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Mirror Images

January 17, 2012 1 comment

For a some time, I have been watching, reading, discussing and doing my best to understand the very broad field of customer service, customer relationships and the supporting strategy, technology and processes which go along with each discipline. Along the way, Social CRM – a complex overlay on all of the above, has become everything from a hot topic to nothing more than part of buzzword bingo and back again. At the same time I have also been trying to keep tabs on Enterprise 2.0, Social Business and Collaboration (not Emergent). Going back and reading my own early thoughts here I can see that in some ways my own thinking has changed, but in many ways it has simply matured. I have been saying for a fairly long time that Social CRM and Entperprise 2.0 are closely linked. In September 2009 I said it here and here. I am not patting myself on the back here, more being self critical. I said this 2.5 years ago and frankly we have not come very far.

This line of thinking have caused the following questions to nag at me a bit:

  • Does better agent (employee) engagement lead to better customer engagement?
  • Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction?
  • Does better user (employee) experience lead to better customer experience?
  • Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

Taking a bit of a leap from where my own thinking was a couple years ago to now considering how many elements need to be, or are essentially mirror images between inside and outside the organization. I am not going to be able to tackle all the questions in a single post. As any good learner does, I asked a few friends for some help.

Does better employee satisfaction lead to better customer satisfaction? Mark Walton-Hayfield of CSC had this to say (BTW – congrats to Mark and all of CSC on the Paul G Watchlist Review!):

“In summary YES! However, you need to make sure that people are empowered and that businesses deliver on their promises to customers too.

People who are encouraged to make decisions by themselves at work and who have the authority to solve problems with the outcome of keeping customers happy are generally more satisfied with their job than employees who need to seek out a manager for approval. Business owners who empower their employees tend to have both a lower staff turnover and higher customer satisfaction levels too.

A core tenant of modern leadership thinking is that you need to make people (at all levels) understand why they are being asked to do something and the part that they play in the bigger picture. By leading people through great communications which encourage motivation and with empowerment designed into the operating model you are creating an environment within which people can be proud and satisfied in the work that they do. For those people who are customer facing (and even those who are not) this will most likely translate and spill over into better relationships with customers. These customers will perceive that the representatives of the company are going the extra mile (and they probably are) and so over time this will improve customer satisfaction.

However, this comes with a warning – ensure that you have delivered upon your original promises to your customers and that you are responding to them in an effective manner on those occasions when you are not”

Mark Walton-Hayfield | Social Business Strategist | CSC | MarkW_H

I happen to agree with Mark’s thoughts, it makes logical sense, but why does it seem so difficult to carry out in practice? For commoditized products and services, where low cost is the differentiator, this might be very difficult to carry out, no? This is not a disagreement with Mark, more of an expansion of his thoughts.
Moving on to some other tough question, I posed the following to Laurence Buchanan of CapGemini (Also a CRM Watchlist winner): “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?” In hindsight, this was a bit of a leading question, isn’t it? In a way it is playing with buzzwords.

“Customers have always been social. For as long as trade and commerce has been around, customers have spoken to each other about good deals and warned each other of rip-off scams. But when we think of a social customer today we use the term to describe a customer who is a) connected to people and information via digital channels and social networks and b) someone who leverages that connectivity and information in their relationships with vendors and other consumers. For example, a customer who is connected to a network like Tripadvisor might use information from that social network to influence their choice of holiday as well to influence others in their network through their own contributions. The motivation of a social customer will vary greatly and may include simply getting a better deal, building up trust and respect from peers, or naming and shaming a poor product or service.

Employees have always been collaborative. Ok, perhaps not as collaborative as they could be (!), but we have always had to work with others to get the job done. The collaborative employee mirrors some of the traits above. Although the networks might be different, the collaborative employee is certainly connected to people (e.g. other employees, suppliers, customers…) and to information. In addition, the collaborative employee leverages that connectivity to help them work more effectively (e.g. breaking down internal silos), to build relationships or to build their profile within the enterprise.

However, the boundaries between the social customer and the collaborative employee are increasingly blurred and increasingly irrelevant. People play multiple roles in their daily lives (consumer, employee, supplier), information (and transparency) now flows much faster inside and outside an organisation and networks are increasingly interlinked. More and more it will be harder to separate the social customer from the collaborative employee.”

