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Customers do Care, are you Listening?

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It is not always in-person, a phone call or a handwritten note. It is not always in-person, a phone call or a handwritten note.

The advent of CRM Next. By Mitch Lieberman. From the October issue.

Certain acronyms conjure up memories many executives thought dead and buried, and most had hoped to leave them that way.

The other side of that coin is the flavor-of-the-month buzzwords and hype of technologies and practices that promise massive benefits with minimal investment (the similarity to a "lose weight fast" infomercial comes to mind). However, the intersection of social media, CRM technology and "traditional" business processes really does offer definitive business benefits and make for an interesting conversation. The benefit to you and your organization is a new way to listen, learn, understand and act.

A Few Definitions

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a philosophy and business strategy that includes Sales, Service and Marketing.  CRM is not about managing relationships; it is about managing information and optimizing process so that people can focus on the relationships. Therefore, CRM is both technology and process.


 Social media - is a set of technologies and communications channels used by individuals and organizations to share information.

Frankly, this discussion is actually not about the technology; it is about what you should do with it. Imagine you are a movie producer launching a new movie. It is the premier (but you can still make changes) and industry pundits fill the seats. You have a choice - you can put a microphone in each seat, record conversations, or you can give each attendee a one-pager about the movie, the stars, the highlights and key storylines. Which do you choose? What would your CMO say? Would you be excited to hear the reactions, or scared of what might be said?

The World Has Changed

The information age has allowed us to scale massively; to build more and build faster. In order to keep up with the orders and the transactions, we needed a way to manage the data. Unfortunately, we have drifted too far away from our customers, because at some point everything became about the data. As the products became commoditized, so did the relationships.

The connection between social media and customer relationships is that now your customers are talking back. They are letting you know that the status quo is no longer acceptable. They have a platform and they want to be heard. If they do not believe you are listening, they will keep talking, louder and in public.

For instance, a 2010 survey conducted by Forrester Research indicated that only 1% of customers used Twitter for customer service. The survey also revealed, however, that fully 24% of consumers who had unsatisfactory service interactions shared their experiences through social channels.

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Amara’s LawThis is a new, and challenging, environment.


Keep The Goal In Mind

The objective of social media and CRM is to get closer to your customers (prospects and partners), because getting closer has important benefits. It will help you to understand customer needs and lead to your ability to anticipate needs. Engaging with customers will allow you to be proactive and be collaborative. Getting closer means understanding your customers on a personal level, but on a massive scale. This is the intersection between social and CRM.

Customers who feel as though they have an impact on your business are loyal and vocal. And let’s be realistic, customers want something in return. In the consumer world, customers do not really want a relationship with your business, they want the benefits derived from such a relationship - discounts, promotions and the inside scoop. A fan on Facebook wants coupons, for instance. A follower on Twitter, the inside scoop.

In a business-to-business setting, each customer wants the trust that comes with years of doing business with you and the handshake that happens on the 19th hole. Is it possible to get all of that in a virtual social media "no actual handshake" way? Maybe, maybe not. Business customers need the special service and trust that comes along with a business relationship.

You have a unique opportunity to create meaningful connections with people every day. Your ability to control where and how these connections happen is only limited by your perspective. In the modern "social" world, the channels are different. It is not always in-person, a phone call or a handwritten note. It is a text, Tweet, Facebook post, or LinkedIn request. So the channel is different, but is the message different? Are you different? A channel is simply the carrier of the communication, you are still you and people are still people. Your customers and prospective customers will choose their favorite way (channel) to communicate with you. You do have a choice, though: engage, or ignore.

I have 2 teenage boys and an 11 year-old daughter, and I travel a fair amount. When I am away, of course I call the house in the evening to talk to my wife. I Skype (video, of course) with the daughter, and SMS with each of the boys. Am I a big fan of SMS? No, I am not. Are the boys? Hey, they are teenage boys! I feel as though I can get more information from the text message than from a voice call. Aside from the obvious social issues here, the point is that I am adapting to the needs of others because the information is worth more than the battle to alter their communication habits. Does that sound like something you might consider with your customers?

Does this mean that your support team can answer the phone and participate on social channels like Facebook and Twitter? It depends on your business and the skills of your team. Frankly, I would be more concerned that your new hires have the correct skills to talk on the phone. The Marketing team should watch for product feedback, and listen more than they are used to. Sales should use networks like LinkedIn to understand their accounts and contacts. These are the connections to traditional CRM, just with scale. Adapt to the needs of your customers, go where they talk, hangout and talk with them.


Remember: People are Social, Technology is Not

Is social media like email? It can be thought of that way, except that the cc line is "everyone@" on every message. Do you remember that "oops, I did not mean to Reply All" email that did the rounds last year? Social media is like that with every post. It is "Vast and Fast" (Brent Leary).

Social media is a powerful broadcast tool. But, importantly, it is an even better listening tool. Talking isn’t the only thing that makes social media social, any more than dominating the conversation at a cocktail party. Through listening, learning and adapting, you will realize the real value of social media. Within an organization, people using social media need to be more than just broadcasters, they need to first listen, participate, be engaging and be conversational. Remember, it is just a way to communicate. The objective is relationships. No one likes being talked at.

"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." Amara’s Law


What about channel surfing

No, not that one! I am not talking about 325 channels of nothing to watch on television. I am talking about something different. To succeed with all customers, social and more traditional, companies need to create and maintain consistency of experience across all channels and across all of your departments. Not only do companies need to learn how to interact well with customers using all channels; from the phone to social media, they also need to ensure experiences for the customer that deliver real value to the customer in exchange for time, attention, actions, information, and anything else that companies want from customers.



Information providing context, that is CRM Next.











Mitch Lieberman is Vice President for Market Strategy at Sword Ciboodle, a provider of Customer Engagement technology. Mitch is a passionate technology executive with expertise in software architecture, implementation services and product positioning. Mitch has held several successful leadership positions and enjoys the challenge of delivering mission critical business applications to Fortune 500 companies.



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