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Personas with Passion

April 20, 2012 2 comments

A persona is an internal model of the key attributes, motivations, and goals of your target customers (prospect, audience…). A persona is a statement from you to your customers and prospective customers that illustrates to them, that you understand their jobs-to-be-done, their needs, as well as, what keeps them up at night (the emotional component). It should be used to describe your customers to your internal teams, from Engineering to Finance – and all in between – making sure everyone understands it.

A business exists to provide value to, for and with customer’s. They do not exist to promote products; sorry. In a business to business (BtoB) setting, the ‘to, for and with’ is not likely restricted to one person or role on either side of the equation. From the customer side, the buying process includes a set of people who, at the end of the day, are trying to understand, “what’s in it for me”.  Therefore, there is likely more than one persona who needs to be heard, considered and the more complex the product, the more personas in the mix.

Who considers What, and When?

I spent the past few days thinking more about the execution parts of marketing more than I have in quite some time. I kept coming back to personas – and how much sense they make. I could not get the figures below out of my mind. One chart shows which roles (persona) influence which part of the buying cycle, the second chart maps roles (persona) against information source. According to Forrester (source of chart data) “No one influencer has more than 30% of the total power through the purchase process.” and 7.6 is the “Average number of different sources used throughout the purchase funnel.” I do have some issues with broad brush statistics, especially in this case, as the part of the buying cycle does have an impact – as the charts clearly. My interest is in ‘connecting the dots‘ because in isolation, the data is not all the interesting – but together they say something.

The intersection of the two tells a marketer not only where to day something at a certain stage, but who they are talking to, right? If these questions were in the same survey then I would certainly cross tab the results of the two questions. For example it is nice to know that 70% of organizations answered that a manager, not in IT is involved during the awareness phase. It is also nice to know website and In-person are the most influential channels during the awareness phase (Hmm, Hubspot might tell you different). Putting the two together, if logic holds, my website better speak to the persona of a non-IT manger type, no?

Now, I might be trying too hard to connect things that could get you all in trouble if the focus is too strong. I am not suggesting that you ignore the individual contributor, nor the social channels (both lower for the respective questions, during the awareness phase) – but it does give you pause and possibly get you to think about specific messaging. I am not saying to message for the sake of message. I am saying that understanding the perspective of your buyer, speaking to him or her as a human, in language they they understand (aka, not three letter acronyms which makes sense to you).

What about the selection phase? This phase is interesting, as the data suggests that it is the most senior IT person who has the greatest influence and their greatest influence….internal, not external. The buying decision is heavily influenced by “colleagues within the organization”. Now, it is probably not a big leap to suggest that the colleagues are going to share what they have learned during earlier phases. Further, the CIO is not likely the one reading your website, his or her team are the ones reading the website.

Do the charts above speak to you? If so, what do they say? BTW, where does the ‘Passion’ fit in? If you really believe that you can solve specific problems for specific people, then your passion will come through – that simple.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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Categories: CRM, IBM, Sales Tags: , , ,

Standardized and Automatic are not the same as Efficient and Consistent

November 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Modern customers (aka Social Customer or 21st Century Customer) are demanding, multi-channel and empowered. Your customers, being modern, expect each experience to be positive, efficient and valuable. Finally, there is the desire that the brand experience will be consistent across the different points of interaction. That said, ‘consistent’ should not be confused with “the same” or “standardized” experience. When a customer logs onto a website via their mobile; a 2 inch by 4 inch form factor screen, there is no expectation that the experience will be the same as when this same customer logs on via their 27 inch iMac.

Expectations are funny though, because what the customer expects to accomplish ( their job to be done) is similar across channels, but again, not often the same. Every business needs to reconcile jobs to be done, customer experience and customer service. Put simply, there is an objective which your customer is seeking to achieve, information to be found or a purchase to be made. Applying business rules and considered processes in front of customer interactions can increase efficiency and add a level of required consistency to each interaction.  Specific to customer service, business ruless and process can help a service organization deliver not only consistent communications to their customers, but also personalized ones. The name of the game (if it is a game) is to empower the each agent with the right information, at the right time, in context. In this era, the “360 degree view” might be too much.

