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Putting the *Relationship* back in Customer Relationship Management

Transactional CRM, the system of record technology that lets you manage a sales cycle, a customer service request and marketing activity, is critical to make official records of who did what.

But here’s what striking to me: Traditional CRM, which stands for customer relationship management is a transactional and operational technology that never really touched the customer.

That may have been OK in the past, but today’s customer who is extremely well connected and networked thanks to the social web has radically different expectations of the companies that they do business with.  Beyond socializing, the social web is where we seek to research and engage with both, like-minded buyers and with purveyors with whom we want to do business. In a 2011 IBM study on Social CRM(1), 42% of those polled use the social web to share opinions about products they use, 39% use it to access product reviews, 23% said they outright rely on the “social web to interact with brands”.  Yet another supporting point to CRM pundit Paul Greenberg’s assertion that “the customer is in control of the conversation.”

Let’s dispel three misconceptions about the social web first:

  1. This isn’t about bleeding edge industries anymore. A 2009 study(2) showed Real Estate and Construction, Healthcare, Media and Entertainment as top contenders for social media.
  2. Access to social and traditional web content is now equalized. Even if you believe that a majority of your customers don’t use social media, traditional web properties such as Google and LinkedIn index even the few conversations that might exist and make positive or negative opinions about our wares visible to everyone.
  3. No, the social web isn’t just about Twitter and Facebook where you may argue that your prospects don’t really hang out. Amazon Reviews (Retail), Trip Advisor (Travel), FlyerTalk (Airlines), Yelp (Restaurants), AngiesList (Services) and literally a hundred other topical forums are all part of the social web or what Mike Fauscette characterized as “systems of relationships” that are dis-intermediating your controlled marketing every single day.

Five Design Considerations

So how do we prepare for this changing interaction dynamic? The needs of this new breed of customers centers on the following 5 design considerations:


/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/engagement_190445.jpgEngagement, not data: Our customers ask a question and we throw a canned web page at them, or a data sheet or a banner ad. What they want is a meaningful conversation.

Programmatic and Technology Considerations:  How well are you as an organization positioned to listen and engage with them across channels of their choosing and in a consistent manner?

                                           Expertise: By the time a customer even lets you in on the fact that she is a prospect, like minded buyers on Yelp, Amazon and even SAP’s own SCN /wp-content/uploads/2013/02/expertise_190446.jpgCommunity have given her a detailed idea of the good and the bad about your product or service. When she calls, she wants just the delta and needs access to the experts hidden deep inside your organization – product managers, solution experts,  partners and even component suppliers.

Programmatic and Technology Considerations: Do you have the right social collaborative fabric in place that connects traditional CRM and with the true experts in your employee and partner base in near real time?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/speed_190447.jpgLatency: For better or worse, those of us on the social web have developed little tolerance for slow turnaround times. If it’s B2C, you’re expected to respond with an answer right away. If it’s B2B or a complex problem, you’re expected to at least acknowledge that “we’re processing your request”.

Programmatic and Technology Considerations: Can you process both social and transactional data, collaborate and react within the acceptable thresholds of your customer’s new expectations?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/localizedinnovation_190443.jpgGlobal Competency but local relevancy: Siloed innovation doesn’t cut it any more. The social web has flattened access to information and so the same innovation and product sophistication is expected in every geography – yet with a local flair.

Programmatic and Technology Considerations: Is your ecosystem of employees, customers and partners across the globe networked so that innovation expertise can be surfaced and leveraged anywhere, without geographic limitations?

/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/360view_190442.jpg360 Degree View: Finally, whether a customer reached out to you for support or for a sales inquiry, they expect that you’re looking at a comprehensive view of their historical interactions and purchase history that’s not just in CRM but scattered across your order to cash process.

Programmatic and Technology Considerations: Is your customer view holistic and quickly available so that you can provide a consistent and meaningful experience?

This is the expectation of today’s connected customer and how you put the relationship back in Customer Relationship Management.

The good news is that it’s becoming increasingly practical to design programmatically and technologically around this reality. See how SAP’s Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Becher “does CRM” via traditional CRM yes, but a unified view with Analytics, Social Communities, Collaboration and Real time Performance Management. Of course, there are numerous other company examples as well.

I’m not one for excessive hubris when it comes to “social business”. In spite of these tectonic changes, social is a channel, not a replacement for staple methods such as email for lead gen or your call center for phone and web-based support. But the new connected customer shatters the existing definition of silo’ed and transactional CRM, forever.

Make sure that your customer strategy and enabling technology can respond to this new customer reality.

Comments? Fire away here on twitter at @sameerpatel

(1) 2011 IBM Study – “From Social Media to Social CRM”

(2) Social Media Benchmarking Study 2009

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