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Is Social Process really Digital Interaction Process?

You can run, hide, duck, turn, cover your eyes, plug your ears, maybe then you will have successfully avoided hearing, seeing or otherwise experiencing the Facebook IPO. I sometimes; no, quite often, wonder what the fascination is all about. What exactly has changed? What is really different? Is it that Everything simply happens faster. Yes that is one part, I suppose. I am not sure that is always good though. When presented with the opportunity to put our foot in our mouth, we see it as an opportunity not to be missed and take full advantage.  We share (Tweet, Post, Email) without thinking, only now it is more permanent (Google never forgets). This raises the question, what role are these ‘social’ channels in customer service?

The words we grew up with, now mean different things; Social, Engagement and Mobile, new context, new meaning. Think about it, when we were young(er) a ‘Social Engagement’ that was ‘Mobile’ could have easily meant a dinner party on a boat. A set of recent articles also suggests highlighting the importance of human social interactions to our well-being (HBR). Things do happen faster and some of it is social, some is just not – how can a company understand what is social, where does customer service really fit in, what is not and respond accordingly…at scale?

Introducing my Version of the Digital Interaction Process

I had the opportunity to co-present with Steven Thurlow, (our very smart CTO) to a small and engaged audience on Thursday. The topic was Social Customer Service. It was largely based on recent research done with thinkJar we shared the findings and went a little beyond as well. We took the opportunity to poll the audience, always wanting to learn. Guess what, the phone and email are still still ranked as the most important customer service channels. Surprised? I was not to be frank.

Near the end of the presentation, I shared the diagram below and talked people through it.

First, before I discuss it, I need to give credit where credit is due. My own thinking was (and is) influenced by conversations with Brian Vellmure and Esteban Kolsky. In my opinion social is a way of being and acting. According to many current discussions, one cannot be social be without digital (yeah, I know, not quite true). If I send a DM (Direct Message) on Twitter, is that social? If I message you on Facebook, is that social? Any more than an email, phone call or heaven forbid knocking on your door? Getting to the diagram; on the left is ‘Social’ and public, on the right is ‘Engaged’ and private (1 to 1, you and me).

The influence that Brian had on this was to remind me that what everyone is calling ‘Social’ is really digital. Once the conversation is taken private (DM, SMS, Email, Kiosk) it is no longer ‘Social’, until one side or the other decides to bring it back into the public realm (vent, complaint, review, kudos). The influence Esteban had was that in a way, you could overlay his infinity diagram (here) on top of this as the processes are continuous. On the left is the outside world, on the right is the inside world. If you get the stuff on the right working, then the stuff on the left is positive and good. Conversely, well, I probably do not even need to say it. Each side is a closed loop in its own right, but connected to the other side – a continuum of sorts.

A note on overused words. I have many words listed within the diagram many are over used within industry publications, blogs and articles on social media. often they are not only misused but only industry insiders are the only ones who care about them and pick them apart. There is a need, however, to be clear when they add value. For example, I put in there the word ‘engagement’. I am actually not a big fan of the word, but it makes sense in this context because it says ‘one person interacting with another in a way to adds the intent, context and a personal touch’. If Engagement is used to describe the activities on the left side, I think that is where it is misused. Yes, I know a presenter or Marketeer wants to engage their audience, elicit a response…another day.

Silos

There, the other word that everyone loves to hate. We all want to break down the walls, remove the divisions between departments, make sure everyone has all the data. OK, I got it, thanks for the advice (I live in Vermont, the livestock would have nothing to eat during winter without silos, but I digress). How exactly should I accomplish this goal? Does marketing need the invoice history? Does the product team need to know there is a billing dispute? Each team should focus on that person they are working to create value with and for. Spend time working to understand what they need and what you can offer. They might be a customer, they might be a prospect, influencer or partner. The key point is that they are a person first. What I mean by engage is to speak with this person at a human level. This by the way is the influence of Paul Greenberg, check his post on Engagement Here is a quote:

” The social customer is no longer a customer to gawk at, just a customer to deal with – like any other customer, with one explicit difference. He/she scales. Meaning they know how to impact other customers on a large scale who are “like them” in interests, and use the social channels that are not controlled by the company to do so.” – Paul Greenberg

In my follow-up, I suggested that:

“If Social CRM is about a companies programmatic response, then engagement on the customer’s terms defines the format of the response. Therefore, Social CRM is different for every type of business. In order for it to work, both sides need to mature and be willing to invest emotionally and intellectually.”