Worlds Colliding

In the context of this short article, Business Process Management (BPM) is to be taken at face value.  It is simply what it sounds like; how a business manages processes. Things like how an order happens or how a return happens. When those simple examples are given, you might think about policies and procedures, Visio workflow diagrams and rules engines.  Of course, from a back-office perspective these kinds of activities need to be reproducible and standardized.  But, this view also conjures up visions of command and control and rigidity. Automation might solve your problems, but it may or may not solve your customers problems. Add the modern customer to this discussion; the result is that command and control will not work, it just won’t.  Where is the balance (your balance) between flexibility and effectiveness?

In doing a bit of research, I like some of the thinking being done over at Forrester. In bringing the worlds together, Derek Miers begins to talk about business process as practices, not only a set of procedures. If you consider layers of an organization, the further back you go, the more rigid (procedural) the process needs to be. As you move closer towards the top, the customer side (communication channels), more flexibility is required as processes “are goal-centric and guided, rather than controlling”. Put this together with work that Kate Leggett is doing, with a strong focus on customer service and service experience:

“Companies need to queue, route, and work on every interaction over all communication channels in the same manner, following the company business processes that uphold its brand”.

Bringing it together

The future of exceptional experiences, both in customer service and more general brand interactions is about integrating the data, process and carefully considering and respecting your customer’s time as well as needs. Creating a more effective process is about the efficiency required by your customer, not your back-office team. Creating consistent experiences means that data and information access across and between channels meets the expectations of your customers and makes sense. From a customer service perspective, customer service needs to evolve

The parts of the organization that are positioned to support these customers need to be part of the development process (design and implementation) of the business process practice areas. Where possible policies and procedures need to evolve into practices and ‘doing the right thing’. Sharing a final thought: Traditionally, CRM has been data and record centric. More modern systems and practices are pushing towards process centric CRM. Actually, the right answer is the combination of data-centricity and process-centricity; it is called Customer Centricity.

The Evolution of Customer Service

October 7, 2011 6 comments

Customer expectations are evolving and customers are more vocal and willing to share both when something is good and something is bad. Customer service is also evolving, frankly, in order to keep pace with customers; but is the pace fast enough? The pace of the change; driven by customers, is accelerating because the social web (commerce and network) has enabled and empowered customers. Try and think back 10-15 years ago; did you make purchases online? Other than ask friends, did you read online reviews? What levels of service were tolerable, did you accept?  When you needed to contact a company did you consider sending a text? You might have sent an email, but when something really needed to happen, you picked up the phone. You might have even sent a letter, you know, the kind requiring a stamp.

In the chart below, I worked to encapsulate and share my view of the top-level changes within customer service. I intentionally did not assign dates to the past, nor the future; the past could be yesterday or last year, the future tomorrow or 2015. This is a not an all or nothing phenomenon, your organization may have certain elements well within the futures bucket and others stuck in the past.  The chart is a refinement of my Evolution of CRM chart, published about a month ago. I am looking forward to sharing these thoughts and more at the Contact Center Expo next week in London

Element One – People

The people involved in customer service, historically, had been the people with customer service somewhere in their title, yes that simple. Organizations need to change this, if they want to grow and prosper (survive?). Products and services are becoming more complex, other parts of the organization absolutely need to become part of the customer engagement process. I am not simply talking about transferring phone calls; it is much bigger than that. I am talking about collaboration and knowledge sharing. You might even call it social business, but I do not want to get ahead of myself.

