Customers Want to Spread the Good News

Is Customer Service the new Public Relations?

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At the recent CRM Evolution conference, several of the speakers developed the concept that “Customer Service is the new Public Relations” (several others have written about it as well). Broadcasting your messages before and then listening only after the sale is no longer an appropriate segmentation. Companies need to provide a seamless customer experience, integrate the PR and CS efforts, and engage with customers from the beginning of the relationship.

I like that concept and have been pondering on it. It seems to be obviously the right thing to do. What are the obstacles for that to be implemented in real life?

Business People still afraid customers only complain

I asked a friend who owns a company reselling IT equipment (B2B) about her thoughts on tearing down the silos and segmentation in the customer interface. She tells me that there is too much risk customers and prospects would share sensitive information (such as price discount levels) and gain leverage against her or negatively influence other prospects (for example, by sharing limitations or deployment challenges for a specific solution).

“But wouldn’t the upside offset those risks?” I asked. She said  “when things work, customers go back to their business. They are too busy to share the good news. Customers only talk when there are problems.”

Whether we agree or not, I don’t think she is alone in that thinking. Companies are aware of the power of customer advocacy and want to capture Case Studies in paper, but they hesitate in promoting and amplifying peer-to-peer interaction among the customer and prospect bases for fear they will share bad news.

Customers are positive and like to spread good news

Then a few days ago, my friend Munish Gandhi (@munishgandhi) shared a link to a recent Customer Service survey by American Express Barometer.

Importantly, customers are spreading the word willingly and widely when they experience good service. In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, customers are more inclined to talk about a positive experience than complain about a negative one. Three-quarters (75%) are very likely to speak positively about a company after a good service experience in contrast with 59% who are very likely to speak negatively about a company after poor service.

So customers are more likely to talk about positive experiences than to complain about negative ones. Those results are in line with several other studies and surveys that conclude that people naturally tend to be positive/optimistic in average.

Breaking the silos

Why the disconnect between perceptions and reality? I believe the source of the bias is that the negative experiences in customer service tend to escalate up the management chain and gain visibility within organizations. When customers are happy, the classical company ignores them (and lose the opportunity to leverage customer advocacy – a fundamental aspect of Social Business). That is a problem in company attention focus, not in customer behavior.

Before we can accept the elimination of customer interaction silos so that Customer Service can be the new Public Relations and vice-versa, companies must acknowledge that the new social customer shares information with their peers whether we promote that conversation or not.

We also need to join the optimistic majority and believe that there is more upside than downside in promoting peer-to-peer customer interaction and amplifying the resulting conversation.

Customers want to spread the good news. We need to let them do it freely.

So, Companies, tear down that wall.

The Twitterfeed is Dead

Twitter is transport more than interaction tool

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When Wired Magazine recently declared on its cover “The web is dead“, it really meant that the Internet is becoming primarily a transport infrastructure and that applications (be it an iPhone app or a web 2.0 widget) running on the client will use it to communicate with servers in the cloud.  The model of a central server serving static user interface pages and action buttons to a browser that does not leverage local computing power is dying.

That is not new. In the 1980’s we shifted from mainframes computers to client-server architectures. Same evolution, same pattern. Can that be the case for micro blogging as well?

There is no question that the emergence of Twitter is  an incredible development. While the majority of the Internet users are still not there, those who are tend to become intense users quickly.

Twitter users are getting tired

People have debated the 140-character limitation endlessly. That feature made it primarily a transport infrastructure. Most of the posts in my timeline are a headline and a link to content stored outside Twitter.

As users connect to more than 75 other users or so, they can no longer keep up with their Twitter timeline. As marketers hijack popular hashtags, it becomes difficult to see the big picture of a discussion without spending unjustifiable amount of time separating signal from noise.

It is true that the Social Media communication protocol is recipient-discretion and nobody should feel pressured to read everything that passes the screen, but I see (and feel) signs of tiredness.

But Twitter still can be incredibly useful as a social transport

Change is coming. As we discover that transport infrastructures such as the Internet and Twitter are generally useful for different applications, creative people find ways to use it. Most intense users of Twitter are now using tools such as HootSuite or TweetDeck to help visualize posts of interest. A single-threaded timeline is no longer viable.

A new generation of applications are now using Twitter transport to add new features to specialized applications (be it Social CRM, Customer Service, Movie Reviews…). Filtering technology (social or algorithmic) can be applied. Timelines can be brought into the context where work is being done so it becomes a tool, not a distraction.

