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What if we Focused on Managing Expectations?

A couple months ago, I realized that it was time to renew my passport. I downloaded the forms, filled them all out, dropped by town hall, where I had my official exact size and specification photo taken, verified the details and then mailed the passport application. The application stated something like: “Please allow 6 weeks for receipt of the your passport”. 4 weeks later, there it was, in my  mailbox. I was able to check the status online, but never actually did it.  Ok, it was just a passport, and the government is the only game in town, but my expectations were met. I did not worry, there was no angst and the event passed without much fanfare

Whether it is a purchase at the local grocery store, a software purchase online, a car, or a phone and the associated service plan, we all have expectations. Trust, boiled down, is ultimately the expectations set between two entities, usually people. It could be between a person and a brand, but that sounds a bit like marketing speak. It is what it is. When a brand make a promise, it is setting my expectations, as a customer. Business to business is no different, actually, more often than not, a business includes a person in-between the brand and the customer. This is not always the case, but often it is, when you make a business purchase, there is almost always a person involved, this person is acting a proxy to the brand. As business purchases are typically more complex, that extra level of comfort of looking someone in the eye makes the difference.

In the age of the social web, this is no different than it was before. The question then, is what should a business, or the people within the business be managing? Customer Relationship Management (CRM) suggests that I am actually managing a relationship with customers, which in some ways sounds kind of silly. Most CRM systems simply manage data, and leave the relationship part to the human looking at the data. So, some have suggested that within this new normal, it might be more appropriate not focus on managing relationships, we should focus on managing the social aspects of the relationship, or SRM. This might bring things closer,  in other words, if we focus on the human aspects then we may have more success. We can help business people by providing the right information, at the right time. This fostering a way to focus on the important aspects of the relationship with people (more than just customers even).

The only thing that needs to be Managed are Expectations

As I have said in previous posts, relationships are built on trust, not data. And, as I said above, a large component of building trust depends upon meeting expectations. Therefore, my conclusion, therefore is that to element which needs actual management, are the expectations. Everyone needs to know, and fully understand what each and every customer, supplier, partner and any other member within the ecosystem expects. I am not suggesting that customer data and all the other components of CRM are not needed. I am saying that at the only thing that really needs to be managed are expectations. Everyone needs to understand the brand messaging, as this is setting the expectation of the future buyer, for example.

To me, this is what the word ‘Social’ adds to CRM, it is not only social technology, it is about adding the human element to the impersonal nature of most CRM applications. Since social CRM changes the focus from your rules, as a company, to the needs of your customers, the next step beyond understanding the needs is meeting the needs. Social CRM is about the Social Customer as well, and the new level of expectations. Once a person or organization attempts to meet the needs, more often than not communications, interactions and conversations will occur where some level of expectation will be set. Are you confident that everyone on your team is aware of these expectations? A consumer yourself, maybe a parent, what are the results of expectations missed? How about overachieving, or exceeding expectations?

By the way, I can not think of a better reason for collaborative technologies internally, maybe even as part the CRM application, or Social CRM application itself, where Gartner thinks collaboration is central to Social CRM.

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CRM in the age of the Social Web

June 18, 2010 1 comment

I was invited to give a talk in Montreal this past week, by SugarCRM , which coincided with my attendance and participation at Enterprise 2.0 in Boston. I also had also just released a Guide to Understanding Social CRM, a white paper produced with Chess Media Group. Personally, I am growing tired of the definitions, the spin, nitpicking on what is a strategy (yeah, probably mine too). I have been working really hard to remain objective and balanced. I do not really care what we call it either, I just use an umbrella term which simply allows people to understand at a glance the general topic. So, if I stop using the term, what will happen – for one, I might miss out on what Gartner releases in their MQ (which I am concerned is going to really confuse things). The main issue, which is the key to the presentation below and the supporting white paper is that things have changed, therefore you need to change too.

What is really new?

