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Posts Tagged ‘Social CRM’

Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve

June 29, 2011 8 comments

IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM. The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up.  The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too.  Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick.  The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.  With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult  (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy.  Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social”, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

The Dynamic Customer Service Experience Framework

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

The Innovative part of the Technology Ecosystem

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

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

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

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

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

Coordination, Collaboration and Co-operation; An Approach to Service Excellence

Customer service excellence is a core value of many customer service organizations, as it should be for yours. Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components. When asked, many simply say: “the team just gets it done”. My question is, ‘how’? My postulate is that this capability can be explained by the proper balance between coordination and collaboration, enabled by a co-operative desire.  Processes that are highly responsive to customer needs require complex data, knowledge management, sophisticated rules and cutting edge communication devices. But, in the end, it really comes down to how people (knowledge workers, customers, partners) react and respond to the environment around them. The systems need to work like they do, complexity hidden when possible.

I believe that with all of the talk, writing, and proselytizing on collaboration and activity streams the essence of where coordination fits into the customer service realm is being marginalized, or even lost. If a customer calls with a billing question, I should not need to collaborate in order to find the answer; I should just be able to either answer it, or pass it to someone who can, simple.  Therefore, I suggest that coordination is of at least equal importance and collaboration is required when coordination will not work. The objective of collaboration is not to collaborate, it needs to be results driven, the problem is collaboration is recursive, thus it takes time. To be clear, I am not suggesting no use for customer collaboration, I am suggesting a time and place for everything. There are instances, such as co-creation where coordination is secondary and that collaboration is critical.

Some Background

I felt it was important to do a bit of research, if only about definitions, to make sure that I personally understood the differences. I am not trying to go down the definition route, but it is not simply semantics either. The diagram above is my visual attempt at segmenting, but also highlighting the overlaps. But it does not tell the whole story, nor might it fit your tastes. Does it?. I simply believe that coordination needs to be considered first, ahead of collaboration, as I believe it to be a peer with collaboration with respect to customer service.

Coordination is the organization of the different elements of a complex body or activity so as to enable them to work together effectively (Google definition). I would add that ‘effective’ often translates in business terms to execution and efficient. When a situation occurs, I want my team to be coordinated, roles and responsibilities well defined and each person completely clear with respect to their actions. An interesting extension is that parts of co-operation make there way into the discussion, as often all parties can realize mutual gains, but only by making mutually consistent decisions.

Co-operation is the process of working or acting together, which can be accomplished by both intentional and non-intentional agents. In its simplest form it involves things working in harmony, side by side, while in its more complicated forms, it can involve something as complex as the inner workings of a human being or even the social patterns of a nation. (Wikipedia)

A quick summary thus far; Coordination is the ability and capability to work together, where co-operation is the willingness to work together – where does that leave collaboration?

Collaboration is working together to achieve a goal. It is a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together to realize shared goals, (this is more than the intersection of common goals seen in co-operative ventures, but a deep, collective, determination to reach an identical objective) — for example, an intriguing endeavor that is creative in nature  — by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus. (Wikipedia). I believe collaboration and co-operation are closely aligned, with emotional elements highlighting the differences.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, titled “Nice Guys Finish First”, columnist David Brooks stated the following:

“In pursuing our self-interested goals, we often have an incentive to repay kindness with kindness, so others will do us favors when we’re in need. We have an incentive to establish a reputation for niceness, so people will want to work with us. We have an incentive to work in teams, even against our short-term self-interest because cohesive groups thrive.”

The Takeaway

Many people smarter than I am have put a lot of thought into the goals and objectives of collaboration. It would seem obvious to state that there is a right way to collaborate, and there’s a wrong way to collaborate.  If teams lack a strong focus on the results of their efforts, then success will be very hard to measure. The objective of collaborating cannot be to collaborate – and hope is not a strategy. If the barriers to bringing in others to help you solve a problem seem too great, people simply will not stand for it, and will avoid it altogether.

It is always important to view the marketplace through the lens of your customers, advocates and partners. A company who truly understands and implements consistent, multi-channel, cross channel customer service experience has figured out how to manage the interdependence between predictable and unpredictable workflows. This is a coordinated approach to customer service excellence.

