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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?

Where Does SMS Fit in the [Social] World?

February 27, 2011 6 comments

I wanted to see if I could write an entire post using an iPhone, for some reason, it seemed an interesting way to think about SMS, (the protocol behind text messaging) as a channel communication.  I did get the first 250 words ‘penned’ on the device, but failed to complete the task. I wanted to learn more about SMS, both technically and culturally. SMS/texting is a bit Jekyll and Hyde, as it seems to be among the most private form of communication available, yet, at the same time it is extremely social (ask a teenager), there in lies the intrigue. During my journey, the most consistent thing I found, was inconsistency! In my current role with Sword Ciboodle, spending time thinking about intelligence in the contact center consumes a lot of my time – Where does SMS fit? Do you have the answer?

I started my exploration with a query on Twitter. My simple question was “If someone hands you a business card, there is implied permission to call/email. What about texting? Why?” As some responses began to come in, my curiosity was piqued and I began to wonder about  the broader SMS topic as well as where this peculiar channel fits into the customer service as well as the Social CRM realm. I then began to think about forms (requests for data online and off) and wondered if by giving a mobile number, there is an implied permission to use SMS. I expanded my research to the usual places (Google and Wikipedia) as well as to request the assistance of a few good friends.

SMS is often like ‘phoning from under the table’. Were you ever in a meeting and it was running over time, and you had to SMS your next meeting, or SMS the person chairing the meeting so you could get out? That’s the sort of back channel, back door to the main conversation that SMS enabled. It’s not the main conversation, it augments the main conversation. Kids do this all the time.  Five kids in a huddle are talking to one another face to face, and another ten people via SMS, at the same time, and they are often in the same conversation. –  Paul Sweeney, Friend and Head of Innovation VoiceSage

Paul’s comments really struck a nerve, mostly on the wide and varied use of SMS. His point on ‘augmenting’ the main conversation is a good and important one. In this case, it is like a back channel, with urgency and immediacy attached. I am not sure about your phone, but SMS seems to take priority, popping up and interrupting everything else. That said, I  fear that we are no closer to defining how exactly SMS fits into a channel, social or communication strategy. Still struggling, I decided to reach out to another friend, Barry Dalton, Senior Vice President of Technology, for Telerx. Barry hit on a couple of  excellent points, and finally I can being to see how the pieces fit together:

When I call you, whether you’re a business acquaintance or dear friend, you have the option of picking up or letting the call go to vm [voice mail].  SMS does not afford the receiver the same control.  Have you ever sent a text and not gotten a response?  What was your feeling?  The sender knows the text went through.  The expectation is that it will be responded to, pretty immediately.  Whereas a voice mail left has a lesser expectation of immediate, or any, response.  So, in that sense, with that expectation from the sender, I think it is viewed as more invasive and thus more personal.  As for the person to company, its not so much the intimacy as it is the expectation of immediate response.

One particular point struck me, and that is that SMS is more invasive, it is not only push, but it is push NOW! As Barry highlights, there is a bit of uncertainty associated with not receiving a reply to a text. With family, the order is; Are they ok? Is the phone off? Am I being ignored, how rude! With business associates, it is the same list, just in reverse. As Paul stated “It retains those characteristics of being “of the moment”, thus the etiquette that has evolved.” Though I am not quite sure what the etiquette has evolved to, that is the question. Barry added some great and important points. As I mentioned in a previous post, I did spend some time on a Skype call with Graham Hill on this topic and Graham was of like mind here – “When you give out your mobile number, there is not an expectation that people will initiate the conversation via text”.

A bit of background and some data

According to Wikipedia, SMS / text messaging is the most widely used data application in the world, with 2.4 billion active users, or 74% of all mobile phone subscribers. Yes, that is both bigger than Facebook, Twitter and YouTube combined and more far reaching. The popularity is greater in emerging markets as well.

Starting with a little compare and contrast:

  • For India: Mobile phone usage is (752 Million as of Feb 2011, with a 65% penetration) larger than the Internet usage which is (100 Million as of December 2010, 8.5% penetration). Various sources suggest that SMS usage in India is about 60% **.
  • For the United States: Mobile phone usage sits at about 293 Million mobile phone users, with a 93% penetration. The number of Internet users is about 240 Million, with about a 77% penetration. Percentage of US subscribers who use SMS (versus number of messages) is unclear to me at this time.
  • Both countries have about 40% Internet usage from their mobile devices, but the raw numbers are obviously quite different.

