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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!

A Conversation with a Friend

February 26, 2011 2 comments

Earlier this week, I was able to catch-up with friend Graham Hill via Skype.  Before you get too far, this is not an interview style post. This is an extension of the sharing of ideas to a broader audience. I first met Graham, in person, about two years ago, his insights into CRM, Design Thinking, Innovation, Co-Creation and a broad variety of both business and technical topics is simply awesome. We touched on many different topics, and true to form, after the call, Graham shared links and resources, which I thought would be worthwhile to share beyond just our conversation. I do have a lot of reading to do, that is for sure! We did spend a fair bit of time talking about SMS as well, in relation to some research I am currently working on – post forthcoming.

First a new approach / framework for requirements gathering with a focus on the agent/user call the i* Framework. The framework takes a new approach to designing systems based on how work is done and how value flows through work systems. Graham was passionate about this particular framework and it sounds very interesting and valuable to designing systems.

The i* framework conceives of software-based information systems as being situated in environments in which social actors relate to each other in terms of goals to be achieved, tasks to be performed, and resources to be furnished. The i* Framework proposes an agent-oriented approach to requirements engineering centering on the intentional characteristics of the agent.  Agents attribute intentional properties (such as goals, beliefs, abilities, commitments) to each other and reason about strategic relationships.  Dependencies between agents give rise to opportunities as well as vulnerabilities.  Networks of dependencies are analyzed using a qualitative reasoning approach.  Agents consider alternative configurations of dependencies to assess their strategic positioning in a social context. The framework is used in contexts in which there are multiple parties (or autonomous units) with strategic interests which may be reinforcing or conflicting in relation to each other.  Examples of such contexts include: business process redesign, business redesign, information systems requirements engineering, analyzing the social embedding of information technology, and the design of agent-based software systems.

The Second link which references the part of our conversation which touched on Value Networks and Collaboration. A new approach to modeling collaboration within an organization.

Work life is completely changing as social networking and collaboration platforms allow a more human-centric way of organizing work. Yet work design tools, structures, processes, and systems are not evolving as rapidly, and in many cases are simply inadequate to support the new flexible and networked ways of working.

Value Networks and the true nature of collaboration meets this challenge head on with a systemic, human-network approach to managing business operations and ecosystems. Value network modeling and analytics provide better support for collaborative, emergent work and complex activities.

Third – We both get a bit passionate when relationships within the business world end-up being unequal. The following talks about companies are managing customers for value over their whole lifecycle, not just at sales touchpoints. This topic is particularly important to me at the moment in my new role. Here is the link (It is an HBR article and is a PDF)

Companies have powerful technologies for understanding and interacting with customers, yet most still depend on mass media marketing to drive impersonal transactions. To compete, companies must shift from pushing individual products to building long-term customer relationships.

The marketing department must be reinvented as a “customer department” that replaces the CMO with a chief customer officer, makes product and brand managers subservient to customer managers, and oversees customer-focused functions including R&D, customer service, market research, and CRM.

Any conversation between two passionate people within the CRM domain, which did not spend just a few minutes talking about loyalty, would be a missed opportunity. Thus, true to form we spent a few minutes talking on the topic, with more reading for me on the topic! The following is an excerpt from another PDF, this time from the Economist, shared by Adobe and of course, part II (also a PDF).

Most companies today face a two-fold dilemma. In many product and service categories, competition based on both price and quality is increasing. Customers, faced with so many good choices, are making decisions based on a variety of complex factors. Even in business-to-business sales a similar dynamic is evident, as loyalty and relationships play less and less of a role in many contracts.

In this environment, the enterprise interested in winning, retaining and deepening customer relationships can no longer do so simply by creating a better product or even by holding down costs. For many companies, both strategies are essential simply to stay in the game. Increasingly, executives are finding that the winning differentiator is no longer the product or the price, but the level of engagement—the degree to which a company succeeds in creating an intimate long-term relationship with the customer or external stakeholder.

