The intersection of, Customer Service and Social CRM is about being human, listening for signals and watching for cues. The secret sauce is understanding what you have observed and acting accordingly. On the one hand, you could call this a lesson in Social CRM, while on the other hand, you could call this being human 101.
It is a bit like being married – as any man will tell you, the spousal response “I am fine” means anything but that! It is not the words, but the context, which supports my key point, cues; verbal and non-verbal add context. The ability to understand the cues and act upon them is the difference between a good and poor experience (or sleeping on the sofa). In the world of contact centers and customer service, it is the difference between good and bad customer experience. As an aside, ‘acting’ upon something can easily be doing nothing.
The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article that illustrated the point quite well. The setting is a restaurant, the ‘Agents’ are waiters and waitresses and the patrons are, well, customers. There are some spot on reflections of a service experience, which serve as examples examples:
- Timing: The time of dining and/or dress might suggest that dining is not the main event.
- Guests: Kids at the table might suggest that speed up the service and give the dessert menu to mom.
- Drinks: A request for the wine menu suggests, not only that a drink is in order, but that the dining experience is might be more relaxed and casual.
Are these meant to be rules? No, guidelines maybe, things to think about which can lead to a better overall experience. How does this, or can this help in the contact center? Is this only for small businesses, or large ones as well?
“Some restaurants still employ waiter scripts, but now they are being used to dig for guest information. At Romano’s Macaroni Grill, an Italian-themed chain, waiters are taught to use their scripted offer of house wine to find out if the table will want a fast, leisurely, or lively meal.”
Scripts, scripts, hmmm…
Rigid process versus guide and adapt, sounds familiar doesn’t it. Table dynamics suggests how the waiter should act, or react. In other words, how or how not to Engage the people at the table is a critical lesson to learn, quickly as well. Given all of the talk of engagement, it is important to point out that choosing NOT to engage is an equally important possibility.
“We changed ‘suggestive selling’ to ‘situational selling,’ ” says Rene Zimmerman, senior director of training and development for Bob Evans Farms Inc., a family-style restaurant and food maker. Instead of offering every breakfast guest one additional item, say biscuits and gravy, waiters are taught to adjust their offer depending upon the guest. For a diner who places a lighter order, like a bagel and fruit, the waiter might suggest a cup of coffee or tea.”
Here are the lessons, from a restaurant we can learn:
- Service is a differentiator
- Scripts need to be dynamic
- Upsell or Cross-Sell (or nothing) needs to depend up the cues
- Value is more than just product, it is the whole of the experience
Why do I believe that this could be considered Social CRM? If we believe that Social CRM is the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation, then it makes perfect sense. As I suggested recently, engagement is really at the behest of the customer. Choosing not to engage is an acceptable outcome, they just want a meal and to move on to their next activity. This is not a Marketing activity, this is mostly service, with a bit of sales.
One point I would like to leave you with is this: Until technology can truly simulate/accurately represent looking someone in the eye when you are talking to them, technology will be just that, technology. Physical cues are lost on the phone, we can only do our best to interpret. Verbal cues are lost through Email and Social Media (excluding YouTube of course).
What can else can we learn here?
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Recently, friend Paul Greenberg penned a short post (ok, a not short, 2-part series very worth reading) where he talked about the end of one era transitioning to the beginning of a new one. The points are sound. But, I would like to explore a different viewpoint, or maybe just add my own perspective. I believe that when we look back in a few years, we will see that the transition is going to take a bit longer than we imagined it would (In other words, it is not “the End” but it is “Ending” slowly). I am not going to nit-pick on words, this, is not about that. I might even suggest to Paul that he consider updating a Wikipedia entry (more on that in a minute). I will say that a more meaningful mutual benefit can be achieved if each side is willing to give more, as the value exchange equation is always a bit one-sided.
What is really being described here is a maturity model; on BOTH sides of the equation, this is new. 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. Since the customer will mature at his or her own pace, we <company> are often left to guess where they are along the maturation curve. It is also important that a distinction be made between engagement and involvement. For the sake of this discussion (ie, no primary research references) I will draw the distinction along a continuum, where involvement occurs first and then by the addition of an emotional element engagement happens. Engagement is a deeper level of involvement, by being ongoing (As Paul notes) or emotional, possibly even intent driven.
