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February 24, 2012

Choosing Sides

While it is winter on the calendar, it is a bit hard to tell around here. We have flowers poking through the ground in mid-February when they aren’t really supposed to show themselves for at least another 6 weeks. Much of the folks I know have headed up to the mountains this week anyway, making me a bit jealous that I am still down among the pre-mature daffodils and jonquils. There is snow above the right elevation, and there is a sufficient abundance to keep the holiday crowd happy.

If I were with them, one of the things I would be experiencing is the interesting riff between traditional downhill schussers and the new-school snowboarders. The former refer to the latter as knuckle draggers. The latter mostly ignore the former. Each tends to take sides on the split in the sport – one looking at the other in disdain and the other looking back with indifference. I understand it, but I don’t participate. I actually prefer both. I’ll choose two boards for some conditions and go with a single board under other conditions. I get enjoyment from pairing the right equipment with the right condition, like a good wine with the right entrée.

Sutton Retro Dodo

In the technology world there is something similar developing, but perhaps with less enmity. We have some folks who are all about the Enterprise 2.0 thing, and then we have another set of folks who are jumping on the Social CRM bandwagon. They tend to have different blog sites and on-line communities for sharing articles and case studies. Yet, I don’t get the need for the split.

Enterprise 2.0 seems to be all about the new age of collaboration within the organization, and the technology that supports it. You can find stories about how product development is improved with more creative input through better collaboration; customer issue resolution happens faster and better with similar collaboration; and the pursuit of deals are accelerated and converted more often again due to the collaboration of the right people at the right time.

Social CRM is more directed at customers, attempting to leverage the evolution of societal behavior onto social web platforms. As more people spend more time on Facebook and LinkedIn, it makes sense to manage brand value through social monitoring; drive prospecting through social networking; and perform in-platform customer service issue resolution right at the point where people are ranting within a tweet.

Why have these two disciplines formed as separate interests? Combined they are much more powerful. So, I my suggestion is to combine the two and call it Social Business. Harnessing both internal and external collaboration tools and processes combines the benefits of both and leverages the entire organization in the pursuit of customer business outcomes. Becoming a social business means that you utilize better collaboration internally and engage with customers on social platforms externally. The two together are the perfect combination and are starting to be combined technically within the more powerful CRM platforms.

So, don’t take sides – swing on both sides of the plate. It provides more flexibility and delivers better results. Develop your social business competencies internally and externally and harness double the power to achieve CRM program objectives more effectively.

Enjoy the snow while it lasts.

February 17, 2012

Shower Curtains & Chatter

Have you been traveling much recently? If so, you have probably noticed the propagation of those bulging shower curtains of late. Bathtubs are a pretty confining place to take a shower, especially when you throw in those nasty safety bars on the walls. However, somebody, who I hope has been very well rewarded, came up with the idea of the bowed curtain rod, virtually extending the width of the tub a few critical inches up high where it counts. It is a lot like getting that upgraded economy seat on a plane. That little bit of extra leg room really makes a difference.

Yet, not all is good. While the concept is fantastic, for most hotels the execution has been dismal. There are two primary problems. First is the shower curtain rod. The physics are different – the rod does not extend simply from point to point. Rather, the arc that the rod travels from wall to wall puts immense pressure on the wall mounts because of the lateral weight of the rod bowing out sideways. Simply stated, the rods in most hotels where I stay are barely hanging on, with screws pulling out of the walls ready for catastrophe. The maintenance folks replaced the new rods with a few screws pushed into the drywall and expected everything to be fine. Don’t be surprised if you have a shower curtain crash around you some morning while in the middle of an otherwise pleasant shower.

The second problem involves the curtain. The rod travels further away from the edge of the tub as it bows out, which requires that the curtain has to travel a further distance to safely drop into the tub, especially in the middle. Those same hotel maintenance folks who mounted the new rods placed them at the same height as the old rods to prevent splash and spray. However, if the hotel purchasing folks did not buy longer curtains when they acquired the new fangled rods, it is likely the old curtains don’t completely reach, or stay neatly tucked into the tub as they encounter a brisk shower spray. I you wake up to dripping from your hotel ceiling it just may be that the guest above you is not paying attention to this curtain deficit while showering.