Laurence Buchanan | Principal, Digital Transformation | CapGemini | buchanla

Sharing the wealth a bit, I asked Prem Kumar of Cognizant the same question as Laurence, “Is the collaborative employee the mirror image of the social customer?

“If you recollect the concepts in the book reorganizing for a resilient organization, orgs (organizations) need to have people with specializations, areas where they have high efficiencies, areas which could be highly routine and monotonous. There is not much need to take decisions, and even if any, they would happen with in a predefined scope, options. This is what brings the scalability, the industrial scale. Collaboration happens at a minimum in these organizations, especially between people who need to make decisions on non routine issues. These are the people who have been empowered to take decisions.

One of the reasons for this collaboration that Ranjay mentions in his book is innovation, to meet the demands of the evolving customer. I do not remember if he talks about customer support, but here is again an area where you need to take decisions as well as collaborate with various dungeons in the org. ‘Responsiveness’ is the key reason for collaboration I guess. That means responding, at speed.

Now cut to the era of the social customer as he is right now. What he asks is public knowledge, so add the PR angle if there was not enough pressure on being responsive already. No wonder you need to be even more connected, at speed. Collaboration has been clamoring for attention for a few decades now, but now it has become inimitable, unignorable.

Collaboration is no longer a motivating factor to do better, it is now a hygiene factor; you stay healthy if you do it, else you fall sick. It is not doing pilates, it is eating good healthy food. Which means, it’s not about putting extra efforts, it’s about changing our habits, or mind frame for the better.”

Prem Kumar | Strategist | Cognizant | Prem_k

I really like that last point by Prem, collaboration is now a hygiene factor, it is a requirement to doing business. This is actually one difference, where the characteristics are not mirrored. Customers do not need to be social in order to be customers. But, social customers do require the internal organizations to be collaborative. All that is left to tackle are the remaining two simple questions.

Links provided from Mark W-H

Engagement, Intent Driven Involvement

January 8, 2012 5 comments

Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one.  The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective.  I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.

What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually.  Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.

A Bit of Research

Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.

First the Customer side:

“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”

Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally.  Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well –  Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.

What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.

“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”

Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience

There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:

“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”

Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.

In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.

A Healthy Diet of Email

January 5, 2012 1 comment

Here is the question: How does Email communication fit into your 2012 corporate diet? Specifically, is there such a thing as a healthy diet of Email? Within your organization do you encourage email use, discourage it or leave well enough alone and go with the flow?

I know some would like this to be a really simple answer, but it isn’t. With New Years resolutions top of mind (back to the gym, lose weight and all that), if someone asked you to associate Email to a food group, which one would it be? How about: “Email is the carbohydrate of the corporate diet”. We could say that there are good carbs and bad, right? We could easily talk about reducing carbs, but not getting rid of them completely (Atkins anyone?). Many (corporate) citizens are addicted to email (and M&Ms), clutching their mobile devices in cars, meetings and trains, turning them on instantly when their plane lands, wondering (hoping?) if someone sent them something very important.

We could label Email to be Fats (Think Burgers, Fries and Ice Cream). Again, there are some good, necessary, fats as well. We could talk about Email weighing us down and clogging our arteries (disrupting the flow) some even causing our blood pressure to rise. Does Email help or hinder the information flow in the modern corporation? Every once in a while, something awesome comes along in Email, just when you were ready to toss it. Ice Cream, for example; ah now there is something to sink my teeth into! I would love to be blind-copied on a Ben and Jerry’s delivery, wouldn’t you? (Blind copying, by the way, is the devil, never do it, it will come back to haunt you I promise).

Email is definitely not protein – Hard Stop.

As you can tell, I have been doing a fair bit of thinking regarding Email (communications in general really) and the impact on my day-to-day world. Maybe I have been thinking too much about food as well. My conclusion is that for all the power it provides, Email is the single biggest necessary evil that exists in the modern technological world. Try as we might, we are not going to get rid of it, even internally, not for a while, too many people use it, like it and that is that. Our kids will be having the exact same conversation in 20 years – tell me I am wrong.

Email for Companies of all Sizes

The framing of the conversation about email has changed in the past few years and will change some more; email, has split into a channel with multiple purposes, maybe even multiple sub-channels. In other words, the problem will get worse before it gets better. At the moment, here is an incomplete list the different personalities of email:

1 – A messaging / notification channel – Alerts, reminders, very simple, not really 2-way communications; “Honey, pick-up some milk on the way home”

2 – A (mis) communication / conversation channel – This is that multi-person, let’s talk email, with threads hard to decipher.