Getting back to SMS, while mobile phone talk usage use increased 1.8x between June 2005 to June 2010, the number of text messages sent in the US increased 37x in the same time period (CTIA). As I alluded to above, I believe SMS usage is skewed, especially in the US and hard to put percentages around, unless you slice and dice the data across many variables (age, gender, education, location, business…) SMS has an interesting history as well. SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower, which is the basis of the 163 character limitation. “SMS is sent over the control channel required between the mobile handset & the tower. This is a channel that the telecom operators need to have, its sine qua non – an inescapable cost thats already written off.” (Prem Kumar) The control channel is something that is needed, existed already, is underutilized bandwidth and did not cost the carriers anything extra – think about that when you consider your bill.

The Task at hand, Where Does SMS Fit?

I am not talking about ‘Social’ everthing , I am talking about communications, protocol and etiquette. When someone hands you a business card, the current standard is phone and email. Often, there are two or more phone numbers, office, mobile and maybe fax. More sophisticated folks may use Google voice, or some such technology, giving only one number. When a business has your mobile number they need explicit permission to use it for marketing purposes. According to Graham, businesses have not fully grasped the potential of SMS. My perspective, is that they are focusing on all of the other applications which sit higher on the stack of the mobile device. SMS is a perfect medium to drive a call to action. The character limitation is a perfect ‘excuse’ not to include details, because you cannot actually do it.

Where and how should SMS fit into the overall customer experience? SMS seems like a powerful yet simplistic communication protocol, which everyone with a mobile device has access to (though in the US there is an extra charge). It is fast, and works through walls (you know, those building where phones barely work, yes SMS works). There are some fantastic uses of SMS:

  • Your car is ready, please come by and pick it up, thank you for your business
  • You are nearing the limit on your <insert many things>, would you like to add to the balance now?
  • We are running a special on double mocha lattes, please stop by, show the attached code
  • Here is your boarding card sir/madam, just use the attached QR code to board your flight.

Notice that the main use is outbound, SMS, in the context of business to consumer does not appear to be (not in the US anyway) a synchronous, by directional form of customer communications. I would like to hear a good example of a customer using an inbound SMS to take action. Send ’em if you got ’em! What are the boundaries of your mobile number? Would you expect a new acquaintance to send you a text message?  What if an online form asks for a mobile number? Say for your kids school, the cable company, the electric company? Is the answer the same?

Yes, I am asking a lot questions in this particular post. Some friends made some interesting comments when I asked the question on Twitter the other night. Barry suggested that Customer Service has skipped SMS, which I’m some industries is true. But, there is value. A special thanks for friends listed below as well as those through Twitter who offered feedback during my exploration. I would like hear your thoughts!

Klout, The Tinkerbell Effect Remix

February 21, 2011 6 comments

The Tinkerbell effect describes those things that exist only because people believe in them (source wikipedia).  I wrote a post last spring while blogging for my friends at SugarCRM where I talked about Social CRM succumbing to this phenomenon.  I suppose I could make this really controversial and slam Klout. But, Klout is simply supplying the ‘fix’ of choice; popularity, to the Social elite. While at the same time emphasizing some really bad life lessons (ego and elitism, to name just a couple).  It goes without saying that Twitter likes it. To “get more” Klout, just use Twitter more; that according to Klout Chief Executive Joe Fernandez, as seen in the Wall Street Journal:

Last year, Britney Spears’ managers, Adam Leber and Larry Rudolph, requested a meeting with Klout Chief Executive Joe Fernandez in San Francisco. Over a lunch of Chinese food, they grilled Mr. Fernandez on why Ms. Spears’ Klout score, then around 64, was lower than Lady Gaga’s 78 and Ashton Kutcher’s 77.

“What are these people doing better than us?” Mr. Fernandez says they asked.

Mr. Fernandez says he advised them to tell Ms. Spears to tweet more frequently and to send more tweets herself instead of having others tweet on her behalf.

Let’s Fast Forward a Bit

I really wanted to try and avoid writing a post on Klout, but temptation simply got the best of me. I saw – on Twitter of all places, go figure – a link to a post on Klout, where Trey Pennington shared the following:

Klout’s founder, Joe Fernadez, is both a genius and a gentleman. He recognized a need in the marketplace and has been working aggressively to satisfy that need. The business press is taking note and is given him and his company earned recognition (and venture capitalists are giving him/them the big bucks to back it up).

In reviewing some of Trey’s recent posts, I realized I had jumped in, in the middle and missed the context of the series, where Trey first talks about how people can game the system, and ends (well, at least as of this writing it seemed done) with some real words of wisdom.

Many people recognized the humor and absurdity of my four keys. I’m glad. If you’ve heard me speak, read my blog, or engaged with me online, you know I cherish Zig Ziglar’s oft-quoted axiom, “You can have everything in life you want if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” You’ve probably also heard me state and defend against all challenges the admonition, “Follow back every person who follows you on Twitter.” Even though that suggestion STILL ruffles some people’s feathers, I still advocate accepting another human being’s out-stretched hand.

