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Best Practices for Social CRM?

They do not exist. They will never exist. You do not need them.

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FC Expert Blogger Daniel W. Rasmus wrote a great article on Friday “5 Reasons Best Practices Suck ” the post was an easy read and definitely had an edge. Something the reader could really sink their teeth into. You see, the author uses a Vampire metaphor to make the point. In a way I am a bit jealous, as this is the type of post that needed to be written, one of those that you say – ‘I wish I could have written that’ – Well, I did not write it, but it struck a nerve on a number of fronts so I am going to use it as a launching point.

If we have learned anything during the past few years it is that the pace of change is absolutely ridiculous. No matter what part of the organization you are in, your ability to keep pace is challenged daily. If we can accept this as a truth, then there is uniquely one best practice that might stand a chance, how we adapt to change. Other than that, all other ‘Best Practices’ are simply roadblocks to success and excuses to remain irrelevant. The use within Social CRM is certainly not an exception here. The past couple years have been about experimentation, the data shows that to be a truth. It is not time to codify the experimentation and call it something it is not. It is time to refine it, adapt, learn and share the knowledge.

I am going to share a part of the post, cheating if you will, stealing part of the ending. Maybe a bit unfair, but you may choose to leave now and come back.

“Best Practice is a forensic science, an autopsy on a corpse. Learning is an activity of the living. Millions of good practices can co-exist and co-evolve. But there can only be one Best of Show, Best Record of the Year or Best Picture. And these never repeat. They are bound to the time of their making.”

Placing this into context, Social CRM is about your relationship with your customers.  It is about your communications, listening, internalizing and responding. Best practices are either about taking something someone else learned, with their customers, in another organization, at another time and making it gospel. Or, it is about taking what you have done, patting yourself on the back and writing it in stone, like an epitaph. Neither is going to work. Why? Because when the new device, new toy, new shiny object comes along, your customers are going to change, yet again.

“The Best Practice makes an organization feel a sense of accomplishment and closure. It gives it focal point for celebrating its hard work. But in a blink, entropy and pandemonium invade again. People can sense the real power: the dynamic, ever-changing flow of knowledge, just below the thin skin of codified policy and practice.”

Good practices do exist, they are needed and they can and should be shared. The successes and failures are important stories to be told. But, they are stories, there for you to pick out the pieces which make sense to you, your team and your organization. Don’t assume someone else knows best. Has anyone really been doing what you have longer than you have been doing it? Sure, some parts, of course. But all of it?

Interestingly, in doing some research recently with ThinkJar and my own team at Ciboodle what struck me is that companies looking to implement Social Customer Service had no practices from which to draw. They listened to their customers, internal teams and understood the vision of their own organization. Fortunately, for us all, the business side of Social is very young, so there has not been enough time for anyone to claim “Best Practices for Social CRM”

Vampires do not exist, they will never exist and they would suck the life right out of you (if they did exist).

(There, I said it. A personal objective for 2012 is to sharpen the tools a bit, and be a bit edgier.  It is time to let the inner New Yorker out and see the light of day.  I am hoping that my Klout score gets a boost.  <yeah right!> It is time to stop beating around the bush and get shit done.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • grahamrhill February 13, 2012, 1:18 PM

    Hi Mitch

    An interesting post. But a troubling one too.

    I read Rasmus’ post. Once you cut through all the vampire verbiage it seems to come down to the simple statement: best practices are bad because organisations are always changing. The problem with this is that it is based upon a fundamental flaw; yes organisations are always changing, but not all parts of the organisation, not all at the same time and not all at the same rate. This has a huge impact on whether best practices are useful or not. Let me explain.

    Dave Snowden in a very insightful article in the Harvard Business Review on ‘A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making’ outlines four different types of organisational environment and four different approaches to making decisions within them.

    The easiest of these is the SIMPLE environment characterised by repeating patterns of behaviour, recognisable events, well understood cause & effect and known knowns. Think of statement printing in a credit card company and you will get the idea. These environments are well suited to those best practices that Rasmus dislikes. Why introduce change when none is required.

    The next most difficult are COMPLICATED environments characterised by many moving parts, expert diagnosis being required, cause & effect only being discoverable, several solutions being possible and known unknowns. Think of marketing in a mobile telco. Best practices probably won’t help you much here as they are really hard to identify, but GOOD PRACTICES will. Eventually they may become best practices.