The one area I did not really touch upon in the presentation is The Social Customer. The Social Customer is new, I know some will agree with me, and some will not. OK, so the Social Customer is not really new, I will disagree with myself right there, done. Let’s move on. What is new is the ease (time and energy spent) with which this type of individual can make an impact (Vast and Fast as friend Brent Leary likes to say). What is also new is the amount of information this individual has instantly available on a wide variety of topics, including your products. How do you respond? Some people are happy to refer to this as a strategy, some suggest this is not the case. Again, I am a a bit tired of that battle. My objective is share that things have changed, and let’s work to respond to that change. Here is a quick example, showing why I think things have changed:

In 1984 Ben and Jerry’s successfully carried out a campaign, which at the time was almost unheard of, but it worked. In 1984 pre-Web and certainly pre-Social Web the campaign took a lot of effort (6 months – 1 year, selling t-shirts 1800 numbers and an airplane over a football game), but that special type of customer certainly did exist. Ben and Jerry’s “beat the establishment”. The funny thing is that my next example is also a Vermont based controversy. Fast-forward to 2009 and a small Vermont Brewery, RockArt, ended up in a similar battle with “the establishment”. This battle time line can be measured in weeks, not months. Why? Because of the social web. In both of these scenarios, the ‘small guy’ would not have survived if it were not for vocal advocates, customers, influencers (US Senator Bernie Sanders sent a letter in the Beer battle). I bet if the issues were reversed in the historic time line (Beer in 1984, Ice Cream in 2009) the relative time to impact would have also been reversed.

So what does this prove? It proves that a special type of Customer did exist prior to the Social Web. Now, is it the Social Customer, I do not think so, but feel free to disagree. The Ben and Jerry’s advocate did not have text messaging, much less a cell phone, no email, no Facebook, myspace, youtube – you get the point. I know that I am going to hear “well those are all technologies, so Social is just technology”. Social Technology has changed the culture of a generation or more. A response to this change will require more than just technology.

Very Detailed Thoughts on Social CRM and the Value it Provides

June 14, 2010 3 comments

“Social CRM is based on the simple premise that you are able to interact with your customers based on their needs, not your rules. It is an extension of CRM, not a replacement, and among the important benefits is that it adds value back to the users and customers.  It is the one part of the social business strategy which addresses how companies need to adapt to the social customer and the expectations these customers have with respect to companies they do business with. With a focus on strategy, customer engagement and relationships, Social CRM moves beyond management of customers, transactions, and money.

Social CRM is a strategy first, but it will not be successful if it is not supported by people, processes and technology with defined goals and objectives. The way customers are interacting with companies and a companies’ brands is changing and this poses a challenge; a challenge of volume of new data, scale and speed.  Social customers are now in control of a significant part of the business ecosystem, not just as purchasers, but as influencers.  Individuals are influenced by friends, friends’ friends and friends’ friends’ friends. For Social CRM to be successful, and by extension the businesses who employ the strategy, we must recognize the power of social networks.”

A balanced approach is a critical success factor

We believe that one of the most important extensions that Social CRM adds to traditional CRM is the inclusion of a business strategy (maybe even a Social Business Strategy), specific to customer engagement and customer experience, beyond just an implementation strategy. Traditionally, CRM has been thought of as just a technology framework, thus Social CRM is often discussed as simply new tools on top of that framework. We work hard to build the case that Social CRM has value beyond simply social technology. Yes, social technology is a big big part in many instances, but it is more about how you, as an individual, and as a company, interpret information and communicate. If Social CRM goes the way of CRM and simply becomes a technology platform with bolt-on utilities and some new channels, I will personally be disappointed. I do not believe that is the way it is going.  Social CRM is not only about strategy either, it is about a balanced approach to modern business problems – modern problems are driven by modern customers, who are hyper-connected and smart (in other words, they started using the technology first).  The balance includes many many elements, and as an organization you should make active decisions on what to use and when to use it. Choosing not to do something is different from simply not doing it.

A Social Business will likely begin at the department, or even individual layer within an organization, the tools and technology will aid the executive office in adding cohesion to the strategy.  It would be preferable, moving forward, that the Social Business strategy would begin from the top with executive support and from the bottom with a willingness to try new things, working towards the middle, together. Social CRM and online communities might be different from the internal parts of the organization and their collaboration efforts, but as Social Business matures as a practice, the two concepts will continue to merge. Each organization will not need to completely rebuild (retool), but they will be able to build upon the solutions already in place and extend them to meet the demands placed by the consumer, partner or supplier. Important to both, crucial even, are the cultural issues which will likely arise due to a lack of understanding, a resistance to change and the earlier struggles which a more than likely to occur due to uncoordinated efforts to track the connection to revenue (Yes, in all this Social, business do still need to make $).