What I believe the diagram does is to dissect the issue and puts it back together. I try to illustrate the point that we are shifting from a focus of trying to control the left, to working with the person on the left. Talk to that person, interact with them at a person to person level, be human and be humane. If you want to call this Social CRM, maybe it is, if it is not Social CRM to you, then no worries – it is what it is. The key point is that the strongest bridge between your company and customers (past, present and future) are people. If you try to talk to everyone, worse, at everyone, then you are just broadcasting. As the number of people who choose alternate digital channels increases, it is only going to get harder…

What do you think, am I close?

The Perception Gap in Social

March 20, 2011 23 comments

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

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

The Business Side Gap

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

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

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

What about Advocacy?

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

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

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

Mea Culpa (March 24th, 2011 – Update)

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

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

Does Control of the Conversation Equal Control of the Relationship?

April 19, 2010 3 comments

Starting with the basics; If Social CRM is about the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation, I suppose we should first ask: Does it matter that the customer is controlling the conversation?  Of course it matters! However, your response to the conversation matters more.

Keep the ordinary, ordinary

As Paul Greenberg reminded us last week during his keynote at SugarCon. “Keep the ordinary, ordinary”. When conversations happen, there is a time to jump in and time to leave it alone. Listening in for while is important, to gauge trends and build up experience. If someone (Prospect, Customer, Partner) asks a question or makes a request in  a public channel, answer appropriately. My point is simply that controlling the conversation is not the same as controlling the relationship and that sometimes letting the conversations happen without you is ok, really (please do not interpret this as ignore).

Are customers like your kids?

Before I get lambasted for suggesting such a thing, work with me for a minute. This is more about communications than anything else, I have a ton of respect for my customers (as well as my kids). I have 3 awesome kids, really! – I am a lucky man. Are they perfect? No. Do they complain about me and/or their mother (my equally awesome wife) to their friends or to each other? Yes. Why, because we are not perfect parents either (or, we are being parents and saying “no”). Now, when they are talking among themselves or their friends, should I jump in and try to make sure things are ok? Sometimes, I suppose, more often than not, ‘no’, actually, but it depends. Sometimes an immediate reaction is necessary, sometimes it is not.

(Yes, I am a bit of a geek, but no, I do not have neither a KRM  or a Social KRM system – you can figure it out)

Taking a bit of leap, this begs the question ‘do you need tools to practice Social CRM’? My answer is the following: No, they are not required, but they will certainly help. The consultative answer is ‘it depends’. I would suggest that sometimes the tools are not new tools though. I can share with you the need to engage on the channels where you customers are talking. This is a lesson learned from my kids as well – My 15yo son shares a whole lot more with me (especially when I am traveling) via text messaging than voice (btw – email, NO WAY). Talk to your customers where they are comfortable!

Social does not demand a public conversation.

At SugarCRM, where I hang my hat, if someone writes something on our forums (4+ years of Forums BTW), answering there, or changing channels is fine. In other words, our forums are still quite active (we are thinking of making some changes though). If your customers are not on the new fancy channels, Twitter Facebook, yeah I am talking about you – then you may not need to be there either. This is a slight word of caution to companies – if the marketing group decides to jump onto a new channel, then you will need to listen appropriately on that channel as well.

A good practice would be for the whole company to agree on the social channel strategy. According to Denis Pombriant (someone who I have great respect for), the proper balance of talking to listening is around 25/75; plus/minus. As he states “The ratio of outbound to inbound need not be 50/50, in fact, most of us don’t want to provide input to our vendors most of the time, and vendors don’t want all of that input. ” Kira Wampler, of Intuit, shared the example that the most important Social Channel for Intuit is Amazon – where customer reviews happen. That channel has been around for a long time, it is where their customers are, makes sense to me.