Ultimately, this all boils down to the challenges of installing new technology onto an old structure. If you do not accommodate the requirements of integrating the old with the new, things may not work out all that well. When I see these new curtain rods in my hotel rooms I cannot help but think of Chatter, the new collaboration tool on the Salesforce.com CRM platform.

Mardi Gator

When a company turns on Chatter (or similar collaboration tools) it is much like installing these new rods - most of the time it involves new technology being placed within an old structure. And similar to the problems introduced by the new rods, Chatter as well does not always work out as intended, especially if the organization does not take appropriate steps to adopt the new technology to the old structure.

One of the big misconceptions surrounding the use of Chatter is with regard to the belief that all you have to do is turn it on and everyone will flock toward utilization with wonton abandon. This could not be further from reality. Yes, over the last decade, the general population has embraced many collaboration sites in the social ether-sphere. But this has been accomplished through the process of naturally affinity – people group together over common interests. Unless you form similar interest groups that fit your business users, your Chatter application will not be viewed by most users as useful or beneficial. This is like mounting the rod to the wall without taking into account the change in physics. You need to assemble it with the correct hardware, which in this case means that you need to introduce Chatter with the correct connections built in. You need to form groups from the start, such as customer accounts, target opportunities, or priority service cases. This leverages the natural affinity around which your people collaborate, and serves as a tool for easier collaboration, which drives utilization.

Additionally, the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality also leads to dissatisfaction because it assumes that people will not need attention for the proper use of Chatter. Yes, it is simple and intuitive, not something that one might expect will require a whole bunch of instruction. But, it does require direction. It requires expectations to be set uniformly. For example, if 75% of those who need to collaborate on a topic or issue use the tool, but 25% don’t, this will lead to 25% of the problem or task unsolved. Expectations for use need to be set, communicated, and reinforced with frequency. It cannot be a casual thing if you want success. This is a change after all, and, similar to the length of the shower curtain, if we do not make changes to the existing process, things will come up short.

The bottom line is that you cannot just turn on Chatter and expect great things. It requires a certain amount of intervention to get right – it needs to be properly connected to the old structure. It is worth the little bit of effort required, because the results can be powerful.

I truly like having the extra space in the shower these new rods provide, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that I am not the one who pulls back the curtain and ends up with a curved rod at my feet.

October 21, 2011

Social Business For Business

Autumn Ivy

The leaf peepers are out. New England, as happens this time of year, is awash in color and the tourists are here in droves. It drives some to Burlington and it lures some to North Conway. The Duckboats in Boston are jammed. Mystic is still attracting visitors even if they have to wear a light jacket while dockside. Cruise ships are lining up in Portland to discharge passengers into the Old Port. Portland, Maine we are talking about here, not Charlotte Amalie or Nassau.

Fall foliage time brings folks to New England and the tourism dollar pours in. In some of our states here it is the # 1 industry. But, a misconception surrounding this is that tourism is a consumer industry only. The New England economy swells this time of year, but the benefits are very broad. When those 17 story floating cities cruise into the Portland Harbor, many businesses kick into high gear, not just the trinket shops and restaurants. Business to Business activity also thrives as a result of the loss of chlorophyll in our leaves.

I am finding a similar misconception coming into play with the emergence of Social Business. Many within the CRM industry believe that the growing Social CRM scene is limited to B2C, but that is a myopic perspective. The power of Social Technology spans both universes and is ready for serious B2B exploitation.

Part of the problem with the misconception is that virtually all business folks’ experience with Social Platforms is from the perspective of a consumer. They have interactions primarily with B2C selling – they have not yet had a chance to receive an offer as a business person or get help as a business product user while within a Social Platform. That will be changing.

Another problem with the misconception that Social Business is limited to B2C is from those cloud vendors who are trying to sell their Social Technology. One key sales tool is the case study. Unfortunately the preponderance of Social Business examples is limited to consumer buying. It is perpetuating the myth and limiting the market. We need more stories about how and why the social B2B thing works.