Sharing thoughts, information and resources is how we all learn and get smarter. Graham has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience. In a social world where too many people are trying to replace experience with book knowledge, Graham strikes a great balance (with more of both, than most) – and most important, he is willing to share. As you can probably gather, we touched on lots of different topics and and the discussion was quite enjoyable. I am looking forward to our next conversation, and getting together with Graham in NYC this summer – Enjoy!

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.

What Would Einstein Say About Customer Service Complexity?

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Nothing.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, E=MC2, is known by every school child post 4th grade. By 6th grade most school children all are told what the letters stand for, but it is highly unlikely that they actually know what is means. Have you ever tried to describe to someone what the formula actually means? Here is the Wikipedia link, good luck.

Hiding Complexity takes Hard Work

Each time an additional channel is integrated into your customer service strategy, the complexity of your processes increases. As practitioners in describing complexity, we often work very hard to simplify and describe it using metaphors and stories, else people will not read what we have to say. Somewhere during attempts to explain, respect for complexity is lost and an oversimplification process begins. The result is that we are left holding the bag. The job of the Contact Center is to make the lives of our customers simpler and to focus on their experiences. The more we try to hide our internal process complexities from our customers (because, frankly they do not care), the harder we have to work.

According to Gartner, within the next 5 years more than half of contact centers will include some level of real time participation by customers in the service process. One interpretation of this is that social and collaborative technologies are more than just new channels or extra channels. How can (or should) a contact center deal with the insertion of these new real-time variables if they do not fit smoothly into the currently designed business processes? The modern contact center need to be able to “enable the contact centre worker to become a real-time advocate on behalf of the customer” (Steven Thurlow, CTO Sword-Ciboodle).

Is it Really that Hard?

Yes, but it is matter of perspective. If you go about trying to solve a problem which approach do you prefer?  Do you prefer planning for the unexpected, possibly that the problem is slightly harder to solve than you anticipated? Or the reverse, at first glance it does not look too hard, thus you are sure it will not take much to solve (I call it the wishful thinking approach). In a recent Forrester report (author Kate Leggett), the most difficult type of contact to handle in the customer service contact center has high interaction complexity and high process complexity. Kate refers to this as Intelligent Dialogue, which describes it quite well. When I wrote a position piece on the topic last summer, the name I gave was not nearly as good. The concept is straight-forward to describe, but requires work to implement. Like any project done right, please do not skimp on planning and design hoping to ‘figure it out as you go along’.

During the next few years you will likely be able to automate more processes as you understand them better and they become repeatable, but more and more I believe a better word to use is optimized. When customer experience is involved the ‘automation’ word (and world) scare me a bit. Your customers are changing their habits quickly, I believe this trend will continue, you need to be able to be agile and change with them. Each business will need to decide which segments require a human evaluation, and which do not. It will be important to break down the essential elements (of a case or request) into discrete components, and allow contact center workers the capability to evaluate each component first in isolation, then together as part of the whole. Ideas like the sentiment, intent, tone, channel and dare I say ‘influence’ (Yeah, I know that one might raise some eyebrows) combined with pure informational elements; communications history, transaction history as well as other elements.

I am not trying to scare anyone, these are all solvable problems – I am simply requesting that you think about it.

A Social Business Power Nap

August 13, 2010 1 comment

I could not help myself, apologies to Dion and the rest of the folks at Dachis, you do great work, the title just sort of came to me. The driver for the title, and for this post, is Dion’s post The 2010 Social Business Landscape. I do want to thank Dion and the rest of his team, you came really close to getting it right (I am not going to be so bold as to call it wrong).  I am not really a purist, but I am sticking to Paul Greenberg’s definition for Social CRM and Andrew McAfee’s definition for Enterprise 2.0. For Social Media itself, I am sticking to “Social Media is a set of technologies and channels targeted at forming and enabling a potentially massive community of participants to productively collaborate”.