Element Two – Process

Gone are the days of a paper manual with defined processes for as many scenarios as management can think up. Actually, for some those days are not actually gone. Customers are no longer interested in listening to the script, following the guided path nor being pushed towards the efficient route . If the ‘people’ part of the evolution is accurate, then organizations will also need a way to coordinate activities with other parts of the organization. Yelling over the cubicle does not count as collaboration and sticky notes do not count as knowledge management.

Element Three – Technology

A technical discussion could be approached from many different directions. With respect to this conversation, the more interesting technical element has to do with the channel match which needs to occur between the desire of the organization and the needs of the customer; i.e. the channels of communication used by each. Not only do organizations need to adapt to the changing channel usage by their customers, they need to realize that customer ‘channel hop’ – changing their mode of communication even mid-stream within an interaction happens. Organizations need to consider active pull, versus push to optimize their channel strategy. Active pull means that the value offered on channels you would like people to use is valuable to them, not just you. Real-time, synchronous channels are more expensive, but studies show that satisfaction rates are also higher on these channels.

Element Four – Duration

Historically, the length of time spent by either side of an interaction was limited to the specific activity performed, or issue discussed. Customer Service metrics are often tied to duration, like average handle time. While not every interaction will take on a life of its own, interactions will create a string of communications and form the basis of an ongoing relationship between customer and organization. Enhanced, more sophisticated activities like co-creation and ideation will now take place as well, during product use when it can be most beneficial. This is not about creating life-long friendships, your customer does not want to be your BFF either, this is about working together to mutual benefit. Take the time required to solve the problem, and make sure the customer’s concerns are heard.

Element Four – Centricity

As noted above, metrics and KPIs have been driving Contact Centers since the beginning of time <hyperbole>. The truth is handle time and concepts such as first call resolution will continue to be used, but they will not be the only driving force. As a matter of fact, these metrics will move further down, possibly even to tertiary consideration. As opposed to simply figuring out how quickly they are able to get the customer off of the phone, customer service professionals will consider more than just the current case and will be given latitude to do the right thing and stay on the phone to help the customer. Insights towards customer need by the agent will be augmented by business intelligence both real-time and in aggregate.

Element Five – Approach

Few people appreciate being caught off-guard, unprepared or surprised. Customer issues are more often than not identified first by the customer. What if the customer service teams could identify potential issues and do something about them before the small issues become very large issues? This can be accomplished simply with operational metrics made available to agents (insights). Spending a few more minutes on the phone with a customer, to really understand the root cause of an issue is worth the time and effort.  Or, how about proactive notifications of outages, or product issues (positive call deflections)? Further, taking the time to collaborate with the internal organization, providing superior value to customers, will also reap rewards in the form of loyalty and future business.

Is it possible to put it all together?

Yes it is. It is going to take work? Yes it will.  I do not believe you can accomplish it all at once, nor should you try. That said, understanding how all the of the elements are interrelated is an imperative. Some of the elements are within the control of the IT department; some are in Sales and Marketing, while you can control some as well. In the end, it not really about control; Customer Service is about doing what is best for the customer. What do you think? Am I way off base?

The Evolution of CRM

September 12, 2011 6 comments

evolution – a process in which something passes by degrees to a different stage, often to a more complex form. (various sources)

In looking at different definitions with different perspectives and a business lens, the one above made the most sense to me.  After 16 months, it was time to revisit a diagram created for “A Guide to Understanding Social CRM”. I will not go so far as to call my earlier work wrong, naïve is a better descriptor.  The evolution diagram contained my thought process at that time. Without over using the concept, my own thinking has evolved.

For starters, the term ‘Social’ has become a blocker of progress. The attempted isolation of the social components from CRM do both concepts a disservice. The Social CRM discussion has pushed CRM into a bit of corner. How can a relationship exist without social elements? The constant discussions of definitions are nothing more than a distraction. We simply need to focus on achieving business results; so let’s get moving. CRM needs to incorporate the social elements (time, place and context) – call it what you want, define it how you will.