A Bit of Research
Looking at Wikipedia as a starting point, as I remembered friend Prem Kumar referencing Employee Engagement in a post a while back. The Employee engagement Wikipedia entry is rather nice, while the Customer version is utter crap.
First the Customer side:
“Customer engagement (CE) refers to the engagement of customers with one another, with a company or a brand. The initiative for engagement can be either consumer- or company-led and the medium of engagement can be on or offline.”
Feel free to look for yourself. It misses the mark totally. Friend Graham Hill had some thoughts on the topic as well – Graham challenges the Inside-out marketing team only approach, and I agree. That said, what if the customer is able to define (control, augment) the rules of engagement, then maybe something has changed in the past 5 years, no? Conclusion; the maturation of the Social part of CRM part of the equation is to carefully manage actual engagement. Actual engagement is an actual bi-directional conversational flow/dynamic, input and involvement.
What if we tried to adapt the Employee engagement model for the customer? There would need to be some very obvious changes, but it is a much better place to start – and if after you take a look at this and then take another look at Paul’s post, you can see he is onto something. Take a look at the below and think about whether it is possible to alter some of the words, replace a few and begin to change the poor Customer Engagement definition above.
“Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.”
Employee Engagement impacts Customer Experience
There are lots of people writing about engagement, a term that is becoming as nebulous as social itself; but at least there is some history to work with here. Respected analyst/researcher Bruce Temkin has published a report regarding Employee Engagement as well. Bruce has spent many years thinking about Customer Experience. In the report, he draws a strong link between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience:
“The analysis uncovers a strong connection between employee engagement and customer experience as well as between employee engagement and productivity.”
Great, but…Where is the link between Employee Engagement and Customer Engagement? Does strong Customer Engagement lead to a more positive Customer Experience? I am not going to speak for Bruce, but I am going to hazard a guess that the link is not there because Customer Engagement is nebulous at best and as I have stated very poorly defined with competing agendas. Employees have, in theory, a specific mission: do a job and help the company grow, right? According to Gallup, 86% of engaged employees say they very often feel happy at work, compared to 11% of the disengaged. There is also a direct link to the bottom line according to research.
In the end, being Social is about being human. Social Media and Networking are really just new channels that we are all trying to figure out how to use a bit better. ie. How can we be as human as possible using electronic means. The technology is new, we are just trying to figure it out. As we become better at the usage of the channel, then we can move from demands to requests, from hyperconnectivity to right connectivity and from being social to being engaging. Engagement in this context is not like the picture above, because it can end at any time, quite easily. While technology is only a part, it is still an important part.
Whether it is intentional or not, given by pundits, professionals or proselytizers ‘advice’ is too often vague, fluffy and/or shallow. Websites, blogs and articles are filled with key words suitable for Google but lost on most humans. In the domain where I read, think and strategize; customer service, this is especially annoying. To be clear, I am not talking about those who are skilled in the one or two lines of ‘wow’, which can motivate and inject value; those I rather enjoy.
The reality is that being direct is considered rude, harsh words unprofessional and honesty talked about but practiced only by convenience. We tiptoe around issues, more concerned with positioning, politics and positivity over efficiency and progress. When work submitted is unsatisfactory, we spend twice as much time trying to figure out how to say “this is really crap” in 3 paragraphs worth of ‘politeness’ as we should do. With respect to customer service, the customer is ‘always right’, however there are degrees of correctness. I am not promoting rude behavior, simply raising awareness.
Enter the Euphemism
A Euphemism is the word or phrase chosen when the one you really need might not pass the ‘Mom test’ – you know, the ‘could I say that at the dinner table in front of mom’ word. In the business world the issue is not quite a ‘dinner table’ issue, but it does have a parallel – ‘could I say it in front of my CEO’. These are the terms and discussion topics that you try to avoid because they are too direct or contentious. Instead of saying “The server crashed” we start with “Due to…” and it ends with “…we have confidence the issue will be resolved shortly”. When it would have been awesome if only once, the answer was “I spilled my Double Mocha Super Grande on the power supply”!