In the post, Dion references his previous thoughts to help redefine Enterprise 2.0 (just a little). Here, he shares with the readers, that Enterprise 2.0 as the freeform social tools in the workplace, with a concentration on developing solutions to achieve specific business objectives. Great, I am all about achieving business objectives. Wait, what freeform tools are we talking about? Dion also warns the readers, suggesting that we focus way too much on the tools, organizational change and new collaborative approaches, instead of focusing on the business problems.

Close but no Cigar #1: How can Enterprise 2.0 be the furthest element to the right, if none of the supporting technical elements (along the Enterprise axis) are close to the same level of adoption?

Looking at the charts is interesting, it might even valuable to some. But how does understanding this chart help ‘Me’? Not me, as in Mitch, me as in a business. We all have jobs to do, how does understanding this chart, even with the description help me to get my job done? As I was writing this post, at this spot, Jon Ferrara referenced, via twitter, this post on Forbes

“Just developing tools doesn’t mean everyone will use them, and certainly not always for the intended purpose. When Edison invented the magnetic recording disk he thought the main use would be for business dictation rather than music recording.”

The point it makes to me is that in order for customers to make sense of how we plan to put these tools to use, we better tell them the value of the tool. It matters to some that others have adopted them, but why and how are much more important.

Close but no Cigar #2: Putting concepts like Crowdsourcing, Social Location and Social ECM on a picture without really (sorry the ‘blurbs’ do not cut it)  describing the business problem each is solving adds confusion, not clarity.

Just a quick note before I hit my last topic – I just do not understand the Cloud/SaaS v On-Premise Overlay at all. I will post that particular one on the base post. Seems artificial and unnecessary, IMHO.

The Social CRM Afterthought

Saving the best for last, the miss here gets the rest of the box (of Cigars). As I noted above, I am sticking to Paul’s definition of Social CRM. If we can get past the slight of Social CRM being the only topic on the image without a ‘blurb’ in the post, then we can really dive into the topic.

Social Media Monitoring, Social Media Marketing, Customer Communities, Crowdsourcing, Mobile Social, Crisis Management are all extensions of standard CRM – why, because the help businesses go from inside-out to outside-in and focus on the needs of their customers. We need to listen, learn and engage our customers, we are not just managing them anymore (as if we ever did). I would agree that many of these disciplines are well into the adoption phase, as they have matured enough to actually solve business problems. If the companies actually have a business use for all of these technologies, then they in essence have begun to adopt Social CRM.

Further, as Paul mentions in another great post today, it does not matter what I call it, what matters is that I can help my customers solve a problem. We could (and should) take every core point of his post and exchange Social CRM with Social Business and re-post the entire article (yes, some of the facts and figures might just need some tweaking). I find it difficult to believe that the level of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 is as high as the picture suggests.

Customer Enablement Technology

If we really want to help people to figure this out, then we should pay attention to this recent post by Mark Tamis – Customer Enablement Technology. Here is my favorite part of the post:

“Although these approaches give us new ways to get to the Voice of Customer, In the age of scarcity we need to find new ways of creating value that go beyond creating value for the company alone, as Wim Rampen states here. The issue with VoC is that you are still looking through the lens of your company that has a particular colour. Rather than nurturing a collaborative relationship with customers, employees, and partners that feeds on itself and leads to the closest approximation of the desired outcome for all parties involved, there is a fair chance that idea&s and insights just get bounced around the walls of the company to either get lost in its meanders or come out looking quite different from what was actually needed.”

Friend and colleague Paul Sweeney commented on Mark’s post, which adds something that the Social Business folks really should focus on:

“What I really like is that customers need tools-methods-processes by which they can define how they wish to interact with your organisation. We are some way down that line, but its still very enterprise centric isn’t it? (In our company we refer to this approach as generating “edge processes” i.e. processes that don’t want to “look into the enterprise data/ systems” but which can enable / empower the customer by placing the processing, tools, and methodologies into the hands of the customer AND the enterprise user”.