In further reading Denis’s post; The Relationship Entity he also makes a great reference to the old CRM 1.0 world, and offers some sage advice: “When CRM was a new idea companies — large, respectable companies — ran out and bought Siebel for no other reason than it was what other large, respectable companies were doing.  I know because I asked them.” Skipping ahead, I love this line from the post, so I needed to include it “I just reading the labels looking for nutrition” – As a vendor, the message to me is ‘I better be part of a balanced diet’

I do believe there is a difference though, this time around the customer is driving the change. Companies are put in a position of needing to change, exactly how is not 100% defined yet. The change is both cultural, internal processes as well as technology. Does this change mean Social CRM for everyone? No, probably not. Friends have said to me “If you are a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail” – point taken. From a Social CRM perspective, there is buzz and hype – I am on record as stating we need to get past that, but companies are already doing ‘it’. Sometimes the effort is organized, sometimes, not so much. The key question is, who is doing the organizing?

By the way, I most certainly did not answer the question – but control is a very strong word. I suppose you could say it was a bit of trick question, as I do not think there is a right answer because independent of the first clause, no one really controls the relationship, because ultimate control is ending a relationship, and either side can do that.

Consumerization of the Enterprise

March 10, 2010 2 comments

I wrote this as a guest post for CRM Outsiders where as an Employee of SugarCRM I stated agreement with Mark Benioff of Salesforce.  After this post, one may wonder whether I will be invited back for more, or not. So, I will quickly get to the point. Two things happened during this past week which drove me to write this post.

  1. Mark Benioff wrote a great article, and the consumerization of the Enterprise is certainly upon us – a position that I agree with
  2. Paul Greenberg  wrote a great post, which hit home on a few fronts – this article is a way to show respect for the thoughts

Starting with Paul’s post first, he raised several issues, but the one that hit home is that there is too much “Jockeying for position”. The reference was not specific to any particular vendor, but the point was made.  Paul stated the following: “When this manipulating jockey decides to differentiate to get “position” they denigrate what others do.” Paul is correct, and it is rather interesting as well that we are in the CRM business. While we certainly would like to do well, there are certain topics where that agreement leads to simply a better product.

Paul went on to say “Compete by the strength of your offerings”. The core of the offerings of any company goes beyond the products that are built, but are also the people behind the products. I would like to further point out that in the future of…well, the future of just about everything, the differentiators will increasingly be the people. As friend and IDC analyst, Mike Fauscette, likes to state, “People are the platform”. My simple conclusion on this topic is that the boundary between work and non-work is getting fuzzier by the day. Making the next part of this post that much more interesting.

Why I believe Mark Benioff agrees with me

Now, not to upset the apple cart by trying to play nice, and then jockey for position. A wording trick suggested to me by a friend, changes the positioning, doesn’t it? In many recent conversations and even comments on other’s blogs I have made the case that there has been a large shift in expectations by people regarding Computing and Access. Until around 2002 – 2004 or so, the faster computer you had access to was at work, and the fastest data pipe you had access to was also at work. Is this true anymore?

If you combine that phenomenon with the availability of cloud based applications, both consumer and enterprise, consumer is growing faster. (Sidebar – anyone who thinks that Gmail, LinkedIn or Facebook are not cloud apps, friend me and we can chat about it).  Ok, enough setting up the scenario, what exactly are we in agreement on? Here is a quote from the article (actually the prequel) “We need to transform the business conversation the same way Facebook has changed the consumer conversation. Market shifts happen in real time, deals are won and lost in real time, and data changes in real time.”

But, it is about usability, not technology

I am not going to try and say “I agree, but” (that is like saying “I’m sorry, but”). I will however extend the thought, in the following way – So, for all 90% or more of you who have one or more of the applications I just mentioned in the sidebar above, how long did you spend reading the manual for any of these applications? Facebook even changed the application 2 or 3 times (depending upon when you joined) and even after the yelling and screaming and the joining of the ‘no do not change FaceBook’ fan page – 350 million of us are members and 175 million log in each day. Facebook did more than change the consumer conversation, it changed the enterprise conversation as well.

Ok, I lied, it is not only about usability, it is about the fact that we enjoy the social dynamic these applications provide. It is also no longer a technology play; that is simply accepted. I am probably the only one who takes a break from Facebook and Skype at home by checking my work email. The boss (my wife) tried to block access to work from home, but the IT department (me) pushed back. If she was successful (unplugging the router) then I just access work via my iPhone and 3G. While this sounds a bit backwards, how far off am I? It is about usability and culture. People, Process and Technology – help people to succeed and we will all succeed. If people enjoy where they spend their time (online and offline) they will spend more time there.