But what is the link? It goes beyond reacting to customer needs, to anticipating customer needs. The path to anticipation involves collaboration (knowledge and intelligence) but the response needs to be coordinated. If a customer contacts you with a serious problem, would you prefer to collaborate with others in the organization to figure out how to fix it, or would you prefer to have a coordinated effort in place, where the work sent work items to the right person to fix the problem? (Remember, collaboration is recursive).

Coordination enables the alignment of processes and related information around specific goals and objectives. In the case of customer service, the goals and objectives would be customer satisfaction, often driven by metrics customers care about, like first contact resolution (FCR) and time to resolution. The collaborative element is powered by the willingness of the team, ie co-operation and enablement. A quick note about resolution; customers who have an issue, problem or concern want to be heard and want issues resolved. Collaboration, by definition, will take longer than coordination, thus a coordinated approach is the objective. If this cannot be accomplished, yes, collaborate and figure out the answer!

More often than not, the resistance to coordination is that customers seem to be moving faster than an organization can adapt. There is the battle ground between coordination and collaboration; how can I coordination activities if I cannot anticipate and I do not know what is coming next?  It is important to note that in order for any of this to work, a common vocabulary needs to be put in place – this includes customers! If everyone is not talking the same language, the customers, no level of coordination or collaboration will be enough to save you! I gave some specifics around the alignment between Service, Sales and Marketing on this topic, at a recent talk in London.

An important source for this post was Reorganize for Resilience: Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, By Ranjay Gulati. (link).  My goal was to give context specifically to customer service. Prem Kumar also has a nice post and accompanying slide deck which explores this issue from a different and important perspective.

These thoughts are an offshoot of topics I am exploring through a collaborative effort (pun?) with  Julie Hunt. The outcome of that effort is a white paper called “Focusing on the Total Customer Service Experience” –  Summary information here; if you would like a copy,  no registration forms, just an email to us, whitepaper@sword-ciboodle.com.

Is Twitter a Customer Service Platform, Protocol or Channel?

March 14, 2011 4 comments

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

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have not Answered the Question

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

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

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

Customer Service, Do Not Waste Your Opportunities!

February 6, 2011 Leave a comment

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

A Tale of Two Experiences

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

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

Here are my thoughts:

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

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

CRM, CX, RightNow – A Perspective

October 19, 2010 9 comments

It was a great few days at the Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, CO. RightNow invited me to attend their annual, US, user conference as well as the preceding influencer day leading up to the conference. During the first day, we heard from many members of the RightNow team, from executives new and seasoned. We talked about Call Centers, Contact Centers, Communication Centers, Social Hubs, Social Media, Social Communications. We touched on Cloud (Private and Public), SaaS (I asked about IaaS and PaasS), Chat, Email, Twitter, Facebook, Web Experience, Knowledgebase, Self-Service, Forums, Communities and Social Experience…and after the first hour, then we really got movin’.

Helen Hunt Falls (No, not that one)

Being at a user conference (versus general industry event) is a great way to hear what the customers are actually doing with a specific system. RightNow scheduled time for me to speak with Lisa Larson, Director of Customer Care at drugstore.com and beauty.com and MaryEllen Abreu, Director of Global Technical Support at iRobot. In addition to the scheduled talks, RightNow did make it easy to get together informally with other customers. I was also able to have a quick lunch with Boyd Beasley from Electronic Arts, informal chats with DirectTV and an in-depth conversation, which I hope to continue with some smart folks from the Naval Federal Credit Union. It is important to note that conferences like this are a good opportunity to spend time with industry folks, who we can bounce opinions off of, and share ideas. Denis Pombriant, added his thoughts soon after the influencer day, and his perspective is certainly worth a look.

While many of my peers are talking about Social CRM, on blogs, in articles and through white papers, a few RightNow customers are actually practicing it (but they do not call it Social CRM). Beauty.com offers assisted shopping through Chat – with a 40% conversion rate – and engagement through Twitter (routing as needed). iRobot uses Twitter to engage with customers, and solicit feedback about their products, even extending invitations into the Beta Forums for co-creation and product feedback. DirectTV shared a great story about using Twitter during Super Bowl Sunday, posting the best way to rid your dish of 2 feet of snow (using a super-soaker won).  All interesting stories, but the way in which success is measured does vary a bit; some look at money, some look at advocacy while others are just doing it because ‘it feels right’.