3 – An information / marketing channel – Here, read all of this great stuff I aggregated just for you!

4 – The best way 90% of the population know how to share a file – Within the corporation, this is getting better – but we are a long way from solving the problem.

5 – The ‘I have lost my password’ recovery channel – With the number of sites we all use, come-on admit it, this is a once a week use case for you.

6 – The ’10 best ways to get the best use of this new all social platform’ message/aggregation

For those of you who have Gmail, this is basically what it is now. The filter allows us to put the important messages up top; those are usually the communication type of messages. These are conversations, usually with people or contacts of some importance. The messaging channel often lives up on top of the heap as well, especially this time of year. These are short notifications; maybe an SMS type message or an order confirmation. The actual length of the message might be a little longer, but the essences is that of a short notification, with supporting data. Finally, it is what people use to share files – there in lies its greatest strength and its greatest weakness – and why we cannot seem to stop using it.

So, What is all the fuss about?

The core issue is that the channel is misused and often abused. Email is a lousy collaboration tool, but the use of email for collaboration is extremely high, much higher than people want to admit and certainly higher than it should be. This is the area where people would like the predictions to come true. Sometime this past week, I sent out a note on Twitter where I challenged myself to reduce my personal use of email by 50%. Some of my network peers challenged me back asking what if a prospect wants to email me; or all prospects want to use email? Well, the answer of course is that will certainly not be a problem, I will use email as the channel that my customers want to use.

Going back to my point above that Email is really going to be further split into multiple channels, no question. Do not confuse the technology with the functional job getting done. Let me ask a question, if I am looking at something in an email client, does that really mean that I am using email? If you read a Twitter DM using the Twitter interface, then it is just that a DM, but what if you read it using Gmail (like I do?) Does that make it an Email. The key point is that for the next number of years, we are each going to find our own balance, we will all be different, and it will change quickly. Many platforms start with email notification, hoping to drop them and keep you within the platform (think Facebook, Twitter). Some of the best, latest and greatest social (CRM) platforms have begun to use email to encourage usage (Nimble, Linkedin).

Why is Email such a challenge?

My point was reinforcedrecently, regarding the complexities of email and the need to consider best use. A long email is like someone talking for 3-5 minutes, going through multiple points, often building upon each other without the opportunity to ask questions and request clarification.  We have all read (or most have anyway) that emotion does not translate in email. What about culture, that is completely lost in many more ways than emotion. The approach someone takes to communication of an idea or concept might simply turn people off (which I have seen). If the email goes on and on and the reader stops – that is a problem, no?

Another example is something as simple as trying to coordinate a flight and schedules. In my mind I had communicated what needed to be done, and what the potential issues were going to be. The recipient responded with some thoughts and ideas that did not align with the potential issues – they were issues. Who has the problem here? Me, not really a question. In the end, it is the perception of what was communicated not the design (sounds like customer service now). The answer was simply to pick-up the phone, problem solved.

BTW – You cannot answer just one email, you have to go through the whole list, I mean have you ever tried eating just one M&M?

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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Strategic Ambiguity

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Whether it is intentional or not, given by pundits, professionals or proselytizers ‘advice’ is too often vague, fluffy and/or shallow. Websites, blogs and articles are filled with key words suitable for Google but lost on most humans. In the domain where I read, think and strategize; customer service, this is especially annoying.  To be clear, I am not talking about those who are skilled in the one or two lines of ‘wow’, which can motivate and inject value; those I rather enjoy.

The reality is that being direct is considered rude, harsh words unprofessional and honesty talked about but practiced only by convenience. We tiptoe around issues, more concerned with positioning, politics and positivity over efficiency and progress. When work submitted is unsatisfactory, we spend twice as much time trying to figure out how to say “this is really crap” in 3 paragraphs worth of ‘politeness’ as we should do. With respect to customer service,  the customer is ‘always right’, however there are degrees of correctness. I am not promoting rude behavior, simply raising awareness.

Enter the Euphemism

A Euphemism is the word or phrase chosen when the one you really need might not pass the ‘Mom test’ – you know, the ‘could I say that at the dinner table in front of mom’ word. In the business world the issue is not quite a ‘dinner table’ issue, but it does have a parallel – ‘could I say it in front of my CEO’. These are the terms and discussion topics that you try to avoid because they are too direct or contentious. Instead of saying “The server crashed” we start with “Due to…” and it ends with “…we have confidence the issue will be resolved shortly”. When it would have been awesome if only once, the answer was “I spilled my Double Mocha Super Grande on the power supply”!