This is the first part in a series where I will explore other topics on the consumerization of the enterprise, data and cultural silos.

Wow, that deserves a standing ovation!!

February 28, 2010 14 comments

Huh?! What?! – Certainly not my last run down the moguls this past week, that is for certain. I was lucky enough to enjoy some time on the slopes, time with family as well as some time to read from actual books, not even an e-reader. I stayed at a great Bed and Breakfast, in Waitsfield, Vermont (near Sugarbush) with my family (minus one).  Somehow, a book on Complex Adaptive Systems ( John H. Miller and Scott E. Page) made it into my overnight bag, and I began to read.  Before long there was a particular area which I wanted to dive a bit deeper into, an interesting phenomenon called ; The Standing Ovation Problem (SOP). Creative Commons

Staying true to my electronic hiatus of sorts, I decided to do a bit more research when I got home. The SOP, at a qualitative level, is straightforward, easy to understand and has relevance in modern business. Specifically, the SOP can be used as a real world metaphor of outcomes often generated by the tools and technologies which are used by modern businesses, who are trying to be ‘Social’. A better understanding of the ‘why’ or ‘how’ could help  to explain some of the issues encountered by a Social Business, both externally (Marketing, Support, Communities) and internally (Enterprise 2.0 tools). I am not saying I will be able to accomplish all of that here, but it is a start, and I so welcome your opinion.

What exactly is the Standing Ovation Problem?

To help me to understand the problem at a deeper level I found a 2004 research paper, The Standing Ovation Problem, by the same authors. The timing of the research and paper is interesting, as it predates the explosive time line of the Social Networks we know of today. The paper takes a very mathematical approach to the problem. However, a dissection of the problem, approach and theories makes extending the metaphor quite interesting. As the paper states:”The SOP has much to offer as it (1) is easily explained and part of everyone’s common experience; (2) simultaneously emphasizes some of the key themes that arise in social systems, such as learning, heterogeneity, incentives, and networks; and (3) is amenable to research efforts across a variety of fields. These features make it an ideal platform from which to explore the power, promise, and pitfalls of complexity modeling in the social sciences.”

Stated simply, a standing ovation is at the end of a lecture, presentation or performance (stage or athletic) certain members of the audience stand up and clap for a long(er) duration, which leads to other audience members doing the same. While a 10 year old might be able to explain what it is (mine did); why it happens, is another issue altogether.  The reason this phenomenon is intriguing in the context of Social Business, is because there is a Social Media equivalent to the phenomenon . Actually, there might be more than one. Via Facebook, Twitter and Buzz, we make public proclamations of likes and dislikes. Whether is a good or bad experience with a company which we make make public or an article or YouTube video which we Retweet. Within an organization, this type of ‘public’ opinion are certainly commonplace, now more than ever.

What are the components, and who are the Actors?

From a systems perspective, Use Case modeling may not work all that well, but I could not pass on giving it a shot. Though trying to ascribe mathematics to SOP, modeling is required: “In modeling the SOP, one must explicitly account for many aspects of social interaction. Here, we shall discuss just three: the spread of information, the timing of events, and the behavior of the agents.” (to simplify, I will treat an agent as a person in the SOP). Is the author talking about SOP, or could it be Twitter, Google Buzz or Facebook?  I believe that there are definitely social media equivalents, therefore understanding why these events occur is worthwhile.

I am not a marketer by trade, nor a social scientist, but the picture in my mind of the audience, is very similar to how Twitter is organized, maybe Facebook or Buzz, not sure. In the real world, we are all there to watch something, our interests are close enough that we came to the same event. We may or may not be ‘friends’ with the people in the audience. We might be very much in alignment with some members of the audience, though not sitting next to them. How does this relate to articles we read, videos watched or experiences we have, which are then forwarded or shared?

While I might actually know some of the others in the audience, for the most part I would suggest that I am not heavily influenced by them, with one exception. In a pure social sense, if everyone begins to stand and I do not, then I it might be ‘awkward’. Social Media has its equivalents as well. I might be trying to both impress (a Retweet), influence others AND there is less of an ‘awkwardness’ if I do nothing. This is referred to as simply conformity, however, this is not too interesting, but does occur. There is also an interesting difference between the people at the front of the theater, and those at the back. Those at the front are not influenced by others (they cannot see them), while those at the back can see everyone else. The analogy to Twitter would be people with lots of followers and those with fewer. This simple concept could be a whole post in and of itself.