Both the technology and the strategy of CRM need to evolve, and then need to do so in lock step with each other.  The fabric of any organization is the people, so who better to shepherd the change and embrace the technology? It cannot be people from just one part of the organization either, it needs to be a team effort. You may believe that CRM needs to evolve into a different ‘something’, possibly needing a different name; to each their own.  I am not saying I will not use the term Social CRM, as I am perfectly willing to be a non-conformist, as long as I fit in. I do not believe that it is just about ‘Social’ + ‘CRM’ either.

Here is my quick $.02 on version 1.0 of the diagram:

  • We do not need to evolve to SCRM, we simply need to evolve CRM
  • To say that Social CRM means everyone is a bit over simplistic
  • While we would like to believe it is all about customer defined processes, it is not that simple
  • To believe that customers can set their own hours is great in theory, but let’s be real.
  • It is not simply about the number of channels, rather when and how people use the channels
  • The transaction will never go away, it needs to become a stop along the journey, somewhere near the middle.
  • CRM does need to become outside in, but it does not need to become Social CRM in order to get there.

There are some other points to be made, but I would rather talk about the new and improved diagram; so we can see what I will trash in another 16 months. A I little self-deprecation is good for the soul!

For a diagram called evolution, it seemed more natural to represent the transition as a timeline, via past and future, as opposed to trying to definitely state this is X and that is Y. This is not a binary state diagram; it is a continuum of progress. If you are a practitioner within a company, or have clients, they are somewhere along this path. The “Past” might be 5 years ago, or it could last week. The future could be as close as tomorrow, or 5 years out. The segments outlined in the diagram are certainly not the only ones, this is not a complete list, nor is it meant to be one.  Finally, while it might seem like a good idea to move everything at the same pace, it is not always possible. Should you ‘wait for stragglers?’; adopting certain parts ahead of others? Not a question I can answer, it depends.

‘Who’ is about Access to data and systems

Front line Employees and their Managers were the only ones to have access to the technological components of CRM. Looking forward, giving access to information and insights to as many people as reasonable needs to be considered.  Depending upon where you on along the journey, the type of industry you are in and other factors will determine the specifics of who needs access to the system and data.

‘What’ is all about the end-to-end process

End-to-end processes, specifically in the modern ear, have traditionally been linear and inflexible. The lack of flexibility in process leads to inefficiencies. What CRM needs to do, in order to keep up is to help organizations adapt to the needs of the customer and coordinate internally and across channels of communication

‘When’ is about the duration and durability of relationships

It is time to increase the duration and durability of your relationship with your customers. We need to move beyond short term, tactical myopic focus of ‘a Sale, an Issue or a Complaint’. If the lifetime value and long term engagement are considered, the CRM will have really progressed.

‘Where’ is about the location and context of interactions 

Customers can and will communicate with you any which way they can. Customers were taught to use the phone, instructed on the finer points of an IVR and coerced into using email and web forms.  Now it is their turn! They not only want to add more channels to the mix, they expect you to be aware of all the other channels and are quite tired of typing in their 14 digit code on a touch tone phone, only to repeat to the agent!

‘Why’ – Because (sorry, could not resist)!

This should be the easiest to make clear. In one version of the diagram I simply left the past blank, because people were never clear why CRM was implemented and in the future I simply put “Because”. Maybe that is a better fit? It is really about changing the focus of the initiative from people and roles inside the organization to delivering value to people outside the organization. Is this customer centric? It can be, but that buzzword compliant phrase comes with its own baggage.

‘How’ should we communicate?

The hardest part is the how. There is no secret sauce; it takes hard work and planning. There is no infomercial, which promises nirvana for no effort expended. The fundamental do start with how and when you communicate outside of your organization. Communications need to move beyond broadcast, fractured and reactive. It is time to focus on listening, learning, engaging, and talking with your customers – being collaborative with a specific end-point. This is not easy, and requires the largest mind shift of the whole lot!

