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.