Are You Outsourcing Your Best Asset?

Are you outsourcing the most valuable aspect of your business? Or worse yet, not paying attention to it at all? Technology has been replacing humans at work for many years. And recently the remaining humans in American and elsewhere have been replaced by other humans in areas that pay lower wages. The result has been a significant deemphasis in the value of human capital in business in America.

Here's The Equation

Web 2.0 amplifies the voices of dissatisfied consumers. And yet, most companies have been subtracting the number of humans period (technology) or humans housed at the corporate office (out-sourcing). Finally, another increasing trend is the face-to-face contact consumers expect from companies (ComcastCares, anyone?).

Increase in personal interaction - humans equipped to handle that interaction + web 2.0 vehicles to spread word of dissatisfaction = potential major headache for companies.

The Good News

Some companies, however, understand the increasing importance of the customer experience. H&R Block set up a Second Life avatar to answer tax questions during scheduled meeting times, in addition to their efforts on Twitter and Facebook. They understood that they were required to go to where their customers were, instead of expecting customers to come to them.

This outreach isn't easy though. The Social Media podcast spoke with Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block about this outreach:

"The other big surprise is how much time you have to put in from a human capital standpoint. And we knew that going in, that the trade-off between buying media is going to be the human capital side, but really understanding that human capital side of it and thinking about it from [the perspective that] 'if this is successful, how do you scale it to make sure you can still deliver the same experience.'"

What's A Small Business To Do?

If a huge, multi-national corporation in a highly conservative, regulated industry recognizes the use of social media, what is your excuse? If this business behemoth was able to learn and grow along with their customers, why is your small business still wavering?

While I mention the cost in human capital, there are two important factors for my readers who are small business owners:

1. While time is a cost, most of these social media tools are completely free, including blogging, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, etc.

2. Your human capital costs will be much, much smaller than H&R Block. First, the number of customers clamoring for your attention are far less. Second, you aren't hiring an associate marketing director to oversee this.

Teach your smartest high school employee about what you want to get out of the exercise, what your priorities and expectations are, and what they can handle versus what you need to be alerted to. If they are as smart as you think, I would wager they could effectively handle 95% or more of that traffic.

The Gist

Don't outsource the most important part of your business: the human part! I don't know how human capital became so devalued, but I urge you not to make this common mistake. Create advocates of your employees so your brand will be safe and your company will prosper.

Or am I completely wrong? Am I overstating the importance of human capital or is it simply too expensive an investment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Bonus Note: Examples Of Companies Ignoring The Focus On Customer Service And Human Capital

In recent years with the advent of web 2.0, stories of the effects of this shift have been circulating at an increasingly rapid pace. Just last week, as though any of us needed more evidence of phone companies' problem with their human capitol, Max Kalehoff and Seth Godin wrote ripping criticisms of Sprint and Verizon's customer service failures, respectively.