How social CRM solves CRM's biggest challenges
Could merging customer relationship management solutions with social networks create the perfect business application? Social media expert Ian Hendry thinks so - and explains why.
Few companies aren’t currently involved with social media in one way or another, be it battling against staff wasting time on social networks or looking how to harness them to develop business. But once the novelty has passed, what potential exists for social networks to benefit companies in the long term?
Whether you believe social media is a valid route for engaging with your customers or not, your business will be very positively impacted by Web 2.0 in the future through the software applications your business relies on today.
Picture this: you use social networks today to interact with customers and target specific markets, but it’s ad hoc and with little structure – you post messages, people ask questions, you answer them. What if, at the touch of a button (or better still automatically), that dialogue got recorded in your CRM system with details of all other communication with those customers? With a single view of all interaction, you can maintain continuity in your communication whether they phone you, email you or talk about you on Twitter.
Not using social media currently? Then what about this: before you communicate with an individual customer, or even a group, you can review what contact you’ve had so far - getting a feel for what they do and who they are, as you would currently - but you also have to hand details of what they like, don’t like, which other companies they deal with, how they spend their money and more. If you don’t believe they’ll share this information with you, consider how easily it is already available through posts they put on Facebook, tweets on Twitter or the recommendations they share on LinkedIn.
Further, conversations, or even just rants, are being had about your company every week. How many of those conversations do you know about, let alone get to influence or even drive? Think they are unimportant? Anyone who has had the importance of customer service hammered down their throats won’t forget the statistic that a satisfied customer tells three people, but a dissatisfied one tells 10. Forgot those statistics now Web 2.0 is with us? A cheesed off customer who happens to be on Twitter can broadcast your incompetence to thousands of people in a mouse click (don’t believe it? Look at http://hashtags.org/tag/btfail/messages for an example of how BT is being discussed on Twitter).
Overcoming data currency issues
Connected CRM and social networks, commonly called Social CRM or CRM 2.0, enable your customer records to include not only what those customers have shared with you, but what they share with others through social networks and other social media. It’s free customer insight, shared with the world when they are not just giving answers they think you want to hear. Best of all, link customer records to your customers’ online social profiles and they keep the record you hold for them updated for you. The perennial problem of data currency, the downfall of many a CRM implementation, is solved overnight.
So what’s standing in the way of having these tools available to us today? My view is that we can point to a combination of lack of vision from CRM vendors and privacy concerns.
Salesforce.com already has a module that enables its users to view trends and topics on Twitter, enabling conversations about a company and its market to be monitored from within the application. How those conversations are associated with customer records is unclear. It has also demonstrated social network users submitting their details through the Facebook site using a similar data capture form to that you can find on any website.
Hardly leading edge, but we are likely to see more from this partnership now Facebook has introduced the ability for users to ‘make public’ the previously private aspects of their profile, which Salesforce.com could easily pull into its CRM application without the explicit permission of the parties concerned. Facebook’s move mirrors what has always been possible on Twitter of course, with posts visible by anyone regardless of whether they even have an account on the social network or a relationship with the poster.
SAP was a recent investor in professionally-focused network LinkedIn, although the fruits of this partnership are yet to be seen. There is an undoubted value in being able to import LinkedIn user profile data into SAP, especially if those customer records can be self-maintained through an active link between the two systems. This would work especially well for recruitment companies wishing to mine the 40 million virtual CVs that exist on LinkedIn; recruiters are a strong revenue source for LinkedIn, as well as heavy CRM users.
However, LinkedIn carries a fraction of the personal information that Facebook does and is also behind its larger rival when it comes to managing the balance between availability of user data and maintaining effective privacy. It has hurdles to overcome - at a practical level regarding what it captures and how and to whom it makes it available before tackling the challenges of integrating with CRM systems.
Which raises the question: is a reluctance from customers likely to be the inhibitor to social CRM becoming reality? Facebook users rebelled against profile data being used for commercial gain last year (just Google “beacon” to read about the backlash against Facebook’s ill-fated recommendations tool that revealed user buying habits to other members). But social networking sites are working hard to find acceptable ways to share member profile data - arguably their most valuable asset - as they look to underwrite their long term survival. Banking their assets through Social CRM could be pivotal to keeping their services free to users.
For social networks, and businesses looking to exploit the power within them, the key to enjoying the enormous benefits of social CRM will come down to selling the benefits of unobtrusive social media marketing to the users.
Ian Hendry is CEO of WeCanDo.BIZ