    Much harder to deal with are COMPLEX environments characterised by many moving parts interacting with each other, behaviour emerging out of the interactions, there being many potential solutions and lots of unknown unknowns. Think of taking a startup to market. There are no good, let alone best practices to fall back on here. Instead, management has to become good at PROBING to see what works, SENSING patterns emerging and RESPONDING to them in double quick time.

    The hardest to deal with are CHAOTIC environments characterised by high turbulence, no clear cause & effect, many decisions to make, no right answers and precious little time to decide what to do. Think of the Tylenol recall a few years ago. In these circumstances the only thing to do is to ACT by doing what you think is the right thing, to SENSE whether it is working and to RESPOND accordingly. Dithering while the environment slips into a less-chaotic pattern is a recipe for oblivion.

    Your challenge is to look at your organisation and to see which bits of it are in each of the four conditions and then to manage accordingly. If you look closely you will be surprised how much of it is in the simple and complicated environments and how little in the complex and chaotic environments. And how useful best practices and good practices can be in managing them accordingly. As Occam’s Razor wisely suggests, you should only look for a more complicated solution when the one you are using is no longer good enough. You may find that best practices and good practices are often exactly that; GOOD ENOUGH.

    It is easy to be sidetracked by the ILLUSION that the world is complex or chaotic and that you must throw the management playbook out of the window. You can of course, but then you will be at the mercy of your more thoughtful competitors. Best practices, even good practices are not a panacea for all ills, but they are a perfectly good cure for many of them.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    @grahamhill

    PS. And make sure you don’t fall for all the verbiage written in magazines like Fast Company in the future either. Read with a critical mind and challenge woolly thinking. Likewise for this comment.

    • brianvellmure February 13, 2012, 2:53 PM

      Graham,

      You bring up a valid point. Most importantly, that it may be a waste of time and effort to believe you have to re-create the wheel every time, when others have trodden the path before you.

      However, I believe the most important section of your comment is “Your challenge is to look at your organisation and to see which bits of it are in each of the four conditions and then to manage accordingly.” Management’s companion to this question should also be: “Who do we want to be as an organization?”

      In my experience, best practices are great yardsticks in areas where the org’s practices are relatively immature. Utilizing “Best Practices” brings things “up to snuff” where they were inadequate before.

      To your comment about “being good enough”, this may be true for administrative tasks, but there is growing risk for any organization adopting this posture cumulatively in the world of exponentially increasing change and turnover.

      Going back the the companion question: “Who do we want to be as an organization?”

      This has significant impact on to what extent the use of best practices will be utilized. It speaks to the organization’s DNA and culture.

      Do we want to let others innovate and learn from their mistakes, only changing what we do once the best path has already been figure out or do we want to lead the way into unchartered territory absorbing the risk and potential returns associated with being a game changer.

      There’s plenty of argument for being cash cow, run with strict and seamless processes in a well established marketplace. There’s also a great argument for creating your own marketplace and innovating your way to greatness.

      Like most things, this is not a matter of right or wrong, but understanding the utility of the construct and applying it within the context of the specific firms’s organizational vision, mission, and strategy.

      • grahamrhill February 14, 2012, 3:07 AM

        @Brian

        Thanks for commenting.

        You spotted the key point in my response to Mitch’s post; that organisations should look at which parts of them are in simple, complicated, complex and chaotic environments and respond accordingly.

        In simple environments there is often a way of working that all involved should adopt; what we call best practice. The best practice for one organisation may be subtly different from the best practice of another, due to the different bundles of complementary capabilities that each possesses. The implication is that best practices should be developed, not just copied from what others do. That has always been the case. My best practice may be different from your best practice.

        Best practices change over time as the environment changes or the organisation’s capabilities change. Toyota is the most successful car manufacturer in the world (with a market capitalisation much bigger than all three US automakers combined). It regularly wins awards for the quality of its process innovation. It is a firm believer in using internally developed best practices. But it is also a believer in adapting them where a better way is identified or in completely redeveloping them when something significant changes.

        I must admit that the latter half of your response appeared to be a confusing mish-mash of management jargon, half thought through ideas and wishful thinking. Developing best practices, or the more useful good practices, in no way reduces an organisation’s ability to understand what customers want, to innovate to create better products for them or to make money from doing so. Quite the contrary in fact.

