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Making Social CRM a useful reality

A definition

Firstly, we should ask ourselves what we mean by Social CRM. Shamelessly quoting Wikipedia: “Social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is use of social media services, techniques and technology to enable organisations to engage with their customers." As an emerging discipline, interpretations of Social CRM vary, but the most frequently quoted definition is from Paul Greenberg:

"Social CRM 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's the company's response to the customer's ownership of the conversation."

Social CRM is often used as a synonym for Social Media Monitoring, where organisations watch services like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for relevant mentions of their product and brand and react accordingly. However, this is too narrow an interpretation, as Social CRM also includes customer communities managed by the organisation themselves.”

Well, for a Wikipedia definition that isn’t the clearest, which really reinforces the fact that confusion abounds in this space, and the whole subject of social CRM is ill-defined and constantly evolving. We’ve been working with Social CRM for some time now, and have had to develop specific components and functionality to provide real business benefit, so let’s see how these areas tap the various parts of the definition above.

The philosophy

“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform”; this is a direct take from our long held belief that CRM itself is a strategy, supported by technology. Technology per se won’t make CRM work, so it’s a fair bet that it won’t solve all you social CRM problems on its own, either.

In the world of social media, technology has been fundamental to its development, and you just couldn’t engage with people through social media without technology. However, just implementing technology is at best going to simply provide a glut of information – potentially without context – which gives little business benefit.

What is required is some thought, and a clear strategy as to what information is required, by whom, and why. A marketing executive may be interested in how customers are discussing products on Facebook and Twitter, and could simply look on these platforms and make a judgement about the success of their marketing based on that. They may also engage with these platforms to put out further information and undertake marketing directly on the social platforms or to find genuine brand advocates and use outreach strategies to engage themThat’s great; the marketing department are using social media; they are providing information about their products and services; and they are receiving feedback through the same social media. Going back to our definition, “Social CRM is often used as a synonym for Social Media Monitoring..” is exactly what we’ve been talking about here.” If that’s all there was to it, though, we wouldn’t need any specific “social CRM” function. So what’s missing?

We think that the first thing Social CRM should be trying to achieve is what CRM has always tried to do – provide a single view of relationships. One of the most important goals of CRM is to make sure you can see salient, relevant information. So, not only do we want to see that social media “post” from a contact, but also have it tied to the other information that we know about them. Knowing that Amber Brown posted on facebook to say she like your product is one thing; knowing that Amber Brown is an existing client, who has shown an interest in a new product of yours, and who you can readily contact to cross-sell to her, is much more important. On 19th September 2012 facebook announced that they are going to help organisations to tie in social data with other customer identifiers such as email and mobile phone number, at an unspecified cost! This will big a major step forward in our ability to use social media data to track an individual’s interests and levels of brand advocacy for example.

In addition, there is a major area of thought missing here, around the second part of that Social Media Monitoring definition: “customer communities managed by the organisation themselves”. Actually, we would strike out the “customer” in this sentence – let’s just talk about privately managed communities – of customers, staff, and other contacts. We don’t need to repeat here that CRM isn’t just about a consumer/customer relationship –its deals with all contacts from and to your organisation. We’ll devote a section on this next.

A corporate social community

Some organisations we deal with utilise social media tools such as Twitter to great effect to provide updates of what’s going on in their organisation. Organisations may go even further and use social channels to manage customer service and the realtime sending of information. However, this really does just provide the tip of the iceberg.

If you are a salesforce user, you will probably have heard of Chatter, the “Enterprise social network and collaboration” tool. This provides a facebook-like environment where, via an API, information from your CRM system can be collated and posted to “walls” to provide an update on what’s going on. Microsoft has launched some tools in this space too, and other CRM vendors are providing similar offerings.

What’s powerful about these tools is that you have control over your private community, and can provide relevant information to the right people using an interface style with which they are increasingly familiar.