Get with the flow, audiences exist within the enterprise as well.

The paper has a nice section on mathematical theories. The suggestion is that by using the SOP as a “backdrop” many different agendas can be addressed. These might include information aggregation, conformity and information cascades (I think of information flows). As practitioners, vendors, consultants and influencers expanding horizons and pushing back on businesses who claim “we are unique” just a little, is important to help them grow. A deeper understanding of why people – peers – act or react in certain way when new ideas are presented. As businesses work hard to become social, what are the impacts to other groups and departments as the silos are broken down?

Will you be the first to stand, sending a strong signal, when an idea is presented? Are you at the back of the theater, or the front (Leader or Follower)? The comment about being awkward is interesting as well, as one can be awkward in the beginning, by being the first to ’stand’, while it may be equally awkward at the other end to be the only one sitting. In an enterprise, if you are the first to stand then you are taking a risk, no? If you are the last to stand, then you might be taking a different kind of risk, yes?

Without diving into the mathematics, it is a little tough to do justice to the sections regarding information cascades. My reasoning for even addressing them at all, is that an understanding of the social dynamics within the company/enterprise are important. Within a theater, a person can send a limited number of signals, stand, sit and applause. Within a company, you can send these as well as many others. Even in the public timeline, you are able to send extra signals. Studies show that words such as “Great”, “Read” and “Loved” enhance the Retweeting of something, most often pointing at some form of content.

Where does that leave us, is there a conclusion?

The model and this discussion would certainly need to be extended, but the social aspects of an enterprise cannot be ignored. Words such as ‘transparency’ and ‘open’ mean that more and more people are making their opinions known in a very public way. This will change the culture within an organization. My sharing this blog, and the research behind it is a way of suggesting that the foundational research may already be there, if we look around a bit.

Here are a few of the conclusions reached by the authors. The fun question is how do these relate to a Social Business?

  • Most people might be standing, even though they do not necessarily agree with the extra praise offered by a standing ovation;
  • There is a greater pressure to conform, which leads less “efficient of information”. Could this be considered group think problems?;
  • People in the front may “have a large impact”. Is this the follower count issue? Just because you are in front, are you smarter?

There are lots of interesting places to take this type of conversation. I am inclined to ask some friends very specific topics, but will wait to see if people find this line of thinking interesting. Are there other areas we can all learn from this type of application of research to the ‘Social’ world? I am a firm believer that we all need to reach out and learn from other disciplines. Basic, sound research can be applied so many ways.  What do you think. Have I gone astray….?

Is it all just too easy?

November 9, 2009 6 comments

I was fortunate this past week to be able to attend a Cloud conference put on by the 451 Group, down in Boston. While I have fine tuned my focus during the past year, less on the infrastructure side, and more on the business application side, this was time well spent. I believe that from a maturation – ability to offer measurable business value – perspective, Cloud, Open Source, Social and Enterprise 2.0 are growing up together.  Sometimes they act more like siblings during a long car ride, suffering from “Are we there yet” and “Look at me, look at me”.

Even given my slightly different focus, I do try to stay true to the brief description I have on Twitter, “I am passionate about the intersection of people, process and technology”. Luckily, SugarCRM, where I currently hang my hat, sits right in the middle of that that triple witching point:

  • People/Ecosystem – Customers, Employees and Partners,
  • Process – Who speaks, When they say,  How to engage, What channel,
  • Technology – Open Source, Clouds, SaaS, Social (Yes, Social is technology)

Just because you can, does it mean you should?

Ok, now to the point – my theory is that the technology has made it is just too easy to do make bad choices – a crazy, maybe, silly statement, but tell me I am wrong – I dare you. There is a place and a time for the Nike moment – “Just do it” and then there is the ‘take time and think about what you are about to do’. What is the correct balance? Just because you can, does it mean you should? Some are probably saying that about this blog at the moment.