As companies and individuals, we are told to be transparent and authentic – which are worthy goals. But, come on, transparency is the portal to the staging environment where the view is scripted and hardly authentic. The gatekeeper is getting caught or being embarrassed into conformity (If I have high confidence I can get away with it, I will try). If we were truly being authentic, we would use the phrase “none of your business” much more often; how is that for ambiguity. When the CMOs are asked why something is done, the answer should simply be “because I want people to buy more of our stuff!” Is there really any other answer? Of course there is, but when we net it out, that is pretty close.

Getting Closer to Your Customer

This single phrase, the mantra of the CEO, is bandied about a lot these days, and it is becoming almost as bad the word ‘social’.  Put the word ‘social’ in front of almost anything and all corporate ills are cured <hyperbole>. What exactly does getting closer to your customers mean? Does it mean listen more, talk more, sell more, Co-create or infatuate? What is the path to getting closer to your customers and the results to the bottom line? Do you want to get closer to your customer or customers? Do not answer too fast, spend a minute thinking about it. All we need to do is be customer centric, right?

Social, as a descriptor, is getting in the way of progress towards actually getting closer.  The reason is that it simply has too many definitions past and present. People will try to make the leap that we are able get closer to our customers by being more social. What do you think? How much about getting closer is about technology? As the size of the organization increases, technology will be involved at some level, of course. The key is to use technology to mediate the communication (or channel), not dis-intermediate the customer. If I pick up the phone or talk to my customers face to face, I will understand them better. In other words, getting closer to your customer will involve a social activity but might not involve a social technology.

In the context of business, social is different from social in the high school café. Social is really about sitting down and having a drink, playing a round of golf, going shopping, being human and listening actively. The meaning of social has not changed, nor should it. Getting closer to your customer takes time, energy and patience; there is no magic bullet. I apologize if I did not give specific instructions, nor a how-to guide. You know your customers better than anyone else, consider that as you build your customer strategy and those who will advise you on how to get it done.

Strategic Ambiguity is really about doing more with less, that really is a win-win. If you are an advice giver, do you have what you need to back up your claims? If you are searching for insights and are the recipient, are the pundits clear enough to pass the sniff test?

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

The Dynamic Customer Service Experience Framework

Customer Service is not only about one technology; it is about the set of technologies you will need to bring your business into the modern age. It is about starting with a clear and concise vision of the service experience you intend to deliver to your customers. In order to accomplish this, you do need to understand your customer needs and how your customers seek value. It is clearly, the ‘Jobs to be done approach’. These types of activities are very different from mapping internal business processes to look for efficiency. Evaluating your technology stack, with your customer service experience lens, is an important exercise. Everything you do should begin with a strong foundation. We all learned these lessons from very early on; from education, to athletics and yes, even business.

The Innovative part of the Technology Ecosystem

Whether it is Facebook or Twitter; Linkedin, Quora or FourSquare the activity that is important to you is, or will be, happening on a platform, through a channel, right in front of you, where you can’t get to it. The social media platforms, as they have become to be known, are where customers are, so your organization has to go there. But, which ones? Will this answer change in a week, a month, a year? The fact is that these external forces are part of your business, which you will fight to control (technologically and process wise) and will fail, thus figure out how to leverage and embrace them, not fight them. These platforms represent your ability, your advantage to innovate and transform your business.

Your ability to control which channels and technologies your customers use is long past.  Is it possible that your best and most powerful long-term strategy is the ability to make tactical decisions faster than your customers expect (exceed expectations)?  Does responsiveness outweigh the business value of implementation via a coordinated, planned and sustainable architecture — or not? In any case, the framework suggested allows for varying rates of change across layers; what was yesterday’s innovation, might just become tomorrow’s differentiators (not to confuse too much).

Coming full circle; The ability to provide customer service excellence is achieved by a harmonious dance between the people, processes and technologies supporting every modern business. These are the core building blocks making up the foundation of all world-class customer service organizations. Does this sound like your kind of customer service? – It should and it can!  Remember, customer service experience is the customer’s perspective, in response to your efforts. Be sure that the customer’s perspective is all that you want it to be.

