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