Which brings us back to the real issue of increasing one’s influence. Is that a worthwhile goal? I wonder if influence, like corporate profits, is a by-product of rendering valuable service to others. Render enough valuable service to others, and you’ll have all the influence you need.

In my exploration, using Social means, I have found that the people who have the most influence are the ones who are truly humble, the ones who would prefer not to have influence. If you really want to dive in deep on the science of influence, spend some time reading Michael Wu’s posts, starting with this one. Michael started the series last April, and readily admits that it is in its infancy:

Influence marketing today is in a state of experimentation that scientists call the pre-paradigm phase or exploratory phase. During this phase, everyone is trying different approaches based on experience. There are incomplete theories about why some approaches work and others fail, but there is no underlying fundamental principle that explains everything.

The idea of Klout is not bad, but in its current form, it actually is bad. There is no context to the influence. There is no shortcut to getting to the right people. People who I know are, or should be, more influential on a particular topic have better things to do than to hang out on Twitter, so guess what, their score suffers. I also know that many others will do a better job at analyzing this topic.

The Conclusion? Klout is not here because people are confused nor because people really need it, in its current form. Klout is here because they have marketed it well.

Jelly Beans and Expectations

February 17, 2011 1 comment

Customer expectations are high and organizations are constantly challenged to meet, or dare I say to exceed expectations.  Interestingly, I do not think many organizations can definitively state their customer expectations, can you?  Go ahead and ask,  before your head of sales, marketing or anyone else with a fancy title reads this, ask them: “What do our customers expect?” I also believe that the bar is continually changing. Asking the question above often receives a “we do not simply want to meet expectations, we want to exceed expectations!” Great, you are not really sure what expectations are, but the bar has just been reset!

Think through the following: You walk into the local candy shop and the person behind the counter weighs out the 1/2 pound of Jelly Beans (Strawberry Cheesecake, if you must know). After they weigh it, they affix the little sticky with the weight and price. Before they seal the bag, they throw in another small scoop of Jelly Beans. Your expectations have just been met and maybe even exceeded. Now, what do you expect the very next time you walk into the candy shop? This is obviously an over simplistic view of the world. Take the conversation to cars, houses, software, insurance policies, mobile phone, cable and Internet provider, the list goes on and how do things change?

Expectations Around Service are Different, or are They?

The hyper-connected, mobile, choosier, but ‘I am your customer’ demands simplicity and is less tolerant of business-driven organizational procedures. Customer experiences are made up of interactions and touch points with the people, products and services a company provides to them. The connection – you might say the emotional connection –  between customers and an organization consist of the sum of these experiences. The simple question is; “Are you organized in such a way to accelerate your company’s ability to deliver a 21st century experience to the 21st century customer?”

Extending the Jelly Bean example to more complex organizations is hard. For one, it is harder for these organizations to simply give you something extra with regards to service or product. I suppose that you could get a few extra minutes on your mobile phone, but if calls were dropping in the first place, then I am not sure what that does for you. As organizations decide to offer new and different channels, they might be giving the appearance of an increased level of service, but for the general population, did anything really change? You have now met the expectations on these new channels, because you are there. Well, maybe, kinda sorta, for the few that are yelling and screaming on Social channels you may have now met expectations. Did you just reset the bar on Social channels too? Did you invite more people to yell and scream?

I am excited to spend a few minutes with friends and super smart CRM folks Paul Greenberg and David Myron next week, for Webinar.  The discussion will be light and we are going to have some fun (probably at my expense) and talk through some of the fun and maybe not-so-fun issues people who think about customer service stay up at night wondering about – basically that Customers are fickle. They change and are changing the way they communicate with each other – and your business – and this change is happening at a frenetic pace. Last year’s never-ending debate was the definition of Social CRM, thankfully, this year we have moved on. I can promise you that we will NOT talk about definitions, Cloud Computing nor Software-As-A-Service, we will focus on the fundamentals of customer service and keep the topic focused on business issues.

Customer Service, Do Not Waste Your Opportunities!

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

According to Wikipedia, the obvious source for…well, everything, just ask my kids, there is a definition of Customer Service. Wikipedia of course needs sources, so they quote Jamier L. Scott: “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.” Not too bad, not totally complete either, but a worthy place to start. The important point here is that there is not mention of technology, no mention of product type, industry, nothing, nada, zilch!  Since we are moving closer and closer to a totally service based economy, many many more parts of the organization are involved in Customer Service – not just those with ‘Service’ hidden within their title. You may sell a product, but whether you like it or not, you actually sell a service and give an experience!

