Direct interaction with customers is key to the understanding and responsiveness required for a company to better serve them. That may seem obvious, but it is easy for a business of almost any scale to outgrow the forced contract that assures that leadership in all departments benefits from such interaction. Directly-gained insight from customers is vital not only to sales and marketing, but also to R&D, engineering, distribution, and, with more IT reaching customers and suppliers, IT leadership as well. Social data can’t replace the direct communication with customers–but it can, increasingly, augment it.
Gigaom Research social curator Stowe Boyd has an interesting post, Shaping companies to get closer to customers, that touches on some of the research on the value of customer-signal information and its implications for the social-generation enterprise.