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Social CRM: Jump In or Be Pushed

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
May 19, 2010 5:00 AM PT

By this point, most businesses understand that they exist in a new reality -- the reality that allows customers to communicate with them and with each other in new, faster and in a more pervasive way. Some businesses are actually doing something about it, too -- hence, the emergence of social CRM, social marketing, social service and a whole host of other social takes on key business functions.

Social CRM: Jump In or Be Pushed

There are still many skeptical about tapping into this new reality. In a way, they are wise, because the best practices for harnessing the power enabled by social media have not yet been documented. Without solid, visible examples of how to make the leap to being a social business, many are unwilling to take that leap themselves. That said, those best practices are going to be different for every business because every company's customers are different and will use social media differently.

So, if you're on the fence, what evidence do you use to decide whether to jump or stay put?

It may not be as easy as seeing another business's success and then copying it. Social CRM does not replace traditional CRM, but instead augments it. When a company truly succeeds with a social component to its CRM efforts, that success is often deeply integrated with existing processes. Instead of a Social CRM revolution, there's an evolution. So, if you're looking for an example where a company took its old CRM approach and swapped it for a Social CRM approach, you're probably not going to find it.

Who's Getting the New Customers?

Instead, maybe you can look for a rapid evolution, like the one that took place at Eastman Kodak starting in 2006, when the company was truly on the ropes. A new take -- one that included plenty of interactivity between customers and the company and provided them with a new experience centered around their photographs -- transformed Eastman from a moribund giant that technology had passed by into a truly customer-centric business that was unafraid to try new things.

However, those rapid evolutions are not common; Kodak was on the edge of bankruptcy and really had nothing to lose. Most companies are not so motivated.

There are other examples out there that are far more difficult to spot. Those would be the companies that have remained on the sidelines as social CRM has gained momentum -- and have paid a price for it. Their competitors looked at their target customers, realized they were gravitating toward social media, and moved to meet them there.

The latecomers may still not realize that they're on the losing end of the battle -- their numbers may be holding steady, but they may be losing new customers to their social competitors.

No Need to Guess

Much of the effectiveness of social CRM is hidden, so how do you know when your company should make its move? Well, as is the case with many business arguments, the reality is that the argument isn't ultimately about you -- it's about your customers. They'll tell you when to move -- either by asking ("Why don't you have a blog?"), telling ("Hey, someone was complaining about you on FindAPlumber.com!") or by gravitating toward a competitor who's doing it better.

There's a fourth option. You could take the bull by the horns and actually ask them: "Would you find it helpful for us to send Twitter updates or to have a company blog? Would you participate in a customer community? How about a Facebook page?" Instead of trying to guess what your customers expect, a few questions will help you gauge their true expectations.

We are so in love with best practices, we often forget that the very best practice is to pay attention to our customers. Instead of waiting around to see someone else's success and then copy it, you should partner with your customers to develop the Social CRM practices that are best for both of you.


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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