This is Part two of a two part series. The first in the series; Creating Graceful and Rewarding Customer Service Experiences can be found on the Sword Ciboodle sponsored Under The C, blog.

We  (Julie Hunt and myself) explored these points, looking at them from many different perspectives – having fun along the way.  The detailed thoughts are shared in a White Paper titled “The Total Customer Service Experience”. If you would like to receive the full version of the white paper, please just let us know.  No registration forms, just send us an email – whitepaper@sword-ciboodle.com, and we would be happy to forward along a copy.

Building a CEx that Creates Value for Customers… And for Companies.

A guest post By Dr. Graham Hill, Partner, Optima Partners and Associate, DesignThinkers. I have learned a tremendous amount from Graham over the past several years. I might add that if I had started reading his works earlier on, I would know even more! I am very please that Graham decided to share the following.

Too many customer experiences are created just for the benefit of companies. Customer are either a target or an afterthought. Many customer experience practitioners don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room; the most important touchpoints are not about marketing, sales or service, but about the weeks, months, even years of product usage. Companies need to re-orient the customer experience around what customers’ value, the touchpoints they use to create it and how the company can benefit from co-creating more value together with customers. Doing this opens up new opportunities to earn revenues long after the point of sale.

We tend to see the world in terms of who we are and what we do. It’s a cognitive bias colloqially known as Maslow’s Hammer. So advertising people, who obsess about Brands, talk about the customer experience (CEx) in terms of creating a branded experience. And internet people, who obsess about ecommerce, talk about the CEx in terms of creating a better on-line experience. And CRM people, who obsess about marketing, sales and service, talk about CEx in terms of, yes, you’ve guessed it, more efficient and effective, sales and service.

These are all inside-out versions of CEx. They are only about companies, their consultants and the vendors who service them both. They are NOT about customers. They all pay lip-service to customers, but the customer is not at the heart of their thinking, let alone their doing. They are at best a target, at worst, just an afterthought. It is a lot like waiting on-hold in a customer service queue and hearing a sugary voice intone on the telephone, “your business is important to us”. Sure it is, but not enough to staff the call centre with sufficient people to answer my call in a reasonable time.

Make no mistake, the CEx IS about brands, and the online experience, and marketing, sales and service, but it is about so much more as well. As was recently suggested in an online discussion, “CEx… is the sum total of the interactions a customer has with your company“. That’s close, but not quite close enough. In fact, most of the inside-out versions of CEx are so busy focusing on themselves that they don’t see the 900lb Gorilla in the room. That for the vast majority of customers, the most frequent and most important touchpoints are with the product during the days, weeks, months, even years of usage. For customers, the CEx is mostly about value-in-use.

If customers care the most about value-in-use, then the CEx should mostly be about enabling customers to get the most out of using the company’s products during usage touchpoints. That starts with helping the customer establish a need for the product, helping them to make the right choices and offering them the right sales terms. All the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers talk about. The ones of most value to the company. But critically, the CEX is also about supporting them when they first use the product, and then over a lifetime of product usage, up to the point where it is disposed of. These are the touchpoints the inside-out CEx-ers don’t like to talk about. The ones of most value to the customer.

This doesn’t mean bending over backwards just to give customers everything for free. Companies don’t need to become charities. It does mean understanding what customers are trying to do at each touchpoint in the CEx and at what creates value for them during each touchpoint, and then working out how to enable customers to create more value in such a way that the company can create more value too. And value isn’t just hard cash. It can also be knowledge that is used to drive innovation, relationships that reduce the cost of the next sale, even advocacy that drives word of mouth recommendation. The CEx isn’t just about creating value for customers, it’s about value co-creation together with customers.

If companies do this intelligently, it can turn upside-down how they go to market. Rather than just charging customers for outputs at the point of sale then abandoning them to their fate, which is so often what happens, companies can also charge customers for ongoing outcomes during the weeks, months and years of using the product. For example, Rolls Royce Aviation doesn’t sell aero engines any more. Instead, it sells ‘power by the hour’. Customers only pay Rolls Royce when the aero engine is used to fly their airplanes. And the airline may even be paid by Rolls Royce for maintaining the same engines in their own facilities. Its all part of a move towards outcome-based contracting that is sweeping business.

