Blame Change for Social CRM’s Plodding Pace

I remember being an impatient kid when something I really wanted was on its way.The first time I was aware of my parents mail-ordering something for me (I thinkit was a baseball jersey I especially coveted) I can recall bombarding them with achorus of the phrase, “when is it going to get here?”

I realize now that hearing asix-year-old ask that question 300 times a day for three or four days was genuinetorture for my parents. I’m glad the World Court has no juvenile department, or Iwould have spent my childhood in a cell in the Hague.

But what goes around comes around. Nowadays, I’m hearing many peopleask, “when is it going to get here?” This time, however, the people asking are inbusiness, and the item they’re waiting to have delivered is something a bit morevaluable than a baseball shirt with Catfish Hunter’s name and number on it. They’rewaiting for Social CRM to arrive.

Really, they’re waiting for it to arrive in a version that works for their businesses.The pieces of social CRM are out there, but they’re still dispersed; there’s no CRMapplication you can buy that delivers an out-of-the-box social CRM approach that’sright for all users. By the way, that’s also often the case for CRM when the “social”prefix isn’t included, so anyone who’s been fighting the CRM wars for any amount oftime should not be surprised by this.

But the technology does exist — and it’s evolving rapidly. The issue is not that thetechnology does not exist — the issue is that businesses are not particularly wellsuited to dramatic changes.

Accepting Change

Social CRM requires several dramatic changes within businesses to work. All aredifficult to implement.

First comes the real change from a focus on business processes to a focus on thecustomer. All businesses claim to be customer-focused, but the reality is that most ofthem focus most of their collective brainpower on running processes that help onlythe business. In order to get to social CRM, this very essential aspect of corporateculture (which has been needed since the earliest days of “traditional” CRM) needsto be addressed.

The next change is to the way the business views its own processes. A more socialbusiness needs to change rapidly, and to do that requires a willingness to acceptchallenges to existing processes with an open mind — and then move ruthlesslyto replace or repair processes that aren’t working.

It’s not about coddling themanagers inside the company who may feel their ox is being gored; it’s aboutcreating processes that lead to better customer experiences and increasinglyvaluable input from its customers.

But the biggest change needed is a cultural acceptance of change itself. The paceof change an organization can accommodate is not terribly fast — and it is usuallyslower than the pace of change of customer behaviors or of technology. That’s oneof the reasons we all have this “when is social CRM going to get here” attitude.

Bythe time an organization has changed enough to introduce one aspect of social CRMinto the way it does business, so much change has taken place that it seems like theorganization’s even farther behind — and it probably is.

The Slow Revolution

Let’s imagine a business with a very aggressive take on social CRM and socialmedia technology. It might look at the technology landscape like a menu and pickthe best solutions for its needs in monitoring, sentiment analysis and communitymanagement — and throw in marketing automation and lead management to augmentthis. It might also implement a CRM solution that links to this system in an organicway with activity streams and other means of capturing customer social data.

Then, it unleashes this newly created social CRM system on it users. Could the usersin your business handle this rapid change? Does it map to the way they work today,or does it require them to completely change their work processes? Even withextensive training, how soon could they maximize their use of these tools?

I call this discrepancy between the pace of change of customers, technologies andorganizations “the slow revolution.” Businesses want to keep pace with customersas they change the ways they communicate, but that change is made more difficultby the organizational structures of most businesses.

Customers can change atwill; employees in an organizational structure have to change on cue, as a team,and in ways that reflect those customer changes in a complementary way. Newactivities may replace old ones, or they may be layered on top of what the employeealready does. While the customer does what the customer wants on a whim, theorganization’s reaction to that change is necessarily more complex.

As customers evolve, business struggles to keep up and evolve with them — becausetheir evolution is more complex. That means the pace of change toward social CRMseems slow — and, really, whenever you understand the benefits of new technologiesand processes, the time you spend putting things in place to reap those benefits canseem interminable. That’s when you find yourself asking, “When is it going to gethere?”

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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