A Social Business Strategy needs Teeth

June 12, 2010 1 comment

Sometimes it is a good idea to keep things simple, and work to hide complexity. This type of exercise can be valuable for people trying to grasp new concepts. That said, oftentimes if you are not careful you can actually do a dis-service and cause issues. With something new, like Social Business, Social CRM and quickly evolving concepts like Social Customer and Social Relationship Management you actually need to produce something with teeth if you are going to recommend people have a strategy. Something that you (or they) could build upon, or take an executive and execute against. If the simplicity takes away all meaning or steers people in the wrong direction, then it really needs to be, well, challenged. Sorry, if this is too harsh, but just calling it like I see it.

A Social Business strategy needs to be more than just a plan that takes into account a modified definition of Social CRM so you can maximize your ability to meet specific goals. That may sound strange, but it was recently done, and I felt the need to address the trend. Something like this does not offer anything of real value to anyone (except me who can use it to try and make a point).  If you really want to help businesses and prepare them for what is needed dig deeper, analyze the problem and add value on top of it. Include the work of Graham Hill, specifically his post a Manifesto for Social Business. Or, dig a little deeper on the recent post by Michael Fauscette, the Social Customer Bill of Rights. Engage with Brian Solis and agree, disagree or modify his thoughts on Social Relationship Management. Pull up a chair and talk to Esteban Kolsky about part 2 of his Roadmap for SCRM, which talks specifically about the changing nature of relationships “Shifting Relationship models”. If the relationships are your focus, how can anyone not read and reread Wim Rampen’s stellar post What Relationships You Should Care For, And Why, along with many many great comments.

I am not trying to go academic here, we have others who are much better at that than I am, really! However, a constant dumbing down of critical concepts does not help implementers, businesses nor push the thinking forward. Taking the works referenced above, and the embedded concepts contained within (including the comments and dialog) would be a hugely valuable exercise (I might just do it when I have some time), but there is no way to summarize a strategy for all of it, in one sentence. Never referencing the work of anyone else, suggests either a lack of research, or disrespect for people’s work who came before. Never commenting on posts, unless they are  your own bugs me…sorry, just sayin’. It is not all about people who agree with me either. Bob Thompson, host of CustomerThink and some newer communities (SocialBusinessOne and SalesEdgeOne, two I am part of) has challenged me to dig deeper about why I am suggesting the things I am suggesting. He questions  whether Social <this or that> is new, or not and needed or not. I have great respect for Bob, we do not always see eye to eye, but the challenges are respectful and thorough – and I am the better for listening. I also have great fun going at with someone I am happy to call a friend; Mike Boysen. We do not see eye to eye on many things (the fact that he is 6’4″ is only one reason). Mike is the pragmatic one in the group, and shares his thoughts on his blog – he keeps me honest. When I learn something new, I reference other who taught me, whether by name, article or twitter handle.  I could have and should have mentioned more people here, I will be sure to do so in the future.

It is not about winning the battle, or the war…it is about pushing the conversations forward together for the betterment of the ecosystem. BTW, the USA won the game 1-1 😉

The Value of Social CRM to the Individual Employee

June 11, 2010 1 comment

I wrote a piece a couple weeks ago  where I referenced Laurence Buchanan’s piece “Measuring the ROI of Social CRM“, now, I am taking a look at it from a slightly different perspective, the value to the employee. How very ‘Inside-out’ of me, I know, but hang in for a moment, there is something here. My favorite quote from his post still stands, and sets the stage:

“The real question in my mind is not whether ROI is measurable or valid (it is), it’s whether ROI is the only metric worth evaluating? I would suggest that ROI as an isolated metric is not enough. In fact nothing like enough.”

Absolutely, ROI is NOT enough. There are lots of ways to look at return, how about employee empowerment? I have suggested myself, on the shoulders of many others that happy customers start with happy employees. Is it then a big leap to suggest that passionate employees might lead to passionate customers? If you are willing to make that leap, as I believe you should, then there is real value to the business!

Reap the rewards of a innovative and passionate organization!