I will be writing a follow-up post where I will be focusing on the cultural aspects of the call center, a fun and interesting topic. As a bit of a teaser, I asked practitioners their thoughts on the changes in culture, philosophy and knowledge workers within the call (contact) center in the past 10 years. If you have some thoughts, please drop me a note.

I wonder what SaaS providers could learn from Telecom?

I would also like to comment on some of the great additions to the RightNow team, as well as some behind the scenes (or not quite spotlighted as much as they should be) folks. First, Wayne Huyard was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer. Huyard is a seasoned executive with experience at MCI, WorldCom, Verizon and Cerberus Capital Management. I was particularly interested in his background in Telecom, as I see a convergence of the SaaS business model into what other service providers (yes, like Telecom service providers) offer. This was inline with the question on my mind (one I was able to ask Mr. Gianforte, CEO) and that is whether SaaS solution providers resemble traditional software companies or service providers. The quick answer is ‘there is a little of both’. Vendors in the technology space seem to be converging on a model all to familiar to the Telecoms of the world, just sayin’

John Kembel, Vice President of Social is not exactly new, but possibly from a CRM traditionalist point of view, he might be considered new. John came from the HiveLive acquisition, a little over a year ago. Hearing John’s thoughts about how to integrate community to, with and for CRM (or customer experience) was time well spent. John is a design thinker, which is a great quality and background to have in order to understand the how CRM fits into the Social Web. My conversation with John was enhanced by a discussion with Andrew Hull, Director of Product Marketing. Andrew was able to share some of the new features within the product, such as the soon to be released Facebook interface (allowing users to see a Facebook tab and contact center people to see what they need). From its roots, RightNow is still big on Chat, which does work for many companies, but not for all. Finally, and my biggest ding, if it is one, is the Agent user experience. I am not a huge fan of Microsoft Outlook, thus the RightNow UX, which is Microsoft centric is not how I would design the UI. I believe the knowledge worker of the future needs an experience similar to the people they are on the phone (Twitter, Facebook….) with. I have hope, and heard rumblings that the future may offer some choice here.

Among the hidden gems, or ‘not given the spotlight often enough’ were my many conversations with Nitin Badjatia, during the conference. I met Nitin through Twitter about a year ago, and we have run into each other a few times, most recently at the VRM + CRM conference in Boston. Nitin is a very smart, experienced, likes to fly under the radar kinda guy. Nitin is opinionated – in a consensus building sorta way.  His background in the Knowledge Management is awesome, bringing his experience from Knova and industry. Nitin (and others within the experience strategy team) add tremendous  value within the RightNow ecosystem. It is not always about spotlight, rather helping customers to solve tough problems, which RightNow seems to be in a good position to do. I wanted to extend my thanks to the whole RightNow team for including me.

(Disclosure – I was an appreciative guest of RightNow Technologies. RightNow paid for my travel and expenses pertaining to the user conference only. RightNow is not a client of mine, or anyone else within my firm. For some visualizations of the experience, please take a look. I did have a great time in Colorado, not something hard for a Vermonter to do 🙂

Building Bridges

September 25, 2010 1 comment

This post is a collaborative effort, not interview style, nor highlighting individual perspectives. While attending the VRM+CRM conference, we decided that if we were really going to build a bridge, it needed to be done together. Lauren Vargas and Mitch Lieberman

There has been a lot of talk, ‘he said she said’ unproductive sort of talk with respect to the different perspectives people take when talking about new technologies, buzzwords or business themes. There have even been some attempts to try and show people the other side, their perspective, the dark side (nope, not saying which is which!). We had the opportunity to spend a few days in Boston, at the VRM + CRM summit and decided we would try and do our part. The image below speaks so well to the issue at hand. The Flipper Bridge (part of the in-construction Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, link below) connects Hong Kong; where they drive on the left, with mainland China; where they drive on the right. Our goal here is not to talk about the differences, left or right, right or wrong, but what it will take to reach business harmony. We are not expecting people to join hands and join in singing a rendition of kumbaya, but different departments (sales, marketing, support) along with vendors, consultants and partners working together to understand each other and place the needs of the customers above petty in-fighting.

