Learnable Services, CRM, and Social Business Design

“Presenting a consistent face to customers improves their comfort and satisfaction.”

R “Ray Wang” and Jeremiah Owyang Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management

Marketing, especially social media marketing, and learning, including organizational learning, are both essential components of a dialogue strategy for customer experience design and management. A dialogue strategy builds on the assumption that companies learn more from customers when customers learn from them, and doing so benefits both. I increasingly think it provides a basic framework to think about, and consider as part of your experience design strategy, when relating to customers. Thought leaders increasingly refer to the challenge as social business design.

Given the maturity and diffusion of social media, a dialogue strategy provides a framework to discuss communication as an ecosystem, whether addressing collaboration, innovation, segmentation, sales, customer service, or brands. The key to the process is understanding customers, attracting them, engaging them with sales in mindempowering them to solve your product and service problems, and learning from them to improve products and services, thereby strengthening your brand. It is not simply segmenting them, targeting them, driving them through interactions, and transacting with them through sales.

Over time, people buy things they need from you rather than someone else because they want what you offer, and because they feel an empathic connection, i.e. that you understand them. From my reading, Wim Rampen’s contention that we need to use segmentation the customer’s way gets to the heart of the point. The challenge of learning how to make an empathic connection increases to the extent that CRM (customer relationship management) aims to align customer engagement directly with business transactions.

Those looking for a direct, sustained connection between customer engagement and sales from Social CRM are expecting too much in my opinion. The key question is whether you know that Jane Smith who called for support tonight also chatted with one of your people earlier, or posted (or tweeted) something positive or negative about you on her blog, or posted something about your product/service to a how-to community forum. Knowing any of those things about Jane’s activities and experiences with your brand increases the potential for empathic connection between your people and Jane, meaning your understanding of what Jane needs from your products/services increases.

It would be nice if a monitoring platform could listen for you and, just automatically, determine how influential Jane Smith really is in the scheme of things. It might be nice to have a social media management system that just took care of everything, gauged the influence of anyone commenting about you online, ranked their value relative to your brand, and prioritized the level of response needed. However, in the near term, regardless of how much we want that panacea, your employees, or outsource partners, are going to need to engage with your customers as though their problems are your own

Nestle’ can speak to that issue recently. It is important to note that the Nestle’ example is not the first time a company’s supply chain management, rather than a product or service per se, came under organized criticism. Nike and Shell, among others, found their own supply chain relationships under fire over the past decade. Indeed, Shell’s early experiment in 1998 with a blog called Tell Shell came under such negative commentary from the public that the company shut it down. Nike, on the other hand, engaged the debate and incorporated the criticisms into its business model, I’ll leave it to you to decide which brand strategy makes the most sense for customer relationships.

Social Learning and CRM

A dialogue strategy takes advantage of the learning inside and outside an organization, in a way that supports creation of value for the enterprise. It occurs as part of an ecosystem, meaning that it is important to consider the employees, just as customers, and other stakeholders as part of any company’s value chain in Social CRM. Moving to a Social CRM  strategy means that exhorting employees with internal communications to live the brand and talk customer-centricity is a prescription for failure when isolated from transformational changes to a company’s engagement practices with customers.

As Gartner suggested in its Customer Service Meets Social CRM predictions for 2010, start with a focus on whether your internal processes and practices are suited to delivering self-service capabilities. Make sure you know which services customers can fulfill on their own, but also which ones they can’t. And let your customers know which is which.  In a learnable service the work practices supporting its delivery are aligned to the business processes making it available. If you provide a service where that alignment does not occur,  a strategic approach for social learning becomes not just a nice to have capability but a necessity.

For example you might design your FAQ pages, at whatever level, not as simple brochures full of questions related to your own prescribed brand messages or product or service descriptions. Rather, FAQ pages could provide a social dimension in which customers and other stakeholders offer comments on the quality of answers to the frequent questions as well as posing new questions needing answer. At a minimum, standardized processes for populating your FAQ pages from online communities are needed. These challenges require an engaged strategy for designing the services that support fulfillment and support for deliverables, whether products or services.

Brand strategies that Social CRM can assist in implementing are most effective when based in the design and delivery of business services themselves. Indeed, that is the whole point of the service design approach and Gartner’s recent point that when it comes to customer self-service “organizational issues will be more difficult than anticipated.” Zappos has made this very clear operationally, though the Cluetrain Manifesto put the stake in the ground first on the point’s principle.

In other words, the service workarounds that communities like GetHuman, or GetSatisfaction, among others, offer customers — providing phone numbers, customer service shortcuts, reviews and customer service tips on companies worldwide — are natural repositories for learning about the operations of those same companies. So are the customers who engage directly with service touch points. Companies that think they can manage these new media for communication without admitting they can learn how to improve their own business processes from customers, whether the customers are critics or enthusiasts, will find it more difficult than otherwise.

The centrality of learning to customer relationships provides a unifying theme for efforts now underway to develop Social CRM strategies and platforms. Mark Tamis offered a similar suggestion on the role of social learning in customer engagement in a post late last year, noting:

the objective of this type of collaborative learning would be to close the loop, not only take the feedback but reinjecting it back into the customer communities and so on with insights so that we get a virtuous learning cycle. And by being open with your social learning approach, you will lower the barrier for new entrants and thus new points of view and sources for innovation, as well as sending a clear signal to the rest of the customer base that you are listening and collaborating to take their needs into account.

To some extent the point simply builds on the now well-known mantra among social media professionals that transparency is essential to engaging customers. However, as Phil Soffer recently observed, and I’ve previously noted,  transparency is not an all or nothing condition and, to my way of thinking, this is the point at which Social CRM bears direct relevance to the general concept of social business design. Dave Evans recently summarized the point well.

Social CRM involves multiple elements, linked together, to provide an end-to-end understanding of how your brand, product, or service is received in the marketplace and how your internal processes produce and deliver experiences that drive this reception.

One key goal of a Social CRM strategy is to make business services and the processes supporting them learnable by customers, while facilitating collaboration with customers toward that goal. A successful Social CRM strategy would, ideally, make it unnecessary for customers to look for workarounds to existing processes in order to get what they need from a business. To my mind, this is the strategic, tactical, and operational challenge of SCRM. It isn’t so much that employee communities and customer communities need to merge as much as it is that purposive, strategic dialogue must occur across each kind of community. 

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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5 Responses to Learnable Services, CRM, and Social Business Design

  1. [...] Learnable Services, CRM, and Social Business Design « Skilful Minds [...]

  2. Great post. We recently published a whitepaper that tackles social CRM in the context of small businesses. Check it out at http://www.intelestream.net/en/whitepapers/crm-adoption.html
    Best!

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