Is social CRM in? Is social CRM out? In… Out… In… Out… Shake it all about

The hokey cokey. What if that really is what it's all about?

What a confusing world we live in.  A couple of weeks ago one leading thinker would have had us believe Social CRM is dead. A week later, it’s not dead, it just needs to evolve.

Thankfully this week Facebook has come to our rescue. Step back from the life support machine, it lives.

At the risk of contributing to this hokey cokey of business buzzwords, and as much for my own clarity as anything, I thought I’d try to apply a touch of logic.

Some businesses are driven by a desire to be progressive. But most organisations will only act, or change, if they are also feeling a business imperative to do so. In a lot of cases that imperative is shaped by customer behaviour, especially in the face of competitive pressure.

The catalyst that is driving change for many businesses today is the emergence of the social customer.

The social customer is always on. Aggressively comparing products and services to get the best price and the best service often in-store on smartphones. Expecting instant response and issue resolution. Looking for consistency wherever and however they interact with your brand. Happy to make their dissatisfaction very plainly felt by sharing it throughout their networks very visibly and indelibly online. Trusting recommendations and referrals from friends, family and fellow customers way more highly than the old guard ‘authorities’ of government, media or brand.

But this new breed BT calls the autonomous customer is also keen to self-serve, researching online, seeking information. Collaborating and sharing. Keen to get involved and have their voice heard. Happy to share information and help others. Happy to defect if a product or service is not good enough. But also willing to buy more from companies that make it easy to work with them (83% of customers are that willing in fact, according to BT).

The social customer then is disintermediating uninterested companies. They are turning to their family, friends and peers for recommendations, support, and even to purchase.  Their conversations are public, recorded online and searchable.  They are creating online social currency that carries companies’ brands.

This autonomous customer is the reason that many businesses understand that the value of social is more than amplifying marketing and communications.

Old school CRM is systematically recording data and automating processes mapped to the traditional view of the customer journey. The technology is essentially a database with workflows. The strategy revolves around developing a single view of the customer as they pass through a business, with the objective of managing that customer journey efficiently, to deliver the best benefit to the customer and the best productivity and profit to the company.

Social CRM encompasses an understanding that customer journeys have fundamentally changed with the widespread take up of social media. The journey is no longer linear, and while customer touch points continue to occur all along the traditional journey, but they also occur all around it, outside of it, independent of the company.

Social CRM technology is about identifying and capturing these interactions and this content and tying it back to traditional CRM data to get a better view of the customer. Social CRM strategy is about socialising the process of engagement with the customer.

But now we see that the social customer’s journey is fragmented, stages are repeated, elements are handled outside of the organisation, it really makes more sense not to talk about the customer journey, but to talk about the holistic customer experience of a brand.

In my last post I talked about Capek’s notion of non-touch-points, and how they present opportunities for engineering creative points of competitive difference in the customer experience – not just ‘better sameness’.

Social technologies – amongst other tools, behavioural insight for example – can help us understand both the touch and the non-touch points, and identify influential moments in the customer experience. Add in the social layer of connection, conversation and collaboration and we don’t need to address those influential moments in a vacuum.

Rather, when such moments are identified, we can address them in context and in conversation and a whole range of new opportunities emerge. We can engage with customers at the point when it matters to them. We can serve customers better and in new ways, built around their needs.

So what is my conclusion?

Industry commentators and the media need to be always looking for the latest angle to keep their content fresh. Really, whether or not social CRM only lived for three months late in 2008 and has now passed away is a moot point. What is of much more interest is what businesses today are actually doing.

And companies today are looking at how they integrate all those business functions that shape how customers perceive and interact with their organisation. They appreciate the value in weaving their particular blend of reputation management, customer service, employee engagement, influencer relations, advertising and product development together. To hark back to another term we might have thought deceased, this is joined-up thinking. Now made feasible through a combination of business need, adaptable corporate culture and social technologies.

If there is an evolutionary path following on from dabbling in social media, then the next appropriate, relevant, achievable and valuable step is social CRM. And it’s only just begun.

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