As companies and individuals, we are told to be transparent and authentic – which are worthy goals. But, come on, transparency is the portal to the staging environment where the view is scripted and hardly authentic. The gatekeeper is getting caught or being embarrassed into conformity (If I have high confidence I can get away with it, I will try). If we were truly being authentic, we would use the phrase “none of your business” much more often; how is that for ambiguity. When the CMOs are asked why something is done, the answer should simply be “because I want people to buy more of our stuff!” Is there really any other answer? Of course there is, but when we net it out, that is pretty close.
Getting Closer to Your Customer
This single phrase, the mantra of the CEO, is bandied about a lot these days, and it is becoming almost as bad the word ‘social’. Put the word ‘social’ in front of almost anything and all corporate ills are cured <hyperbole>. What exactly does getting closer to your customers mean? Does it mean listen more, talk more, sell more, Co-create or infatuate? What is the path to getting closer to your customers and the results to the bottom line? Do you want to get closer to your customer or customers? Do not answer too fast, spend a minute thinking about it. All we need to do is be customer centric, right?
Social, as a descriptor, is getting in the way of progress towards actually getting closer. The reason is that it simply has too many definitions past and present. People will try to make the leap that we are able get closer to our customers by being more social. What do you think? How much about getting closer is about technology? As the size of the organization increases, technology will be involved at some level, of course. The key is to use technology to mediate the communication (or channel), not dis-intermediate the customer. If I pick up the phone or talk to my customers face to face, I will understand them better. In other words, getting closer to your customer will involve a social activity but might not involve a social technology.
In the context of business, social is different from social in the high school café. Social is really about sitting down and having a drink, playing a round of golf, going shopping, being human and listening actively. The meaning of social has not changed, nor should it. Getting closer to your customer takes time, energy and patience; there is no magic bullet. I apologize if I did not give specific instructions, nor a how-to guide. You know your customers better than anyone else, consider that as you build your customer strategy and those who will advise you on how to get it done.
Strategic Ambiguity is really about doing more with less, that really is a win-win. If you are an advice giver, do you have what you need to back up your claims? If you are searching for insights and are the recipient, are the pundits clear enough to pass the sniff test?
I had the opportunity to speak on the Vermont Business Expo 777 panel last week, to a full room of 80+ smart folks gathered to learn about Social Business. The panel covered a wide range of topics, the focus was on what it means to be a business, in this new age, call it the Social Web, or Web 2.0. The panelists, listed below all had great insights, from Social and Mobile to Legal and from Cloud to Geo Location. My focus was on Social CRM and what that really means, specifically to a small/Vermont business. We each had 7 minutes, before a scoreboard buzzer (think NCAA basketball type buzzer) sounded.
- Social CRM is an extension of CRM, the biggest change is a Focus on your customers, not a focus on you
- Organizations are not properly aligned, any Social CRM strategy must include strong guidelines for alignment (around the customer)
- Social CRM is based on the principle that you will invite your customer into the ecosystem and interact with them based on their needs, not your rules.
- Service and Support: Keep the ordinary, ordinary; Social includes public channels; include more personality in your interactions,
- Sales: The value-add of you and your company’s expertise, not just your product are important, show your knowledge beyond just your product,
- Marketing: Learn to listen, engage and create with your customers, highlight facts and value along with personality
Finally, Social CRM can and will go beyond technology. For small businesses, think about the clerks who work the check-out line, delivery personnel, finance who speak to customers about invoices. All these people represent your business and represent a Social Network.
The Panel included: Karen O’Niell, Gravel and Shea, Rachel Carter, Rachel Carter PR, John Burton, Network Performance Inc., Jessie Angus, Angus Media Services, Tom Jaros, Empower Mobility, Me, Comity Technology Advisors and Joe Mescher, http://www.joemescher.com/
The dynamic of Twitter has changed, it is different, and I am struggling to put my finger on exactly what that change is about. It is possible that I am different, or that my needs and wants from Twitter are different. But, Twitter must be more to people than just a place to whine, or vent, unfortunately, that seems that is what makes the news. Twitter is an acquired taste. You cannot tell someone to like it, they just have to figure it out for themselves, find their own best use. This does need to be an active decision. Twitter is the bridge between Social Media and Social Networking and the recent change, the new dynamic, seems to have made that chasm wider, and that bridge harder to cross.
