The “Social” in Social CRM


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Is it about technology or attitude?

Think of a company you really love as a customer. Think about what makes you love it. Chances are that it is not because they have such perfect product and processes that ensure a consistent experience every time.

You love a company because they interact with you outside the cold vendor-customer relationship. Because they communicate warmly and honestly. Because they give you personal attention and fix things when the product or the process fails. They engage with you.

Social CRM are strategies and technologies that put the customer in the center of the company strategy and allows for true engagement to happen.

The trade-offs between small and big

I once worked for a small technology company providing solutions for enterprise data centers. Every single customer was very important to us. We were far from perfect, but when things broke – and they did often, our attitude was to do whatever it took to fix it. They loved us. More than 15 years later, I still personally know several of the customers from that time, because lasting relationships are forged with engagement, trust,  crisis and positive responses.

I have also worked for larger organizations. It was all about maximizing “business model leverage”. We distanced ourselves from the end customer and “outsourced” engagement to resellers, distributors, system integrators. We engaged “with the market”, not with our customers. We tried making the average customer averagely satisfied. I don’t say that in a negative way. It is a very efficient and successful model that works if you have a large enough footprint and that has driven business since the industrial revolution.

Can we do Social CRM without Social Technologies?

Bill Thompson (founder of CustomerThink) started a great discussion at the Jeremiah Owyang’s Social CRM Pioneers group by asking the question:

Can you do “Social CRM” without Social Media/Networks?

In other words, is Social CRM about the right attitude or is it about technology?

Small independent coffee shops where you are greeted by name every morning already have a Social CRM strategy. They have no technology, no presence in Twitter or Facebook, and they truly engage and make the customer feel in the center of their business.

So, that example seem to answer Bill’s question. It is about attitude and engagement.

But that is not the whole story.

In my experience (discussed above), there is a clear a trade-off between engagement and scale. McDonald’s can offer geographical coverage and consistency, but not the same type of personal engagement that the corner coffee shop can.

Or can they?

The Promise of Social Computing Technology

Traditional media and communication methods are intrinsically not scalable in corporate engagement with customers. The print and broadcasting media (press, magazines, static web content, radio, TV) are good for pushing ideas, not for bi-directional engagement.

Phone conversations, face-to-face interactions, golfing outings are good for engagement, but they don’t scale cost-effectively when you have a large number of customers and want to offer a consistent user experience.

Social media and social networks promise to eliminate or minimize that trade-off. The digital medium allows for multi-peer, real-time interaction that can facilitate enough engagement to produce a satisfying customer experience when things are working and specially when things don’t.

As a concrete example, consumer social media sites host communities where customers can congregate to interact. If companies can make their knowledge base open to those venues, customers can self-help and peer-help when they face technical problems. If customer service representatives are part of the community, they can help manage the interaction and help many customers with common problems at once.

Because company resources are not consumed resolving trivial issues (where is the user manual? Can you reset my password?) or repeating the resolution of the same problem with every single customer over the phone, resources can be redirected to those cases where customers experience problems that truly require personal attention.

Internally, collaboration in most companies today is driven primarily through documents (papers and slide presentations), tools designed for point-to-point half-duplex communication (memos, e-mail) and face-to-face interactions (meetings and conference calls).

Social tools (e.g. wikis, discussion forums, microblogging platforms, social networks, chat rooms, etc) can help to scale interaction and engagement and allow a large number of people to collaborate towards common goals without the excessive functional segmentation of the classical company.

So it is about Attitude AND Technology

So, in conclusion, implementing Social CRM strategies is primarily a question of attitude. But for that attitude to scale, one need to consider the use of social media, social networks and social tools.

Social Business is about making large business feel like that independent corner coffee shop again.

This article was originally written for and posted at http://www.theclickcompany.com
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