Over the past five years my thinking and work focus is on the strategic importance of dialogue between businesses and customers. The potential of social software, specifically social media and also Social CRM, to extend dialogic opportunities between the wants and needs of customers and the way companies meet those wants and needs with products and services intrigued me from the start. On several occasions I’ve discussed dialogue in relationship to organizational self-orientation, open innovation, brand strategy, and learning.
As I recently noted,
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.
The overall premise of this way of thinking rests on the idea that consumers and customers, as well as others with influence in a company’s ecosystem, are gaining increasing power to affect the meaning and value of brand offerings as well as the evaluation of operating assumptions. As a result, strategic efforts of organizational transformation are inevitable for most companies. Dave Evans puts it 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.
Surprisingly though, we continue to see debate about whether strategic transformation is needed to successfully implement Social CRM, making it seem that all companies really need to do is get on with using social media, or Social CRM tools, as solutions for specific functional areas.
As an example, Barry Dalton recently advocated,
We’ve been talking to customers over the phone for how long? Exactly! So, what’s the difference? Sure, social platforms are more public. But, does the public nature of the channel automatically turn us into bumbling idiots that are going to trash our company’s brands in 140 characters?
Barry seems to make the point that you don’t need to know how much influence a customer exercises in your ecosystem to provide them with services. I certainly agree with him on that point, and I’ll offer a personal account about why later in this post. However, in my view, Barry draws the wrong conclusion from the point. He paraphrases a quote from Frank Eliason at a recent SOCAP conference when someone asked about influencers and influencer analysis. Frank, reportedly said, ” I’m in customer service. I don’t care how influential they are. I need to solve their problem. Do you ask who your customer knows before you answer their question on the phone?”
I suggest that the influence of the customer does matter for the business supported, but not necessarily for delivering customer service alone. Along the same lines, Paul Greenberg notes in his consideration of the concept of Social Relationship Management developed by Brian Solis,
Measuring the whispers gives you some idea of how influential someone can be or how fast a trend can grow or what kind of chatter is spreading about your company — good or bad — and who is spreading it….
…Optimally, using these measures will help you gain some insight into individual customers and their particular influence. If you then provide them with the personalized products, services, experiences and tools they need to sculpt their own relationship with you, because the customer is prone to trusting “someone like me”, it is entirely possible that they will think of your business as a “company like me.”
Influentials matter, especially if they are one of your customers, or even a brand advocate, since they can help you flip the marketing funnel through word of mouth. These opportunities do not reduce to the goals of Public Relations, or marketing, or sales, or operations, or any other specific functional area of a business. The interrelationships are too important for specific functional areas to adopt tailored solutions to their own processes and add the word Social as an adjective, as Mitch Lieberman’s comment on Barry’s post makes clear.
Any strategy needs to support cross-functional goals and objectives which, I think, makes it essential to create or take advantage of new dialogic opportunities, or existing ones, in the business ecosystem. Not doing so, or simply approaching Social CRM as a solution, threatens to fail in an analogous manner as CRM itself did, treating relationships as transactions. Perhaps a cautionary tale about CRM can convey the point. I offer the following anecdote of my own recent experience as a customer of a technology service provider’s CRM system. Note that my experience was a social one, even though the business, XO Communications, doesn’t seem to recognize that social channels exist, nor does it seem capable at managing communication across channels with customers.
My Relationship with XO
I run several small websites, including Skilful Minds and Customer Clues, hosted by XO Communications. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to mashup some content from Skilful Minds to the Customer Clues website to better integrate my online activities. I designed and built the Customer Clues website, and doing a mashup meant applying myself in a development effort I hadn’t done before, at least not without a content management system. My goal was to take the RSS feed from my Skilful Minds blog and display a link and description of the most recent five entries on one of my pages at Customer Clues. I needed to use an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation (XSLT) on the xml data coming from the Skilful Minds RSS feed.
The short version of the story is that I successfully developed an XSLT in Adobe Dreamweaver and displayed the most recent five blog entries from the Skilful Minds blog on the Our Blog page at Customer Clues. At that point my customer relationship with XO developed into an interesting customer experience and, I think, one which shows the importance of organizational transformation in the development of Social CRM. The XSLT worked fine on my local system running Windows 7, but displayed an error on the page when I tested it on the server on the Customer Clues website.
After a bit of poking around in the XO FAQs I didn’t really find much that could explain the problem. XO web hosting does not sponsor a community forum. I’ve offered my thoughts on the relationship between FAQs and community forums before, and XO’s efforts could definitely use some improvement. It then occurred to me that Adobe’s Dreamweaver support forums might offer some help. Through some searching on the Dreamweaver site, and on Google, I found information on several forums that led me to think perhaps the version of Windows’ server (IIS) running the Customer Clues website was either not configured for XSL Transform or did not support it. I then sent an email to the XO Customer Care email account. Over the course of several exchanges with several XO support staff we established that my account was running on Windows 2000 server rather than a later version, and that it did not support XSL Transform. They offered to upgrade the account at no charge and made sure I understood some of the functional differences between the older and the newer Windows server. All was well.
The customer experience involved a bit of problem solving and social learning from outside sources on my part, but the XO support team was exceptionally helpful and the changes I made worked after the upgrade. Here is the point where things get interesting though.
XO Engages Me to Learn
XO sent me an email with a link to a survey about a week after their support staff helped me upgrade my Customer Clues website. The survey showed no indication that XO knew anything about how I contacted them for help initially. Question 2 on the first screen asked how long I had to wait to speak to an agent. As soon as I saw it I thought, “Duhhhh.” Question 1 on the third screen asked me whether the agent handled my call quickly after I was connected. Question 6 on the fourth screen asked me whether I would rather contact XO by phone, email, chat (IM), or their hosting gateway.
Please don’t take these observations the wrong way, XO performed well operationally, once I had gleaned how to ask the right questions from other customer communities on the web. However, it is clear that the company didn’t know how my most recent “trouble ticket” was handled. They understand multichannel touch points with customers, otherwise they wouldn’t ask what channel I prefer to use in the survey. But, XO doesn’t seem to know how to manage cross-channel interactions. Otherwise, the survey design would show it. In addition, they don’t seem to even know social media exists as a channel. If they did I’d expect the survey to ask what resources I used outside XO to aid in resolving my problem.
What does this tell us about Social CRM? I mean, XO isn’t what I would call an upstart web hosting organization. In my mind it tells us that many corporations don’t even know how to do CRM and, short of organizational transformation, they probably never will succeed at anything other than implementing Social CRM solutions. Meaning many will continue to fail to get the social part of it right while throwing sophisticated technologies at the problem.
Posted by Larry R. Irons
Share this post…