A Tale of Two Experiences

I was on a quick flight home on Friday, noonish, from NYC to Burlington, VT. The carrier was USAirways, the airport LaGuardia. The weather was not a factor, no mechanical, no last minute changes and the airport was quiet. Unfortunately, the person at the gate could not have looked more miserable, this was issue number one. Later, the gate agent needed to make an announcement, which of course was drowned out by another announcement, issue number two. Instead of one of them stopping and waiting (both USAirways announcements), they both kept going. Then, I went up to the agent and asked what he said, and he was perfectly annoyed (yes, my perception) at the fact that I was asking a question. He even said: “I just made that announcement”. I said, I understood, tried to make light of the fact that someone else was talking at the same time, yet he did not see the humor and gave me an answer, with attitude. I am not comment on  the very strong accent, making his directions hard to understand – oops, I guess I just did (BTW – I do now hang my hat with Sword Ciboodle and a good Scottish accent can be quite thick :-). This was so very simple, yet it was a lost opportunity, no lines, no weather, no crowds, nothing. Too many employees, act like simple laborers and just do not seem to care.

I went skiing on Saturday at Sugarbush Resort, just down the road from my home (45 minutes). The weather was great, new snow, and lots of people with the same idea! That said, we (middle son and I) put on our gear, hopped on the lift (lower lift was not much of an issue) and began the day. As we approached the lift, the person there greeted us with a genuine smile, and made a comment about the new snow, great weather and told us to have a great day. When we were at the upper lift, which had a bit of wait, the lift attendant was equally engaged. I could see his skis off to the side, but he was working that day. He had his sunglasses on upside down, and he asked how our runs had been and waited for the answer. He smiled and and wished us well. It just so happened we rode up with a volunteer ski patrol, same experience. Now, just to share, we spent a lot of time skiing in the woods, where there was a good 2-4 feet of powder and lot of trees (to avoid and use as brakes!). I do remember the skiing part of the day, more, but the overall experience does include the people.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. In flying, the experience begins the moment you pull into the airport, in skiing the experience begins when you pull up to the mountain (often in business you do not make your own reservation).
  2. No one I interacted with in either scenario had “Service” in, or hidden within, their title (though “gate agent” is close)
  3. My experience did not involve technology one bit (unless you consider the loud speaker).
  4. Beyond this experience, I would choose skiing over flying 9 out of 10 times, so it might not be a fair fight.
  5. Smiles are contagious and so easily to do!

What have you done to enable your extended organization to focus on the Customer Service experience for your customers? We all talk about technology, investment, ROI, KPI, TCO – how about talking about smiles, being nice and just being human? I am not only talking about your contact center either, just sayin’

Top 8 Considerations For Evaluating and Deploying CRM

August 25, 2010 4 comments

I was invited by Focus.com and Sage  SalesLogix to present as part of panel and discussion: CRM in the Cloud: The Top 8 Considerations for Building Brighter Prospects for Your Business. For those of you who know me, I often write on topics somehow aligned with Social CRM or Social Business, spending time looking forward. Recently, I find myself taking a step back, and taking a closer look at the fundamentals a bit. It is too easy to gloss over the basics. It is well worth your time to make sure that the core platform is in place, your data is secure and your business processes are sound.  Then, if you still have the energy, feel free to jump into Social… ( Sorry for the length, this one is a bit long )

1. The system meets standard CRM operational and business requirements.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is the central component of a company wide initiative, which has the single focus of maintaining a careful watch over the relationship that exists between you and your customers. What it needs to do, in order to meet that simple objective is a business discussion, which needs to take into consideration People, Process and Technology. The technology component (about 20% as measured by time, money and or effort) is an enabler, a means to an end and is not a substitute for sound strategic planning and rallying the troops for all departments, which is required to fuel any successful business model.

Any CRM solution needs to contain all of the core objects you need to run your business. Where the objects do not contain all of the elements you need, a business person (not technical person) should be able to easily add elements, through a simple user interface, without having to hire a software developer, ie dive into code.  Looking at usability, any knowledge worker, from a call center agent, up to the CEO, need to be able to quickly and easily find the information they need. Tasks, activities and collaboration are not just features or functions rather, each must do its part to help people get work done. The system needs to run through a simple, intuitive user interface, which everyone enjoys using.

2. Your CRM vendor offers and provides you deployment flexibility.

Cloud in reference to technology and computing is an overused buzzword which describes every computing environment that operates outside of one’s own data center. SaaS is a description of a delivery model for software applications, which drew out of On-demand and ASP.  Together, Cloud Computing and SaaS are taking things to a new level altogether by the introduction of both development platform and infrastructure licenses sold as a service. This shift, fueled by inexpensive computing power as well as advances and extensions to open source technology helps businesses of all sizes to move capital expenditure (CapEx) to operational expenditure (OpEx), leading to lower initial investment and higher productivity.

