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

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

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • hostedappsandtools July 1, 2011, 4:37 AM

    Very useful positioning of Social CRM as an advanced level approach, building on the entry and intermediate level projects and programs.
    CRM provides the central structure, for things like single view of customer, and Social Media becomes an additional set of data about a person, ie. their dynamic profile and communications, alongside say transaction data.
    Analysis (in real-time) can then identify when trigger events take place, against pre-defined rules, and activate a pre-planned response.
    The response can be executed through a combination of channels, one of which may be through Social Media, or other contact channels, such as email or tasking someone to make a phone call.
    Getting to that situation will take considerable planning and implementation though and will be a considerable change program for most organisations, large or small.

    • Mitch Lieberman July 3, 2011, 6:06 AM

      Thanks, and I agree. I would also suggest that over time the ‘social’ part of CRM will become part of the central structure. However, that single view will evolve over time. Because there will simply be too much data, I believe that single view will be the view of the customer that is needed at a point in time, pertaining to a particular issue – the right time view.

  • Esteban Kolsky July 3, 2011, 5:31 AM

    Mitch,

    Very well written post. I was with you all the way to the end when you say “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 I don;t misunderstand what you are saying, automation is not CRM – human-to-human contact is necessary for CRM to happen, then I strongly disagree. We are in the midst of embracing automation in the call / contact center as much as possible – assisted by improvements in technologies like never in the past 20 years or so. Artificial intelligence, analytics, speech recognition — all these are making automation a reality in the world of customer service. Gartner predicted 40% or more of all contacts with customers will be through automated interfaces by 2015. I think that is a tad much, but 20-25% (maybe slightly more) across the board is not impossible.

    Mind you, this is not an issue of economics only (in some cases, economics are there), but also of customer experience. research study after research study shows that users prefer to have a correct response over a human response. HBR published a report last year that talks to this, AT&T and NEC did similar studies, as have plenty of research houses. This is something we have been noticing for quite some time now, but we still need an ultra-relevant and ultra-focused study to confirm it — or just ask those that have implemented automation.

    for the first time in more than 15 years, automation through multiple channels is growing and the satisfaction scores are rising steadily. people are liking what they get, for the most part, and companies are improving how they do things. In the early 2000s, purchasing a ticket by phone using United’s telephone network would take over one hour and involve an innumerable number of steps; today it can be done in 5-10 minutes in far fewer and easier steps (mostly thanks to speech recognition). This is one of many examples, and they still need to improve it further – but as technologies continue to improve, we will eventually arrive to the golden standard: similar experiences with similar results across channels – whether automated or not.

    I babbled for some time now, but the point is the same: automation is an integral part of CRM – and it will become ever more so. I would not be surprised to see 10 years from now more than 2/3 of all interactions (across all channels, including – gasp – social) being totally automated.

    • Mitch Lieberman July 3, 2011, 6:19 AM

      Esteban,

      Thanks for the holiday weekend response!

      As long as my post was, in rereading that section, I did not complete the intermediating technology part very well – at all! It was a concept borrowed from Kerry Bodine’s Forrester report (credit given) but I did not complete the context of the statement properly.

      “At each touchpoint along their journey, customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

      My statement was a feeble attempt to do was extend and further differentiate the types of technologies used within customer interactions. There are some (the examples you listed) which are part of CRM. I will say that I am bigger on optimization over automation, but that is my issue.

      Technology does play large role, but caution is advised. As the automated steps increase, I simply wanted to make people aware that too often there are prescribed automated steps which are poorly used; like the broadcast messages at the beginning of a call, or the “please input your account number now” only to repeat it in a couple minutes to an agent.

      Some are truly part of the Customer Service experience, and some are part of the Customer Experience – and some are just cost savings. Your points are well taken, and I will amend my statement, only so we can agree, of course.

      Mitch

      • Esteban Kolsky July 3, 2011, 6:42 AM

        Thanks for the clarification. For the record, agreeing with me has always been a good move :-) .

        You should explore optimization over automation in a future post. has a nice ring to it, but i am not sure they are opposite ends of the coin (more like etchings along the edge of it).