Innovation can seldom, if ever, be measured in the time frame of one quarter. It is like watching your child grow, there in front of you every day, then suddenly, ‘wow, you grew’! If you encourage individual, or small team initiative, what your teams can and will do, if empowered to do it will surprise you. If you sponsor and enable, people within your organization to get closer to the customer through Social means, the payback (Return) will happen.

As an organization, you need to be flexible with regards to the return, flexible in what and when. I realize that some might take issue with the flexibility on return, but you might also be flexible on the cost part too – since people are the main cost, there are worthwhile, non-monetary rewards.

What are you doing to reward employees who take initiative?

I previously used the Twelpforce initiative by Best Buy to make my point. Are there others? There must be, what are yours. How do you reward the employees? For businesses of all sizes, employees with passion are a great asset. Allowing these impassioned employees to get close to and help customers get their jobs done builds stronger relationships, and dare I say leads towards loyalty. I had the chance to chat with the smart folks over at SpigIt a few weeks ago, and they have some great ideas on how to reward initiative from a ideation (sharing ideas) perspective, I bet many of the same concepts would work here.

I highlighted this sentiment with a post on ZDNet this past week, with the following ideas:

Innovation, the Kissing Cousin of Initiative
One path to solving this is to make, foster and push people to shine. Innovation is directly related to initiative, and you have everything right there in front of you. If you encourage and empower individuals, or small teams, the results can and will surprise you. Taking it a step further, to sponsor people within your organization, specifically to get closer to the customer through Social means, the value to each side of the equation will amaze you. The return on initiative will pay dividends well into the future, for both you, the employee and the customer.

How to get it done:

Tackling the hard problems Ask people within the organization to focus on their role in the customer experience, they have one, it might be obvious, or a stretch to figure it out. How can they improve that experience? What do they find frustrating? By taking initiative, focusing on, or even directly helping customers, employees will elevate their visibility, and gain personal satisfaction as well.

Taking a chance Do not make it taboo to take risks, calculated risks of course. Do not punish for initiative, or even failure. A Social Business needs passionate employees, ones who do not always wait for their boss. Yes, they must be willing to be accountable for their actions, and have sound business logic behind their ideas.

Voice of the Customer The hope is that as many people as possible are talking to customers as frequently as possible. Within an organization, you are always knowledgeable about your products and services. Add this knowledge along with something you learned about your customer and tell someone, become an advocate for the customer!

Create a Company of Entrepreneurs The best employees are self-starters. Giving them the freedom to do what it takes to get the job done. Using their best judgment in all situations enables them to express their individual creativity. By encouraging and supporting a culture of freedom and trust, employees will naturally assume a feeling of ownership – ownership in delivering a remarkable customer experience.

All initiatives need to be supported by a business case. It is possible to measure return by more than dollars, but cost has only one measure – or does it? As an organization, you need to be flexible with regards to the return, flexible in what and when. If employees are allowed to put a little bit of passion into their own work, the payback is going to be very powerful. They will become the new shiny object.

In a response to the post, Maria Ogneva, of Attensity360 suggested that “companies are starting to realize how important voice of customer is. However, most still fail to realize that voice of employee is just as important.” She also pointed out that barriers are a problem: “Putting red tape in employees’ way, making them feel stifled and unappreciated will definitely not result in any kind of passion or excitement.” What are you doing to make sure that your employees feel empowered?

The Value is still with Customers, but Looking Beyond is OK

I followed up a post written by Brian Solis yesterday, and shame on me, I am doing it again. But, today’s post was not really written by Brian, it was written by Paul Greenberg, not sure that makes it much better. Is this cheating? You know, writing a blog based on a blog, then following up that blog with other one. I happen to know Paul is in Europe for a couple weeks, so, I figured I would put my thoughts here. Brian is asking us to look beyond folks that we have a direct transactional history with, beyond just prospects.

I said yesterday that I believed SRM (Social Relationship Management) felt more like PR 2.0. Brian responded to my post, saying that we were not really talking about different things, but that he does not see SRM as PR 2.0. I am not yet convinced that it is a lot more, BUT I am willing to hold off pushing it too hard until I have a chance to talk with Brian (In real life, phone or some other traditional means like face to face even). I have and will maintain an open mind, willing to bend a bit, if needed. I am looking forward to the conversation

In today’s post Paul bridges the gap between SRM and Social CRM (potay-to v potah-to ) via the work of Dr. V. Kumar, Chairman of Georgia State University’s Marketing Department and the Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Brand and Customer Management (CEBCM), what he calls CRV (Customer Referral Value). The idea is that you should maintain these relationships, as there is value in the referral, and we can measure it.