The advances just described are not limited to only Cloud or SaaS, but many can be fully leveraged on premise. For example, advances, which were created to manage systems, help with deployment have made things easier for companies who choose to keep their core applications onsite. Cloud computing, nor SaaS are for everyone, it is beyond this quick discussion to help you make that choice, but the most important aspect is that you DO have a choice. Any application you choose must be able to switch from one model to the other, and back again, without disruption to business operations.

3. Storage and security requirements are in-line with your needs.

No one likes to be ‘Nickeled and Dimed’ for features, functions or storage. For example, if you do business with architectural firms and they are constantly uploading new plans, which need to be attached to the account record in CRM, you do not want to be concerned with how many files are attached.  Data availability and security are constantly at the top of mind for all business owners and executive staff at larger companies. Your customer data is a critical company asset and should be considered YOUR asset no matter where the system resides.

SaaS was – and is still – enabled by both vendors and companies wanting to simply provide a service, and, in essence amortizing the infrastructure costs, leasing if you will, to their customers. Cloud platforms separate the maintenance of the infrastructure from the end users of the applications. Basically, Cloud is making it easier for companies with great applications and services to deliver an experience reliably and securely and at a cost that has significant customer benefits. These needs, should also include data, and the transport of that data.

Very often, companies would like a back up of customer data to be made available offline, or to another system altogether. Business Intelligence solutions (BI) are also available as SaaS, as well as on premise solutions. The decision of where your data is located, when and how it gets there needs not only to be your decision, but you need to be able to sleep well at night as your think through the security of that data.

4. You can meet the needs of a dynamic workforce.

Knowledge workers are closely related to the Social Customer. Your teams work where they want, when they want, and it is in your best interests to support this as best you can!  Anarchy! Well, I do not want to divert my message here, as where and how your employees work is not the focus here. Your teams will spend time at the office, at your customer’s office, but they will spend a lot of time working at virtual locations. Whether this is at home, the coffee shop, 9-5, or Sunday afternoon, your teams need more flexibility, a happy employee is a productive one.  Beyond the user interface, a typical area of complaint is the overall user experience.

What I typically hear are things like “the sales team needs a new CRM system yesterday, but we prefer to keep support operations behind the firewall.” A possible scenario here might be phase one deployed quickly and securely in the cloud and then move the system behind the firewall when the company will spend the time and energy working to integrate support and operations. By the way, I also ask the question: “Why exactly does sales need a new application?” The answer is often about management needs, not the sales people.

5. You are confident you can promote high user adoption rates.

Most employees are frequent users of Facebook, YouTube and the fancy travel sites. Knowledge workers are asking about iPad, iPhone and Android based access to all corporate systems. In order to get them to use the application and enjoy the experience, using the system needs to be positive and valuable to them. Sales people are always complaining that they are “feeding the beast” and the value is all for management. They want to make sure that the system helps them, notifies them when something important is happening.

Often the question is asked, ‘how long will it take to train people on the new application?’ My answer, typical for me, is that ‘it depends’.  But, one anecdote I try to convey to my clients, and people willing to listen is the following: How many people took the Facebook training, or LinkedIn? The point is that there is an expectation by knowledge workers that modern applications are straightforward, easy to use and the value is self evident.

6. Your CRM vendor treats you as a valued partner.

Just as your customers expect you to be listening to them, is you CRM vendor listening to you? When you are asking for a specific technology integration, or User Interface on a specific device, how are they responding to you? Ask for some references of recently won and 2-3 year old accounts who you can talk to and ask these questions. In the age of Service based offerings, you have a choice, and vendors need to earn your business every year. A vendor should be willing to work with you not only one month prior to renewal time, but all year long.

7. The system is capable of viewing data from the social web.

Having ready access to a global community of developers and the ability to harness Web 2.0 technologies to create flexible networks of business partners, employees and clients is critical in the age of the social web. Integration of data from the social web is important now and critical to your success in the future. Technology integration is only one part of the puzzle. Consuming unstructured date and turning this data into information and insights will take careful planning.

Data from social monitoring solutions like Radian6, Attensity and others needs to be the first step in the process, listening only does not solve any business problem.  Whether you are using a monitoring solution, or simply spending time in front of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social networking sites, each has a cost. Your CRM system needs to be extensible, such that you are able to view specific pieces of information, about an individual, who has, or would like to create a relationship between you and your company.

8.  The solution adds value to all members of your organization.

Reading all of the above should be enough. If your CRM application does not add value to everyone, towards understand the value of a relationship between your company and a specific customer, or a group/segment of customers, then you need to carefully consider what that is the case.

Categories: SocialCRM Data

Are we oversimplifying the complex, or making the simple too complex?