In the past days, we saw a deluge of posts announcing that “the xxx daily is out at”. Aggregating micro blogging posts using a newspaper metaphor sounds like a step backwards or a bridge: if you are old-style and cannot keep up with Twitter, we will package them in old-style newspaper format for you. Reading glasses not provided.

But, as I look at my page (which aggregates posts from people I follow), I realize it is a darn good way of getting the big picture without having to watch a time line all day. Sure, it is using Twitter as transport and leveraging the effects of social media, but it is delivering a different user experience.

All I am saying is that it is becoming obvious that the Twitter is just a transport. The killer app for interacting with that transport is still to emerge. Things like HootSuite and are just the beginning.

The Twitterfeed is already dead and I had not noticed.

Long life Twitter Transport.

Where are the Early Adopters of Social CRM?

It is time to shift from Ideas to Execution – where does the path start?

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Even if you haven’t heard much about Social CRM, you know customers are empowered by the use of digital technology and changing the way they engage with vendors. Social CRM is the answer to that change.

If you are in the SCRM community, you have heard the call for analysts, vendors and other experts to move from discussion of terminology and ideas to execution.

The shift to Social CRM (“Social” being a temporary terminology differentiator until CRM is social) has started several years ago and will continue to unfold for several years ahead. Turning customer relationships upside-down is a revolutionary idea, but business execution, processes and tools take longer to evolve. We are just starting that journey.

If you are still with me, I think a good question to ask is “Where is Social CRM first going to get traction?” If the transition is going to happen over a long period of time, it is reasonable to expect the adoption of Social Technologies will happen based on the path of least resistance and larger return. What specific business verticals are the low-hanging fruit ripen for early adoption?

I don’t have the answers, but I here are some ideas (which are admittedly not complete) :

The Medium is the Message

Of course the first companies affected by the emergence of Social Computing and the availability of the Digital Medium were the Media company themselves. Music, Press, Publications, Software industries are quickly being transformed by the use of Social Media. Incumbents did not it coming and are now struggling to adapt or becoming casualties of the the change.

Consumers are Faster than Businesses

Similarly to e-mail adoption in the early 90’s, the consumer has embraced social media earlier and faster than most businesses, so companies in the B2C space have already embraced Social Computing and are aggressively leveraging Social Media to listen and reach the market.

If B2C is past early adoption, what about B2B Social CRM?

Because business have not yet fully embraced Social Media for external communication and Social Computing tools in their internal operation, it is natural to expect the adoption of Social CRM to be gradual and selective.

Business selling B2B products or services for which early adopters of Social Media within the customer organization are also the buy decision makers should be able to implement Social CRM effectively earlier.

If it is true that Social CRM reflects a shift of control towards the customer and that Social Channels is the best way to scale the new customer engagement, then for Social CRM to work in practice, customers need to be able and willing to engage in those social media channels.

As an example, in most companies, marketers are the first to be exposed to social media and are likely to be early adopters of it both as a channel for marketing as well as a tool for everyday work. So, businesses selling to marketers like Marketing Agencies, Media Companies, Consulting Firms are natural early adopters of Social CRM in their practices.

Business selling B2B solutions that already have segmented Social CRM Practices can consolidate customer engagement and leverage newer Social Media channels.

Many companies selling complex solutions already have Social CRM practices partially implemented in certain areas. For example, it is not uncommon for Enterprise Software vendors to handle their post-sales customer service through online forums, communities and Knowledge Base systems (though still primarily using traditional broadcast methods to engage with customers pre-sales).

Because they already have some in-house experience listening to customers, their Social CRM adoption can focus on unifying their pre- and post-sales practices and shifting their technology infrastructure to better leverage open public social media channels.

Business selling B2B products or services for which focused, cross-vendor online customer communities have already developed naturally

Most IT vendors already maintain some type of branded customer community. But most of the interaction among IT System Administrators happen in cross-vendor open communities without control by a particular vendor.

There are many other instances of the example above and business selling those types of products or services should be able to benefit from and justify the adoption of Social CRM practices and tools.

Businesses selling B2B products or services for which opportunity or action triggers are often directly present in Social Channels.

Business travelers are circumstantially inclined to express frustration online, so any company providing relates services (hospitality, transportation, etc) are likely to benefit from adopting technologies that allows them to react in real-time.

There are incentives and psychological rewards for works to quickly announce job changes and promotions (by updating their LinkedIn profile, for example). The same apply to business announcements of changes in management, M&A activity and opening of new branches or locations. Business for which those events represent a significant trigger for action or opportunity can probably get disproportionate return on investments in Social CRM. Recruiting firms, IT equipment vendors are examples that come to mind.