When you go to a meeting to state your position about a product, are you carefully listening your own words from the perspective audience? Are you considering what others could bring to the table, how they might approach the situation, problem, objective? What is great about the picture above, is that it not only needs to help drivers get across; pragmatism, but the bridge needs to put the drivers on the correct side of the road, safety. If the architects and designers did not consider the perspective of the drivers on the other side, this project would have failed. We know that seems obvious, but we believe in your daily work lives, the issues are equally obvious.

VRM + CRM Taught Us a Few Things

We each had the opportunity to attend the VRM+CRM conference hosted by Doc Searls and a few others at the Berkman Center.  Our attendance was an explicit gesture by the VRM leaders to reach out to the CRM side of the house and implicitly state ‘we can try to solve this on our own, or we can do it together.’  CRM is Customer Relationship Management, while VRM is Vendor Relationship Management. To some, they are mirror images, to others, they are hand-in-glove. One thing became clear, to move forward they need eachother.

VRM + CRM illustrated that this is not a problem unique to CRMers, marketers, PR folks and technologists. Having the opportunity to be a part of the work that is happening in the social business space is extremely invigorating. However, as hard and as much we push for faster development and evolution, we need to juggle the hats of a historian and an anthropologist. It is important to know where we have been, the mistakes made and lessons learned that have occurred over time, before we can progress to successful future. And in this future, it is essential we progress with caution and learn about the new developments and behaviors that have become reality in this online dimension. Bottom line, we need to understand the basics of history and current business functions before we can rush full speed ahead. Without such perspective, we risk jumping the shark and the maturity growth of our own industry and customers.

Can you put yourself in their shoes? Are the buzzwords, acronyms and terms helping or getting in the way? Acronyms and industry lingo were established to define processes within our specific business functions, but when carried to the extreme, such terms box us in and limit growth. We become so caught up in the term we have coined, we are oblivious to the walls we have build up around us and exclude others from experiencing the term as we do or exploring it in depths we could not. Throughout history there has not been one word or function that all people have agreed upon or experienced the same way. Diversity in thought and definition is how we evolve. This should be no different in business evolution. We are not advocating the extreme abolishment of acronyms and industry lingo, but encouraging all to be open and accepting of other interpretations, as well as, stepping outside our own comfort zone and learning the terminology and context surrounding other business functions within the organization and industry.

Let’s Lead By Example

We are all trying to accomplish the same thing. Goals and Objectives are the same (or they should be). You (company) cannot solve this problem in the best way possible without help and input from all sides. Your customers come in all shapes, sizes, gender. They have different needs, and they offer different perspectives, shouldn’t you do the same? We need to keep in mind each department within our organization, just as our customers, will adopt social business functions at different speeds. Sniping at each other about definitions and roles of responsibility will not replace the need to put theory into practice. A culture shift is evident, but it does not occur overnight. It is essential we each support the discovery process of our sister departments or industries. It is only in this collaborative approach we can truly see what will succeed and fail without being at the expense of our customers or community.

Fast Company wrote a piece on the flipper bridge, as did Wikipedia.The flipper bridge, as far as we can tell is being built, but the facts are not completely clear to me. That said, it makes our point quite nicely!

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!

It is about the People, then the Product

June 24, 2010 2 comments

Paul Greenberg did a great job of highlighting some cool folks with his “Following on more than Friday” post. I am humbled to be on that list and Paul, right back at you. But you knew that and I do not think it is a stretch to suggest that we have all learned a lot from you! We all learn from different people in different ways, which is what leads to the variety and diversity of opinions. We also all have our own purpose for being here. No, I am not going all philosophical, I mean Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube and Blogs. While there are some great people who get it, there are a large number who don’t. Yes, that is a bold statement, bordering on ‘them is fightin’ words’.  I could call people out by name, but that would not be very social, not really interesting either.

What is more interesting is to extend Paul’s list a little, with some smart folks who live on the vendor side of things. These folks not only have some great things to say, but are also translating that into product; by listening, engaging, reading and thinking. My focus for this post is people who spend time thinking about small businesses and the issues they face. I also have a soft spot for people who are within the vendor world, because that was me not too long ago. I am not saying one product is better or worse than another, nor am I endorsing any one product here (disclaimer: no one on this list is paying me). I am focusing on the people not the products. Some have blogs, of these some are personal, some are company, some do not have blogs, but they still share. The common denominator is that they all have active Twitter accounts, thus that is the link I am providing. The path you take after that is your choice, like Social XYZ, to me it is about the people, so, that is my focus today.

