Customer collaboration: Don't believe the hype

14th Aug 2013

Despite all the talk from the sell side of the CRM and collaboration sectors, very few organisations are using collaborative tools outside the firm to engage with their customers.

That's according to recent research from consultancy firm Avanade - ‘Is Enterprise Social Collaboration Living Up to its Promise?’ - which found that:

  • 77% of business and IT leaders say their companies are currently using social collaboration technologies.
  • 82% of businesses currently using social collaboration tools want to use more of them in the future.

Breaking down the results into specific product offerings, those who have adopted social networking technologies for collaboration reported using:

  • Facebook (74%)
  • Twitter (51%)
  • Microsoft SharePoint (39%)
  • IBM Open Connections (17%)
  • Salesforce Chatter (12%)

"There is a discrepancy between industry perception of social collaboration and where we actually are," says Andy Barber, deputy lead for collaboration at Avanade UK. "There has been this buzz around social collaboration for a few years as research shows us that large percentages of companies say that is what they are using.

"But what it actually is is that employees are using Facebook and Twitter. Actual adoption of genuine collaboration tools is quite low."

By genuine collaboration tools, Barber means things like's Chatter or Microsoft's Sharepoint - products that are enterprise sponsored, mandated and governed.

"There's a large percentage of organisations using Facebook, but no consideration is being given to using them in the enterprise world," he states.

Schizophrenic approach

In effect, the picture that Barber is painting is of organisations with an almost schizophrenic approach, divided along in internal and external communications lines.

Internally communication is driven by the likes of Chatter; externally customer outreach and engagement is conducted via Facebook and Twitter. 

Internally, there is a focus on getting away from the technology considerations and thinking about the collaborative conversation essentially from a publishing perspective.

"You are effectively generating information and content that you're trying to get across," argues Barber. "You are a publisher. You need to ask therefore 'Who is my audience? Who are my consumers? What do they want? What do they need?'."

Organisations need to get a point where documents are being produced and shared because they are needed and they are useful, not just because it is expect that they will be produced. So, an HR person needs information and documents such as quick links to pension information or FAQs about company policy.

At this point, human nature kicks in though as individuals inside organisations play the 'I need all the information I can lay my hands on' card.

"Traditionally there has been a view that knowledge is power and if you have information that others don't have then you are superior," admits Barber. "We find that residing in corporate culture, but that is dangerous - hoarding information.

"One of the biggest problems you have is getting information to people who need it. If you have people on the west coast of the USA doing a deal of the sort that someone did in Australia a year ago, then you want to get information shared between them. This is where social collaboration should help."

As for external use of the same collaboration tools as part of a customer management strategy, that can be seen in some smaller organisations, suggests Barber, but less frequently as the enterprise scales up.

"Seamless collaborative conversation inside and out can be perceived to be higher risk in larger organisations," he notes. "You can't be entirely free in what you share internally if there is a seamless connection with what you're doing externally."

Pitching collaboration

But this isn't stopping providers pitching collaboration tech as part of customer engagement strategies. "The likes of is pitching Chatter as CRM," agrees Barber.

"Whether that ever replaces something like Twitter is unlikely. It's really the re-invention of the one point of entry portal we used to see."

It has been argued that Twitter as a CRM channel is all good and well for catching customer complaints, but that such a simple form of social media lacks the ability to manage and resolve those complaints. In other words, it's a public way of being seen to react to customer issues, but not a mechanism for resolving them.

Barber disagrees to a point. "There is some very sophisticated analysis you can do today that means it's not just a last-line of defence catch-all mechanism for customer complaints," he suggests.

"It's also not entirely sustainable. If all of your customers use it as the way to complain, then it's not workable. I see Twitter as a transitional arrangement, not the longer term way forward."

Avanade's research concludes that over the next 12 months, businesses will shift from using consumer-driven social tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) to enterprise social collaboration tools (e.g. SharePoint, Chatter).

That being so, a re-run of the research in two years time may deliver a  different picture when it comes to the use of such tech as a tool for external customer communication and management.

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By LinkedIn Group Member
21st Aug 2013 16:47

Comment made on this post on our LinkedIn group

Yes, absolutely. There is still much confusion, together with a lack of understanding of the benefits such tools can bring to the organisation. Some organisations are still too nervous about the perceived risks as well. Perhaps, some of the vendors also paint too rosy a picture, without being able to manage the cultural transformation that takes place. As the article says, it may well be a very different picture in two years time.

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