Miri Rodriguez: Driving operational change with social customer data

By Roger Christie, Managing Director

Miri Rodriguez is a Storyteller within the IT Showcase team at Microsoft in the US. But storytelling isn’t content marketing fluff — as Miri states in our interview, it’s ‘a tool that makes people care about data.’ And customer data is at the core of all Miri does, and a key driver of both business change and value.

Roger Christie (RC): Thanks for joining me all the way from Seattle today, Miri. And I have to ask straight up — what does the title ‘Storyteller’ entail and what’s your connection with social practitioners?

Miri Rodriguez (MR): Thank you for having me, Roger — it’s such an honour! I’m glad you asked what a Storyteller is, but I’ll actually answer that by telling you first what a Storyteller is not. A Storyteller is not a marketer. In fact, storytelling is not marketing. Storytelling is a tool that makes people care about data. So as a storyteller, my job is to create emotionally seductive content that stands out and makes people engage because they want more.

RC: Thanks for clarifying. Particularly as I’m sure most would associate storytelling with marketing and B2C industries. Though I’m sure this sort of approach has just as much value in a B2B context — could you explain the role of social in helping you reach B2B segments?

MR: Just like storytelling, social is no longer ‘another communication or marketing channel’; it’s not even a department. Social is a tool we should use to establish our brands in the digital space, in the midst of digital transformation. This is true for B2C and B2B alike. Social enables brands to be human — vulnerable — and this helps connect organisations to customers at an intimate level. For B2B specifically, social can help brands establish their reputation as industry experts. Brands that offer a combination of educational and informational content are consistently seen as thought leaders, and this builds trust and loyalty from B2B customers.

RC: Now, before we delve into things further, we should really address the other elephant in the room: your employer. It’s all sounding good and sensible to use social to establish your brand as an industry expert, but I’m guessing most people are probably thinking: ‘Microsoft in the US — big tech budgets and an easy sell for social media…’ I’m sure it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and you’ve faced the same barriers as anyone with a social remit. When did you first have to make the case for social and how did you go about it?

MR: Ah, yes. That elephant. Listen, social media is a journey…for everyone. Including Microsoft. We’ve absolutely dealt with our fair share of ‘opportunities for improvement’ that, frankly, will never stop. If you are transforming, you are always changing and you are always trying out new things.

One thing that has allowed Microsoft to stay relevant and at the top of our game in thought leadership is that employees are not only allowed but encouraged to take risks. Calculated risks, of course, and I have done that again and again in social and other groups.

I remember taking my first risk in social and thinking: ‘I’m either gonna get fired, or promoted out of this.’ I was managing three social care teams for global English, Spanish and Portuguese languages and our responses to customers were very ‘techy’ — they truly did not reflect our brand. So, we deployed new voice guidelines and a proactive and fun content strategy. We tested first in Spanish — where the cultural norm is to be very formal when addressing customers — and eventually adopted worldwide.

It was a no brainer. Customer engagement and following increased by over 40% in a matter of three months. If data shows we’re moving in the right direction, we continue forward to the next phase. The key to a calculated risk is to always bring the customer into every conversation. You have to ask yourself: is this idea good for my ego or for my customer?

RC: That’s an interesting point. We’re human beings, and all naturally defensive of our own position and way we do things. And I’m sure many people reading have had suggestions ignored due to the personal opinions and legacy attitudes of others, rather than concrete evidence. How do you recommend people foster change within their own organisations while managing ego?

MR: You know what? No one has ever said: ‘Great idea, Miri!’ at the beginning of anything. And I don’t expect them to. You have to approach everything with substantial evidence and conviction that what you’re doing is the right thing to do by your customer. Do your homework. Come armed with data that backs up your idea. Be curious. Be respectful and check your ego at the door every time.

No one has ever been fired for being customer obsessed, and I promise no one in leadership is going to turn down an idea that ultimately benefits the customer and the bottom line. If they do, it’s time to revisit your company’s vision.

RC: And yet we still have many local organisations viewing ‘social’ and ‘digital’ simply as a means for execution, rather than part of customer strategy. Recent conversations among retailers around Amazon coming to Australia are a great example of that. What advice do you have to organisations treating social and digital as channels only?

MR: Brands that are still having a hard time adopting social as part of their business are going to have a hard time keeping their customer base. Today’s customer is connected and constantly searching online for brand history, reputation, competitor prices. The customer is also trying to connect with the brand online. Our job is to meet customers where they are and to stay on top of the digital trends, so we have an established presence in this and every space where the customer might be.

And, actually, a great example of this is Amazon. They started as an online business and are now building brick and mortar stores because Gen Z likes that physical experience with product. Now that’s a brand that innovates and gives the customers what they want, and that store is always full, by the way!

RC: Speaking of innovation, how does a business like Microsoft test and implement new opportunities like bots, automation or AI? And how do you justify investment or demonstrate results in your space?

MR: As I said before, Microsoft is continuously experimenting, and that of course includes experimenting with technology. Innovation is at the core of our DNA. I’m glad you asked about testing and implementing because we just had our yearly Hackathon at the end of July and I tell you, the stuff I saw on AI, automation and accessibility was simply mind-blowing. We have ideas, we hack ideas, we test ideas, we implement ideas and the results take care of themselves. I never take for granted working for a company’s whose true culture is to empower us to do more!

RC: Which leads me to my final question, tying all these aspects together. You’ve covered a really broad range of opportunities under the banner of storytelling — how do you make the case to explore these opportunities with senior leaders when you’re often breaking new ground? And how do you measure your success or business impact?

MR: I know it sounds cliché, but it really starts with the customer and ends with the customer in mind. Ask your customers what they want and build a case to give that to them. You can start small. Even a small gesture lets the customer know you care and you’re listening. Be an ambassador for your customers and be relentless to drive that great experience they deserve. Be the expert in your social media field and present yourself as such to your leaders. The true measure of social media is not reach or engagements. It’s customer trust and loyalty. Do your customers trust you?

RC: Thanks so much for your time, Miri.

This was the third interview in Propel’s Expert Series featuring Miri Rodriguez — Storyteller at Microsoft. Miri can be found on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, if you would like to follow up any topics raised in her interview. The Expert Series will continue soon, and aims to showcase the breadth of business opportunities and value available to organisations by focusing on social capabilities, not social media channels. If you have an interviewee recommendation, please contact our Managing Director, Roger.