“CRV is a measure of advocacy and positive business value that an influencer brings. It fundamentally acknowledges the existence of the social customer that Social CRM deals with.”

To really build a well rounded picture of the impact of CRV, the introduction of one more TLA is required. I will be brief, but Paul does a more thorough job here, a post from August 2009. NPS (Net Promoter Score) is a large topic, which has issues all its own, and not something I am going to dive to deeply into today. Dr. Kumar, in his work actually expands/extends NPS to make it more meaningful and useful (ie, one question just is not going to cut it, sorry). Let me explain: NPS asks a customer one simple question “Do you intend to recommend this product or service to someone you know?”, while that question is interesting, the study shows little correlation with the really important question: “Did you actually recommend this product or service to someone you know”. For now, take my word for it, then feel free to read the article referenced.

They are still customers, or are they?

The studies done to date refer to customers, and struggle to put a stake in the ground on the actual value of influencers, who are not customers. That said, as Brian suggests, we need to look beyond the customers, or at least look within more closely.  While Customer Lifetime Value is a more direct measure of what a customer spends and their direct value to the bottom line, we need to look beyond these people and understand better those who are engaged, advocates and otherwise bullish on your products and services.  The extreme case here is that they are not actually a customer,  but there is value to the organization to have a relationship with this person.

Do you know who those people are? If you have an idea, do you actively manage the relationships, or are the relationships managed externally? In a response to his first post Brian makes an interesting (valuable interesting) statement:

“..how do you move something beyond the literal interpretation when the infrastructure (technology, process, and methodologies) works again much of what you’re attempting to implement?”

Do your current processes or technology prevent you from reaching this goal, if it is a goal? If so, what are you going to do about it?

Why do so Many People think Social Media is only about Marketing?

I do not get it, I just don’t!! Please pardon the outward expression of frustration, my apologies, sort of. Apology made, I do want to know the answer: why is it that so many people believe that Social Media will live or die based on Marketing. I am not making this up, here, read for yourself:

“Social Media is business can go one of two ways, it will either skyrocket or cave in.  The next few months will be crucial in determining the direction the social side of online marketing goes.”

The author further goes on to state:

“We all must be extremely open to sharing and this is the only way in my opinion social media marketing and business will work together. Business owners need to share and share often.” and asks “Can social media and business co-exist?”

There is a link to the whole article further down, but I am still wondering about the question posed by the author. Of course they will co-exist. The real question is will your business be able to co-exist with Social Media. If all you do is Market to, Share with and Talk to, “NO” they will not coexist. If you use Social Media for what it was intended and begin to leverage is as an engagement platform, a place online to connect with your customers, well, then now we are on to something.

If you are able to focus, as a company, to  build and offer better products, while developing better, more engaging and longer lasting relationships, how could anyone wonder if they will co-exist? Social Media is an available channel and a powerful tool, if you screw up, by losing trust and using it as just another bullhorn, sure, you are hosed. The collaborative Enterprise, or E20 looks inwards which also leverage Social Media tools, and technology.

Let’s not forget, it is about the Customer

Friend Wim Rampen recently wrote:

“..marketers continue to focus on explaining to (potential) Customers what value they are providing or adding. Firms seem not to understand that the other side of the table is not deriving value FROM the product. The other side is trying to get a job done and your product or service is a means to that end, thus they are creating value WITH the product. And – this is really important – they can’t do that job without themselves.”

Wim’s article is quite good, and you should take a look, (after you finish here:-). But putting another part of the article together to further make my point:

“Actionable insights are not only derived from good analytics, you need to understand what it is you want your Customers to talk about too, and then see if you can get them to do so.. Don’t wait for the feedback to come to you, but actively seek the feedback you need.”

You cannot even get to this point if all your doing is using Social Media to broadcast messages, there is so much more you can learn from your customers, if you start listening and engaging, then acting. I apologize again for the rant, but it just seems so obvious, am I missing something?

Here is the article I am referencing. I usually suggest that people read it, but today, I am not so sure – your choice.