This is how my thinking has evolved, what about yours? This does not answer many questions, which I will be addressing in the coming weeks and months. Topics such as; how does this evolution impact specific departments or roles within the organization? Does this impact how the contact center of the future works?  To end back from where I started; the future of CRM is certainly not simpler. CRM in the future is certainly going to need to evolve to a more complex form.

Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt? You Decide

August 22, 2011 2 comments

Friend Graham Hill (@grahamhill) took the time to share his thoughts regarding the Morton’s Steakhouse ‘ Surprise Airport Delivery’ last week. I will add my $.02 throughout.

There is an interesting true story doing the rounds of customer service blogs at the moment. In it, Peter Shankman a customer service writer, blogger and regular customer at Morton’s Steakhouse jokingly tweeted to Morton’s that he would like a Porterhouse waiting for him upon landing at Newark airport after a long day on the road. Much to his surprise, when he landed that is exactly what was waiting: a uniformed waiter complete with a steak dinner, some side-orders and silver cutlery. Naturally, Peter was delighted and blogged about it immediately. The twitterverse got hold of it and now everybody is talking about Morton’s, about their greatest/worst experiences at Morton’s and more importantly, putting this forward as a great example of customer service.

But is it really customer service? Or is it something entirely different?

Let’s dissect what happened a little and see. Morton’s is a medium-priced steak restaurant (a three course dinner for two costs $110). Peter is a regular customer at Morton’s. He is also a customer service writer with books about ‘outrageous PR stunts that work’ and social customer service, and he has 110,000 twitter followers. He jokingly said he would like a steak upon landing at Newark but didn’t expect it to be delivered. He was clearly delighted when it was. To delight Peter, once Morton’s had decided to respond, it had to monitor Peter’s flight status, time the cooking of a steak dinner to perfection, get it the 35 miles to Newark airport on time and take a waiter out of restaurant duty to do it. Clearly, the cost to Morton’s of providing this delightful experience would probably take tens, if not hundreds of extra visits by Peter, over and above the ones he would normally make, for them to ever have a hope of recouping the money spent.

As Steve Vargo pointed out in a recent exchange about over-delivering to customers, this is a clear case of hugely over delivering against both expectations and desires. Over-delivering against expectations is a good thing as it anchors satisfaction and loyalty, but over-delivering against desires is not. It is costly, economically unsustainable and quickly loses its effect. All in all, as Peter didn’t expect Morton’s to respond at all, let alone to deliver a steak dinner to the airport, I don’t really see this as customer service.

[MJL – It is sometimes extremely valuable to over deliver to customers. The over delivery does need to be able to live a life of its own, particular to that one customer, possibly a little word of mouth, In other words, would Morton’s have done this if Peter was simply a very good customer?]

So if it wasn’t customer service, what was it?

The clue lies in the title of Peter’s book; ‘Can we Do That?! – Outrageous PR Stunts that Work and Why Your Company Needs Them’. Although Morton’s steak stunt failed as an act of customer service, it succeeded magnificently as a PR stunt. For the cost of a steak dinner, a tank of petrol and three hours of a waiter’s time, Morton’s got the kind of positive publicity that marketing budget’s just can’t buy. The story was picked up by the twittersphere, influential blogs like the Huffington Post and even the foreign press

Morton’s clearly scored a coup with their steak stunt. But it only worked because of who Peter is and because of his social influence. Maybe they have been reading Peter’s book and in a delicious (no pun intended) irony decided to respond in this way. Whatever their motivations, even if it was bad customer service, it was brilliant marketing. Hats off to Morton’s for having the guts to try what at the end of the day was a risky PR stunt. It worked spectacularly. Maybe I should read Peter’s book.

[MJL – Like the Social disasters, which have become highly public during the past few years, the secondary question is will this have a long term impact? If yes, will the long term impact be found outside writers and bloggers? If the masses truly believe this is a customer service win, the net impact will be negative, as this is not a sustainable practice.]