Twitter was my introduction to Social Media. I joined and starting using it about the same time as Facebook and the time I started blogging. Yes, I watched and maybe created a few YouTube videos, participated in instant messaging, but this was the real start. On Twitter, I started slow, asked me wife to look at my Tweets, just to be sure someone was watching, isn’t that how everyone starts? I was not an early adopter, by any stretch, but I think I was an early adopter from a collaboration perspective, eh, maybe.
Is Twitter for Sales, Support or Marketing?
There is no really good answer here, ask 4 people and you will get 5 opinions. There is certainly value for sales people to leverage Twitter. Specifically, it can be a valuable intelligence tool even research tool. But, it could also be a monumental waste of time. A sales person will not close a deal on Twitter, not in the B to B space anyway. It must be part of a broader strategy, and caution is advised. I believe sales people need as much, or more guidance than others to use it effectively.
Talk to Frank Ellison (@comcastcares) and Twitter is good for customer support. Or at least for customer complaints, there is a subtle difference. Is Twitter really good for Customer Support, or do companies simply tolerate it? There was a good discussion on the Social Pioneers Google Group, feel free to peruse the discussion there. If your customers are not likely to be on Twitter or using Twitter for support type issues, no reason to encourage them to move here. Martin Schneider wrote an interesting post about whiners on Twitter, Jacob Morgan talked about the issue as well. but, at a higher level, Social CRM not just Twitter. Support needs to solve this problem, of the whiners, and not reward them. But, if you really want to solve problems, you need to take the conversation somewhere else.
Marketing, of course, loves Twitter. It is a way to broadcast messages, first and foremost. The ones that are doing it right, are using it as part of a multi-channel strategy, to engage with the ecosystem and participate in conversations – listening more and talking less. If they are talking, then the hope is that they are talking about something else other than themselves. People are doing this, brands not so much. I am not going to go deep on the marketing use, hundreds of articles have been written and read. Twitter is a place where Marketing can begin the conversation, but is not the place where a relationship can be built.
Twitter is for Collaboration, and it is where things begin
I asked my Tweeps (Friends on Twitter) what they thought, and the answers support my thesis (statistical sample is small and skewed, but work with me). Collaboration is my favorite use for Twitter, it is very powerful. I have met fascinating people, and have continued collaborative relationships which extended much beyond Twitter. Brent Leary had a great way to put it. “@mjayliebs I like 2.0 and what it allows us to do, but 1.0 is still where relationships began w/ 2.0 become 3D – richer, more meaningful…”
- Allen Bonde, a management consultant and marketer said: “Twitter is great for alerts, listening and offers for followers. It’s a good discussion starter – but a poor discussion finisher”,
- Jason Falls, a thinker, blogger and consultant in the media relations domain said “Twitter is for Conversations”,
- Esteban Kolsky, an analyst and consultant, said:”twitter was the blueprint to evolve collaboration platforms… can it continue to be relevant now? time will tell – gut says meh”,
- Venessa Miemis, a futurist, philosopher, thought architect, metacog said:”Connecting, sharing resources, network weaving, learning, expanding consciousness, growing, discovery”,
- Heather Margolis, a Channel Management and Marketing Maven using social media in a B2B world said: “Connecting with those in your industry/eco-system but maybe not in your direct circle of contacts”,
- Brian Vellmure, a Customer focused strategist said ” 1) People Sampler 2) Learning Tool 3) Relationship/Conversation On ramp 4) Info distribution channel”,
- Ann Hadley head content, editor Marketing Profs, said “Twitter is for connecting. Also, whiter teeth.”