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Making Caipirinha

Some of my friends will engage in long discussions on what is “the” recipe and process to make a “real” Caipirinha, but the traditional Brazilian cocktail is really really simple.

The word caipirinha translates to “country girl”, but that doesn’t carry much meaning. Caipirinha is really the name of the drink. It is a refreshing cocktail that can be found anywhere in Brazil and in bars around the world.

It is made from Cachaça (a.k.a. “Pinga”), a clear or slightly golden distilled from fermented sugar cane typical from Brazil. It is similar, but different, from rum (which is distilled from molasses). Popular and readily available brands include “51”, “Pitú”and “Ypioca”. In the US market “Sagatiba”, and “Leblon” are the most common.

Most cachaça is produced in high volume and intended to be mixed or to be taken as a shot. There is higher-quality cachaça meant to be sipped straight,  but you need to have a Brazilian friend to find one.

Here is my Caipirinha recipe (for two):

  • 2 small-to-medium limes
  • 4 teaspoons of sugar
  • 4 ounces of Cachaça
  • ice

Look for limes with smooth and thin skin. Wash, trim the top and bottom off, cut them in wedges or 1/8s. Add the sugar and mash with a muddler. Add the Cachaça. Shake the mixture and serve in a old-fashioned heavy glass with crushed ice.

Variations include the use of Vodka instead of Cachaça or the addition of other fruit juices (in which case, Brazilians call it “Batida”).

Here are a few examples of cachaça you will find in my pantry.

So, what is “Meritage”?

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So we have another of our wine tasting dinners this weekend. Our theme this month is “Unusual Blend.”

In the Old World, most wines are classic blends of different grapes. There are baseline proportions, but the wine maker will adjust the exact amount of each grape based on the characteristics of the harvest each year (with the purpose of maintaining balance and expressing the character of the local weather and soil conditions – the terroir). Wines are labeled based on the region where it is produced, following the classic local blend.

For example, Bordeaux is a region in the Southwest of France producing both white and red wines. Red wines are produced as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes (sometimes with the addition of a small proportion of Malbec and Carmenere).

Rioja is a region in Northern Spain. The Red Riojas are made mostly of Tempranillo (60%) and Granacha (20%), with smaller proportions of Graciano and Mazuelo grapes.

The better climate conditions in the wine producing regions of the New World allow wine makers to produce wines from a single grape varietal (searching to maximize the potential and express the character of the grape and the region). Accordingly, wines are labelled based on the varietal and region (Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Russian River Pinot Noir, etc).

So, California is generally known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. The Santa Cruz Mountains leverages the local micro-climate to product great Pinot Noirs. Australia wine regions produce lots of Shiraz.

Some grapes that were originally used in Europe only as a minor component of classic blends have been expressed in single-varietals in the New World. Argentina produces world class Malbecs and Chile produces Carmenere, for example.

When blends are produced outside the traditional regions in Europe, they cannot carry the original region name, which are protected by a international regulatory system.

In the US, wines must contain at least 75% of a grape to be labeled as that varietal, so Bordeaux-like blends do not qualify as a varietal and there was growing frustration among wine makers with a generic “red wine” label.

So in 1988, the Meritage association was created to manage a newly created trademark to designate those blends made from grapes traditional from Bordeaux in California (membership has since grown to include some other international wines).

Engaging with the Social Customer

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Everyone Represents the Company

Social Business Series (V)

The articles in this Social Business Series are being written for real-life SMB Leaders, who are busy running their business and have not had the time to read everything  in the emerging Social-anything space.

We have explored the scope of Social Business Software, the Use Cases for Social CRMSocial Lead Generation and Marketing Funnel, and Leadership in Social Business.

Let’s now focus on the specifics of Customer Engagement. If you would like to know more about the ideas behind the new “Social Customer”, you can check our The Click Company booklet or Engage, a book by Brian Solis.

Customer Service is the new Public Relations and vice-versa

We have segmented companies in departments dedicated to broadcast to or “influence” customers before the sale and others to listen to or “handle” customer problems after the sale. That segmentation optimizes organizations for efficiency, but does not provide for a seamless and satisfactory experience throughout the customer life-cycle: prospect, buyer, satisfied and loyal customer, brand advocate.

In the Social Business era,  the Social Customer will demand a better experience. The person representing the company in any customer interaction must be empowered to answer a question, solve a problem, collect feedback and satisfy a need on the spot.