What do you think? Customer Delight or a Brilliant PR Stunt?

Service Can and Should be Proactive – Social or Not

If there is data available, or simple process improvement that could easily elevate my service experience, as a consumer, why are companies not doing it? Telecommunications carriers are such easy targets that I hesitated to write this post. I can offer offer simple advice, as a practitioner, from both a process and technical perspective, so maybe, just may they will listen – and readers can learn as well.  It is not that hard, it is just about putting the right information in front of the right person at the right time. Interestingly, this is about two of the biggest providers in the US and both happened during a one week period.

The Response to an Issue can be more Important than the Issue Itself

I am a technologist, often an early adopter and also a pragmatist; Shtuff happens, I get it. It could be weather, it could be solar flares, it might even be a software glitch. What I have little patience for is what I believe to be ultimately quite simple process fixes, which can easily be implemented but for some reason, have not.

  • AT&T had an outage in Vermont last week. It was early in the day, 7:30 am to around 9:30am. Local technical and socially connected posted on Twitter and tried to get AT&Ts attention. The response from AT&T was slow, almost non-existent on the social channels. No recognition of the problem, until after it was fixed. The customer service team on Twitter did work through their queue from the night before (easy to spot), and did not send any broadcast messages. Some discovered that if you switched off 3G, Edge provided service for phone only. AT&T did not make that statement, a user did. AT&T did not even RT that post. Response grade C-
  • My 16yo had an issue with his HTC phone, so we did a warranty replacement. Many steps completed without any issue – including a whole 10 minutes in a Verizon store, well done. New phone arrived, activation easy, still good. The front of the little instruction packet had a number (long 10 or 15 digit number) and a note under it with a URL to FedEx for tracking. So, my 16yo took the old phone to FedEx with the enclosed label; only to find out it was a USPS label – odd, but not a huge problem. Brings the box to USPS and off it goes. One week later, Verizon calls and wants to bill us $500 for the “yet-to-be” returned phone.  We find the little packet with the tracking number, take a look at the website and tell the agent (who also checks). We also remind the agent that we have insurance on the phone and if it dropped in a lake, we would still get a new phone, no questions. Why was the call ever made (there are two reasons why the call should not have been made)? Response grade B, but the last impression is what sticks.

My simple advice:

  • Customer Service can be Proactive – It is possible, it can show you care and save inbound calls
  • Engage when it counts, walk the walk – Recognize an issue, help customers through an incident and be human, the Social part of Service is not just about PR
  • Put data where it can be most useful, turn data into information – If you have information which can prevent a call from happening, use it.

I suppose it is possible that because I live and breath this sort of thing and know what our software can do I have a different take on things, but really is it that hard?

The CRM and Disruption in the Contact Center

August 7, 2011 1 comment

I am very much looking forward to attending CRM Evolution in NYC next week. I am honored to be sitting on some very good panels with great people. At first glance, the panel discussions are only loosely related. After all, one is about “Disruption and the Lean, Mean CRM Machine” the second is about “The Intelligent Contact Center“. How can they be related – after all one is about CRM and the other is about the Contact Center. Unless of course, people in Contact Centers use CRM Software – if you ask them what they use, CRM is actually an unlikely answer!

To quote Michael Krigsman, moderator of the first panel “The world of CRM has changed profoundly during the past several years.  New trends, such as the cloud and social, have changed the way users and vendors view the entire CRM landscape”. The additional question which comes to mind, what do customers think about all of this? Which parts of CRM – or Contact Center technology are truly disruptive to customers? The customers do not really care where the system is, as long as their problems are solved. Or is there more to it? As an end user, does the technology in use have meaning to you?