If we want CEx to become more than just another advertising slogan, ‘one touch’ button or marketing cross-sell campaign, we need to start to think about it from the customer’s perspective. And to work out how to co-create more value together with customers. Not convinced? Ask yourself a simple question, “which company would you prefer to do business with? One that is only interested in creating value for itself, or one that wants to co-create value together with YOU!”. It’s a no-brainer isn’t it? It should be for companies too.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator
@grahamhill

Further Reading:

Merz, He & Vargo
The Evolving Brand Logic: A Service-dominant Logic Perspective
http://www.sdlogic.net/Merz_Yi_Vargo_2009.pdf

Knowledge@Wharton
‘Power by the Hour’: Can Paying Only for Performance Redefine How Products Are Sold and Serviced?
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=1665

Irene Ng
Outcome-Based Contracting: Changing the Boundaries of B2B Customer Relationships
http://www.aimresearch.org/uploads/File/Publications/Executive%20Briefings%202/Outcome_based_contracting.pdf

Who Leads the Social CRM Market? – An Analysis

April 23, 2011 3 comments

The question was raised on Focus and my answer may have surprised a few people. I started my answer with a disclaimer “I work at Sword Ciboodle” (a technology vendor for those of you who do not know). I then proceeded to state my opinion that no technology vendor currently leads the market, even questioning if there is a “market” for Social CRM, my logic is that technology is only one part of the problem. By the way, the word Social is starting to get in the way:

“The leaders in the market are the consultants and analysts. The reason is simple, I am not convinced that Social CRM is an actual market. Integrating Social Channels into a customer strategy is something that needs to be done, absolutely. Connecting the Social dots is something that does need to be understood and practiced, but a market, not sure yet.

When I was speaking on the topic last year, I was cautious to describe it as ‘CRM in the Age of Social’. Customers have problems to solve, companies need to figure out how to solve those problems – just with a whole lot more channels. My first statement about consultants and analysts was not a knock, it is a recognition of the complexity of the problem, people and process first, not technology.

CRM is often discussed by its 3 core components, Sales, Marketing and Service – when we discuss Social CRM, which one are are talking about? Or are we talking about all 3 and more? Are we talking about Business to Business or Business to Consumer? There are 6 segments at least, where I believe there might be 6 different leaders”

Social CRM does Require Technology, but it is about People

A previous topic also on Focus sheds some light on my answer; “What are the top reasons for integrating Social Media with CRM”. Caty Kobe expands the question/problem statement to facilitate the discussion: “What are the top reasons why an organization should integrate CRM with social media channels” – There is the explanation to my answer, right there, simple. I did not even need to go to the answers (though friend Brian Vellmure has a good one), just the question.

Social CRM, from the technology perspective, is about integration of new channels, Social Media is a channel. Properly, Social Media is dozens of channels, where you need to choose the ones right for your business. The hard part, the real work, is choosing which channels to integrate and then designing the processes around these channels – the people part. Just “being there” because someone told you to is not a reason! Too many industry insiders (Vendors, Analysts and Consultants) are trying to put Social CRM into one simple bucket, it is not simple, and it is not one thing.

We need to find a balance among the new terms, big words and fluffy buzzwords. It is not all new – parts are new, the combinations are new, but in the end, Social Media is just a channel. If you are trying to figure out the Social CRM puzzle and you are doing your research, you might find definitions and descriptions; something like ‘The company’s response to the customers’ control of the conversation’ (@pgreenbe). If you are not comfortable with that one, I am sure you have found one you like. There is only one correct answer to the question of what is Social CRM, yours. Not OK with that, how about focusing on the strategy, not a definition? Looking back to a great post by friend Wim Rampen, who outlined a concise Social CRM Strategy:

“A Social CRM Strategy is all about understanding Who the customer is, through Listening to Engaging with and Collaboration between Customers, Employees and Partners and aimed at Developing Innovations that allow Customers to do What Jobs they need to do, by means of a Personalized Design that empowers Customers, Employees and Partners to influence How well Customers and Companies can meet their Desired Outcomes.”

Wim outlines some great actions, I encourage you to go back and read the original post and the conversation which followed. Notice that Wim only touches upon the technology components. Recognizing that they are there, but not focusing on them first. Some may find this strategy to constraining, some may find it to broad. The beauty of sharing it is that people can take from it and see how it fits within their own organization. It is not only about building new strategies and new frameworks – honestly I think some of the new stuff, without even a hint at looking at the old is pure rubbish. You will need to take this strategy and apply it to your programs of work. If we all spent a little bit more time understanding where we have been, we might be better at figuring out where we need to go.