        Graham Hill
        Customer-driven Innovator
        @grahamhill

      • brianvellmure February 14, 2012, 12:37 PM

        LOL Mr. Congeniality (replying to the comment below).

        In my experience, relying on best practices often becomes an excuse for lack of management problem solving and decision making. Leadership simply wants someone else to tell them what to do – show them the answer, give them the guide to success.

        I must admit the latter part of your response appeared to be condescending, critical, and devoid of any value. :)

  • baileyworkplay February 13, 2012, 2:07 PM

    Graham, if I’m understanding you it appears your thesis is that since most parts of an organization are alike everyone should just do the very same thing and celebrate when they achieve “good enough” results. Sorry, but that just doesn’t fly. While some parts of an organization – let’s say payroll – may “look” identical to payroll departments in another company, that doesn’t mean the same rulebook or best practices will achieve the same results across multiple organizations.

    Or maybe it’s not so much the actual best practice but the idea of them in general. In all my experience what I’ve seen happen is best practices are treated like a prescription drug. Do this and all your problems will go away. I don’t care if you’re in a chaotic or a simple environment, that’s a ticket straight into the crapper. Why? Because then you get addicted to the idea that answers are “out there” rather than right in front of you. Again, answers become prescriptive.

    And here’s where I really do have a problem with what you write: the idea of GOOD ENOUGH. Yes, we can go overboard with trying to create perfection and it cripples our immediate effectiveness. The same can be said to the other side. Organizations can just say, “Well, this is what other companies in our space do for payroll. That’s good enough.” When this becomes the mindset, you might as well not try to instill a sense of experimentation and improvement within the department. You’ve admitted to mediocrity. Good luck with that.

    Chris Bailey
    @baileyworkplay

    • grahamrhill February 14, 2012, 3:33 AM

      @Chris

      Thanks for commenting.

      I think you would benefit from a closer reading of my response and Dave Snowden’s excellent article that I referenced.

      The development of best practices make most business sense in relatively stable, predictable environments with well-understood cause & effect. If there is a best way of working within that environment, an organisation would be foolish not to adopt it.
      Each organisation’s best practices may be subtly different from those of others.

      As best practices are dependent upon both the bundles of complementary capabilities that an organisation possesses and the environment that they find themselves in, change either and the best practices should change too. Not only are my best practices different from your best practices, mine may change at different rates to yours too.

      Your issue with best practices seems not to be about the concept of best practices (an untenable philosophical position in the face of the evidence in support of best practices) but in how they are used. I agree entirely that management often get locked into an obsolete best way of working, or any way of working come to that. And that that may result in them becoming ossified into an out-dated way of working. But that has more to do with management’s cognitive limitations than with best practices. As the saying goes, ‘a fish rots from its head’.

      Best practices are powerful tools for organisations to use in the right circumstances. But they don’t suit all organisations and all circumstances. Just be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      Graham Hill
      Customer-driven Innovator
      @grahamhill

  • Mitch Lieberman February 13, 2012, 2:10 PM

    Graham,

    Thanks for the response and the reference. I went and looked in the article, and my read of the original source suggests that my premise still holds. According to the article, the Simple Domain is the realm of the best practice, but even there it may cause issues:

    “..best practice is, by definition, past practice. Using best practices is common, and often appropriate, in simple contexts. Difficulties arise, however, if staff members are discouraged from bucking the process even when it’s not working anymore. Since hindsight no longer leads to foresight after a shift in context, a corresponding change in management style may be called for.

    Nevertheless, problems can arise in simple contexts. First, issues may be incorrectly classified within this domain because they have been oversimplified. Leaders who constantly ask for condensed information, regardless of the complexity of the situation, particularly run this risk.”

    Second, leaders are susceptible to entrained thinking, a conditioned response that occurs when people are blinded to new ways of thinking by the perspectives they acquired through past experience, training, and success.”

    My postulate is that Social CRM is new, different and not yet a “simple context”. It took (still taking) a long time for many people to even define where it fits. I am also suggesting that best practice is often a lazy approach. Practices are defined within the organization or taken from other organizations.

    Since the article references past practices, what past practices exist for Social CRM? I do not claim to be an expert as Dave Snowden in the general practice of using best practices. However, I will stand my ground in the specific context of Social CRM.

    I did not talk about throwing out any management playbooks. Actually, I am suggesting that good management takes good practices where they make sense and should question, consider and adopt where it makes sense, not just blindly use what someone else created. If any practice is followed without a bit of a challenge and a good understanding of why you are doing something, I believe that is more dangerous.