Social Business Technology provides companies with the ability to reach their customers using a new and growing channel, the Social Platforms where so many prospective buyers and users are engaging. Social Business does not replace the marketing function, the sales force, or the customer service center. Rather, it gives each of those functions more reach – it helps them engage with customers and prospective customers where they are being active. There are current successes today and even greater potential for the future. For example:

Customer Service Experience – today in cyberspace users of business products are engaging with their peers on the use and adoption of those products. Physicians are discussing procedure difficulties regarding stents and titanium hip sockets. Engineers are discussing the use of reflective windows in skyscrapers and issues with solar gain. Human Resource Managers are discussing their challenges with insurance claims and benefits management. Customer service contact centers have the ability to monitor those discussions and offer point-of-discussion insight to help with resolution. Some contact centers are already employing these tools for improving the customer experience.

New Business Prospecting – likewise, there are business shoppers out there on the Social Sites performing inquiries and getting advice from their business peers. New technology enables sales professionals to monitor those activities of folks within their patch and reach out when the time is right with an offer to help answer some of their product related questions. Those discussions at the point of inquiry are bringing new business into the sales pipeline for companies utilizing these new tools.

Brand Management – going one step further, there is more ability today to both advance the brand and protect it from social erosion. It is common today for companies and trademarks to be named specifically when inquiring or ranting. Marketing functions now have the tools to monitor these social conversations as they take place. Depending on the situation, offers can be made when the conversation is focused on inquiry, or defense can be the action when the conversation becomes destructive. Companies that have started using these tools are attracting new prospects and helping to protect brand value.

What we need now is for more success stories involving these new capabilities to come out. As examples of effective B2B Social Technology wins become more mainstream, the misconceptions will fade and even more focus will be given to the real power of Social Business.

August 05, 2011

Social Sandbox

This week is the sand castle building contest at our town beach, an activity that brings in tourists to gawk at the crazy things that sand castle builders can make with tiny granules of quartz and calcium. It is a very interesting and enjoyable experience, even though we don’t get the professionals. They won’t come to our competition because the town does not allow sticky sand – the stuff that is used to build the uber-cool sculptures. We have too much riding on our clam beds, which provide some of the best bivalves on the planet.

One of the other big differences of our competition is that everything has a 12 hour life span. This is because the sculptures are all at risk from high-tide waves – most of them get washed away with the next tide. These amazing works of art have a very fleeting life – after all they are built on sand, which conventional wisdom dictates is a terrible place to build.

And, we have come to learn this within the world of CRM as well.

We started up working with a new company recently that has struggled with being successful using social channels for their customer contact center. They were utilizing newly acquired tools to uncover dissatisfied customers asking for peer help on major social sites. Once engaged, the customer interaction would eventually move into more standard channels such as phone and e-mail; yet they were struggling with getting their customer satisfaction scores to improve.

With a bit of investigation we learned that the social part of their CRM process was really working well. The problem was with the conventional portion of the process. They had a very poor case management mechanism and their CRM platform was automating a poor process, which then made it even worse. Cases would age without proper attention, closure was inconsistent, and their escalation policies led to more frustration than satisfaction. Once we got those addressed their voice-of-the-customer feedback improved immediately.

Ironically, they expected that the use of the social channels would improve satisfaction by offering further engagement options, but they did not bother to clean up the foundation of the servicing process, which is based on a strong case management capability. This was our first encounter with this kind of situation, but I have a suspicion we are going to see more. I suspect that it is very enticing to think of the emerging and sexy social CRM opportunities as a way of fixing customer satisfaction issues. However, adding a channel into Facebook is not going to improve things if it is done on top of a poor conventional servicing process. You don’t want to build your Social CRM strategy on sand - it needs to be done on a solid foundation.

If you are in the middle of working out a Social CRM plan, I encourage you to continue, but I also encourage that you use this as an opportunity to audit your CRM program and best practices. The benefit of adding the social channel is huge, and probably the table stakes in today’s B2B environment. So, I don’t propose delaying that. However, in parallel you may need to improve some things to gain the benefits that Social CRM promises.

Otherwise, your efforts might get wiped out with the next tide.

Suspicious Beach