June 24, 2010 1 comment

Friend Scott Rogers (@jayhawkscot) sent me a link this morning, “The Complexity of Complexity“. A legacy from bi-gone days, when I studied Biophysics, though I still like to keep my eye on what is happening. Even more fun is when I can put what I did then, together with what I do now – thanks Scott. The read is interesting, the topic more so; and here is one of my favorite quotes from the post: “complexity is not about systems. It’s about social phenomena”. Being me, I sent that over the wire (Twitter) and Dennis Howlett suggested that it was my statement was too simplistic – there is some irony to that response, no?

Too Complex, or too Simplistic?

Lately, I seem to spend half of my day talking to people who are somewhat new to the Social CRM space and trying to connect with them, and explain what it is (hence my recent description “CRM in the Age of the Social Web”. Then, I spend the second half of my day reading, analyzing, writing and commenting, being told that I “do not dig deep enough on certain topics” and I “need to push the conversation forward”. But, we all have that issue right? Oh, I almost forgot, I spend the 3rd half of my day trying to understand and then prevent people from simplifying things to a point that all meaning is lost. I believe in the concept of Social CRM and the concept of the Social Customer, I have specific beliefs on what they mean and what we need to do. I am also willing to forget the names and focus on the characteristics, solve the problems people are asking about. I do not feel the need to affix the word ‘Social’ on everything. That said, if I don’t then people ask me if I understand…

Back to the Complex stuff

There was a great comment on the post by Holger Nauheimer:

“I have recently identified 5 major characteristics of social systems that contribute to their complexity:

1. All people have individual concerns, purposes, and circumstances.
2. All people in an organization make many unsupervised decisions, every day.
3. All people in an organization are connected in different ways to other people within and without the organization.
4. There is a close to infinite number of external and internal influence factors that shape the destiny of the organization.
5. Social systems have a strong urge to protect their integrity.”

Interesting, and I like the language too (not “all characteristics” or “top 5 characteristics” just “major characteristics”)

I will come back to the list, after I do a little more research and write a follow-up post. I am especially fond of the connection of “Social” to characteristics of “People”. Prior to the follow-up post, I would like your opinion:

1 – In all of your reading of articles, comments and blogs, are authors oversimplifying things. Skipping key attributes and characteristics which by exclusion alter the original intent? Or, is it the reverse? We are making things overly complex by including new words, buzz words and too much positioning?

2 – What do you think of the list above? (How) are you attacking the list? Does it matter? Is the list itself irrelevant and not really important to the conversation?

Categories: SocialCRM Data

Social, brought to you today by the letter ‘C’

If Social CRM, Social Networking, Social Media or Social Business had the sponsor of a letter, it would be the letter ‘C‘. The reason however is not what you think, of course you need to be Customer Centric, but this post goes beyond that. This post aggregates and builds upon the work of others, who highlight this wonderful letter, as you should as well.

(note, this is my first post since starting Comity Technology Advisors)

Generation C (your customer, now or in the very near future)

Generation C – Cross-generation (source: Springwise and Paul Greenberg) Generation C spans from Boomers through Gen X and Gen Y right up to Millennial. From a customer perspective, this represents change, highlights peer influence and alters who I trust. Generation C is:

  • Content-driven – We are producers; blogs, text, images, audio and video, etc.,…
  • Connected – Phone, Email, Messaging, Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, RSS
  • Creative – We are able to choose the form of Content that allows us to express our thoughts
  • Collaborative – We like working with Friends, Peers, Mentors, Partners…Oh, and Customers
  • Contextual – What we say, do and think is highly dependent upon where and when we are
  • Communicative – Sometimes without a filter, we say what we say

Organizations need to act, react or just prepare

In his book, (RE)(ORGANIZE) FOR RESILIENCE, Author Ranjay Gulati uses the following to describe the “resilience tool kit”. The book is a worthwhile read, an important theme is centered around why organizations are having trouble keeping up with the pace of change displayed by their customers. The following is my interpretation of the author’s “5 Cs”:

  • Coordination – The alignment of people, process and technology within the organization
  • Cooperation – Focus on breaking down silos, addressing cultural and behavioral issues
  • Clout – Decentralizing power and allowing front facing individuals to act
  • Capabilities – Education and training of all individuals to be, or become customer facing
  • Connections – Create internal social networks which extend outward to partners and customers alike

My own additions to the list

During the course of my reading, implementations, discussions and writing, there are few more which you might want to add to the list. These do not represent a strategy, maybe not even an objective or goal, but focusing your time and energy around what these points mean to you, is time well spent.