    I especially liked the authors point here: “the simple domain lies adjacent to the chaotic—and for good reason. The most frequent collapses into chaos occur because success has bred complacency.”

    Mitch

    • grahamrhill February 14, 2012, 3:54 AM

      @Mitch

      Thanks for commenting.

      I am pleased that you read Dave Snowden’s excellent article. If you like his thinking you should take his Cognitive Edge training course at some time. It is one of the most interesting and useful courses I have attended.

      I agree with pretty much everything you write. Best practices do have limitations. Understanding the limitations and when to switch from best practices to good practices, to probe-sense-respond, or even to act-sense-respond is what good management is supposed to be about.

      Social CRM is relatively new. But is it all that different. If you look hard enough I am pretty confident you would find almost all of the components of Social CRM embedded in other management disciplines. Communities of Interest have been with us for over 20 years; look at how Marshall Audio set up user communities to share best practice in the late 80s. Big data analytics for over 15 years; look at how Capital One was running 50,000 marketing experiments a year in the mid 90s. And mutual exchange-based relationship management for over 30 years; B2B marketing has long been based on a mutual value exchange model. What is perhaps new is the confluence of all the different components at the same time.

      A good manager, like yourself, looks at the different domains of your responsibility and identifies how best to manage them. Some domains may be simple and amenable to best practices. You should use them where it makes sense. Some may be complicated and you may need to hire experts to identify good practices. Sometimes good enough is the best option. A few may be complicated and you will have to experiment to see what works best. The aim should then be to turn the successful experiments into good practices and then best practices. Managing in complex environments is difficult, time confusing and relatively unproductive. Hopefully, you will rarely experience chaos. If you do, you may find that almost everything else has to be dropped whilst you recover. Remember Tylenol, Perrier, British Airways?

      Best practices are but one of many managers tools that he can use. Paradoxically, there are probably best practices that set out when best practices should be used and when not. It is turtles all the way down from there!

      Graham Hill
      Customer-driven Innovator
      @grahamhill

  • Jesus Hoyos February 13, 2012, 5:11 PM

    Mitch, great post! I always go by this when working on CRM projects – best practices become best practices when you measure them and get positive results that you can reproduce…. You need to test and measure… and adjust the practices… it is a contant process…

  • glennross February 20, 2012, 2:14 PM

    Mitch, Way to start a great conversation. Here’s my two cents worth.

    Best practices are NOT always past practices. In many cases, they’re still current, therefore relevant. I do agree that there are frequently flaws in the implementation.But just because BP isn’t a perfect philosophy doesn’t mean it should be abandoned. Like any tool, it needs to be used in the right way in the right situations. Frankly, I think Rasmus was just seeing what he wanted to see and got caught up in his clever writing.

    In my nonprofit we’re about ready to launch an initiative to identify the best ways to engage Generation Y as volunteers. We’ll be looking at what’s worked so far and what hasn’t. Here’s what hasn’t changed, there are certain “laws” of voluntarism, just as there are laws of physics. “Show the prospective volunteer how his or her efforts will make a difference,” is one. “The more a volunteer or donor knows about the organization, the more engaged he or she becomes,” is another. What is different here is that Gen Y uses technology differently and to a greater extent than other generations.

    So, we’ll be looking for innovative ways to engage Gen Y knowing that some things (the “laws”) never change and that some things (their use of technology) are different. I’m guessing that whatever we call these practices/ideas will have a shelf life of 2-4 years. But even on the low end of that projection, we still anticipate getting a good ROI on our efforts.

    We’ll also do an external scan to see what other nonprofits are doing. Because there are so many different nonprofit models, we may immediately discard many BPs as not relevant to us. On the other hand, we may find a few valuable nuggets scattered through out the rough.

    Glenn

    • Mitch Lieberman February 20, 2012, 4:21 PM

      Glenn,

      Thanks for the comment, points well made. I think you will enjoy my follow-up post to this one, a concept which Prem reminded me I had been talking about way back when – Patterns.

      Patterns might just be that gap between starting from scratch; re-inventing the wheel, and simply accepting either something we did previously or that someone else does as gospel. To programming types, patterns are a recognizable concept, but to business types it might require a slightly different way to approach things.

      I think your volunteer point is a very good example. Thanks for that!

      Cheers – Mitch