I will leave with the final thought. The entire goal here are for business to create sustainable organizations. Ones where people like to work and customers like, value and appreciate the products and services offered. I will suggest that we spend more time helping companies to isolate the tools and components they need to accomplish their goals and less on definitions and generalities. If we focus on what our customers need to get done, and efficient methods to accomplish that, we will be good!

I am off now to take a nap, enjoy your day.

Driving Off the Lot with my New Shiny CRM

August 7, 2010 6 comments

If you examine your needs rather than wants, you will quickly discover what is right for you. Take a moment to think about what you use CRM for. How many people does the system need to support? What business processes do you do most often? How many hours a day will you be in the system? Is it important that your next system is lower cost at the possible expense of features you may or may not use?

In too many cases people choose their CRM System for the cool UI, great press or because it is a trendy favorite. If you do, you might either exceed your budget or have to go shopping again soon. Let your needs, not your wants, drive your decision. I have written very similar words before, sorry if this is a repeat. I have stated clearly as have many of my peers, and mentors before me to make sure you have a good understanding of what your customers need to do, beyond what ‘they want’

OK, now read the following:

“If you examine your needs rather than wants, you will quickly discover what the right car is for you. Take a moment to think about what you use your car for. How many people do you need to transport? What type of driving do you do most often? How long is your commute? Is it important that your next vehicle get good gas mileage?

In too many cases people choose a car for its styling or because it is a trendy favorite. If you do, you might either exceed your budget or have to go car shopping again soon. Let your needs, not your wants, drive your decision. Here are a few other questions to keep in mind when you begin your car-buying process.”


The quote above is from Edmunds.com: “The 10 steps to Finding the Right Car for You“.

The number of similarities is almost funny. Even the text within each category is amazingly similar.

  • Step 3: Should you Lease or Buy (CRM Equivalent: On-Premise versus SaaS)
  • Step 5: Have you considered all the costs of Ownership
  • Step 6: Research options (Internet and Educated Consumers)
  • Step 7-10: Test Drive and the Buying Cycle

What Model Do You Want?

I could spend a whole lot of time continuing down this path (metaphor, analogy what ever you want to call it), but that is not really my goal. My goal is to simply point out that I believe the needs of drivers are different now and so are the needs of businesses, with respect to CRM. Does that mean we need to call it something new: Social CRM versus CRM? Or does it simply mean that CRM was a comfortable 4 door sedan, which still works for many folks and Social CRM is the fun cool Crossover, Hybrid, Sporty Convertible? It sure is a lot more fun to talk about the cool cars! However, we cannot lose sight of the fact that no matter which care we drive it needs to get you from point A to point B. I has to have 4 wheels, an engine and a steering wheel. It requires maintenance, fuel and cannot drive itself.

I do believe that Social components of CRM are very important, and will be increasingly important. I believe that Social components of all aspects of business are important as well. How many new names and definitions do we need to create? Living in Vermont in the summer it is very easy to forget that if I get sucked into that fancy sports car, rear wheel drive and speed rated tires, I will most certainly not be able to even make up my driveway come January. I guess I would not make a very good Car Salesman!

To be clear, I will continue to write about and get behind Social CRM initiatives. I believe Social CRM is an extension of CRM. Core CRM, the basic blocking and tackling is still required, and more critical than ever. I spend a lot of time thinking and working through exactly how these extensions are added, implemented and used.

The Absence of Noise

In my previous post, I focused on Listening versus Hearing, a distinction I feel is very important, others seem to as well. Friend and colleague Scott Rogers expanded the thought to Listening versus Understanding. In his post, Scott relayed  the following; the dollar value the average person thought a minute of their time was worth comes to well over 3 times the national average income.  In other words, we must cherish the feedback customers give us, because it shows how much value it had to them to provide that feedback.