The second panel, one which i submitted to the conference and asked Esteban Kolsky to moderate takes a look at the contact center. The primary customer of CRM right? “Technology advances allow for a seamless customer experience; are your teams able to keep up? How do these technologies combine to improve customer experience?”  With technology advances allowing for better experiences, are companies actually providing better experiences? What is the actual relationship between CRM, technology and process and the contact center? A quick thought is that the contact center allows for the combining of data, information, through technology allowing the people and systems to make smart decisions.  But, is that all? What about the human factors, engagement and relationships – where do these important aspects fit it in? Technology cannot solve that problem, though it can help.

I hope to see you in New York!

Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve

June 29, 2011 8 comments

IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM. The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up.  The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too.  Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick.  The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.  With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult  (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy.  Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social”, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

Theory is Great; Solving Real Problems Rocks!

June 24, 2011 1 comment

Earlier this week Sword Ciboodle announced new relationship with Nicor National. We put out a press release (which is ‘old school’), and I challenged our new Public Relations team to dive a little deeper into Nicor National’s perspective regarding the selection process.  Despite being an ‘outside agency,’ I consider Liz and Anne an extension of our team, so it was time well spent as the begin just their second month with us. The rose to the challenge and spent some time with the customer!

Why is this exercise important? Well, let’s face it- press releases have their place, but we thought we could get a little more insight on what Nicor’s choice really means to them and their customers.  After we issued the official release, Liz sat down with Barbara Porter, Vice President of Customer Service and Business Development of Nicor National to have a candid Q&A.  The Questions below are direct from the conversation, my color commentary should be quite clear.

Perspective

Q: Before deciding to engage with Sword Ciboodle, how did you manage your customer relationships?

A: We had multiple systems, about 10 or 11. It was just becoming far too complex to manage our interactions with our customers.

My POV: In talking with customers and doing industry research, companies are lumping these two problems together, when they can be separated. Many companies are deciding that the transactional and data parts of many systems are just fine. It is the user experience that is becoming harder and harder to manage.

Q: What was the moment that really signaled it was time for Nicor National to change?

A: Our processes just weren’t customer friendly anymore. It was difficult for both our reps and customers and once that became very apparent, we knew we needed toexplore other options.

My POV: Putting the customer’s needs at the center of an infrastructure change can be an uphill battle. The ROI can be difficult to measure – possible, but not easy. Doing right by the customer always makes sense – period.

Q: What made you decide to select Sword Ciboodle?

A: We actually met Sword Ciboodle at a conference. We realized quickly that the team had great experience in our industry and truly understood our business at ahigh level. That’s just as important to us as the technology.

My POV: It is refreshing to hear a comment like this – for one, that the world of Marketing cannot simply be solved only using “Inbound” approaches. Business still takes place between people, in person, where you can shake hands and discuss business over lunch.

Q: Are you exploring other methods of engaging customers such as through social media channels?

A: Yes! Our customers have been indicating they want this more and more, particularly to communicate with us in general, pay bills, check their status and other areas that help maintain their relationship with us. We currently use a system called Allegiance to create customer surveys, as well as receive direct feedback from customers. We are hearing more and more from them that they want social functionality.

My POV: This is fun to hear and interesting at the same time. Those of you who know me, well ‘commentary’ will simply not cut it. I will try to schedule more time with Ms. Porter and dig in a bit more on this one.

Q: Anything else you think people should know?

A: All along our focus has been to create a positive experience for both our staff and customers. The two go hand-in-hand. We know Sword Ciboodle is going to help us deliver on that commitment. Once the program is entirely rolled out and themultiple systems are gone, it’s going to be fabulous!

My POV: Serving Nicor National and its customers is especially going to be fun and interesting because this is an industry where it can often be tricky to deliver truly personalized customer service. We are looking forward to following their success…

Liz was kind enough to add the following POV as well “We love any opportunity to brag about our clients’ customer successes- particularly when it pertains making consumers’ lives easier. We hear customer service “horror stories” everyday, so it’s a pleasant change of pace when we get to examine companies who are ‘doing it right.'”