  • Conversation – Make sure you having conversations,  not one directional monologues
  • Co-Creation – Involve your customers in the process of creating value for each other
  • Consistent – The message and approach should be as similar as possible with all customers
  • Committed – Once you begin to involve the ecosystem, stick with it!
  • Community – The creation of place where your ecosystem feels comfortable enough to hang-out and chat
  • Cross-Channel – Engage with your customers when, where and how they want (and it may change mid-conversation)

Some words which require more thought

There are some words which begin with the letter ‘C‘ which are words to pay attention to, but be cautious about. I am not going to say they are right or wrong, they simply need some paying attention to, to make sure you are aware of their power.

  • Command – no matter what the goal, an approach will likely have unwanted consequences
  • Control – Just think through what it means to you and your organization, and be cautious
  • Conversion – Many people focus on this metric, what does it mean to you and at what cost
  • Convince – Work to create buyers, not convince people to buy your products or services
  • Change – The only constant is change – be ready for it

What would you like to add to the list? Did I leave anything out? (Aside from the most obvious, Customer of course)

Who Owns Social Data?

April 21, 2010 3 comments

Martin Schneider (CRMOutsiders) asked this question – Who Owns Social Data? to a panel at the recent SugarCRM conference, held in San Francisco. Sameer Patel, Esteban Kolsky, Jeremiah Owyang and Diogo Rebelo participated in the panel. Since I was in the room, and organized the track, I threw my $.02 in every once in a while (sorry guys). I followed up via email with Sameer and Esteban, and Jeremiah started a whole thread on data and data ownership on the scrm-pioneers Google group.

Please keep in mind that I am looking at this question from the company perspective. I know, how very non-social of me and of course Inside-out. In fairness, companies knowing more about people is a good thing, it can aid in more Social CRM types of activities – I understand your privacy concerns, but let’s not go there just yet.  The idea I threw out at the conference was simple “Data owned and Data borrowed”. My meaning was/is simplistic, there is some data that will be managed by the company and then there is data managed by someone else (maybe even me). An example of this is the data that a company has because they asked me for it, core demographic (Email, Address, Phone) and then there is the data that they try to find out about me and my company by taking the core demographic data and looking elsewhere (Hoovers, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Radian6, Gist).

So, on to my thoughts…

The following taxonomy (a bit of an obnoxious word, apologies) which I forwarded to Sameer and Esteban looks like this:

1 – Data owned – The system in question is the canonical source for the information
2 – Data copied – The system has a copy (synch maybe) of a piece of data
3 – Data borrowed – The system is either pushed a piece of data or it pulls it and it can act on it logically but does not keep a copy
4 – Data displayed – Think UI mashup, the system itself is basically unaware of the presence

(With friends as witnesses, this article was well underway prior to the SalesForce announced intent to purchase Jigsaw. What was once ‘borrowed’ or displayed data – as we will see – might now be managed data, if this becomes a trend, the equation may change)

Esteban, in typical fashion, started with “I like your taxonomy, but…” Esteban suggested a slightly simpler approach “Created, Stored, Used”, which is a little simpler, as borrowed and displayed are combined. While the majority of the world seems to enjoying bickering (me too sometimes) on minute details, I am perfectly fine with the suggestion (no “but”). Esteban’s most valuable point to me is the following:”..the true value is not in the creation or storage, is in the proper use.” I like that, as long as the use within the terms specified by the owner. Going into data ownership is beyond this post, (and I will quickly get in over my head), as the Terms of Service seems to be a little different for various data sources.

Now, on to some feedback from Sameer. Sameer struggles with my suggested taxonomy as well, and he has a right to, as I was unclear in my email to him. Was I intentionally ambiguous, no, but I tried not to lead the answer either. Thinking out loud if you will hoping to get others to think as well. Sameer flattened my taxonomy as well, but he combined copied and borrowed. This is an interesting perspective and I cannot disagree with his logic either: “Where it used to be that the money was in the aggregation, now its in the network facilitator who in turn gets to sell the fire hose or the data to be manipulated into intelligence.”

Operational versus Analytics, it makes a difference

If the system is looked at from a purely operational perspective; meaning people trying to make decisions based on atomic changes (versus masses of data) the approach needs to be one way. If you would actually like to understand trends and behaviors (you know, Analytics) then you would actually need a copy of the data I referred to as borrowed.  In reading back through my own words, I suppose the question is not really “Who Owns Social Data?” (As I believe Sameer said on the panel “Who cares?”) it is more important to understand what you would like to do with it – what you need, when you need it.

In the end, I might suggest to keep the more detailed taxonomy, and you can feel free to condense or expand as necessary. I believe that for their described uses of data both Esteban and Sameer are correct.  I also know that Sameer does not just focus on Analysis, nor does Esteban just focus on operational use – my point is specifying the use upfront is important.What are your thoughts? Is the taxonomy too simple, too complex – or just plain old unnecessary?

