With the enormous popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it's hardly surprising that CRM technology vendors are racing to build such functionality into their offerings. But, as analyst Gartner warns, marry technology in haste and repent at leisure.
While CRM vendors are eager to demonstrate their closeness to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, end-users need to stop and take a deep breath before rushing headlong into this latest evolution in the market. Analyst Gartner warns that many organisation will in fact waste money and endanger customer value through unplanned initiatives that fail to assess the business case for social networking first and foremost.
It claims social networking investments must focus on customers' online buying processes and be based on a defined business case where it can deliver a direct return on investment in terms of sales, awareness and customer loyalty. “Social applications offer a great opportunity for CRM practitioners to improve customer experience and influence the customer, particularly in an economic downturn when companies are trying to keep customers and increase wallet share, says Adam Sarner, research director at Gartner. But warns: "Rushing into social computing initiatives without clearly defined benefits for both the company and customer will be the biggest cause of failure."
So certain questions need to be asked before investing in so called Social CRM. Can your company make money from social initiatives? Is social networking going to be critical to the way it manages customer relationships, or is the organisation merely jumping on the bandwagon? How much investment is it going to cost – both in time and money. Will it have 'legs'? After all, social networking is relatively new and many of today's popular sites might lose their allure in a year or so once the fad wears off and the next best thing comes along.
Social media specialists
But sales and marketing professionals do seem willing to spend on social networking for customer interaction and customer service activities, according to Datamonitor. "For the most part, very few companies are using formal contact center agents to handle customer service interactions via these emerging and new channels," says Ian Jacobs, senior analyst for customer interaction technologies at Datamonitor. "Generally, they are social media specialist groups within companies. Some of them may halve contact centre experience or even physically sit in the same room with agents, but they are a breed apart."
"Once you start to see integration between CRM systems and these emerging channels, you will get the benefits you normally have in the contact centre, like auditability," he says. "You can actually track everything that's happened, judge performance of agents, and track whether the interactions have escalated. One of my big pieces of advice is to stop thinking about multichannel, and think of it as cross-channel."
But such words of caution are doing little to slow down vendor enthusiasm among the leading CRM vendors. For example, Salesforce.com recently unveiled new integration with micro-blogging site Twitter that will allow customers to track 'tweets' about their business. This is intended to give customer service agents real-time access to information on service level performance and enable them to answer client queries made through what is now the fastest growing social networking site. The integration will be available with the Salesforce Service Cloud package, which already lets businesses connect customer service applications with Cloud Computing sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google.
"Simplicity has played an important role in Twitter's success, making it quick and easy for consumers to connect to their community," said Twitter founder and chief executive Evan Williams. "With Salesforce CRM for Twitter, enterprises can replicate this experience by keeping track of the conversations happening right now on Twitter."
Also in this CRM software supplement:
Overview: CRM software boosts the last competitive weapon in the arsenal
Software as a service: CRM software gets SaaSy
Open source: Open source CRM still facing security concerns
Mobile: Mobile is no longer just about advertising
Anthony Lye, Oracle: CRM learns its lessons from Web 2.0