So, Who is in the Lead?

Finishing off with the Social CRM Market question, which I do not want to leave hanging. There is not ‘a‘ Market, there are many different Markets, including both technology and consultative, there are data questions and process questions. From integrating social channels into your Customer Service operations (where Ciboodle excels) to Socialytics (which Ciboodle does not do, but we have friends who do) – and all the bits in between. For now, it is about how to integrate; technology and process, Social into the programs of work for the foundational components of CRM; Sales Service and Marketing. In the future, we will be able to get rid of the ‘Social’ descriptor and go back to focusing on doing business. The organization or person in the lead is the one who solves the problem you need fixed – not the one with the best marketing department.

The Perception Gap in Social

March 20, 2011 23 comments

Customers do not want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits a relationship can offer to them. I have been stating this for a couple years, as many people I know have also stated and written about. You may or may not agree with this, as it has seemed like a bit of a political debate, without some really solid data to back-up either perspective. IBM recently published the result of 2010 study, which revealed some interesting data points. I will be cautious, as data can be interpreted differently from person to person, but this study is grounded in primary research, published by the IBM Institute for Business Value and my analysis of the report suggests that it is worth considering.
Consumers were asked what they do when then interact with businesses or brands via social media. I am not sure which is more surprising to me, that being part of a community and feeling connected are near the bottom, or that purchase and discount are at the top. To back up a little bit, results also published in the same report found that only 23% of consumers, who go to social media sites, go to interact with brands. They go to interact with family and friends (70%). Another interesting point is that while 23% are interested in interacting with brands 22% actually go to write a blog, that is a finding which I am going to need to think on for a bit. Finally,

“just over half of consumers surveyed say they do not engage with brands via social media at all (55 percent).”

The Business Side Gap

The business perspective is more interesting, and frankly more valuable to anyone who happens across this post.  The simple reason is that a business needs to care about what the customers are saying and doing, not what they ‘think’ is right or worse, portrayed by someone else who told them the ‘right’ thing to do. OK businesses, take a look at the listing your peers gave when asked the why they thought customers were following their companies on social sites. The data clearly states that businesses believe much more strongly that consumers interact with them to feel part of the community – guess what, they really don’t. The consumer wants something more.

“Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers’ motivations for interacting. Interactions with businesses are not the same as interactions with friends.”

The gap is pretty wide, almost as wide as the current NFL players versus owners. But, in this case it is not a matter of compromise and working to get both sides to see the other perspective. The only real opinion that matters is what your customers think, correct?

What about Advocacy?

I am not sure about you, but I have seen a lot of Senior Executives talk about “getting closer” to their customers, partners, ecosystem, prospects  (IBM 2010 Global CEO Study – 88% want to get closer to the customer). In order to answer the war cry from the C-suite, marketers and executives (from this survey) believe the answer is social media engagement. However, the data from the consumer side suggests otherwise – or best it is inconclusive.  The issue seems to be that you (company) are already close to your advocates; 64% of  stated that passion for a brand needs to exists prior to interacting with that brand.

“In other words, consumers who engage already have an affinity for that brand or company, and mere participation via social media may not necessarily result in increased loyalty or spending. But a recommendation from a friend or family member could make a difference.”

The answer to the riddle seems to be to encourage consumers to share their experiences with friends and family. Make that easy and you now have a better chance of encouraging those at the tipping point to become advocates for your brand. I am not going to go retro and start defining Social CRM, been there, done that! I am going to suggest that you need to start thinking like a customer, outside-in, not inside out. It is not about control of the conversation, it is about mutually beneficial value. A fair exchange. Social media is part of something we call the customer engagement continuum, aka consistency of interactions and touch points independent of the channel used. A friend shared a term with me early this week which seems to fit “Reverse Logistics” – to me, it fits here because the perspective that matters is the customers.

Mea Culpa (March 24th, 2011 – Update)

There are great comments on multiple locations on this topic. I am most appreciative for all the comments. If you would like to see what others are saying, elsewhere, here are few links:

  • There is an interesting discussion in a google group Social CRM Pioneers
  • TheSocialCustomer syndicated from this post has some great comments from Peter Friedman, Chairman & CEO, LiveWorld
  • CustomerThink, also syndicated from this post has some comments from Bob Thompson and Scott Monty

Is Twitter a Customer Service Platform, Protocol or Channel?

