Social CRM Exacts a New Level of Honesty

Business software has long been described as “front office” and “back office,” which essentially mirrors the arrangement of real-world processes within most businesses. That arrangement made sense in the past — what went on within the business was usually shielded from the customer.

That dichotomy often results in two realities: the one reflected to customers and the one that represents how the business really works.

This has been a useful dichotomy in the past — after all, no customer wants to watch the sausage being made, right?

Well, not so much anymore. Customers are no longer passive spectators who take whatever is presented to them.

Give It to Them Straight

Especially in B2B relationships, but also in B2C relationships, today’s customers have the ability and the desire to understand how companies conduct their business. Those processes have an impact on the customer in terms of pricing, service, and the long-term future of the company.

Customers are demanding ever more intimate relationships, and that means that transparency is becoming a characteristic that customers value and look for.

That puts businesses on the spot — especially those that feel uncomfortable about exposing their business’ processes, for competitive reasons or just because they fear the reaction of the customer. How do you react to this new reality?

The answer is simple: Be honest.

The reality you reflect to your customers now should no longer be a view for customers only. It should be a true reflection of your business — top to bottom. Especially if you engage in social media or Social CRM, this honest reflection is vital.

Sure, you can emphasize some aspects of your business over others — that only makes sense. However, you can’t create a facade that masks the reality of your business, because your customers will figure it out — and when they do, watch out.

No Silly Games

Customers are now demanding authenticity (to borrow a phrase from author and business mega-thinker Joe Pine) from the companies they patronize. That translates into an authentic relationship, and you can’t have that if you’re preoccupied with obfuscating, exaggerating, or playing silly PR games with your customers.

Customers have the power to do their own research. They can find out if you’re not being up front about things, or if you’re overstating what your products can do, or if your business has had rough dealings with customers in the past.

Customers have new ways to make sure business is on its best behavior. They have communities and social media channels to share this information. If someone somewhere sees through your facade, it’s likely that insight will be shared with others.

So, your first step is to make sure that any research undertaken by customers will result in a positive view of your business. The way to do that, of course, is to behave like the kind of business customers want to buy from. Step two is to get involved in the discussions that are taking place about your business — or facilitate those conversations with a discussion forum that you develop on your own.

Finally, look at the age of the informed customer as an opportunity to be honest both with the customer and with yourself about your business practices and processes.

This could allow you to remake yourself in a way that will appeal to customers — and improve efficiencies at the same time. The old saw about honesty being the best policy has never been truer — or applicable on so many levels — as it is today.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he’s not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he’s wearing his airplane geek hat; he’s written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.

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