I would like to thank them each of them for their time. Each has their own blog, and you should pay attention to them there!

Esteban Kolsky is a customer strategist. He advises organizations of all sizes how to approach their customer initiatives to succeed. Esteban believes strongly in analyzing data from carefully thought out research. Esteban also likes to tackle the sticky issues that the rest of us avoid – calling a spade a spade if you will.

Sameer Patel helps leading organizations accelerate employee, customer and partner performance via the strategic use of social and collaborative approaches and technology. He shares his thoughts on this, as well as the software vendor landscape and on occasion, a healthy rant or two about unrelated stuff that’s on my mind.

MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson, on Collaborative CRM

April 2, 2010 1 comment

This is a Guest post and a cross post (with permission) by Martin Schneider

CRM takes on many faces, and encompasses a lot of different technologies.  We would be ridiculously arrogant, and wrong, to assume that our solution was the only way to manage a CRM initiative.  When at the optimal stage, CRM systems are hitting on all cylinders by not being one piece of technology but rather many tools working together to support the people and processes that make your human interactions unique.

In that vein, a major trend we are seeing among users and in general is the need for more fluid tools to support the highly versatile forms of collaboration going on around sales, marketing and supporting customers. Gone are the days of information silos – where a sales rep or manager reigns supreme over most of the interaction data surrounding an account; nor is it sufficient to only arm support agents with the data and tools to solve customer issues.

MindTouch is a company with an interesting take on collaboration and data sharing (and what’s even greater is that Mindtouch is a commercial open source company). I caught up with CEO Aaron Fulkerson recently to discuss his SugarCon presentation around Collaborative CRM, and the conversation quickly opened up to include concepts like the convergence of enterprise 2.0 and social CRM, as well as how cloud computing is affecting modern CRM deployments…

Aaron, your SugarCon session is around “collaborative CRM.”  Can you give a quick definition of collaborative CRM vs. traditional CRM?

Terms like “social CRM” and “Collaborative CRM” are being used a lot these days and it seems as if the products in this space grown daily.  MindTouch has a very specific view of what Collaborative CRM needs to be.

I can boil down the biggest difference in two words: Information Asymmetry.  Let’s take a common CRM use case – managing a specific transaction.   This transaction has a lead account manager, perhaps a sales rep who helped qualify the deal, a pre-sales engineer, and possibly a services manager engaged.  All of these team members have various contact points inside the prospect.   These multiple contact points can quickly create an information asymmetry situation where data that might be held in the form of emails, documents, phone call notes, etc., isn’t as accessible as it could be, and that could be to the detriment of the transaction.

Our vision of Collaborative CRM is to create an information advantage for all of the team members involved.  I’m excited to share this vision at SugarCon.

So, where exactly does “Enterprise 2.0” meet with CRM? Are they two separate things?

To realize the ‘information advantage’ I mentioned before, the CRM system must embody Enterprise 2.0-type attributes – that is to say, to openly and easily interface with other information-rich systems, to support the collaboration amongst team members, including those who wouldn’t traditionally interact with a CRM system.

A lot of CRM systems are great with structured data, but how can users better leverage unstructured data like emails and PDFs etc. in their CRM initiative?

Great question.  Unstructured data cannot be overlooked, as they are vital pieces of the activity stream.  All too often, aggregating the data in those activity streams is overlooked, this is especially true for purely ‘social crm’ solutions.  These emails and PDF’s are typically relegated to your desktop or your inbox.   Emailing these documents back and forth has to be the single most inefficient way to share documents, and everyone does it.   MindTouch ensures these types of data points are not overlooked, by integrating them directly into the activity stream, making them collaborative – easy to find, share and act upon.

How does it benefit a user organization to have open collaboration tools versus proprietary alternatives?

No two organizations are the same. You can definitely provide customers with purpose-built and feature rich solutions – but there will always be the desire on the customer side to perform their own customization.  Most often, this occurs with a custom application they’ve developed in-house.   With rigid, proprietary offerings, this might not even be possible.

Finally, how are you seeing “the cloud” change the way businesses collaborate with each other, and their customers?

MindTouch is web-based, so we’ve always had the benefit of providing our customers a solution that could cross boundaries – enabling internal teams to collaborate with partners, vendors and customers.  The big benefit we see in the cloud is that it becomes a great equalizer.   No matter how easy you make your product to download, install and deploy, there will always be that slice of the market that doesn’t have the IT wherewithal to make it a reality.  With the cloud, any size organization can simply sign up and be up and running in minutes.    This means a company of any size can now leverage the same enterprise collaboration solution that companies like Mozilla, RightScale, Intel and the WashingtonPost rely on.