Customer feedback comes from those whose desire to give feedback exceeds the personal constraints for giving feedback – time, place, personality traits, etc

What about all the people who do not want to talk?

I am working hard to back into shape, so I have been getting up a little earlier and going out for a morning run. This morning was one of those classic Vermont mornings. A little crisp, but not too bad, very little wind and sun would duck behind some high puffy clouds every so often. It was really quiet, as well. During the run, I was actually thinking about what post I should write today. What I noticed was it was a little too quiet. I can usually see and hear the morning airplane traffic leaving from Burlington, headed to either NYC or Detroit. The reason is simple, and nothing to worry about. When the wind is out of the North, that is the direction the planes take off and not towards my neighborhood, thus it is quieter. But, the key point is that the planes were still flying, I just had to look a little harder to see or hear them.

We have all witnessed the never ending supply of blogs, articles, white papers (yeah, I am guilty) telling us to listen, engage and converse. What about those people who either have nothing to say, or do not want to spend the time, as it is not valuable to them. Or, all those people who are a little social, but are really hard to “engage”. In doing a little bit of research, the folks at ExactTarget always seem to put out fun and entertaining infographics, like this one:

Here is the thing with this particular graphic, and I might be reading WAY to much information into what is presented. I am not going to jump on the obvious, rather try to look at this from another perspective. One part that I believe people need to realize is that it is difficult to call email ‘engaging’. My comments with regard to engaging are to take my thoughts on listening over time, that is engagement. Email is not even hearing, it is talking, even a call to action is questionable, but I am sure I will get beat-up for that one.

Absence of Noise

If we were to think of this graphic as a classroom in grade school, would that help the conversation? The Subscribers are the ones paying attention, but not saying much. The fans are the kids paying attention most of the time, but they are doing some talking, you could say that they are more engaged. The followers, the ones on Twitter, are more interested in picking out the pieces they think are important, and honestly, talking more than listening. What is missing here? That percentage of the class who do not appear on this graphic. What percentage of the class is not represented, I am not sure, but it is likely a big number (40%, 80%+, anyone care to hazard a guess?)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post  – Do Giraffes Make Noise – In the post I put forth some facts, which I think are worth repeating:

  • The average business does not receive complaints from 96% of its unhappy customers;
  • At least 9 out of 10 non-complainers will not do business with the company again – they are gone forever;
  • Of the 4% of unhappy customers that do complain, 7 out of 10 will do business again with the company so long as their concern in handled properly, and 19 out of 20 if the grievance is dealt with swiftly.

Another great meme, one that has crossed the Twitterverse and Blogosphere and back many times is that “you cannot manage it if you cannot measure it”. What exactly are we supposed to do if we cannot measure it? Is all lost? A lot of information – data which provides insight, is gathered by taking surveys, <shutter> NPS and other metrics. Are all of these data elements skewed? If the customers do not want to talk to us, then they do not want to talk to us. Is there evidence that suggests a breakdown of the people who do not answer surveys fit a particular demographic profile?  This is where doing things the right way, the way we used to do it remains critical to success.

Michael Maoz, from Gartner stated the following, just the other day:

Customers will tell us a lot. Let them ‘control’ the conversation, but do this by providing the guardrails, the train tracks, subtly. Your customers will like the transparency of you saying: “Hey all! We are supporting, aggressively, your conversations….Social CRM is different than Social Media or Social Networking in that it is highly intentional – focused on customer advocacy and excellence. Not conversations or engagement generally.

The great monitoring solutions available to us (like Attensity and Radian6) are additional elements which need to be used. Just as Social CRM is an additional element on top of CRM. Social Media monitoring is not a replacement for good practices. Whether they are customer care, customer service or customer support. Has the pendulum swung to far in your organization, to the point that you putting too much energy into looking at the Social elements? Do not get me wrong, I like where we are going, just want to make sure that we do not forget where we have been!