- Mark Frazier – President, Openworld – said “a) scans of torrential innovation, w/links to dive in b) sense of ‘whole person’ via their tweet traces c) map of influence nets”,
- Mike Boysen, a CRM purist, said “Twitter is a novelty. I found new friends. We quickly moved to another medium. Nothing left to say”,
- Mark Tamis – with a Enterprise 2.0 and BPM background a said “finding and exchanging information and insights relevant to my interests and further the thinking around them”,
I might be hanging with the wrong crowd, or the right crowd, my preference of course. But no one said “whining”, why is that? Is it because the people who responded actually listen, as well as talk? Of course Esteban Kolsky wrote a great post just yesterday, helping me to formulate my own thoughts:
“Twitter is a microcosm. Twitter is a world in itself, and it has dramatic representations of what happens in the real world as well.” He then goes on to say “Twitter is a representation of the real world, no more and no less, and it requires the same commitment to get value out of it as you do from the real world.”
This is crucial to those of you out there that just love to yell and scream when something happens. Just ask yourself, if you were at a cocktail party, or at a neighborhood BBQ, would you broadcast as loudly? Has it changed for you? Are your teeth whiter? Just asking….
When you take a look at the picture below, what do you see? Do you see an older woman, or a younger woman? In case you have not seen this picture before, they are both there, trust me. OK, what is the relevance? The realization I have come to, and it is likely that others are there ahead of me, is that much (not all) of the debate regarding definitions – nit-picking words is simply due to our own myopic perspectives.
When an experienced marketer, social marketer, CMO or someone within traditional public relations looks at Social CRM, what do you/they see? I suspect, based on what I have been reading for the past year, is they see an old school system that is going to suck the life out of modern, cool, hip and social marketing efforts. When the more traditional information technologist, CIO, or 15 year CRM veteran looks at Social CRM and they see the young beauty – something that will finally breath life into what CRM was supposed to be 15 years ago – Customer Centric. There are a spectrum of perspectives, I chose only two, to illustrate my point. We need to bring these perspectives into alignment, and stop trying to prove we are right.
Know Your Audience and Lead them to Success
When someone tries to explain what Social CRM is, it often starts with a definition, followed by a talk about what it is, or does, surrounded by a few examples or case studies. Looking objectively at this, if the audience is mixed, then each person may leave the discussion with a very different idea of what exactly is Social CRM. The unfortunate truth is that within each organization there will be a bit of battle surrounding who should own this new “Social CRM” initiative. Before many people work to understand what is in it for their customers, they are likely going to ask “What is in it for me?”, sorry, tell me I am wrong. Friend and colleague Graham Hill wrote a post about 9 months ago: Who Should Own Social CRM? Graham suggests the following:
“In a business new to social CRM, this may be a disparate social network of individuals doing their own thing across the business. A self-organising group with no formal authority, but a lot of social authority. In a slightly more advanced business it might be a cross-functional team formed specifically to look at Social CRM and containing many of the earlier social network. Further on it might be a formal Social CRM Coordinator given the role, responsibility and authority to promote Social CRM across the business. In some organisations, it might even be the Chief Customer Officer (although organisations have a few hoops to jump through before they get that far!).”
Maybe you should figure out first what Social means to you
Another friend and colleague, Esteban Kolsky spoke about Social Business and specifically, he keyed in on the word ‘Social’. You can find the full post here, but, my biggest takeaway is that we all need to figure out what Social means to our business, then we can figure out what Social CRM is and who should own it. My favorite line is “Social is not about Kumbayah”, ok, that is what it is not, but, what is it?:
“Social is about leveraging the customer willingness to work with us, as a business, to achieve better products, better services and have better relationships. Social is about collaborating in a win-win environment where both customer and business achieve maximum value in each and every interaction, regardless of how it was planned and executed.”
This description does not force social efforts into one department. The ownership, in my opinion is by the business, for the business. We all need to be able to view the topics from other parts of the organization, as well as here in the blogosphere, other disciplines. What is your perspective? Have you been guilty of looking at this from only one perspective, and are willing to share?
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.
- There is a Big Difference Between Can’t and Won’t
- Stop Thinking in Two Dimensions
- No Beginning, No Middle and No End
- Rethinking the Customer Journey
- The Simplest Thing I Ever Had to Write
- Context Integration, the Future of System to System Interactions
- The Evolution of Customer Community
- The Fine Line Between Personalization and Creepy
- Experience Innovation
- Maybe We are Using the Wrong Words to Describe Collaboration
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