Back in the day (sorry, I love that phrase, my 18yo pulls it on me all the time), when you wanted to get something done, you had to do the ole ‘budget justification’, think through it, present to senior team members – Yes, ask for money, too! Part of this was also a required “Check with IT, I am not sure what you want to do is part of the standard”. This last one was especially hard for the Open Source applications.  Combine a pent up demand, economic pressures, getting tired of the perception of IT blocking progress with SaaS, Cloud and Online Social Media channels – and it is a perfect storm and excuse to just IGNORE the IT dept.

So, before anyone beats me up too much, this is not what I am suggesting, just saying what happens, what I have seen happen and the end result. I have seen many companies take the route of using SaaS – Take a Look at Phil Wainewright’s Blog He talks to Conformity – An interesting company who has the business model to help clean up this mess, but I am not going to deep here, just a reference to justify this post.

My key point is that it all just to dam easy. The ease of spending $20 to get a server in the cloud – yes, I said $20, standing up a system, setting up a blog, putting together a YouTube account, FaceBook group, Newsletter, Forums, Chat, Twitter. Awesome, let’s hope all the choices are successful, lots of people, lots of prospects, lots of eyeballs – Maybe some customers too. That would be great, right? Way too many times, I have heard the statement – “Hey that would be a great problem to have” – Really? Unless of course it is your problem to solve. Remember, once you are on a channel it is much harder to leave.

I do have to ‘tip-toe’ a bit, after all I do work for SugarCRM. A company that does make it very easy to get started, and take advantage of a structured CRM application. I am all for making things easy, but job one is success!  I also believe this is much more prevalent with respect to Social Media applications – too many people saying “Just do it”.  Is anything really free, no, as people and time are the most expensive part of running a business.

I am suggesting that a little bit of planning – just a little – is time well spent – Just sayin’

Why do people think Twitter is a good Customer Service platform?

October 29, 2009 29 comments

Because Twitter helps customers solve problems and they can vent – there a simple answer. But, the current approach will not scale!

I believe the following statement to be true:

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

There are lots of and lots of good reasons to broadcast, this post is not about all those good reasons: Co-Creation, Innovation, Community, Collaboration, to name a few. This post is also not about Service Communities like Lithium and Helpstream, Parature and others. While not about them, they might be part of the solution.

Using Twitter for support masks a larger issue. Therefore I believe the following also to be true:

If your customers are trying to get your attention on Twitter to solve a specific ‘me only’ problem, your processes are either horribly inefficient, broken or you have product issues.

Twitter is not SocialCRM. Twitter is immediate gratification meets CRM

There are lots of companies who are taking the opportunity to try and make things right, by watching for issues on Twitter and helping those in need. Unfortunately, this also promotes bad behavior, let me paint a mental picture:

In order to get your cable box fixed you needed to go down to the local service provider office. It just so happens that you have your 5 yo daughter in tow. The drive is 20 minutes, you figure the line should not be too bad – ooops, wrong, you need to stand in line for an hour or more. While in line, after 1/2 hour the person who just came in the door starts to yell really loudly about poor service.

In the real world, we all know what would happen (or what should happen anyway). The person yelling would be asked to quiet down, or leave. This would be done nicely of course, but that is what would happen. Right? How do you suppose it would go over if after the second ‘rant’, the best technician in the company walked over and opened up a new station at the counter, and called that individual over, fixed their problem, then left? <rhetorical>

But, this is exactly what happens on Twitter, day in and day out. No scenario or metaphor can perfectly represent the Twitter scenario in real world. Are Twitter users playing the system or cheating the system? Or simply taking advantage?  I am aware of the United video (this fits into the broken category), as well as some really great uses of help and support, like Best Buy.

The Reality

Companies who are responding well are putting the best and brightest Customer Support people in the  role of Marketing and Support, and calling them Support. They have a direct line to anyone who can help solve your problem.  This will work for a while, maybe even a year or two – but then everyone will have the secret number – and we will yell and scream, but still be stuck in the queue. Support communities may very well help here – but not for all industries, company sizes or geographies.

The key is turning the data into information and turning the information into insights, then the insights into action. When this really gets mature 3-5 years, we will be able to predict – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As the Twitter user population grows as well as Facebook and others, the call center and help desk models will simply not be able to scale. Organizations use predictive models to determine staffing and there only so many ‘A’ players (the ones the vendors are using to filter and watch Twitter).

Take the opportunity to learn and figure out what is broken or wrong, and fix it. In order to learn, you need to put processes in place to learn. Am I wrong?