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Barack Obama: First CRM President?

By Erika Morphy
Apr 8, 2008 4:00 AM PT

Much ink has been spilled about what, exactly, has been the secret of Barack Obama's overwhelming success. There is no denying his charisma or the appeal of his message, but a behind-the-scenes look at how his political machine operates -- namely, how it empowers its people on the ground to operate -- is worth a look as well.

Barack Obama: First CRM President?

Blogger Bill Ives has written three posts on the way Obama's campaign uses Web 2.0 technology to improve connections among staff, as well as with voters.

In his latest, he looks specifically at Obama's implementation of RightNow Technologies' CRM software.

Obama's RightNow Initiative

"RightNow constructed two tools for the campaign," Ives writes. "One tool they implemented was an email response system, Invite Barack, in two weeks to handle non-(news) media requests for Barack or members of his campaign to attend local events. There is an online form to fill out which gets into a work cue with a team assigned to properly acknowledge and respond to the request. This helped streamline non-media requests to ensure nothing got lost, all requesters were acknowledged, and responded to quickly. In addition, the system allows the campaign to monitor trends in requests such as location, requesting organizations, outcomes, etc."

The more comprehensive of the RightNow initiatives, though, is the Obama Answer Center, says Ives.

"When you come to the Answer Center the first question is, 'What is the Answer Center and how does it work?' The campaign can then adjust the next questions depending on the topics of most interest. For example, when I looked the next question was 'Has Senator Obama released his tax returns?' Clicking on this you go to a format used for all questions. This happens to be the standard RightNow template for answer centers so many people remark that they have seen this format before in such places as Environmental Protection Agency, Electronic Arts, and Nikon, [and they] understand it," he explains.

"There is first the answer. In this case, there is also a link to his actual tax returns," Ives continues. "There is also the section, 'Users who viewed this answer have also viewed.' And you see a series of related questions to encourage more exploration. Once you view a question, you also see your previously viewed questions. You can search questions by category and key word and browse the most popular answers. Because the system captures all the actions and inputs of people who participate, The Obama campaign can use web analytics to sort the most popular key words, questions, etc. by region to better understand the concerns of people in different parts of the country. This allows for more targeted ads and other messaging, but more importantly it provides another window into the issues voters feel are important."

The Tech Edge

Ives supports Obama politically, he told CRM Buyer, but that is not the reason he is writing about his campaign's use of technology.

"As far as I know," he commented, "the only other presidential candidate to use CRM technology in the race was Mitt Romney." However, Romney's deployment of Salesforce.com did not match Obama's outreach to voters and campaign staff, he added.

"What is unique is that he is giving his volunteers tools to use themselves," Ives said. According to Ives, talk on the campaign trail is that should Obama win the presidency he would continue to communicate with constituents through the Web.

It would be difficult to match Obama's level of tech outreach, David E. Johnson, CEO of the political consultancy Strategic Vision, told CRM Buyer.

"Obama is doing everything right in the tech world, while Hillary is playing catch up," he observed.

That assessment is not based on Clinton's ignorance of the wonders of Web 2.0 technologies, Johnson was quick to add. Rather, it is her campaign staff's failure to recognize they would be running a different race than they are right now.

McCain, for his part, is woefully behind both Clinton and Obama, Johnson said, adding that budget -- or lack thereof -- is the culprit in his case. "McCain still has limited resources, and so a strong and interactive Web presence is far down the list."

CRM Playaz

Brent Leary, cofounder and partner of CRM Essentials and author of Brent's CRM Blog, and Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light, are crafting a series of videos to talk about "what's going in the space, what we like, who we like and even who (and what) we don't like," Leary writes in his blog.

"Yup, we'll call folks out when we have to. Plus we'll have the occasional guest on for interrogation purposes. And if you know either of us, you know the opinions won't be lacking," he promises.

Until then, for those in the industry -- both of you -- who don't know Greenberg, you can watch him in "CRM and the Social Customer," a video developed by social networking platform Neighborhood America. It highlights comments Greenberg and others made at its executive summit in January.

Customers Strike Back

Blogs have become an excellent way to level the playing field between put-upon customers and the companies that take their money, which is why it is good to highlight a customer rant every now and then.

Check out some of these customer service/tech support horror stories.

John Biggs' "Sony's PS3 Customer Service Killed My Baby" is a classic example:

"Now when packing up my coffin I faithfully followed the directions and shipped back power cord, av cables, charge cable, and controller.. but lo and behold when I opened my replacement box.. none of these were there. So hey no biggie, I'll call customer service and get them to send them, it was their fault, they'll be quick about it ... Nope. First I'm told I'll have to talk to a tech before anything can be done.. why? But no techs are available then so one will have to call me... why? Finally today I get past all that and they are pleased to tell me that they'll send my stuff and to expect everything in 5 to 10 days... It's the 27th of march, I opened this service request on the 4th.. and now I have 5 to 10 more days to wait.."

Want to hear more? One commenter to Biggs' post helpfully pointed out posts at other complaint sites where Sony customers gripe about the service:

On the other hand, at Context Rules, Matt Maupin takes a look at how one customer's complaint should be weighed against a company's larger customer service record:

"Given the ability we all have to rant out disappointing personal experiences with various vendors, just one disgruntled customer can do a lot of damage -- especially if that person is a radio announcer like Wyatt Cox. He has a program where he tries to help businesses by letting customers tell their own stories on the air."


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