Being able to communicate across multiple channels is no longer enough, you must be capable to switch between channels without losing context or dropping the ball.

This change will stress current business models and require changes in how we engage with prospects and customers.

8 points to consider when evaluating Customer Engagement in SMB

Only you know what applies to and works for your business, but here are a few points to consider when re-evaluating the way your company engage with customers.

  • Speak like a Person! Customers can see through the marketing messages and detect the intentions behind them.  Communicate as openly and directly as possible.
  • Recognize the true value of relationships. How much is a relationship worth? It is the sum of the transactions, plus the co-creation value (product and marketing insights), plus all the other transaction influenced by the person over the life of the relationship. Don’t think about the size of the deal, but how much value the person brings to the company.
  • You must go where customers are. For business customers, it can be online forums ( if you are lucky, your own online community) but they are starting to use social media sites for business as well. Employ Social tools embedded in your CRM or Customer Service platforms to scale human relationships. Automation is good for back-end processes, not for customer relationship.
  • Own the Engagement. Outsourcing Customer Service? Considering an “indirect channel strategy”? Thinking of your resellers as the real customers because they are the ones buying from you? Having other entities interact on your behalf is fine, but you need to own the engagement with customers, or your competitor will.
  • Open your Knowledge Base. Your KB must be open to external contributions and accessible so that customers can self- and peer-help, saving your resources to deal with the instances where specific action is required. The social customer often knows more about the product than the vendor itself.
  • Open your product design process to include customers. I don’t mean just having a product manager collecting use cases from anecdotal customer interactions. I mean truly open the process using social computing technology if necessary so that customer can help to co-create the solution, offer suggestions, prioritize features in a continuous and iterative engagement.
  • Operate in Real-time. If a customer is unhappy, you want to know immediately, before she influences 10 other prospects. A happy customer becomes a brand advocate.
  • Turn Marketing into a Resonance Chamber. We already know that the best way to convince a prospect is to have the endorsement of a happy customer. Connect your happy customers with your prospects, be in the conversation and resonate/amplify it. That is the new role of marketing.

If you find this article useful, you can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and leave comments suggesting other topics.

Also in the Social Business Series:

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Business Lessons from the Free Software Community

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Engineers have something to teach Business People

My involvement with Free and Open Source Software movement in the early 90’s is the root of the interest for Social Computing that brought me to Social Business/Social CRM. That was the first time a large group of people leveraged the pervasiveness of the Internet to collaborate in large-scale across traditional borders.

Several of the thought leaders in Social Computing were also involved in the Open Source movement (e.g. Doc Searls, proponent of VRM, was – still is –  an editor at the Linux Journal when he wrote some of the essays in the Cluetrain Manifesto more than ten years ago).

Developers all over the world voluntarily contributed time and content to community projects in exchange for peer-recognition, reputation and plain intellectual curiosity. Without any traditional organizational structure, Linux developers successfully tackled a very large structured problem (building an Operating System Kernel).

Linus Torvalds, the project leader, had no formal power or control over the developers.Marcelo Tosatti, the maintainer of the official Linux kernel distribution,  was 18 years old and worked from his bedroom in the South of Brazil, producing the software builds used to power the data centers of virtually all Wall Street financial firms.

The GNU/Linux Operating System runs most data center servers, including the ones at Google, Amazon, and JP Morgan. Databases like MySQL, Cassandra and Postgres are used to store data, including your bank transactions, Tweets and Status Updates. Development Tools such as Java and PHP powers almost all websites. If your browser is not Internet Explorer, it is built primarily on Open Source Software.

All this software was developed by communities of professional and non-professionals volunteers, working without direct financial interests or the control of a hierarchical structure. Some of the projects involved tens of thousands of people distributed all over the world.

Can big problems outside software development be solved the same way? That is up to debate, but here are some lessons engineers can offer to business people.

  • Hierarchy, structure and process may be useful, but they are not the only way to coordinate a large number of people in tackling a complex problem. Communities of volunteers with minimal coordination can achieve comparable results.
  • Financial reward is powerful, but it is not the only way to motivate smart people to contribute to a joint effort. Peer recognition, intellectual pride and curiosity and community reputation can be as or more powerful.
  • Collaboration may not be efficient, but it can be very effective in tackling problems that are broad in nature.
  • Community leadership emerges naturally and does not need to be associated to power and control mechanisms or a robust management system assigned by formal organizations.
  • Businesses can get involved with collaborative efforts without necessarily giving up their commercial interests or corrupting the community.

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