Here is a link to the ‘old school’ release. Will we continue to issue press releases? Yes, because there is still value in sending them out, people do read them – I am told.

The Importance of Positive Customer Service Experiences

Customer experience is made up of the sum of all interactions and touch points between the people, products and services a company provides and their customers.  Customer service experience is a subset of the overall customer experience, with a slightly different focus. Specifically, a customer service experience is the sum of the interactions between you and your customers when they are trying to communicate with or to you, often regarding something that has gone awry.  Customers of all types (not just social customers) are emotional and tend to rate experiences based upon the expectations set (either specifically, or ones we set in our mind) – yes, they are often shared, both good and bad. The simple question is: “Is your business organized in such a way to accelerate your company’s ability to deliver a service experience, which meets or better, exceeds customer expectations?”

Every business has unique opportunities to create meaningful connections with their customers every day.  The idea, of course, is to embrace customers, offering exceptional value with each touch point.  Within customer service, if the team serves as an advocate for every customer, building trust along the way loyalty often comes along for the ride.  And to be quite direct, incremental revenue and a passion for your products is possible as well, but it is not as simple as that, it takes work.  People like buying from people they know and trust – get to know your customers! Each part of the organization can and should make a difference. Is this the case in your organization?

The customer need not initiate every interaction. A simple reminder via email or SMS as notification of an appointment, for example, can be very well received. Do you have in place the proper foundation – cultural and technological – to meet the demands of your customer and advocates?  Many customers are less satisfied with contact centers (ie phone calls) than they are with the trendier contact options (Social), but the investments are still towards the new flashy and ‘cool’ applications. Many customers do still prefer the phone – statistics prove it. This kind of disconnect has created a conundrum which is receiving attention from on-high, your CEO.

Executives are taking notice and have made it one of their business priorities to get closer to their customers.  I have been known to ask; “what exactly does ‘getting closer’ mean?” Executives have begun to realize that embarking down the wrong relationship-building path will continue to critically hurt their overall business strategy.  Leaders are now facing a decision: continue to let customers down through inadequate capabilities or embark on a journey to evolve their customer service experience.  Companies cannot do this alone, a new vision and a framework for support has become paramount.

To succeed with all customers, social and more traditional, companies need to create and maintain consistency of experience across all channels. A complete interaction experience goes well beyond just listening to your customer. It branches out to action, enablement and empowerment. Not only do companies need to learn how to interact well with customers using all channels; from the phone to social media, they also need to ensure experiences for the customer that deliver real value to the customer in exchange for time, attention, actions, information, and anything else that companies want from customers.

Few organizations are capable of providing the cross-channel consistency, an imperative for modern customer facing organizations. Unfortunately, the internal cultures of companies have not been built for this model. In order to achieve success, I am suggesting that companies must first change to better embrace their customers, not just as industry-mandated customer service operations. Companies will need to enable and empower employees to act as customer advocates who help customers successfully do the jobs they need to do with the company’s services or products. The company’s view of and objectives for customer service will need to change to provide very different kinds of training and guidelines to allow customer service staff to work creatively, cross-channel with customers. To succeed, companies will need more than collaboration platforms, though they can help. Coordination needs to come before collaboration, I will be exploring that in a future post.

During the past month, I was able to explore, in depth, many of the points above with Julie Hunt. Looking at the above points from many different perspectives – having fun along the way. Some the key questions addressed are:

  • How can you meet the demands of a multi- and cross-channel customer?
  • Do you know what your customers want from a ‘social’ relationship with you?
  • How can you align processes with the needs of your customers?
  • When does the difference between an Interaction and a Transaction matter?
  • How to focus on what your customers remember, for service interactions?
  • What is the proper balance of investment in ‘Social’ channels versus ‘Traditional’ channels?

If you would like to receive the full version of the document, please just let me know.  No registration forms, just an email to me, mitch.lieberman (at) gmail.com or to whitepaper (at) sword-ciboodle.com.