They have more to offer than just a product! (in alphabetical order):

Jon Ferrera  (@jon_ferrara) Nimble (Product – Nimble, Beta soon)
T.A. McCann (@tamccann) Gist (Products – Gist, Google Apps Version too, Live*)
Pam O’Hara (@pmohara) BatchBlue (Product – BatchBook, Live*)
John Rourke (@johnrourke) Bantam Networks, (Product – BantamLive, Live*)
(* I am using the word “live” as they are all SaaS based applications)

Since I am focusing on the people, and not the products I can get away with not specifying a product grouping or market segment. All the products live somewhere within the CRM and/or Social CRM landscape, though Gist can live within, or as part of another application. The others may extend beyond what people think of as CRM as well. More importantly, each of the people focuses on solving specific business problems, and their products follow their lead. My interactions with each of these people came to be differently, some by research, some by twitter and blogs and some via a somewhat colorful Twitter conversation, but all is good now. I am appreciative for the time spent and more so, the time sharing issues and ideas, not only product.

Jon Ferrara has a long history within the CRM space, founding Goldmine 20 years ago. After interactions with Jon via Twitter, and Blogs we scheduled a call to talk. Here is the really neat thing, Jon was willing to talk to me the first time, while I was still with SugarCRM. He knew what I was doing, and of course what he was doing, but the interactions (including RTs ) were and are always positive. I have enjoyed the many interesting articles which he has shared, and learned from his comments. I look forward to the product. My sense is that Jon is more worried about the size of the pie, not the size of his slice. Jon has said to me on more than one occasion that if he focuses on the success of his customers, then his own success will just happen.

T.A. McCann has a neat background which goes back to working in the Exchange group at Microsoft. I do not have an extensive background with T.A. but have had some great interactions with Greg Meyer (@GregAtGist) and he set up the discussion with T.A.. During the conversation, T.A. and I talked about many different aspects of information, mostly social and aggregate, but the value of having it when you need it. He has a very pragmatic view, with the ultimate ROI of all of this – Time gained, time saved and efficiency. That is of course an over simplification, I will be writing up a post with more details soon. T.A. shared a passion for the space, which I look forward to seeing more of in the future. A passion and energy is good for us all.

Pam O’Hara has been thinking about small business for a long time. The CRM part came out of a need for the small business owner. I did recently speak with Pam, and had forgot that I had participated in a few of her TweetChat sessions (#sbbuzz). That is of course because those were a really long time ago, eons even (last year). Because of her focus on small business, Pam has an acute sense of time (spent, wasted and what it costs). Whether this is because Pam is focused on creating a better work/life balance for herself and her employees, or the focus is on the customers, it does not matter, we all benefit. Pam is constantly focused on efficiency, which is a good thing.

John Rourke is a little more colorful, could be the New Yorker in him (being one myself, I can say that). The first few interactions with John, were, let’s say interesting and direct. But, I take ownership for the escalation, and blame the channel (Twitter). Trying to understand someones personality, and objective in 140 character snippets without the context of ever meeting face-to-face is not a good idea. This is an example of ‘ I should have picked up the phone sooner’ After some time went by, John and I did pick up the phone and talk. John is laser focused on the business problem faced by his customers. He is willing to share his ideas openly. John might sometimes a little too focused on product, but it is not hidden or in any way obnoxious (really). Like me, John is a passionate person, and his passion for what he is doing is good for all of us.

I have been in the CRM space for a long time. When I spoke with these folks, there was very little talk of technology and infrastructure, at first this was surprising. Then it occurred to me that as an application for small business that is their problem not yours. Besides, these folks would rather talk about the business problems not the technology ones… I am constantly listening and trying to learn, in order to do that it is a requirement to extend the people you listen to, and be willing to contribute. The common theme here is that we are all overwhelmed with information, and time is a valuable commodity, making their contributions that much more meaningful. 10 years ago everyone was focused on real-time information, guess what, it happened. Another theme within this group is not about real-time information, it is about the right information at the right time.

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.