Social CRM is not about media but a new approach to customer relationship

Summary : everyone has an idea, even a rough one, of where social CRM is taking us but no one exactly knows what will be the levers. A common mistake is to keep on managing customers the old way, as a passive target whose only function is to buy in a system where value is created to his detriment. The whole by using new channels. This way of doing things does not improve anything and even harms those who practice it. So we need go step back to basics and manage the customer relationship instead of managing the customer. It forces us to rethink, point by point, the components of this relationship : its subject, the exchanges, stakeholder identities, its follow-up and its exploitation. Social CRM is not a matter of media but a new approach to a customer that has become a stakeholder and an active player of a value co-creation processus.

I had the opportunity to talk with Paul Greenberg, during the last Lotusphere. We shared our opinions about what social CRM was, wasn’t and the state of the art.

Our first acknowledgement was that, even if nearly everybody agree on the big picture, everyone has his own definition and vision. Is it a problem ? Not at all since it’s obvious that, as for enterprise 2.0, so many cultural, organizational and even industry-related factors play a role what makes that’s there’s not a single SCRM model but an SCRM concept that has to be adapted to each organization.

Our second point of agreement was about the “social channel”. Moving from CRM to SCRM does not only mean using new channels to replicate old behaviors. For instance using Twitter of Facebook to push the same special offers as with the old emailings. At best it’s social marketing, at worse it’s spam and, even more, it gets on people’s nerves because they are bombed with useless information while they get no answer when they try to use the same channel to talk to the enterprise. (Yes…it’s a two-ways channel, contrary to email that always mention “do not reply”…strange way to envision customer relationship isn’t it ?).

Consequence of these two points : social crm is rather an approach to customer relationship than a matter a channel. I’d even go further : people can do social CRM “face to face”, by phone, on any channel. What matters is to consider the customer as a stakeholder and draw all the consequences.

So, I suggested Paul what would be, in my opinion, a minimalist social CRM program :

• Segmentation of the audience and delivery of a message, of information and contents, and even specific services for each segment. Contrary to received ideas, enterprises don’t talk a one community but to many communities they don’t own. For instance, an airline will have its own fans, the Airbus A380 fans, those who love travels, their “high contribution” customers, those who are stranded in a far country. Each category expects something different : some want to dream, some “insider information”, some special ofers, some service. Some will never be customer but contribute to establishing the brand online, some are good customers that have to be engaged and retained, some need to be convinced to be acquired.

• Organization a customer case management system that makes that, whatever is the channel that’s used, the message goes inside the organization, is handled by the right person (what would look like the junction of advanced case management and social networking) then goes back to the customer without any break in the flow. (Keeping in mind that it’s not the perfect answer to everything).

It’s a little bit light and minimalist but that may be a good start. In fact, like we agreed with Paul, so few organizations have reached this point that it’s better than nothing for a start.

But, since it appears that it’s about a new vision of the relationship between organizations and their customers, here’s how I’d see things point by point. CRM means Customer Relationship management. Enterprises have been focusing on Customer Management for years, considering customers as passive targets who can be controlled and manipulated rather than active stakeholders. Their role being to consumer, pay and, most of all, shut up. SCRM is focusing on the “R” of relationship that has been overlooked for decades. Relationship means exchanges, two-ways flows and a common goal around which the relationship solidifies.

So, what are the pillars of this new relationship ?

• The subject

A relationship has a subject and, in the case of customer relationship, it’s a product or a service that the one want to sell to the other or buy from him. This subject used to be defined internally and pushed to the market but is more and more crowdsourced, what means that its design is more and more the result of a work that involves the enterprise and its ecosystem. I won’t mention here all the initiatives that goes in that direction, should they be about listening to market feedback to improve what’s existing or a true co-innovation program.

In this example, it’s easy to see that the approach does not depend on the media. Of course no one can avoid to listen to what’s being said on the web. But nothing prevents an employee who has the customer in front of tim to gather feedbacks and share them instead of keeping it for him without being able to change anything.

• Sales

Around the transaction, that can take place either online or offline, there are many things and most of all the preparatory communication that makes the sale happen. Here, the idea is to move from intrusive push to explanatory conversations. This takes us back to online communities segmentation as I mentioned above. It’s about informing, answering those who have questions and explaining to those who have a need that the enterprise can meet that “we may have something to help you”.

In addition to the monitoring side, the method and the voice will matter. It’s about being seen as a solution provider, with humility without imposing a sales message. In some case it will mean that the enterprise will have, first, to be accepted by a given community, what will take some time. Sometimes, talking about the product will be irrelevant and the enterprise will have to share advice and information on side-topics in order to increase its footprint, reinforce trust, show it’s a part of the community and not a commercial parasite.

In short, it’s about moving from “buy my product, it’s the best” to “How can I help you”.

• The follow-up

It’s a subject I pay lot of attention to. Once the sale is made, the product or service may not be working well, be deceiving or the customer may not master its use. This point is all about customer care. Many options can be contemplated, alone or jointly :

– having a dedicated customer care channel on social media like Bestbuy,or  Delta Airlines.

– set up a “peer care” platform where customers can help one another.

What’s interesting here is that this interaction is often not social or community at all because the enterprise faces a person who want a personal problem to be fxed. What can be social is the way to fix it, with an Advanced case management system. In other words, when facing an unique problem, gathering the right people and right information in a structuring but flexible template. This is a way to make Empowerment compliant with the corporate need for trust and control.

It will soon be clear that using Facebook or Twitter as a call center will need some processes, even light.

• Exploitation

When the relationship works well, each party can make the most of it; The buyer by advising a “good” product to his friends, the seller by understanding from the customer the reason of his choice and using him as a reference, an endorsement for other potential customers. That’s all what  social commerce is about.

• Identity

A last point that is not directly linked to SCRM but may be interesting, is about the how each party may make the most of the relationship to manage its identity and reputation. For the enterprise it will mean using its value and culture as differenciator…what means that communication has to be rethought in a more transparent way to allow potential customers to know more about the organization and feel closer to it. There’s also a side  impact : lots of customers are potential employees. A well managed customer relationship has a good impact one employer’s brand.

So, enterprises should help customers to know them better…as well as they should try to know their customers better.I let you discover this video from KLM that shows how to link offline and online not to sell but to strengthen the relationship by little acts of kindness.

However, and even if no one knows what an accomplished Social CRM strategy is, one thing is obvious : it’s not about using new tools and fall into the Twitter and Facebook trap for the sake of being social but have a “stakeholder vision” of customer relationship that is turned into concrete actions everyday and on any channel, in the purpose of co-creating value.

In short; value should not be created to the detriment of customers anymore but with and for them.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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