As an example, let’s say that you are in sales, pitching products to other businesses. When you go off to see a business, it would be really useful to see a single view of who you were seeing, what their company was up to, what other people in your organisation was doing with that company etc. Traditional CRM solutions give you a lot of this, but merging in, say, an RSS feed of news about that company, and a Twitter feed of comment about it, can give you a much deeper insight.

Getting really clever

So far, so good. The problem we have is making this really work in practice, so here are some things we’ve found out. They nicely play back to our early points about the philosophy of social CRM – we don’t think its really effective to just plug in some new technology – you need to plan what you want to achieve with it first.

The first thing we find with this world of social media integration is that you very quickly end up drowning in information. Going back to our sales user collating information about a prospect they may be visiting, they could end up swamped with information from the existing CRM solution and feeds of data from back office systems (hopefully all integrated with the CRM system), let alone bringing twitter, facebook, RSS news et al into the mix.

The trick is to deliver as little information that isn’t relevant as possible, while still delivering a rich stream of relevant content. Partly, this can be done by embedded rules. We’ve developed systems that select, based on business rules, appropriate content from the existing CRM system. This can be at “entity” level – only delivering information about contacts, say, rather than payment information if that’s not relevant. This is extended to only push information about a subset of relevant contacts – say where you have an existing relationship. Overlay further business rules, and you end up with a stream of appropriate information selected based on expected interest, internal security rules, and corporate requirements.

You now need the user to be able to show their interest, just as they would by “liking” something, or signing up to a social media feed. Provide them with these tools to self-select content from the stream they’re already sent, and you’re a long way towards a usable system. For example, we can provide filtering functionality on streams of information (RSS, Twitter etc.) so there is a level of “filtering out” of unnecessary information, even within a feed that you may be interested in. For example, we may be interested in news about XYZ company, but we’re selling them CRM solutions, so we filter the news articles we see to only those that include the term “CRM”. Again, there needs to be an element of corporate strategy/decision making about relevance, and a degree of user empowerment to allow self-selection.

We’re also looking at how information can be provided that has temporal (time-based) relevance. So, in our sales example, you get a stream of information relevant to your next appointment because the system knows when the appointment is, and with whom. After the appointment, the stream of information provided will change as your focus changes.

What’s great about this is you now end up with a stream of relevant information, which is accessible as any social media stream is likely to be: on your smartphone, tablet or PC. For a lot of CRM users – and particularly those in the sales team – this can be a much more usable system than navigating the various screens and tabs of the corporate CRM solution.

Enriching your CRM data from the social solution

So far, this has all been about providing more information from social media sources and aggregating it to our CRM data. What we also need to look at is pulling back data from social-media type applications into the CRM database.

The simplest form of that is the “What am I doing now” type status updates of social media. We can provide an interface within our CRM social media application to collect this data, and share it with other CRM social media users. What often doesn’t happen is to take it and push it back to the CRM database. Perhaps it’s not deemed relevant, but we also have the complexity of knowing where to store it.

For organisations keen to know what, say, the sales team is up to, having the odd status update propagated back to the core CRM system is a major benefit. Knowing where to put it in the CRM system is more complicated. Should we store it related to the user who entered it? If it was entered in relation to a meeting with a client, should it be linked to the client record? Who should have access to it? And how do we achieve this without cluttering up the social CRM interface and making it unwieldly? Again, this comes back to determining a clear strategy for your organisation’s needs – what information do you need (and this could include information you have no idea you need until its provided!) and what is the best approach to capturing that information.

About us

Cantata is at the forefront of the latest thinking around, and deployment of, CRM and social media technology. We offer a full range of CRM related services, including initial strategy and business case development, through project scoping, vendor selection, project planning, requirements gathering, business analysis, and full implementation and training.

If you would like any information about how Social CRM could help your organisation, or more generally how we have helped some of the UK’s leading organisations with their CRM initiatives, please contact us.