A great many articles have been published trying to define what Social CRM (sCRM) really is, but the most widely accepted definition is this from Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light—and often referred to the as "godfather of CRM". He says that sCRM is:
A philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It is the company's response to the customer's ownership of the conversation.
Few people disagree with this definition, but it does perhaps fail to convey a simple meaning in practical terms. Instead, the spirit of sCRM is perhaps summed up better by another, less frequently quoted statement by Paul Greenberg.
CRM was about managing the customer. Social-CRM is about engaging with the customer.
Most CRM systems today are very much designed to help companies manage their customers, but they often do little to help engage them. Thus sCRM cannot be seen as merely an evolution of CRM.
To some companies, sCRM is simply enabling better interaction between customer services and the rest of the company, without any visible benefit to the customer. Other companies see engagement technology as just another channel to connect their customer service or marketing department to Facebook and Twitter.
It's not that either of these views is wrong, it's just that they are incomplete. sCRM spans the boundaries of the organization. It means integrating all customer engagement channels to enable better communication between customers, customer service and other company employees, and indeed with other customers.
An issue raised by a customer may result in discussion with other customers, discussion among the company's customer service team, and it may provoke internal discussion within the company. This type of collaboration on a company managed social channel is one benefit, below are five more.
Company Managed Social Platform Benefits
Greater influence over the conversation
The subject of "controlling the conversation" among a company and its customers is a hot topic in CRM circles. It is often said that the first step in sCRM is accepting the fact that the customer now controls the conversation.
It is certainly true that social media has given customers a louder voice, and a public place for them to come together and exert influence on other prospective customers and pressure on companies. It is far better for companies to engage in this conversation than ignore it, and this always brings to mind the saying:
Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer .
If the conversation between a company and its customers takes place on a company-managed platform, the brand can inevitably exert greater influence over the conversation. However it's important to avoid striving for total control; for if you are too heavy-handed in controlling the conversation, you just drive the conversation elsewhere.
Peter Kim, Chief Strategy Officer at Dachis Group recently wrote that companies do actually have a lot more control over the conversation that is being suggested. He says:
Organizations must have process and policy in place to deal with detractors rather than using a blanket approach based on the wisdom of the crowd – or lack thereof.
The customer isn't always right, so there's nothing wrong with standing up for yourself.
More Platform Flexibility
One of the first high profile examples of a social media "attack" took place in March 2010. Greenpeace launched an orchestrated assault on Nestle's Facebook page, alleging that Nestle was sourcing palm oil from companies responsible for deforestation in Indonesia.
What made this particularly newsworthy was how spectacularly badly Nestle handled it—they couldn't decide whether to get involved in the discussion or delete it. And when they finally did delete it, they caused even greater outrage.
At the time, Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group asked on Twitter, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "who does Nestle's Facebook page belong to?" Nestle obviously felt it belonged to them. But their customers felt it belonged to the customers.
Of course, they were both wrong; it belongs to Facebook. And Facebook's rules are notoriously idiosyncratic. For example, they will ban a picture of breast feeding, but allow holocaust denial groups to publish at will, and they certainly won't do much if anything to help you protect your brand when you come under attack.
Not long after this, Facebook launched "community pages" which caused a fair amount of confusion about companies' presence on Facebook. Of course, Facebook is constantly changing its platform, and they're perfectly entitled to do so, without worrying too much about the impact on companies and consumers using their platform. Picking over this, Jeremiah recommended that companies avoid becoming too dependent on a few public social networks, and start bringing their communities closer to home.
It's not as if these idiosyncrasies of Facebook are going away. It was discovered that anyone could bring down a company Facebook page by making an unsubstantiated DMCA complaint against the brand. The DMCA is the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and Facebook has a procedure that allows copyright holders to make a complaint against any page they think is using their content without permission. But this apparently takes the page down automatically, and doesn't even check if the email address the complaint was submitted from is valid.
Inevitably, this loophole will eventually be closed. But what problem or interruption will be uncovered next? As long as you are using a platform managed by someone else, you are subjecting yourself to this sort of risk. Companies maintaining a Facebook brand page don't get a service level agreement from Facebook. Do you really want your primary customer engagement platform to be so vulnerable?
It would be unfair to suggest that this is solely a Facebook problem. Twitter's platform is not without its own problems, and Twitter can and does unilaterally suspend accounts. And of course, while things have improved recently, do you want the notorious Fail Whale getting between you and your customers?
Better Accommodate the Complexity of Customer Relationships
The Facebook and Twitter models of relationships are particularly relevant with B2C social support, where individual consumers communicate with the customer service or marketing department.
B2B social service is more complicated; there may be many different people at the customer communicating with many different people at the supplier.
Customers of a supplier may well be competitors of each other, and thereby reluctant to engage in public conversations. Other customers will have no such hesitation, so there needs to be a balance between public and private discussion.
Achieve Deeper Customer Engagement
Facebook is not ideally suited for flexible interaction with customers, even in the B2C world. This is summed up very well by a statement that used to appear on Sony's Facebook page: "We want our fan page to be a place for all kinds of discussion, but it is not the place where we can provide you with great customer support."
Sony has since removed that notice, but they continue to direct consumers to forums on their own site for customer service. This is entirely justified—as customer service needs a level of flexibility, accountability and traceability that a consumer network platform does not offer.
It is true that Facebook applications for customer service are emerging at an impressive pace. But these generally are limited to providing Facebook users with a framed window to an external service system. Interestingly, this may provide an ideal balance—it takes advantage of the immense customer reach of Facebook, but stores data in a more structured, controlled environment.
Connect with Your Social Enterprise Ecosystem
Many companies exploring social business are also considering how they can leverage networking inside the company. This raises the question of how the various social initiatives in a company integrate with each other.
A strong social CRM platform will allow several social networks to overlap and cross pollinate, with users and content shared between them, enabling a discussion to move between networks and channels as required.
So, for example, a brand might have a customer network, a partner network, an employee network and a recruitment network. Company staff may well be in each of these networks, and empowered to link internal and external discussions to resolve problems quickly and efficiently.
There are many different consumer and business applications integrating with CRM software for sales, marketing and customer service. These include applications targeted internally at customer facing staff, but more so are focused on engaging customers, not managing them.
Socially infused CRM point solutions are being introduced at a rapid pace, and stimulating thought and new business processes to better engage customers. But in the same manner as CRM software and other business applications evolve, the social software market will clearly advance to deliver more highly integrated sCRM suites which join together multiple channels, deliver a more coherent user experience, facilitate simpler system management and replace data silos with centralized data for more comprehensive and real-time analysis.
A company-managed sCRM platform does not replace brand's presence on Facebook or Twitter; it complements it, enabling customer engagement models that are not practical on public social media services.
A company-managed sCRM platform enables you to:
- Regain more influence in customer conversations
- Control the platform on which the conversation takes place
- Reflect and respond to more complex customer relationships
- Engage in deeper customer interactions, and
- Act as a hub around which your entire social ecosystem and CRM can be connected