Automating Social: The Perils of Trying to Fake Sincerity

“The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.”

This quote, often bandied about, is attributed to Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944), who was a French diplomat, dramatist and novelist. And, judging by his best-remembered quote, kind of a jerk.

I’m not saying this specifically as an attempt at character assassination of a 68-year-dead raconteur — no, there’s a reason that I bring it up, and it has to do with social CRM.

While Giraudoux’s quote is funny in a cynical way, it seems that an awful lot of businesses really subscribe to the idea behind it. In an era when authenticity is critical to establishing the social connection that can drive greater customer engagement, many businesses seem to look at authenticity as yet another item they can manufacture and distribute.

In other words, they think they control a bit too much of the equation.

Make the Effort

You can indeed control just how authentic your are — but you can’t control how that authenticity or lack thereof is perceived by the audience. And when a company opts for less-authentic approaches to interacting with its customers, the customers pick up on it.

There are efforts afoot to automate some of the tasks of social engagement with customers. These stem from real business fears about the amount of money and human assets that a social effort might demand. Thus, there’s been a desire to create shortcuts, cut-and-paste responses and other time- and effort-savers.

But there’s the rub: Being truly social — and thus being able to understand and capitalize on social CRM — is not an effort-free endeavor. It draws its power specifically from individualized, personalized responses, even when those responses have an impact on a wide swath of other customers who may see the conversation via social media.

So trying to use shorthand measures — in essence trying to “fake sincerity,” as Giraudoux put it — is not likely to have the desired effect.

In fact, it could backfire.

Remember the term “authenticity” — it’s an important one. Customers want to believe that you are authentically concerned about solving their problems, answering their questions, or hearing their suggestions. They also have finely tuned BS meters when it comes to canned responses.

If It’s Got to Be a Robot …

A friend of mine described being caught in an automated chat loop during an attempt to get help with a service issue. Answering one prompt took him to a second; answering that second prompt took him back to he first.

“I knew I was dealing with a robot,” he said. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t even a smart robot.”

Now, take this to a social setting. Customers can spot prefabricated statements from a mile away; customers know when they’re being forced into a process instead of being engaged in a conversation.

So, while you’re sitting back satisfied that your automated or semi-automated responses are allowing you to get your hands around social media at a discounted cost, the reality is that you are really broadcasting your lack of concern for real conversations to your customers and prospective customers.

You’ve put up a virtual billboard that says, “My company doesn’t care enough about your business to have a human interact with you!”

Keep It Real

Preloaded responses do have their place — for dealing with frequently asked questions, the easy 80 percent of issues that come up all the time. But even these have to be presented in ways that make sense; an incongruity in wording can make a response sound stilted and artificial, and indicate to customers that they’re not interacting with an actual person.

What’s needed are savvy managers of these efforts who actually look at what customers are saying and make real efforts to engage in the conversations they are trying to have. Most of these will be short — customers aren’t looking for pen pals, usually — but they all need to reflect your business’ sincere concern with those customers’ issues.

If you need to adjust the verbiage of your prestaged responses, have someone there to do it. And if there’s a conversation that goes beyond the FAQs, have someone ready and able to engage in that conversation.

In other words, don’t fake sincerity. Contrary to what Giraudoux asserts, in the social media age, faking it only fools the business — and fouls the buyer-seller conversation.

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 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 three books on World War II aviation.

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