March 14, 2011 4 comments

Twitter is an interesting beast, that is for sure. I am sure a few (or more) will suggest that it is none of the above. Or, better, that it is a monumental waste of time.

The nature of Twitter is that everything is open for the world to see, that does beg the question of how best does Twitter fit into your Customer Service processes? Some of the challenges are actually a bit technical in nature; Twitter is actually a Service Platform*, which acts like a Protocol, and should be treated like a Channel. In order to get there, maybe a little bit of review is in order. My review is timed for an event, close to home, where JetBlue and Comcast are planning to present to a small group here in Burlington, VT. The interest lies in the fact that by one measure, JetBlue is considered tops in Loyalty, yet are almost 3 times as likely (as the baseline) to see a negative experience show up on Twitter.

Looking Back

The question I began to think about a long time ago is whether by making a channel such as Twitter readily available, companies were ‘creating a monster’ or ‘letting the genie out of the bottle’ and wishing that they had not. This is very Inside Out thinking, and non-customer centric. I first published a post in October 2009 titled “Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?” (link). Some parts of the article were a bit tongue in cheek, as Twitter in the support arena was quite new. In that article I suggested the following statement to be a truth:

The need to broadcast a problem to the world would not be necessary if the customer had confidence that their issue would  be solved timely and to their satisfaction.

Almost a year and a half later, I am revisiting the same issue, to see if things have changed, or not. I also suggested that using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Customer do not have confidence that their issues will be addressed when they contact a company or register a complaint. There was some good discussions regarding the post. No, not everyone was in full agreement either. There have been a lot really smart people (smarter than me) thinking about this issue, now 18 months further along. That said, while people have been thinking about it, data to support or to counter the arguments is hard to find. I am not convinced anyway. Looking at this problem from the more important customer perspective, if your customers are there, then you need to be there to, right? the comment from Parature hits the mark:

Regardless of whether or not it is a good customer service platform, customers are taking their issues social and they can’t be ignored.

Core to this discussion is trying to figure out exactly; what is Twitter? During the recent history that is modern customer service, the channels of communication have been controlled by the organization (for the most part, of course there are exceptions); In-Person, Phone, Letter, Fax, IVR, Email, Website, Chat. These are protocols/channels, which a company decided to offer, or not. Unless something went really wrong, and it made the news, or trade press of some sort, the results of communication were ‘contained’.  With that in mind, Esteban Kolsky had the following to say on the previous post:

Any channel a customer chooses to contact an organization is a channel the organization should be listening on – or have a clearly stated and well-known reason not to (example: you cannot contact your broker about a trade via email due to latencies)…. Despite the novelty behind it Twitter remains a simple channel you add to your lineup of channels to serve customers. If you understand the basic rules of engagement for the channel, and how to deliver value best (e.g. tweeting the answer in 14-consecutive-tweets versus posting a link to somewhere) to your customers, then you should be able to deliver against those expectations – after you set them at the right level.

We have not Answered the Question

As noted above, Twitter is not a Customer Service Platform – it is only part of a Customer Service Platform, maybe. That does not mean people do not use it as such. Coca-Cola is not billed as a rust removal system either, just saying. Some believe that Twitter should be an open protocol, but that is not likely to happen either.  Therefore, a channel of communications is what is left, that is what Twitter is, and how it should be treated. This does not take anything away from it, just calling it like I see it. Your customers are there, and therefore you need to be there as well. Some old rules are broken though, unless I am missing something important. For example, if JetBlue has that many negative issues, then their loyalty number could not be that high if it takes “12 good things for every bad”.

The follow-up question is how well is this (or any) channel is integrated into the rest of your customer service processes? According to some recent research (Brent Leary analysis), 35% of companies surveyed said “Yes” when asked “Is your social media/social networking fully integrated into traditional customer service problem-resolution processes?” I need to be direct and question that particular statistic, as I have yet to run into many (any?) companies at all where the processes are truly integrated from end to end. The simple point is about a technical challenge or limitation, your customers will know if they systems are integrated, or not.  Even so, 65% of companies recognize that social is not integrated, therefore each is an island of process and of information. Your customers deserve better than this, no? I spend a lot of time thinking rhough these types of issues for Sword Ciboodle and our customers.

(*For the technical minded in the group, Twitter seems to be tending towards a service, offered by a private company, as a 3rd parties can typically build on top of a platform, but those rules seemed to be changing as well (who can and will make changes)).